Lake Bell: Directing Debut

The actress discusses taking on a new role for ‘In a World…,’ the cliquishness of Hollywood, and what’s next

Photography by Roy Beeson

Lake Bell talked her way into her first voice-over gig when she was 11. “I was sort of pushy about it,” recalls the 34-year old writer, director, and star of In a World…, a comedy, debuting this Friday, that’s set in the oddball and insular Hollywood voice-over industry. “I was flying back and forth between New York and Florida every other weekend visiting my parents, who were divorced. I remember the stewardesses as these sophisticated women whose voices boomed out over the speakers explaining what to do in case of an emergency. To me, it seemed like a very important job, but they all looked so bored! So finally I asked, ‘Hey, can I take a crack at this?’ I went and read over the P.A. in this very authoritative way. When I came out from behind the curtain, everyone on the plane was clapping.” Pause. “And I got so mad! I was like, ‘You guys knew it was me the whole time?’”

A Lake Bell triptych

As a comedic actress, Bell’s casual glamour is often downplayed onscreen in favor of a gawky neuroticism—her awkward flirtation with Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached stole the film—but she’s always been sure of herself when it comes to her career. After graduating from drama school in London, Bell arrived in Los Angeles expecting to take on the town. “I had this demo tape of different dialects I could do,” she says, laughing. “I was convinced I was meant to be one of the great voice-over artists.” But the industry turned out to be a small pond filled with big, territorial fish. “It was such a clique,” she explains. “I thought this deeply hierarchical, very male system seemed like a good backdrop for comedy.”

Blessed with an all-star comedic cast (Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Rob Corddry, and Michaela Watkins, among others), Bell’s first film as a writer-director won her an award for best screenplay at Sundance this year. The silly laughs are grounded by the fraught relationship between Carol (Bell), a lost young voice over wannabe, and her father Sam (Fred Melamed), an industry stalwart losing his voice, so to speak, to a younger, brasher upstart (Ken Marino). “I don’t want to say that it’s a depiction of my relationship with my own father,” Bell says. “But there are aspects that resonate. Writing is therapy in that way.”

Not one to slow down after a hot start, Bell is already working on her follow-up film, an ensemble comedy about marriage—although she only wed the tattoo artist Scott Campbell this June. “We haven’t even gone on our honeymoon yet!” she says. “But I can’t wait to do this all over again.”