The cover of the newest Esquire magazine smacks you in the face with British badass du jour Tom Hardy’s tats and muscles. But it pales next to the monthly’s other front-page image for May. That would be shot of a mostly nude Lake Bell with the accompanying headline promoting her as the “most important actor/writer/director of her generation”.
“I know, Jesus, Esquire,” Bell proclaims on the line with the Georgia Straight from L.A., where she’s promoting her latest feature, Million Dollar Arm (opening on Friday [May 16]). “I went, like, ‘Did my mom tell them to write that?’ ”
For the uninitiated, Bell’s an enigma. While she was making her name as a funny and striking secondary player in comedies like It’s Complicated and No Strings Attached, the ambitious triple threat was also pursuing her true passion, culminating in the critically acclaimed feature In a World…. Bell wrote, directed, and starred in the 2013 film about a female voice coach who strives to make a name for herself in the male-dominated world of movie-trailer voice-over work.
It was after she won acclaim for her lead role as Rachel Chapman in HBO’s How to Make It in America that Bell finally decided to branch out. “I didn’t know when it was going to be the right time,” she recalls. “I never envisioned the ‘when’ part of it, but I’d been writing my whole life, so that was kind of already there. I was a closet writer. I never really told anyone.”
As a director, Bell did at least have the short film “Worst Enemy” to show for herself. “Which was a great exercise for me,” she says, “but also a tremendous asset when I was looking for financing so that I could have a visual calling card of what I wanted to do. But it’s never easy, there are so many obstacles that you encounter every day and it was incredibly difficult.”
In Million Dollar Arm, Bell costars with Jon Hamm in the story of real-life sports agent J. B. Bernstein, who went to India to find cricket players who had the talent to make it in major-league baseball. She’s his tenant/love interest, Brenda, and Bell provides a laundry list of reasons for going after the role, ranging from her love of sports films (her favourites are Miracle and A League of Their Own) to her respect for the principals involved.
“Tom McCarthy [The Station Agent] wrote the script, and I loved the script,” she begins. “I’m a huge fan of Tom’s, and with Craig Gillespie directing… He directed Lars and the Real Girl. I’m a fan of his and thought it was an interesting kind of marriage to have those two guys take on this story. It inherently made this a really cool project.”
Unsurprisingly, the main reason Bell pushed hard for the job was because she felt that Brenda was unconventional. “The character is just cool,” she says. “She’s not your quintessential female role in a sports movie. She’s really integral to the protagonist in the journey, and I felt that she dished out a dose of tough love that I really relate to.”
So, was Esquire right? Is Bell this generation’s kick-ass female version of Woody Allen? “It’s one of those things where I just can’t overthink it,” Bell insists. “It’s a super-generous headline and I’m just continuing to move forward as I was. I have three different projects that I’m nurturing, and I’m just excited to get them made.”