Wet Hot American Summer: Lake Bell

The Actor/Director Joins the Staff at Camp Firewood

Jul 27, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Over the last decade, Lake Bell has become a recognizable face in Hollywood, most notably on television with regular roles on Boston Legal, How To Make It In America, and Children Hospital, and in films such as What Happens in Vegas, It’s Complicated, No Strings Attached, and Black Rock. In 2013, Lake Bell made her debut behind the camera by writing and directing the critically-acclaimed In A World…, a comedy—which she also starred in—about the competitive world of voiceover acting.

Following years of working with him on the Adult Swim series Childrens Hospital, Bell was invited by director David Wain to join the cast of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. In the eight-part prequel series to the 2001 cult film, Bell plays a new teenage counselor named Donna.

We recently chatted with Bell about being a newcomer in the Wet Hot world, her directing career and upcoming film roles. (All this week we are posting interviews with diifferent members of the Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp cast. All the interviews will be linked to here. Also pick up our next print issue for a separate in-depth article on the show.)

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): The last time we talked, you were in post-production on In A World

Lake Bell: Oh, wow! That was a while ago.

That film was such a success, and people really liked it. Having your first film go so well – is that going to change the type of director you’ll be on your next one? I imagine it has to be a confidence booster.

It is a confidence booster, but it’s also like, “Oh, shit. I have to follow this up?” At the end of the day, I think it’s definitely a validation in the direction of doing something that I, personally, love to do. It gives me great satisfaction and joy in a creative space. I don’t want to overly think about it, other than looking for projects—or writing projects—that make me feel creatively satiated.

On the next project I’m doing, I’m a director for hire. But, I say that in the nicest way, because it’s an adaptation of a novel I love, called The Emperor’s Children. It’s a quintessentially New York story that takes place in a pre-9/11 New York, and it follows this famous literary patriarch played by Jeff Bridges. It’s a wonderfully new type of film that I’m excited to take on. It was written by Noah Baumbach, so I’m in the company of really exciting people. I feel really fortunate that I get to do that. So I think In A World… really provided creative opportunities.

With In A World… you directed a lot of your friends and peers, but Jeff Bridges is something of a working legend. Was there any intimidation about directing someone of his stature?

I now know Jeff, somewhat, through this process. I don’t have that sort of fear of actors in any way, I think just because I am one and I’ve worked alongside people who are legends. That fear sort of translates into excitement somewhere along the way.

Now that you have experience as a film director, has that changed the way you approach your acting roles in any way?

It definitely informs how I go into an experience. I’m sure it’s somewhat annoying [for directors]—if they say, “You can’t go back to your trailer because this turnaround is going to only be 10 minutes. Just hang out and stay here.” I can look at it and know it’s going to be at least an hour setup. [Laughs] So I’m going to go get coffee and relax; I know what you have to do here to get this set up and it’s going to take an hour.

That said, when taking on an acting role, I think that always illuminates how, as an actor, your role is very important, but it’s also very small in other ways. It’s just one piece of a very large puzzle.

Obviously, you’ve worked with a lot of the Wet Hot team on other projects – particularly Michael and David and Ken. How were you approached to get involved with this?

I was straight out of baby-land. I’d just given birth, and David emailed me was just like, “I know you just gave birth, but would you be interested in being part of the new Wet Hot American Summer? I was just so excited to get that call, and also, with trepidation, thinking “What will be my first job?” I was learning how to be a mother, and I was trying to very messily and clumsily navigate what it is to work and be a mom. But I thought, there’s no better place in the world for me to experiment with that, because these are all my friends. Not only are they my friends, but they’re also fathers—they know what it is to be a parent and to work. And they’ve seen their babies’ mothers go through this, and so they know what this is. So it just seemed like a safe environment to experiment with the juggling of those two things.

It was exciting. My baby was, I think, four months old, so I definitely had a pot belly. [Laughs] I had to play a 16-year-old. You know, fresh and nubile. Yet I had a pot belly from having just given birth as a 35-year-old.

I have to imagine there are some similarities between shooting Wet Hot and shooting Childrens Hospital – not just the familiar faces, but in that they’re both insane, far-out comedies with massive casts of funny people. How are the two sets similar, or different? 

The tones of the sets are similar, but I would venture to say that Wet Hot is a little bit more movie-like, if that makes sense. Whereas on Childrens Hospital, we’re very insulated. We get a building each season, and it’s like, “Okay, make this building a thousand different things.” It can go from a morgue, to something from a spy movie, to the White House…. Wet Hot American Summer is set at a camp. Even though that’s a set location, it actually makes a vast difference in how we shoot, and in logistics. But otherwise the camaraderie, and the silliness, and the playfulness is all there on both sets.

I know that David had some challenges trying to get all of these people in the same room. Obviously, with the original cast, the majority of them are major motion picture stars. So, to get everyone there at the same time was nearly impossible to do. There are a lot of challenges in trying to make that happen. Whereas, on Childrens Hospital, everyone just shows up if they can, and if they can’t, we just make up a funny reason to address why they’re not there.

I’m aware that you’re sworn to secrecy, but we do know you play a teenager named Donna. Is there anything more you feel safe telling us about your character?

I mean, all I can say is that I wear overalls. Sexy overalls? Is that enough? [Laughs] I know they’re really serious about not revealing anything…. I’d feel more comfortable letting David reveal things. I’d hate to be the little sister who squeals, you know?

You’re part of the new crew. Was there any hazing or initiation process from original cast?

No. Unfortunately, I wish there was something funny that happened, but they were particularly easy on me because I was juggling breast pump issues with working. You know what I mean?

Who of your Wet Hot American Summer co-stars would you like to direct in a film one day?

Oh, man…I love every one of them. It’s an amazing cast, and David’s very lucky. But I couldn’t pick just one person. The cast is packed with incredibly talented people, and I’d be lucky as a director to have any of them. But obviously at the end of the day, I don’t like to even cast my friends if they’re not right for a role. I would never just cast someone because they’re my friend; I’d only cast if they’re incredibly right for a role.

Sometimes I write stuff for people directly, and then it ends up they can’t do it. So everything’s an evolution. The good thing is that in your head you can cast anyone, so you can adjust without people even knowing.

Do you think that your next project after The Emperor’s Children will be something you wrote?

Yes. It’s an original work, so that’s what I’m working towards. Obviously, projects take a long time to develop, so The Emperor’s Children will be my second child after In A World… and then my third project will be an original work.

You’ll be appearing in Shot Caller, and the rest of the cast is pretty badass. You’re starring with Shane from The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister. Do you watch either of their shows?

[Laughs] Okay, so I feel bad that I have not seen those shows. That said, I’ve been pregnant and then in baby-land for like a year, and the kind of things you want to watch when you’re pregnant aren’t hardcore, [gory] death stuff.

How did you prepare for doing a British accent in Man Up, with Simon Pegg?

With In A World…, I’m sure you can imagine that I’m an accent collector and aficionado. But yes, it took a tremendous amount of work to be able to act with an accent, and be able to improvise without it being an issue. Because I’m so obsessed with being authentic with an accent, I put a lot of pressure on myself to ensure that it never would be an issue.

I really wanted to deliver in a way that I could be proud of myself…. I worked with a dialect coach for a month and a half beforehand on Skype, because I was shooting No Escape in Thailand at the time. And so I would work at night with her, and then when I landed in London I took on the accent up until the end of production.

***
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp premieres on Netflix on July 31st, 2015.

To read our other Wet Hot American Summer cast Q&As, click here.



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