After landing the starring role in the upcoming movie comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Kristen Bell was determined to make her first stab at snottiness a memorable occasion. Best known as level-headed teen detective Veronica Mars - the final season is back on TV2 next Sunday, and early episodes are screening Saturdays on Sky's Vibe channel - the actress is usually cast as the girl next door, the wholesome hottie with a heart of gold.
But there's nothing wholesome about Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the latest in a parade of films produced by raunchy hitmaker Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad.)
Bell plays a TV star who dumps her boyfriend Peter (Jason Segal, who also scripted) and heads to Hawaii with his replacement, a tragically hip rock god named Aldous Snow (British TV talk show host Russell Brand). Meanwhile, Peter makes his way to the same resort, not realising the couple are there. After days of being tormented by the reality of Sarah's new life, he finds relief in a flirtation with a quirky hotel employee (That 70s Show's Mila Kunis).
For Bell, who turns 28 on Thursday, the toughest part of the assignment was keeping Sarah Marshall abrasive and real. "There was [talk of] her being more sympathetic but we kept that to a minimum," says the actress. "There's a tricky balance between wanting to make her likeable but also enjoying the comedy of her ditzy, bitchy parts."
Apatow cast Bell on the spot after her initial audition. "Her shutdown nature and sarcasm were really funny against [Segal's] puppy-dog vulnerability," he notes. "They made an interesting, horrible, funny couple." The film features plenty of unusual love scenes that called for the actors to romp around in compromising positions.
Bell remembers a day when Segal spent 12 hours completely nude, save for a strategically placed nylon sock. "Let me tell you, the sock draws more attention to the area than if a sock wasn't involved," she says with a laugh. "I tried not to let on that is was uncomfortable but, yeah, you're doing a scene with a naked man. I'm lucky he's taller than me and my eyes stayed glued up." As for her own revealing scenes, Bell says it's all in a day's work.
"I am by no means an exhibitionist but I'm not super-modest either," she says. Bell is a trouper, a show-must-go-on professional who takes odd assignments in her stride. To say she is unlike other party-hardy actresses of her generation is an understatement. "I tend to work very hard when I'm working and then when I'm in my off-time, I barely leave the house," she says. "I'm definitely one or the other. I will either have three jobs at one time, or I will just be completely stuck in bed all day watching reruns of [Animal Planet's] Jeff Corwin and feeling happy as a clam." Bell has had little time for Jeff Corwin lately.
After Veronica Mars was cancelled, she signed on for a handful of roles in a variety of different medium. She has played a Trekkie in the Star Wars-themed Fanboys, lent her tonsil power and likeness to the video game Assassin's Creed and signed on as sadistic electricity manipulator Elle Bishop on TV's Heroes. Bell is enthusiastic about her story arc on the hit show, even though it has yet to be resolved. The final season kicks off in the US in September.
Asked if she'd like to return for the rest of the show's junior year, she says, "I want to go back. As far as I'm concerned, I am going back. I'm not under contract to Heroes but I've had such a good relationship with the producers. I've had so much fun being on the show." In the meantime, Bell has finished Serious Moonlight, an action-comedy scripted by the late Adrienne Shelley (Waitress) and is now filming the romantic comedy When in Rome, which assigns her seven potential suitors. Bell has always been a hard-worker.
A native of the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods, the actress was one of those kids who hustled her way into nearly every single school play. In 2001, Bell left New York University a few semesters early to star on Broadway as Becky Thatcher in the short-lived musical The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She eventually moved to LA where she guested on Deadwood and played a kidnap victim in the movie Spartan before booking the title role in Veronica Mars.
Though a hit with critics, the series lasted just three seasons. Its cancellation last year came as something of a shock to Bell, who was filming Sarah Marshall at the time. "I thought it was going to go on," she says wistfully. "The ratings weren't good and they weren't bad; they were holding. It was heartbreaking. [The cast members] were like my family, and that closeness will always be there."
* Veronica Mars' last season debuts on TV2 next Sunday at 3pm. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is out in cinemas from July 31.By Amy Longsdorf