In a world where just 7 percent of 2016’s top-grossing movies were directed by women, Lake Bell is here to be counted.
She wrote, directed and stars in the new comedy “I Do … Until I Don’t” (out now) about three couples dealing with the challenges of marriage, co-starring Ed Helms, Amber Heard and Wyatt Cenac. It’s a follow-up to her lauded 2013 feature, “In a World …” for which she pulled off the same writer-director-actor hat trick.
“If you’re just waiting for the phone to ring, that’s a really tough existence,” Bell, 38, tells us. “It’s so much more fun to generate.”
And generating she is, with two more films out now (“Home Again,” with Reese Witherspoon and “Shot Caller,” with Nikolaj Coster Waldau), all while playing real-life wife to tattoo artist Scott Campbell and mother to 2 ½-year-old Nova and 3-month-old Ozzie.
In the midst of this whirlwind, she sat down to talk with her friend and collaborator, comedian Tig Notaro (whose “One Mississippi” returns for a second season on Amazon this week). The pair first bonded on the set of “In a World …” where Bell fortuitously cast Notaro opposite her future wife, Stephanie Allynne. Here’s their no-holds-barred heart-to-heart.
Tig Notaro: What are the points in your life when you’ve been surprised to feel powerful?
Lake Bell: It’s interesting, because I do feel that as a director, it’s an inherently
powerful place to be, to be realizing your vision with a team of comrades who are all showing up to help you do it. I feel least powerful when I am parenting. Now that my daughter is nearly 3 — we have raised a very confident little sprite — I am in awe of the power she can wield.
TN: What’s an example of her power move?
LB: She climbs on the table, for instance. She’s testing those waters. So she’ll start to creep to stand on the table and look at me. And in that moment —
TN: “I’m a powerful director. Get down. I’ll ruin you in Hollywood.”
LB: Yeah, “You’ll never work again in this town!” But that moment when she shoots a look back at me in defiance and, “What are you going to do about it?” It is my least favorite moment of parenting because I don’t want to be a d–k about it. And that is a constant power struggle.
TN: As somebody who’s your friend, and who you’ve directed, I’m just endlessly astounded by your abilities. On set on “In a World …” I was like, “How come she seems like this is her 50th movie?” You have such confidence. Now that you’ve done it twice — writing, directing and acting in a film – what have you learned?
LB: There’s no phoning it in. I knew I needed to have copious amounts of preparation. And on top of it, I was a mom for the first time while making this movie [“I Do … Until I Don’t.”]. So I had a 1 ½-year-old at home while I was taking on all these things. Taking care of thyself is equally important.
TN: It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: The best gift you can give anyone is a well-lived life of your own. If someone’s happy, healthy, functioning, you don’t worry about them.
LB: Even when I got married, there’s this romantic idea that you become one. And that is bulls–t. I think you have to remain singularly powerful and on your own two feet, but just side by side. And walking forward in the same direction.
TN: Do you set new goals for yourself every so often?
LB: My sister and I had a séance this year to go forth with trust — we wrote it down on a piece of paper and lit some candles. “Go forth with trust” is something I say to myself over and over again in moments of question. Because that’s a powerful place to be.
‘He got “Lake” tattooed huge nine days after meeting me.’
TN: What should every person try at least once in their life?
LB: Cilantro, because you never know if you’re going to like it or not. What do you think?
TN: There’s so much fear around love, it’s hard to believe the growth and joy and everything that comes with it. I feel like my opportunities have escalated and I wish everyone could feel that way.
LB: The reason I love Scott so much is because his take on love and life is so that. Scott, pretty openly, expresses that the braver path is not to bail, but to jump in full force with all your heart and soul and the optimism to meet eye-to-eye with someone who feels the same way. And when s–t gets muddy and rough, to actually hash it out. He got “Lake” tattooed huge nine days after meeting me.
TN: What were you thinking when he did that?
LB: It’s on his back. So, we had just had sexual intercourse, and I had not noticed because we were looking at each other in the eyeballs and he rolled over, then I noticed it and I was like, completely without words. I couldn’t speak in the moment.
He was like, “I just got this” — so casual! And I was like, “That was the tattoo you got in New York?” He was just like, “Yeah,” so nonchalant. And I read it and I remember looking at him and being like, “Who is this person who is so fearless in his resolve?” He’s full on. I was so crazy about him from the moment I saw him — he’s just a magic person.
TN: One of the things [my wife] Stephanie says to me if I say I don’t care is, “Choose to care.” Was there a person in your career who really clearly made a difference?
LB: I gotta say Billy Lazarus, who’s my agent, who told me I should direct. That was game changing. I said, “Billy, I’ve never directed. I don’t think I can take on a full-length feature. I feel like that’s going to set me up for failure.” And he told me, “Then write and direct a short film.”
That afternoon, I resurrected some old bits that I had. One of those was “Worst Enemy,” which ended up being the short film I wrote and directed that starred Michaela Watkins and went to Sundance. That really became my calling card as a director. So he really changed my life that way.
TN: What famous person would you like to see play you in a film?
LB: Tig Notaro.
TN: I can’t be the answer to everything.
LB: OK fine. Can it be a man? Can it be Tom Cruise?
TN: That’s who I’d choose to play me. This new billboard of his movie, I’m like, “Oh my God, I truly thought I had a movie out and didn’t even realize it.” Can you write a movie where Tom and I play siblings?
LB: Yeah, I’ll direct a movie, and I’ll get Tom Cruise, if you’re available.
TN: Good luck trying to get me. What’s your favorite memory from your childhood?
LB: I had a weird childhood, just parents getting divorced and getting carted back and forth.
TN: That’s almost a normal childhood.
LB: Probably. I went to [be an] au pair at 13 and take care of these kids in rural France. I went to boarding school at 14 — I was just always away. The thing I always come to with a happy place is writing letters. It was better than journaling. With letters, you could express what you were going through and get a response.
TN: A week later.
LB: Yeah, exactly. A week or two later.
TN: What regular or minimum-wage job would you have if you didn’t do what you do? I’d deliver pizzas, because you get in a car, get away from people, smell pizza, listen to music, podcasts, “Get off my back, boss!” You get tips right away.
LB: Scott and I regularly do the fantasy of, “What if we just ran away? What would we do?” Scott has an elaborate, very well-thought-out — kinda scarily thought-out — plan of what we’d do to disappear. And the good news is: He can tattoo anywhere.
TN: What’s the bad news?
LB: There’s no bad news. We’d just disappear.
TN: What would your job be?
LB: I was going to say a bartender. I’d like it because I’m a night person and I’d get a constant flux of different characters, but there’s a barrier between me and the crazy people.
TN: But they’re gonna be talking to you drunk all night.
LB: I get to choose what kind of bar I’d work at, though. I’d choose a sleepy but respectable one.
TN: That was my last question. I will reiterate once again, I was truly tickled and honored to do this.
Crew Credits: Fashion Editor: Serena French; Photographer: Gavin Bond; Stylist: Anahita Moussavian; Hair: Dean Roybal; Makeup: Liz Lash