Kristen Bell is making her return to TV in Showtime's "House of Lies" (premieres Sunday, Jan. 8, 10 p.m. EST), but don't expect this to be the typical Kristen Bell role. Her character, management consultant Jeannie Van Der Hooven, is spunky; but hiding underneath the sassy exterior is one very ambitious and morally ambiguous woman. Veronica Mars she isn't.
"She doesn't have the strongest moral compass, but the interesting thing compounding that is she doesn't really think she's doing anything wrong," Bell told The Huffington Post in a phone interview in late December. "She is completely compartmentalized and I've never played anyone like that. I've always kind of played characters that have a stronger sense of what's right and wrong. Jeannie's really multidimensional."
In "House of Lies," Bell stars alongside Don Cheadle, Ben Schwartz, Josh Lawson and Dawn Olivieri, all playing top-notch business consultants who wheel and deal with the one percent.
Bell got her big break in 2004's "Veronica Mars," a cult-hit series about a teen private eye. Following the cancellation of "Mars" in 2007, she joined the cast of "Heroes," further cementing herself as a geek goddess, and then, took to the big screen in films like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Burlesque." Now, "House of Lies" is like her homecoming.
Why did you say yes to this role as your return to TV?
I had an itch to do TV again with a few specific goals in mind: I didn't want to carry it on my shoulders. I wanted to work with someone out of my league. Also, I wanted a network that had cache and the ability to provide a provocative storyline. I'm not even saying that necessarily had to be the dictionary definition, like sexy; I just wanted something outside of the box, something that could tackle issues that wasn't necessarily falling under the censorship umbrella of primetime.
I wanted something different. I had either Showtime or HBO in mind and Dax [Shepard, her fiance] and I had come up with a show idea that we met with Showtime about and they loved it and ended up buying it. The day after that, I got a call from the head of the network at Showtime asking me to look into "House of Lies" and it was just kind of an immediate, "Yes."
And that other project, is it still in contention?
Mm hm, yeah. I mean, it's in development. They'll usually take two or three years to ever get on the air.
Can you tell me anything else about that?
It's currently in development, so it might change a ton, so I'd rather not just in case it ends up changing completely. Hopefully, it will one day come to be.
It's exciting, nonetheless. You mentioned you wanted something different. I think your "House of Lies" character Jeannie is completely different than anything movie and TV viewers have seen you in.
Did you have to do anything that made you uncomfortable? In one episode, a guy sucks on your character's foot. Did you have a foot double?
Oh, no, no. That wasn't uncomfortable at all! [Laughs] Having an actor I just met put my foot in his mouth? No, I did not have a foot double. I'm not really into doubles for stunts or anything else, but it was as awkward as it seems to be. You know, I had just met another actor who, as per the crazy script written, needed to put my foot in his mouth. We talked about it and I washed my foot and he had a mint -- just for shits and giggles -- and we just kind of went for it. We didn't practice it at all, obviously, because: No. 1) Why would you? That's weird. No. 2) We wanted it to be realistically awkward when we did it.
I think it worked.
During the actual execution though, it didn't feel -- the sensory of it -- didn't feel as awkward as I thought.
And Jeannie discovers that as well.
Exactly. [Laughs] Jeannie and Kristen are a real big parallel and it is frightening. [Laughs]
Are you like Jeannie at all?
I think I can be as ambitious and determined as Jeannie. I think that it's difficult not to. I'm not as morally bankrupt as she is. [Laughs] I think I have a different set of values, which is what differentiates us, but I think in moments, I can absolutely be as cut-throat and as ambitious and as determined.
Well, that was another question: What do you think drives Jeannie? It's obviously her ambition.
Her ambition, for sure. I think she does not want to be who or what she was born into. You'll see within the rest of the season. Her home life unfolds a little bit before you and you realize more of what drives her. I think she's running so far from her past and her family because she does not identify with them and she feels that if she settles into what she was born into, it would be the death of her. So she's drawn to this sort of sexy, glossy world of cut-throat business.
She has some great one-liners. The line that stuck out to me was when she says off-handedly, "I'd rather work at Arby's." That made me laugh out loud.
I think in that moment she would rather work at Arby's. Working with these dunces is sometimes a lot for her to handle, but secretly she adores them. There was a line that I added that [writer] Matt Carnahan let me add where I got to call them "fatties," which I thought was really wonderful.
Yeah, I walked up and said, "What are you two fatties talking about?" And I don't know why, but I think because they're both rail-thin, it really made me laugh.
When you were looking for TV projects, were you looking for something darker? Because this is pretty raunchy.
I was looking for something darker in tone; not necessarily raunch or sex, but definitely something more adult or darker in tone. Less safe.
"House of Lies" is for fans of ... fill in the blank.
... is for fans of sophisticated filth, which I think really sums it up. As funny as it is, it kind of really sums it up, doesn't it? I was looking for something daring -- that's a better way to put it other than provocative and raunch ... It's relevant in the current zeitgeist with the whole Occupy movement. All of these characters are wheeling and dealing, showing you the behind-the-scenes dirty business. I think it's attractive, sophisticated filth.
You just keep taking all my questions. The next one is literally, "This is such an appropriate time for 'House of Lies' with the whole Occupy Wall Street and one percent and all that."
You know I'm psychic, right!?
I do now!
Now you do! [Laughs] Wait, what was the question because I can expand on it if you want --
Actually, it wasn't really a question. Just a note that "this is such an appropriate time for 'House of Lies' with Occupy Wall Street."
Yeah, I think it's highly relevant to the current zeitgeist. Hopefully, Wall Street doesn't clean up its act by January and we're still relevant.
I don't think you have to worry about that! [Laughs]
Now, "The Hunger Games." I know you're a big fan.
It's all I think about.
Anything new in your campaign to be Johanna? Is that still happening?
I mean from my campaign desk here on my full-size bed in a back bedroom in my family's house in Oregon, there are no new developments [Laughs] -- other than the fact that I am trying to stay on top of it and not age too rapidly so that I can still be cast.
For Halloween, were you Katniss?
No, but my 30th birthday I themed after "The Hunger Games" and I put District numbers up around. I put District 4 for water over the pool. I put District 2 for electronics over the stereo and iPod. I had a blow-up castle bouncy house on the front lawn and I put The Capitol over the bouncy house. And over my front door, I put District 12. All my friends dressed as the characters and I dressed as Katniss. I was head-to-toe in spandex with a fire cape and carried a bow and arrow.
That sounds pretty damn epic.
Oh yeah, it was pretty much major. I had friends that went all out. I have friends that like do it. They do not mess around. I had friends who came as Cato and Clove and were dressed in weird sewn-together fabric leaves and army colors. They had the football black under their eyes and they had taken all the knives in their house, even the butcher knives, and wrapped them in duct tape so they wouldn't be too sharp and flung them over their body like sort of ammo lines. They had all these knives taped to them -- it was amazing. I had a couple Effie Trinkets. It was pretty exceptional. People dressed up like tracker jackers. They were like bumble bees, but with huge horns.
Next themed party I have, I need to have you plan it for me.
Oh absolutely. Themed parties are pretty awesome.
Did you watch "Homeland," by any chance?
[Laughs] I assume that means you loved it?
I loved it, I loved it. Actually, at our Showtime party, I superfanned a couple of the cast members. I had to tone it down a bit.
I had to do the same when you called me, so I can relate.
[Laughs] Thank god you toned it down! I think it's a really great show. It really keeps me on the edge of my seat.
Did you like the finale?
I did, but I really wanted him to blow up. [Laughs] Sorry, I really did. I know he pressed the button ... but I would rather suspend my belief in reality and say like, "Oh, the plate got stuck and he didn't die because his head wasn't blown off, but he did blow up the rest of the room." You know what I mean?
Mhm. When she was getting the electroshock therapy at the end ... I was kind of heartbroken.
Oh yeah, totally heartbreaking. First of all, can we stop doing that to people? First and foremost, can we knock that off?
I agree. I think Carrie Fisher gets that done still.
Oh lord. Proof is in the pudding. OK?
What are you watching besides "Homeland"?
What are we watching ... I watch this show on National Geographic called "The Incredible Dr. Pol," because I love animal shows and I love medical shows and I feel like I'm going to explode when you combine the two. When "Emergency Vets" was on the air, I was the happiest camper around. I really like medical animal shows. "The Incredible Dr. Pol" is awesome and you can watch him do surgeries or like, shove in a prolapsed uterus on a sheep or something amazing. Why am I blanking?
Obviously, "Parenthood," right?
"Jersey Shore" is back in a matter of days.
Oh. My. God. I gotta go! I gotta prepare! Chris, I gotta go! If it's on soon, I've got to go. [Laughs]
It debuts on my birthday. It's exciting.
Oh my gosh! Happy birthday to you and all the guidos! I was a big fan of "Damages" when it was on, but there's so much good TV. "Homeland" and "Parenthood" are the only two we've been obsessed with recently. We watched the finale of "Homeland" the other day. All four of us in a king-sized bed -- my family and Dax all sort of snuggling up watching the finale.
I was almost on the verge of tears from anxiety, but that could've just been me.
No, you know what? My heart was beating really fast. They did such a good job with the suspense in that episode. I felt the same thing.
Do you have anything else you want to add about "House of Lies"? I feel like we've veered off completely.
Who cares! No, I don't think so. Just, I want to make the point that it's attainable. It's about management consultants, but you don't have to have a degree in management consulting to watch it. Like you don't have to be a doctor to watch "ER." At the same time, it's a fresher perspective on business because it's not about lawyers; it's not "LA Law," it's not "ER," it's something that hasn't been unveiled yet -- dirty business.