Kristen Bell is so honest about ‘doing it all’ and finding true happiness
If it seems like you’re constantly hearing KRISTEN BELL’S voice – in your kid’s favourite animated movie, singing the theme song of a buzzy documentary, as a character on that hit TV show – it’s true. But we think her voice should be inside your head as w
IT’S MIDDAY ON A THURSDAY IN SUNNY Los Angeles, and Kristen Bell is sprawled out on her bed ‘taking a deep breath’, she says over the phone. For good reason: she’s been in motion shuttling between Atlanta – where she filmed the sequel to the hit movie Bad Moms – and Los Angeles (the daughters she shares with husband Dax Shepard, Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3, in tow), where she’s shooting the new season of her smart sitcom The Good Place. ‘Simultaneously’ – which is a word Kristen uses often, and for good reason – she’s been doing voice-over work for a bunch of things, but mainly the much anticipated sequel to Frozen, in which she will reprise her role as Princess Anna. She was taping lines for attractions at Disneyland Tokyo this morning before she decided to rush home to lie down. ‘I was like, “I could sit in my car, or I could take the extra 10 minutes to drive home and lie in my bed,”’ she explains. ‘Selfcare,’ she says, her voice only slightly muffled by pillows. ‘I really believe in self-care.’
Which goes some way towards answering the question of how she does it all. But this is not a question I’m going to ask Kristen, because she’s already told me she hates it. ‘Well, I don’t hate it – I hate it and secretly love it, I suppose, because it’s asked with the intention of getting a clear answer, and the answer is, there is no clear answer. Like, “How do you do it?” implies that a) I am doing it, which I am not – I am doing what everybody else is doing, which is trying their best, and b) What is a balance, anyway? A balance teeter-totters. A balance is not stationary – it moves, something gives and other things take, and other days it might be the opposite.’
This kind of stream-of-consciousness sharing is one of Kristen’s great charms, and it’s why the actress has carved out a reputation for being as open as a 24-hour diner. ‘Humans want nothing more than to be accepted, and I’m no different. That doesn’t happen by presenting perfection,’ she tells me. ‘I believe in showing your dirty hands and your bumps and bruises and your faults, because that’s what makes people feel connected – and isn’t that kind of the purpose of, you know, being on Earth?’ For more of that kind of wisdom, listen in. Your characters in The Good Place and Bad Moms are very different, but imperfection is a thing they have in common. In Bad Moms, Kiki is a doormat, and before she gets to the Good Place, Eleanor is the kind of person who cheats the elderly. I am attracted to characters who are inherently unlikable, and I make it my mission to get you to root for them. It’s fun, not only because I’m challenging myself, but also because that is human. You have no idea what anyone else is going through. My mom used to say to me when I was little, ‘Just because you don’t see the chinks in a person’s armour doesn’t mean you can treat them like you know their story.’ In real life, are you a person who has a lot of empathy for jerks? Yeah, I have really got to a happy place the last five years or so, where I have so much sympathy towards people who are unhappy or jerky. Like, ‘Oh, man, we have one ride here – that’s how you are going to spend it? What a bummer.’ Another thing that struck me about those characters is that they both go through a major transformation – Kiki gets a spine, and Eleanor becomes a good person. Have you ever gone through a significant change? Personally, I experienced my most dramatic change when I met my husband.
Everything I knew previous to him has sort of gone out the window. Really, how so? Oh, yeah. I thought I had everything figured out, but Dax is an incredible critical thinker, and he started to ask questions about why I thought what I thought, why I believed what I believed, why I felt what I felt. I think my whole perspective on life changed when I started having deep talks with this man I fell in love with. Wow. You guys have been together about 10 years, married for four. Do you still talk like that? Oh, yeah! That’s our whole relationship. Asking questions about ‘what is’ makes life so much richer and deeper and gives you such a better sense of understanding of yourself. He was an anthropology major, and how apes’ behaviour mirrors humans’ comes up more than you’d think. You grew up with sisters, and now you have two daughters. Do you see any similarities between their sibling dynamic and the one you had? First of all, I love having girls. The truest thing in life is that girls rule, boys drool. I love seeing them relate to each other. They are just at the point where they are starting to play together, which is so fun to watch. I grew up, as one does, with love-hate relationships with my sisters. There were times they tortured me and times they surprised me and made my Madonna costume at Halloween. I think when my daughters have conflict, it encourages resilience, and I want to build those skills. I don’t want to make their lives easy at all times and then release them into the world when they are 18. You’ve said some really thoughtful things about parenting in the past. What’s the best parenting advice you’ve got recently? The ‘How many minutes?’ technique our preschool uses is kind of epic. If one kid has a toy and the other kid wants it, the person who wants it says, ‘How many minutes?’ The person who has it is allowed to say ‘One’ through ‘Five.’ The kid on the swing knows there’s a foreseeable end, and the one waiting knows there’s a foreseeable future. When I ask, ‘How many minutes until you finish your broccoli?’ I’m saying it’s gonna
‘I believe in showing your faults, because that’s what makes people feel connected’
happen, but you can weigh in on it. I hear them do it with each other – ‘How many minutes till I get the ball?’ They negotiate. Do you ever have bad-mom moments? For sure. I do not have a spotless record. We’ve had times when we’ve all been sleeping in the same hotel room and my threeyear-old will wake up in the crib at 5am because she is hungry and I will throw a PowerBar into her cage so the five-year-old and my husband and I can go back to sleep. I know you’ve said you really try not to feel guilt, but mom guilt is a powerful beast. Do you ever feel that, and if so, how do you deal with it? Guilt is for the toilet bowl as far as I’m concerned. Here’s the thing: if you spend time feeling guilty, you are never really focused on getting work done or spending time with your family. In my life, I am either working a lot and getting it out of the way or not working at all and being 100% present with my family. When I come home, my phone goes away and we just play Candy Land. I said before there was no clear answer to that work-life-balance question, but there are definitely rules we never break or bend. Like, there would have to be a major upset for me to schedule any work on the weekends. It’s nothing but family time; it’s a line in the sand. Hollywood’s treatment of women is something we hear a lot about. What has your experience been? Do you ever look back and say, ‘Hmm, that was some sexism…’? Two things: I have a terrible memory, particularly for negative events, which I am really grateful for. If someone says something negative to me, I’m pretty cool about letting it roll off my back. That said, those situations exist for sure. There are times I’ve been talked down to, but I really live by the Eleanor Roosevelt quote: ‘No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ I won’t stand for it, and if I saw it happening or if I experienced it, I wouldn’t tolerate it. Have you ever experienced Hollywood’s legendary ageism, like been asked to play Robert Redford’s wife or Margot Robbie’s mother? I like changing myself; I like roles! So if I was able to play Robert Redford’s wife and Margot Robbie was our daughter, I’d be thrilled because I am an actress. I’m not trying to minimise the issue, but it’s not at the forefront of my mind right now. And anyway, acting is not important enough to be all underwear-up-in-a-knot about it, in my opinion. I keep my underwear nice and smooth and comfortable. If my underwear is knotted, I take it off. When was the last time you felt really badass? I feel badass a lot. Two nights ago, I got home at one in the morning and said, ‘You know what? YOLO. I’m starving. I’m going to make this new macaroni and cheese that I’m obsessed with called Banza.’ It’s made from chickpeas, so it has like 18g of protein per serving, which is incredible because I’m a vegetarian. And I was like, ‘I’m going to be really gluttonous,’ and I added two cheese packets. I sat in bed and ate it with no guilt and thought, This is a good ride. Here’s the question, though: did you bring the bowl to the kitchen or leave it on the bedside table? I left it on my bedside table. Bad. Ass. I brought it downstairs the next morning, though. But you know what? Next time I do it, I think I’m just going to chuck it out the window.
LEFT: Kristen with husband Dax at the Golden Globe Awards last year BELOW: With her The Good Place co-stars (from left) Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper and Manny Jacinto BELOW LEFT: Kristen, Dax and their daughters, Delta and Lincoln