Lake Bell is an accent aficionado. She can blow through one dialect after the next with aplomb: French, Italian, Cockney, Russian "Star Wars," Valley Girl, flight attendant. The talent, which originated during Bell's childhood and was bolstered by the New York native's time living in France and attending college in London, is on full display in her new movie "In A World ..." The story of a misguided voice-over actress, "World" marks the first feature film Bell has directed, written and produced. Oh, and she stars in it, too.
The multi-layered experience made for an "active" one, Bell says. She was able to take her spot in the director's chair by hiring a stand-in to rehearse scenes as her character, Carol Solomon, while Bell supervised. The venture found the 34-year-old commanding many of her pals, including Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, Nick Offerman, Fred Melamed and Eva Longoria -- some of whom are speed-dial entries on her iPhone. She even "cashed in some chips" by recruiting an A-list former co-star to take on a whimsical bit part in the comedy (no spoilers here).
What also emerges from the film is a lighthearted but revealing look at the competitive world of movie-trailer voice-overs. "I would challenge anyone to think of one that has been voiced by a woman," Bell says before amending her statement to reflect Melissa Disney's work in the "Gone in 60 Seconds" trailer. "But that's it."
Carol's disparaging father (played by Melamed) is a far more famous voice-over staple, and Bell's character must endure the sexism that pervades the business. The actress can relate. After studying the "musicality" of accents while attending drama school in South East London, Bell headed to Hollywood with a demo reel she hoped to leverage into a voice-over career until film roles came about. That's when the male-dominated industry revealed itself.
"In the same way that a Tampon commercial should be voiced by a woman because you're asking women to buy it," she said, "shouldn't female-driven movies or movies that are dedicated to women have a female voicing them?"
The answer, she found, was a resounding no. It's a theme explored in "In A World ...," which she admits has a "sprinkling of a feminist message," even though she really just intends it as a comedy.
The results are charming, as is Bell. Well-spoken and animated, the actress describes the extensive approach she takes to this type of project, calling herself a "natural academic" who brought in a piles of notes and production boards that she claims made the crew say, "Jesus Christ, here we go again."
"I had done so much homework before calling 'action' on that f---ing movie."
After 11 years in the business, "In A World ..." also marks the first movie Bell has headlined almost single-handedly. When prompted, she assigns endearing adjectives to her impressive cadre of former co-stars. Alec Baldwin, for example, is "resonant." Meryl Streep: "perfect." Ashton Kutcher: "spunky." Cameron Diaz: "happy." Paul Rudd: "wry." Alicia Silverstone: "sweetpea." William Shatner: Well, she isn't quite sure what to make of her "Boston Legal" colleague. Bell pauses for a solid 15 seconds, scrunching up her face as she conjures the proper descriptive. "Unique," she finally says with a grin. The same happens with Josh Lucas, who receives "dapper" as his identifier.
With a roundup of co-workers that high-profile, and now a writing debut that won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at January's Sundance Film Festival, Bell is well on her way to bringing her quirkiness to mainstream Hollywood. Now that we've witnessed her affinity for accents, one can imagine the versatility such talents will provide the actress. In the meantime, she'll continue to adopt that "active" attitude when it comes to her work.
"I always think of filmmaking as an athletic sport," she says. "You've got teammates and you've got to wear comfortable shoes."
"In A World ..." hits theaters Friday, Aug. 9. Watch the trailer below.