In the driv­ing seat

Whether writ­ing, di­rect­ing, act­ing or get­ting her hands dirty at the race track, poly­math Lake Bell is cheer­fully up­beat, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

You couldn’t make it up. The re­cep­tion­ist at the ho­tel where writer- ac­tor- direc­tor Lake Bell is stay­ing is hav­ing a Manuel mo­ment. “This is a ho­tel, madam,” she sug­gests help­fully when I ask for the show­busi­ness poly­math.

Lake Bell, hav­ing been in pos­ses­sion of a very fine, con­ver­sa­tion- start­ing name for some 30 years, is used to such con­fu­sion. “No, this is not a recog­nised lo­ca­tion or set of co­or­di­nates,” she laughs. “But I’m great for ar­ti­cle writ­ers. So many puns. And when I was a kid, I was al­ways able to trans­late my name in dif­fer­ent lan­guages. So that be­came a thing.”

Bell’s keen in­ter­est in lan­guage was at the heart of her much- ad­mired 2013 di­rec­to­rial de­but, In a World . . . , which saw a strug­gling voice coach ( Bell) be­come a ri­val for her fa­ther, a leg­endary vet­eran of the voice- over in­dus­try.

“Since I was a lit­tle girl I’ve dab­bled in mimicry,” Bell ex­plains. Does she re­mem­ber how she got started?

“Well, I re­mem­ber my par­ents had French friends over. And I was fas­ci­nated with their ac­cent in English and re­ally in­ter­ested to know what they said when they were speak­ing i n French. They looked cool. They sounded cool. They were a lit­tle bit the­atri­cal. So I started play­ing with my own voice. And that made peo­ple laugh. So I kept do­ing it.”

Ephron meets In­be­tween­ers

Bell is back in front of the cam­era as the jaded, wise- crack­ing hero­ine of Man Up, a new ro­man­tic com­edy that sees her knock­ing back shots and bowl­ing with Simon Pegg around var­i­ous Lon­don hot- spots. The film is di­rected by Ben Palmer, who pre­vi­ously helmed The In­be­tween­ers Movie, yet the ma­te­rial feels very clas­si­cal, very Nora Ephron.

“A lot of the more cur­rent ro­man­tic come­dies aren’t land­ing be­cause they’re not ro­man­tic come­dies,” says Bell. “They’re like, ‘ We’re go­ing to be cool. We’re go­ing to be the anti- ro­man­tic com­edy’. It has to be snarky or naughty in some way. Whereas Ben gives it a very con­tem­po­rary feel, but the film is right on it. It’s not ashamed of its genre.”

Bell not only nails the English ac­cent – nat­u­rally – but the sen­si­bil­ity as well. “The main dif­fer­ence be­tween dat­ing over here and dat­ing in Amer­ica is drink­ing,” she says. “You have to work a lot harder at that here.”

Was it odd go­ing back to tak­ing or­ders on set, hav­ing pre­vi­ously set her ca­reer as a writer- direc­tor in mo­tion?

“You know what? I have to give ev­ery ounce of credit to the ex­pe­ri­ences I have as an ac­tor. Be­cause I’ve been on the in­side look­ing out and it’s a great van­tage. Ev­ery time I do a job it’s like go­ing back to film school. I get to sponge more in­for­ma­tion. You can take five in your trailer or you can study.”

Mo­tor head

Bell grew up on Man­hat­tan’s Up­per East Side: her mother is the designer Robin Bell; her fa­ther is real es­tate de­vel­oper Har­vey Siegel, the owner of New Jer­sey Mo­tor­sports Park. It’s a pas­sion he has passed on to his daugh­ter, who has been the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter’s au­to­mo­tive con­tribut­ing edi­tor since 2011.

“I’ve al­ways been around race tracks and car shows and beau­ti­ful cars and au­to­mo­tive lec­tures,” she says. “My dad was al­ways ex­plain­ing what was cool and what wasn’t cool. When I write about cars, I can only write what I know. It’s anec­do­tal. It’s about feel­ing. But if your car breaks down, don’t call me.”

Bell spent time in a New Engl and board­ing school and a French ex­change pro­gramme be­fore she trans­ferred to Lon­don to the Rose Bru­ford Col­lege of Theatre & Per­for­mance. Away from home, she mas­tered a skill that would serve her well.

“I was in board­ing school at 14,” she says. “So let­ters be­came so piv­otal in my life. And my mom is a beau­ti­ful writer, so I’d have to work re­ally hard to keep up and com­mu­ni­cate what was go­ing on with me. That was a great train­ing ground. I just didn’t think I could do it as an oc­cu­pa­tion.”

When I write about cars, I can only write what I know. It’s anec­do­tal. It’s about feel­ing. But if your car breaks down, don’t call me

Bell of the ball

Lake Bell in Man Up

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