Audiences going into Kristen Bell’s new Sundance movie, The Lifeguard, written and directed by TV writer Liz W. Garcia with Bell’s old pal Martin Starr playing her closeted best friend from high school, probably expect a comedy, or even better, a Party Down reunion. Better to temper those expectations now. The movie is actually the sobering tale of a New York newspaper reporter, Leigh, who is about to turn 30, moves back home with her parents in Connecticut, reclaims her high-school job as the lifeguard of a pool in a condo complex, and starts up an affair with a 16-year-old (hot) misfit who’s living there (Little Jason, played by David Lambert). Much of this is to the horror of her other best friend, played by Mamie Gummer, who’s now an assistant principal at Little Jason’s school. Basically, it’s the anti-Girls. Jada Yuan spoke to a pregnant and showing Bell, 32, about getting older, going back home, and her plans for celebrating the next Hunger Games movie.
Kristen Bell: Everyone keeps coming up and saying, “Have a good birth!”
When are you due?
End of spring, so I’ve got a bit. But I certainly hope I have a good birth.
I just came from seeing The Lifeguard, and I think I’m like a lot of people who see your name and Martin Starr’s name and think it’s going to be a comedy.
For sure. I’m sure.
How do you succeed against that expectation?
Well, first of all, I feel lucky. I had wanted to participate in a project that wasn’t a comedy for a while now. I love doing comedy, but I kind of wanted something where I didn’t smile through the whole movie, and this really, really fit the bill.
How would you describe Leigh at the beginning? She’s a New York newspaper reporter who’s writing stories no one reads and is sleeping with her boss, who gets engaged shortly after making out with her.
Stuck. Feeling the pressure that the world puts on you to define where your adolescence ends and your adulthood begins, yet being completely unsatisfied with where her adulthood is beginning. I think that’s something that a lot of people can relate to, since all the lines are blurred about when you can actually grow up, because 30 is really the new 20. And I think that she has this sense of very revisionist history, that there’s this time in her life where everything was perfect.
What happens for you when you go back home?
I don’t go back home very often. I usually convince my family and friends to come out and visit California, just based on looking at the weather channel. “Where are we going to spend this time together? Let’s be honest. Michigan or California? Come on. Get real, guys.”
What was your experience of turning 30?
I loved turning 30. Granted, I had a very childish birthday party, so I don’t know if I’ve just been very accepting of the balance between childhood and adulthood. But for my 30th birthday, I themed it like the Hunger Games.
I read about this.
It was a costume party, and it was really exceptional. It was better than whatever you read. I was head to toe in a spandex suit. I carried a bow and arrow. I was thrilled. And my friends are very into dress-up parties, so they came all out, so I didn’t feel like an idiot. They were, like, head-to-toe dressed as tracker jackers and there were, like, five Effies there and four Katnisses. It was just stupid and fun.
You didn’t have a moment of being like, I am so old!
I didn’t have a breakdown. Now I sort of feel it. I feel it more now because I said out loud the other day, “Oh, I’m going to be someone’s mom,” and I almost had a panic attack.
You are a huge animal lover, right?
Was it your choice that the sloth video go online?
That’s a very funny story, actually. The sloth video happened a year prior to when the world thinks it happened. When you do a press tour, much like we’re doing now, like, I’m promoting The Lifeguard currently, and this week I’ll go back and do Ellen and Chelsea to promote House of Lies; that’s your job as an actor. And it’s also your job not to be a snoozefest when you go on those shows, so have a funny, cute story about work, or a story about what’s been happening lately. And I had been at the tail end of the House of Lies press tour and the Big Miracle press tour, and I had no more stories. I had nothing else to say about my life that had been the least bit interesting. And it was Dax who said, “Oh, you’re going on Ellen? That’s a really female audience. Why don’t you show that sloth video that’s so funny?” We had already showed all of our friends and laughed about it, how stupid it was. And I said, “That’s a good idea.” So it was solely out of needing content that I pulled it from the archives of our DVDs of our home movies. And I thought I’d tell this funny story of how he brought a sloth to the house, and I had no idea that it would be as watched as it was.
Why do you think Leigh ends up in an affair with a 16-year-old?
I think because she finds another human being that is feeling as vacant as she is, and they satisfy something in each other far beyond the sexual chemistry. Little J has no one in his life who’s taken an interest enough to give him any advice. He has no estrogen energy at all, and Leigh feels dumb and ugly and stunted, and he makes her feel the opposite of all those things.
How was it working with Martin Starr again?
I mean, glorious. [Starr is doing a TV interview nearby] I mean, look at him holding that Yahoo mike looking like our new cult leader. What is that beard?! It’s like a seven-inch beard! Um, Martin is one of my favorite people, always has been. And then luckily Mamie fit in seamlessly, because neither of us knew Mamie, but we both fell in love with Mamie on the spot. So the three of us gallivanted around Pittsburgh, much like our three best friends did in the movie.
Smoking-in-the-parking-lot kind of gallivanting?
Well, I wasn’t smoking, but maybe there were cigarettes involved at one point off-camera. [Laughs.]
You know, I was at a party with Martin at Sundance last year where someone went up to him and asked him how to get coke.
Because he looks like a drug dealer! He’s so far from that. That’s so funny. He’s so far from anything actually rebellious.
Any updates on a Veronica Mars or Party Down reunion?
Always. In my head, there’s always a chance. I’m always plotting how to get someone to figure it out. I mean …
[Martin Starr calls out to her]: Hey, Kristen, you’re two-foot-seven, right?
Bell [deadpan]: Two-seven. Yeah. [Laughs, loses train of thought. At the end of our interview, she goes up to Starr and says, “Man, I should have said, ‘No, two-foot-five or two-foot-six.’ That would have been funnier.”]
Um, uh, we … I think it will take time, but I still believe that both will happen. I really do.
Where will Veronica be now?
Oh, God, I’m sure she’ll work at the FBI or something. Or we’ll start where she’s just working retail and she does not … she’s well known as the best spy in the world, but she does not want to do it anymore. It’s too dramatic. She’s lost too much. There’s too much at stake. But the president needs her. Something really dramatic. The president needs her. The U.N. needs her. Everything counts on her. I’m shooting for the stars.
Are you going to celebrate the next Hunger Games movie in a similar fashion to your birthday party?
We’ll probably do another costume party of some sort. But we went all out. When we did it before, we got a bouncy house and put a sign that said “the Capital” on the front lawn … we put some thought into it. This one, we might go with a smorgasbord. Just go with a ton of food. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. It’s just an excuse to throw a party, which I’ll take any time.
How are you going to top it, though?
I’ll kill someone at the next party. Someone will be made to fight to the death.
Do you have someone in mind?
No, it’s whoever’s on my last nerve that day.