Midway through my conversation with Lake Bell, she asks if she can call me back. “Of course,” I reply. “I’ll be here.” When we reconnect, Bell informs me that her nanny had trouble finding the diapers and needed some assistance. Prioritizing is a lesson Bell has learned over the course of her long career—first as an actress in shows like Boston Legal and How to Make It in America, and then as the writer and director of the equally charming indies, In A World… and I Do…Until I Don’t. Bell credits her awakening to becoming a mother.
“There are true undeniably heavy, real circumstances that occur when you have children and the stakes get extremely high, which makes me enjoy what I do even more because I relax about it,” she says. “If you’re on the phone with Playboy and you have to get off to deal with a diaper situation, you do it.”
I caught Bell at a particularly hectic time in her already hectic life. Not only is she juggling a handful of projects and their corresponding promotional requirements, but she and husband Scott Campbell—the renowned tattoo artist and friend of Playboy—recently welcomed their second child. But our purpose here was to discuss another one of Bell’s children—this one borne from her mind, not her body. When Bell began writing I Do…Until I Don’t–an endearing satire about the trappings and the merits of marriage—she was skeptical about commitment. Then she met Campbell and her perspective on love, romance and the union of two people changed. Now, as the whole concept of marriage becomes more and more antiquated, especially among millennials, Bell finds herself as one of its most passionate advocates.
Here she is on her writing process, the power of monogamy and why you should definitely, definitely get hitched.
An actor friend of mine told me they admire you because you’re an actor “who makes their own shit.” Do you think it’s important for actors to take an active role in creating their own material rather than waiting for the right material to come their way?
I would say that it’s totally personal to each person. It’s unfair to put that pressure on every actor. I started my career out solely as an actor and I was a closeted writer my whole life. But now that I’m a writer, director and actor, I realize that it’s a really specific personality that has the deathwish to put that on themselves, because it’s multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and really does take a tremendous amount of bandwidth. Doing it because someone told you to do it—it just doesn’t work like that. There has to be no other option. It takes too much blood, sweat, tears and heartache. The great thing is, if you’re an aspiring writer, you don’t need other people or any tools. You just better fucking write.
How do you feel about terms like “multi-hyphenate” or “triple threat” that are now being used to describe you? Do you wear them like a badge of honor or does it not really matter how other people see you or talk about you?
It’s funny that the title “triple threat” is even a thing. At the end of the day I feel super lucky and i know that I’m really privileged to be able to do all of those things. I’m super proud of the work that I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished, and with every project I become more and more motivated. But you do need that encouragement.
I know getting In a World… to the screen was huge feat. Was it easier this time around? What were some lessons that you learned on that that you applied directly to I Do Until…I Don’t?
It’s never easier, especially because I bit off a lot more to chew on this one, where I had seven main characters and I was a mom for the first time in my life, so trying to juggle all that was definitely humbling. Scott got into a motorcycle right before production so our personal existence was super exciting and crazy, so why not fulfill my life dream concurrently with all that craziness? I implemented a lot of the same organizational and preparation mechanisms from that first film that really provided me with a successful and fun experience.
As a writer, how do you flesh out characters and make them fully realized people as opposed to caricatures or stereotypes?
I pull from my family and my friends and interactions that I’ve had and my husband and relationships that I’ve had. I use writing as an unabashed therapeutic exercise. I have to step into something that I know in order to envision or hear how my characters would speak or answer. Or, sometimes I’ll take the musicality of how this person speaks and the countenance of this other person that I know and combine them to create a new and refreshing characterization.
It feels like you’re promoting 10 different projects right now. Add that to the fact that you took on triple duty for this film, and you just gave birth to your second child. Meanwhile, most people can barely find the time to do laundry. Can I just ask: How?
Yeah, it’s lot. But the best lesson that I’ve learned is that when you start off in the industry you think everything is life and death, and then you have children and you realize what the true meaning of life and death is. I used to be so nervous to go on talk shows but now, as long as everyone’s alive at home it’s all good. There’s just a massive shift in perspective and that is pretty damn liberating. Also, that cliché that “it takes a village” is real, and if you don’t have your family around then you have to pay for the village. I have incredible caregivers and an astonishingly active and badass husband who’s my teammate and we both are participatory in our parenting.
A lot of people I know don’t see marriage as something that’s as directly related to adulthood as maybe it once was. Is this movie a defense of that institution?
The movie is deeply pro commitment. I’m pretty keen to put it out there that in this day and age when we are so infiltrated with so much negativity and angst and worry in the news and the tension in the tapestry of this country, I couldn’t be more proud of putting a story out there that has a very positive and kind spirited message like ‘have respect for thy partner.’ There’s something very provocative about that. The trend in relationships is like, when you can just Tinder yourself to nauseum, why wouldn’t you just bail when it gets dirty or messy? I think it’s a far braver, more badass, scary existence and choice to go all in and say that you love someone wholeheartedly, which means trudging through the shit when it gets rough and coming out on the other end of it.
Did this project help you reinforce that perspective?
When I came upon this project I totally had a cynical, jaded view. The young romantic in me was deeply hoping to be proven wrong. Think about it. Scott Campbell, of all people? He is cool personified and the guy is unabashedly romantic with me and that is very brave, because we’re all so scared.
I think people have an adverse reaction to notions of romance or sincerity because in our culture it’s directly related to corniness.
I know! And it’s not corny, or at least it doesn’t have to be. If people come to my husband and say ‘I want to get my girlfriend’s name tattooed on me,’ usually tattoo artists will ask ‘Well how long have you known her?’ If the answer is less than a year they try to talk them out of it. But if you tell my husband you’ve been dating that person for four days he says, ‘Sit down.’ He’s that guy. He’s just fearless and that’s sexy. So when it gets really scary, or really muddy, he’s not bailing. When farmers burn down the field so they can grow crops again, that has to happen. From shit, liyerally manure, grows beautiful things.
People also struggle with the idea of monogamy, and the notion that once you’re married, you’re only allowed to sleep with one person for the rest of your life.
I think monogamy is hard at every stage in some respect, mainly based on the pressure we put on ourselves. But it’s totally doable. There’s something very negative sounding about the whole idea of ‘Til death do us part.’ Just get married later in life. I think you set yourself up for a more difficult path if you get married super young because if you live decades upon decades it’s just not sustainable. The secret in any relationship is to be connected and grounded and understand thyself. Therapy is really important. You don’t have to be a crazy person. It means you give a shit about yourself enough to continue working on yourself. When you fall in love with someone, it means they bought into you. You don’t become one when you get married. You’re just next to each other walking through life, both with mutual power and you have to maintain who you were when you met each other so you can continue wanting to help each other. If you start to dilute or digress from who you actually really are at your core you become less attractive. So keep working on your brain and keep working on your body so you can meet each other in the middle and stay exciting for yourself and your partner.