Audio/Q&A: 'In a World ...' star/writer/director Lake Bell

Listen to the multi-talented actress/filmmaker's interview (and numerous accents) with RedEye's Matt Pais.

The highlight of a lot of mediocre movies ("Over Her Dead Body," "What Happens in Vegas," "It's Complicated," "No Strings Attached"), Lake Bell finally gets the starring role she deserves in "In A World ..."

Considering how few leading parts for women are out there, it's obviously notable that the 34-year-old actress (who appears on and occasionally directs episodes of Adult Swim's hilarious "Children's Hospital") also wrote and directed the film, opening Friday. "In A World ..." similarly covers a character trying to vault herself into uncharted territory as Carol (Bell) competes to defy the male-driven movie industry and become a well-known voiceover artist for trailers.

At Rebar in the Trump Hotel, Bell (who won a screenwriting award for the film at Sundance) talked about vocal trends, her reluctance to hate on the Kardashians and differentiating which commercials should be open to both genders for voiceovers.

You've talked a lot about the unsettling vocal trend of women speaking in a "sexy baby" voice. Are there other vocal trends that we've had before?

Absolutely. For instance, I always think of Marilyn Monroe during her time, where [Marilyn Monroe voice], "Uhh, Mr. President ..." That kind of super-breathy, sexy jim-jam [Laughs] was the vocal trend of that time.

I think jim-jam is the scientific term for it.

That is clinical.

You are a doctor.

I am a professional doctor. Not just a doctor, but a professional one. [Laughs] So I always felt like Marilyn Monroe had a vocal trend on her hand, and all the aspiring ingenue of that time tried to at least take on that affectation but didn't do it as successfully, and it wasn't as rampant because obviously media and the way that things are viral now, if there's a handful of girls who are doing or expressing this vocal trend then it's rampant. Especially if it’s on reality television, which is so deeply popular.

Is that why you think more people don’t have a problem with it? Because they don’t realize it’s a problem?

You know, there are other vocal trends for sure. There was a moment where everyone was talking about mumbling. I talked to older generations about this because you gotta talk to everybody about [things], and you can talk to an older generation and hear them express concern that the youth of today don’t have to be as articulate A. but B. actually enunciate as well as another time. Even if you hear movies of a different time, (talks like clearly enunciating, old-time movie stars) “People talked a certain way and they had a certain cadence and a way of speaking.”

It is pretty fun to talk like that.

It is fun, but that’s a trend of that time ... and sometimes it manifests itself in just a word, like when “like” first came on the scene. Or another way of expressing ourselves in cadence or in musicality or in (talks in baby voice) up-talking (back to regular voice) or whatever it is. And also within subgroupings and communities, for instance in a homosexual community, the gentlemen in that community would take on a certain lisp or semblance to show maybe other members of that community, “Hey, I’m a part of this group.” Which I think is a more honborable way to use a vocal trend. It’s to say, “Hey, I’m a part of this thinking and this way of living my life. This is my sexual preference, and I’m using voice to show it.” I think that is the most honorable way to use it. [Laughs]

If the Kardashians were to do a voiceover for a commercial, what would the product be?

It's difficult because I am not a hater, I'm a lover. The concept of "It" girl is so interesting and sort of brilliant to me because it's making something out of utter nothing. So I don't want to hate on the Kardashians. [Laughs]

I know, but they're certainly guilty of that voice.

They definitely have a tinge of the vocal trend. That said, it is only a testament to their influence in our society that their voice is a reference for young women.

I wonder how much people think about the world of voiceover and pay attention to that kind of thing. I notice that John Corbett is the voice of both Applebee's and Walgreens. To me that is confusing.

Some people notice it, and I would say the majority of people don't notice it, and I think that's why it's such a powerful medium. As I say in the movie at one moment, it's really cool to think that there are these omniscient, disembodied voices telling us what to think and how to feel and what to buy and what bank to trust and what car to have and what's cool, what movie to see ...

Off of that, are there some products that it wouldn't make sense to make a change as far as who's doing the voiceover? What would the impact be if there were surprising inversions? For example, if a woman did voiceover for prostate medication, and the same thing for a female product.

That's what I'm talking about with a female voice being the omniscient voice of the "In a World ..." kind of scenario, where you're playing the voice of God. And so for a woman to play the voice of God is inherently the most controversial conversation. But you're right: To have a man do a tampon commercial would feel somewhat disjointed, but that's because usually voiceover, the voiceover actor or presence, is talking to the very person who they want to be listening. So if it's for tampons, it's likely going to be a woman. That said, there is middle ground. The Emmys and the Oscars for instance, they have actually a female voice who announces the names.

Everyone likes pizza; there's no reason Domino's can't use a woman.

Absolutely. I mean, pizza, let's be honest: it's one of the great things in the world.

If not the best.

If not the best. This is the hard-hitting stuff. Now we’re getting into the real issues.

I try to lead off with the hard stuff; now we’ll get into the easy ones.

Yeah, this has been difficult. You’re right; you are correct that pizza is the greatest thing in the world. [Laughs]

What other under-represented --

Food subgroupings? [Laughs]

Or that ... Are there other roles that people don't often talk about that need more female representation, other than the voiceover world?

Oh, I mean, [Laughs] there are still a handful of areas where women, where the statistics are unfortunately low for ladies. That said, I guess if we're being topical then I would say the studio film system for female directors. There's very little female directors. I think independent filmmakers there's quite a lot of women, but I think that the studio system still has [very few].

What's something people don't appreciate about the challenge of directing something like "Children's Hospital"?

I think everyone thinks we improvise all the words and we're just loosey goosey, having a good time. But it's so quick! It's two days per episode, and as you've seen if you've watched "Children's Hospital," they've gotten progressively more ambitious. [Laughs] To say the least; we now are in Japan for chrissake. At an army base. I think our biggest challenge is always time.

There’s an interesting subplot in “In a World” about a cute British neighbor that comes and asks to shower at Rob Corddry’s character’s place.

Yeah, I’ve never been asked about that.

What do you think about those levels of cheating? Is he being helpful or is he crossing a line there?

I think he’s totally being helpful, but I think what’s so endearing about the Moe character in juxtaposing the Dani (Michaela Watkins) character is there are some people who are in a space in their life or maybe just the fabric of their being allows them to cross the line. And then the other people who might flirt with the idea but at the end of the day don’t have the stomach to do something that dishonest.

So how do you know when it’s wrong? If it feels like a big deal, it probably is?

Look, if you’re cheating, it’s wrong. I think we all know that if—she took a shower in his house, but he wasn’t going to do anything. His character’s adorable and nervous just by the idea of her being [Laughs] in the house bathing herself. But at the end of the day I just love seeing Corddry take on—I wrote that part for him and I wrote that scene with his energy in mind and delighting in his squirminess.

I know the upcoming “What’s the Point” is in preliminary stages--

Super-prelim.

I have to ask what your husband thinks about that and how the dynamic of that project changed after you got married?

[Laughs] Well, that’s what’s so cool about writing is that, especially with screenplays that take years, is you can start a project in one mindset and then actually evolve as a human whilst writing it. And that’s what makes that particular project really informative and really interesting.

Has it felt like it’s changed a lot because of that?

I mean, absolutely. It changes every day. With every draft of “In a World” even, there are so many things that change. Just given where I am in the universe and how I’m thinking about things. Or, “Ooh, that was interesting, a relationship that happened between two friends and that sort of informed the trajectory …” or “I had a weird conversation with my dad and all of a sudden I want to rewrite a scene.” That’s how it works.

Plus:
If she's spent time in Chicago before: "A little bit. Not too much, but ['Children's Hospital' comes] here for the comedy festival. The first time that I came here was I did one episode of 'ER' when I was starting out [Laughs], and that was their one episode of the year that they got to go to Chicago to shoot all their interstitial Chicago visuals."
Rap song she knows the words to: "Well, 'Today was a Good Day' by Ice Cube. I sang it in the movie and I closed my eyes. I was not reading the karaoke because that’s my song. Another one? I can rock 'Bust a Move' pretty well. I think we all can. At one point it was pretty rampant."
A movie that scared her: "Oh, Jesus. And this is supposed to be rapid-fire. Just in general? 'The Shining.'"
First album she bought: "The Cars."
Guilty pleasure TV show: "Millionaire Matchmaker."

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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