ILLUSTRATION BY HANOCH PIVEN
Kristen Bell is a woman of many secrets, although not by choice. “I’m on all these mystery shows, and I can’t talk about them. It’s awful!” laments the actress, calling from the car on her drive home from the Universal Studios lot where she’s filming season four of NBC’s popular metaphysical comedy, The Good Place. Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, a wayward soul who accidentally winds up in heaven only to learn, in a shocking season-one twist, that she’s been in The Bad Place the whole time. “I didn’t tell anyone,” she says. “I didn’t even tell my husband.” As for her costars? “Ted [Danson] told everyone!”
Bell, who turns 39 this month, has fashioned a career that has been as busy as it has been unpredictable: She voiced both plucky Princess Anna in Frozen (the sequel arrives in November) and the sly, off-screen narrator of Gossip Girl. She has starred in raunchy comedies such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Bad Moms. But perhaps no role has come to define Bell more than Veronica Mars, the sharp-tongued teen detective from the wrong side of the tracks. In 2007, when The CW network dropped the original incarnation of the show after only three seasons, fans were so heartbroken that they funded a movie (released in 2014), raising $2 million via Kickstarter in less than 12 hours. Starting this month, Hulu kicks off another reboot, with eight episodes set in the present day. “I would have taken the death of the show then if I had known that we could reinvent it now,” Bell admits. “I don’t think there’s a better time to be discussing the haves and have-nots of the world.”
Before arriving home to lunch with her two young daughters—she recently launched Hello Bello, a line of affordable, plant-based baby products, with her husband, actor Dax Shepard of Bless This Mess—the actress agrees to reveal a few juicy details about this new, darker reboot, as well as Frozen 2 and the pressures of being in a power couple.
Your signature character, Veronica Mars, always had a sarcastic edge, but she’s considerably more jaded in the new series. How do you think people will respond?
The show had no choice but to evolve. [Creator] Rob Thomas has taken the opportunity to reinvent everything. We are making this for the diehard fans who, like us, have aged 15 years since the original show. Our audience has grown up, and it only makes sense that Veronica and her world have as well.
Veronica Mars was your big break. Did you despair when it was first canceled?
There was 5 percent of me that was happy, because being in absolutely every scene was a back-breaking amount of work. I was really excited to get a little sleep. But I was 95 percent terrified, because every actor worries about where their next job is going to come from. This is the plight of being vulnerable and egotistical at the same time. You’re like, “Everybody loves me! Nobody likes me!” The day after I found out it was canceled, I was in Hawaii shooting Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I shot a scene where Sarah’s crying about her crime show not getting picked up. It was very odd.
What show would you resurrect as a fan?
It’s very difficult for me to say. Everything I love is currently on. I would like more seasons of [Amazon’s] Patriot. I loved it so, so much. It came out of nowhere, except the smartest people in our lives were like, “You guys need to be watching Patriot. It’s the best show no one’s watching.” And they were right.
Former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is such a big fan of Veronica Mars he joined the writing staff of the reboot. Did you get to work with him?
I didn’t. The writers room is pretty separate on Veronica Mars, more than other shows I’ve worked on. The writers don’t really come to set. He and his writing partner wrote episode six—that I know.
Speaking of scripts, what the fork is gonna happen next season on The Good Place? Can we expect more twists?
Yes, there are a few more—one that really knocks my socks off. I have so many spoilers that I can’t reveal, and I’m pulling my hair out because I want to tease people with fun details.
What about Frozen 2? Anything you can divulge? Of course, the big question is: Could there possibly be a song that will rival the ubiquity of “Let It Go”?
I think so! I have to be so careful, because Disney likes to keep everything under wraps. There is a song that I have been singing to my girls since I heard it, and I personally think it’s one of the catchiest tunes ever. But it’s not a power ballad, and I don’t sing it [in the film]. That’s all I’ll give you.
You’ve said that you helped make some changes to the character of Anna during the production of Frozen. Do you think of her as a more modern Disney princess?
Oh yeah. The initial script was very different from what we released. Anna was a little bit more prim and proper and princessy, and I think we all felt like something wasn’t working. When I read her, I felt like she had good posture, and I never wanted to play that girl. That’s not who I was at 10. I wanted someone who tripped over her own feet and talked before she thought and always led with her heart. And I said those things, and they took all of the feedback, which was so incredible.
What about in the sequel?
In the second one, [cowriter/codirector] Jennifer Lee sat down and said, “What do you think Anna’s next steps are?” And we talked about a couple of elements I really wanted to incorporate into Anna’s life—a lot of them related to the anxiety and depression I feel in my life. Not giving her those qualities, but there’s an element that relates to that.
Looking at your life, how does it feel to have so many people write #RelationshipGoals whenever you post a photo of you and Dax on social media? Are there any relationships you look at from afar and feel that way about?
Not really. To me, just seeing a picture of two happy people doesn’t do anything. Anybody can take that picture, which is why Dax and I take a high level of responsibility around this hashtag that we’ve been given. There are plenty of times when we are angry with each other. A relationship is like going to the gym: The more you work at it, the better results you’re going to get. We put a lot of work into it. We look for each other’s triggers, we avoid land mines, we go to the therapist. I think when you get that label of being a great couple, it’s important to remind people why you got it. We didn’t just wake up with these abs—we’ve been doing sit-ups for 12 years.
Dax has been very candid about his struggles with drugs and alcohol. He’s been sober for almost 15 years, but how do you feel secure that he won’t relapse?
Well, there’s a rule in Al-Anon: “Watch their feet.” It doesn’t really matter what people are saying—what are they doing? My husband goes to [Alcoholics Anonymous] every week, we almost never go to bed angry, he’s a very present father. I may be unique in this, but I’m almost less worried about a relapse or him cheating on me than I would another partner who had never had any addiction, never had any therapy or AA training. I really think AA has been such a profound teaching tool in our lives. We help our girls work through problems using 12 steps—not directly, but the emphasis is put on making amends. It’s just a healthy way to live, whether you’re addicted or not.
A lot of actors are writing memoirs and essay collections. You seem like someone who’d write a fun book.
I have been approached. The problem lies in the fact that I have no long-term memory. I remember the names of three people I went to high school with. Dax will tell me we went on vacation somewhere, and I’ll be like, “Yeah, right.” I don’t know how on earth I could ever write a book. My memory works on a day-to-day basis. I’m a clean slate every morning. I will say, it’s liberating. I don’t hold grudges.
You famously had a meltdown when Dax surprised you by renting a sloth for your birthday party. What was the last thing that made you cry?
I’m alone with the kids right now, and my 4-year-old keeps waking up all night long. I don’t get any sleep because this kid doesn’t sleep. So last night, at about 3 a.m., I marched into her bedroom and screamed, and I woke up so remorseful. I called her before she went to school and I apologized. She said, “Oh, that’s OK, Mommy.” I was crying on the phone.
Last question: You got your start on Broadway. Would you ever return, and for what production?
I would love to return. I’d like to have my last project, the finale of my career, be on Broadway and be a musical version of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?—really go out with a bang.
BY THE NUMBERS
Year Bell left New York University to make her Broadway debut in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Donors who gave $5.7 million on Kickstarter to fund the Veronica Mars film
Global box office revenue, in dollars, of Frozen, the top-grossing animated film of all time
Rank on the all-time holiday singles chart of Bell’s Frozen hit “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” (after Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”)
Views on YouTube of an Ellen interview in which Bell wept over her love of sloths