Lake Bell on Exploring the Female Voice in Her Feature-Length Debut ‘In a World…’
Looking back on some of the most enjoyable comedies of the past, like Hal Ashby’s Shampoo or Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, it’s not only their enjoyable essence that made them memorable, but the way they seamlessly blended the comical with the dramatic while delivering a larger social commentary. And with her directorial debut In a World … writer, actress, and filmmaker Lake Bell harkens back to that sentiment to create a truly delightful film about the under-exposed world of the voiceover industry. Known as an actress for her myriad roles in both film and television, Bell’s first feature pays tribute to her life-long obsession with the human voice and showcases not only her many talents as an actor but a refreshing new female voice in film, winning her the Best Screenplay award at Sundance this past January.
It started from an organic place, because I was obsessed with voices, but also just the vocal mechanism as a form of expression. Also, it was the ultimate acting mechanism—you could be anybody, especially when it comes to acting, it becomes the tool that allows you to be any nationality, any social nouveau, or any gender for that matter. In the movie there’s a fun fact where Ken Marino is constantly talking on speaker phone to his agent whose this big ol fat Jewish dude, and that’s played by me. So I already used this as a platform to eek out another opportunity to do a voiceover character. But I really do, with genuine appreciation, love voiceover and I think probably started in earnest when I was younger just doing dialects and accents for my family. It was like a dinner party trick, some old dude was like [in an raspy old-man voice] “You have a good ear, you should listen to that.” So I think honing in on it and it being commended in some respect made it an obsession. Then I started collecting accents, so if I heard someone with an accent I’d peak up. And living in New York, that’s a normal thing. We live in a melting pot of the most incredible accents. So I took that to heart .
It’s funny, I had heard some comments about it being a romantic comedy and I would shun that word because—although I love romantic comedies—it’s just not that. It’s just a comedy, and because it’s earnest and about real people, I guess people say: is that a dramedy? But that the juggle between romance and drama and comedy is delicate and I think the movies that I grew up with, the ones that inspired me, all successfully represent those three very profound and serious important sub-groupings versus just one. So whether it’s King of Comedy or Hannah and Her Sisters or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, they all surround very real circumstances. Of course in my movie there’s not life or death circumstances, but because of the characters living their own lives in it, they would beg to differ that these are very high stakes. I’m interested in real feelings and I’m not a great sketch writer, that’s not what I do, that’s not what I feel comfortable in. I can direct it, like on Children’s Hospital, as an observer and player of it that feels comfortable but I wouldn’t necessarily write it.
And it’s so specified, like whose going to feel as passionate about a Bulgarian accent? I don’t know that anyone would be quite right for it, but I never wanted to cast anyone that wasn’t right for the role, even my friends that are in the film. I mean, I want to put my friends in everything because I think they’re talented and amazing, and you want to surround yourself with great people because it’s a long haul making a movie. You’re married to these people for years, it’s all encompassing and also for the actual 20 days to shoot it, it’s intense and you want to make sure your team is good and there’s no sort of diva assholes. People where you’re like, “Why are bitching? We’re making a movie this is like the coolest thing they you could ever do!” So I didn’t have any jerks or turkeys on set.
She certainly dons a look that I think represents a modicum of arrested development. I think she and Sam are a little bit stunted and the last time they can remember things being good and the effective was many yesterdays ago. So for instance, Sam, who was big 10 years ago because they were still doing epics and now his relevance as a voiceover artist is dated now, the last time he was killing it was that time, so all of his clothing—his velour suits, his 90s corvette and his decor—stayed in that place. And the same with Carol. I have friends like this and I came to relate to the sentiment of, the last time I was feeling good about things was when I was listening to Nirvana in college trying to figure out who I was and everything was open and there were possibilities, there was promise in each day like, “Oh yeah I’m eventually going to do it,” but then all of a sudden you haven’t done it and you found yourself in a position of not only doing the same things but wearing the same things to hold onto youth.
Well, I didn’t want to be overly preachy with the message of the movie, but it needs to be said that there are some messages involved and sewn into the story—but mainly because it’s an interesting conversation, not necessarily to yell at people or soap box. It’s comedy first and then oops, there’s a message. And Fred, he would always attest to the fact that in the movie trailer industry, there are no women, there’s no hyperbole involved in the depiction of that. There are no ladies who do it, for myriad of reasons—one could be that there’s a fear of change because movies cost so much money nowadays and if you’re going to market them, you just need butts in seats. So you don’t want to rupture the template that’s been working for so many years, which is a male omniscient voice, authoritative figure. There have been tests that maybe female voices don’t hold the same attention that a deep male voice does and that’s interesting to me. I wanted to illuminate that.