Actor, writer, director: Lake Bell has been at this long enough now that there’s only a vanishingly small chance you haven’t seen something she’s been involved with. From supporting turns in mainstream hits like It’s Complicated to roles in beloved cult TV like Children’s Hospital, Bojack Horseman, and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp, Bell has maintained a constant presence in front of the camera, even as she’s gone behind it writing and directing films like In A World... or the pilot episode of the new ABC series she co-created, Bless This Mess (recently renewed for a second season). Prior to the release of The Secret Life Of Pets 2, in which Bell voices lazy cat Chloe (whom you may have seen barfing up a hairball on her owner’s bed in the trailer), we spoke with her for our 11 Questions feature. Bell was happy to chat about being aggressively sensitive, the joys of weddings, and being mistaken for Amanda Peet on the red carpet.
Lake Bell: I don’t dig on fast food. So I have to say that now, in my current life choices, I don’t dabble in it. However, back in the day—and this is just purely honest, because my politics have changed and whatnot—but, every birthday, I would drop everything and get a Big Mac.
AVC: So just the old-school, hardcore burger was your go-to.
LB: Oh, yeah. Well, not just a burger, but a Big Mac because of the special sauce. And then I would try to emulate—I would do Big Mac parties when I was, you know, struggling with the ethos of McDonald’s, which continues on today. So I would create my own Big Macs and would have to delve into the mechanics of what special sauce entails and try to decipher what the recipe was, because the special sauce is what really made it. And then you could do your triple stack or your double stack and really make it difficult for your mouth to get around the burger tower that you had created. But it was a special thing to me from teenage years throughout to my whole 20s. Even when I was feeling—I think there was one point where I was vegetarian, and I dropped everything for it. But when I became vegan, I drew the line. I think that’s when I dropped the Big Mac birthday.
AVC: Do you remember what your attempt to recreate the special sauce consisted of?
LB: Yes, I can tell you because I am not as hush-hush about it. I will be open and transparent about my discoveries. It’s kind of like a Russian dressing sauce—so it’s basically Russian dressing, ostensibly mayonnaise and ketchup, mixed with relish. I think that does constitute the special sauce. So it’s basically, like, Russian dressing with relish. So… not so special anymore.
AVC: Thank you for blowing the lid off Big Big Mac.
LB: Yeah. You’re welcome.
LB: I know this sort of a cliché answer, but I will say my wedding—I mean, of course because I was getting to sort of start my life with my love, but also because it was the best fucking party I’ve ever attended. It’s like, we took it really seriously—Scott and I both are big... We used to always throw parties. Now we have children—that’s a different reality. But we were big into throwing parties, and so we took it as an ultimate challenge to throw our dream fantasy party. And so not only was it all the food we would ever want, but it was a dancing mayhem and mixture of cultures because we had Scott’s entire tattoo culture mixing with my Upper East Side/WASPy parents and grandparents. It was just an amazing mash of people that all flowed and worked well and got naked—it was so hot and everyone was just sweating. [Laughs.] It was New Orleans and it was, like, a hundred degrees at night, you know what I mean? It was one of those nights. And people danced so hard—our friend Dar had to throw away his suit because it was so wet and then molded. I don’t know what he did.
LB: Yeah. People’s clothing couldn’t handle it. And I think there was something so kind of kinetic and magic and messy—my sister Josie cut her foot on the dance floor and kept dancing and there was blood on the floor. It was just a Lord Of The Flies wedding—I don’t know the inside of my brain. It was just a fantasy dance mayhem and it was just the best. And I remember being in the moment and being like, “Ugh, I can’t believe this is going to end at some point. I just want to soak it in.” I think there’s something amazing seeing people who don’t know each other be in the same space with each other and then giving them the allowance to have fun and go crazy. And I think New Orleans does that to people anyway—like, even if you go there for a weekend on a business trip, people are, like, “Ahhh! Let’s let loose! Let’s fuck shit up!” So already people were in that headspace. They get them that way—I’m pretty sure there’s no clocks there. If there are, ain’t nobody seeing them.
LB: I don’t usually dig on villains. I’ve always grown up being—like, when I was a kid I was deeply afraid of scary stuff. To this day, I can’t watch scary movies. I’m just—I roll sensitive. That said, I’ll take this moment to plug a villain called Poison Ivy because I play her in the new upcoming animated series Harley Quinn for DC. So I have grown quite affectionate to her—she’s sort of a sensitive villain because she harnesses plants and the earth to wield her power. I think that’s sort of appealing to me. So I’m going to go for the P. Ivy.
AVC: Do you think of her as the first capital-V villain you’ve played?
LB: Yeah, in terms of—I’ve played villainous characters—antagonistic characters, and usually Nancy Meyers casts me as them. [Laughs.] I don’t know why she sees me as that person, because I’m generally optimistic and quite nice. But, yeah, I always joke with her because she directed It’s Complicated and then she produced and was very integral in casting me in Home Again that her daughter directed. In both of those movies I play bitches. I think one would agree and not argue with that.
LB: The first one that comes to mind is “yada yada”—you know, Seinfeld? I mean “yada yada” is just like—I can’t believe how much I’ve said it. I think I’ve tried to relax on it because it’s such an old reference, but has become part of my lexicon. It’s one of those things that I thought would pass. Anyway, that was one that I feel is an honest answer. What’s funny is that I often write in my scripts things that I want to be a thing, but they’re not a thing, you know?
AVC: I’m well acquainted with personal versions of trying to make “fetch” happen.
LB: So it’s a fun way to kind of live out a fantasy of creating colloquialisms or something. So in In a World..., I had “sister code,” which I say all the time with my sisters and also friends, which means—I actually in a way answered your question, because I do use “sister code” in my life, where it means you’ve got to just—it’s almost, like, in the code of silence or the code of honor, you’re allowed to say whatever after I say “sister code,” you know what I mean?
So—you can say it to a dude, too, it’s not just girls—you’re safe to use it as well. But the point is, “sister code” is one. And in I Do…Until I Don’t, I wanted to—instead of just “word,” I wanted “for word,” was a thing that I started to say. I adopted it—it’s what one of the ladies at the massage parlor always used when expressing an affirmative. So those are the two that I wrote that I’m obsessed with—maybe they exist in some subculture that I was not aware of before I wrote them—but they are from my brains. And the other one would be from the Seinfeld brains, which is “yada yada.”
AVC: Of the ones that you created, have you managed to successfully impose those upon anybody else besides yourself?
LB: Yes. I will say “sister code,” I feel like, yes. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of people coming up, like, “sister code,” and I’m like, “’Sup?” and then I think they’re going to divulge some private information after it, but usually it’s just, like, “Yo.” They’re just acknowledging—they’re giving me an emotional fist bump, if you will. So, yeah, I feel like that one has for sure gotten in there a little bit. And then on Twitter it’s alive—it’s still vibrant.
AVC: That’s your equivalent, I assume, of when Patrick Stewart goes through a store and somebody says, “Captain.”
LB: Yeah, totally. [Laughs.] It’s a little different, because he’s an icon, but, yeah, I think it’s nice—I feel some camaraderie with the folks who enjoyed the movie and also the message of sisterhood and sistership. And, again, dudes welcome. I encourage you to use it.
LB: Amanda Peet.
AVC: Wow, that was immediate.
LB: [Laughs.] I know. I’m just kidding. She’s incredible. When I first was on red carpets and stuff, people would be, like, “Amanda! This way!” And I’d be like, “Oh… ohhh.” Like, “Oh, no, okay. That’s not who I am.” So, I don’t know. I feel like it’s a huge compliment; she’s a smokeshow and really talented, and she was here first. She was here first with the light eyes and the brown hair and the, you know, the features. The point is, I think she’s great from afar—I don’t know her. I’m sure she gets me—I don’t know, maybe she doesn’t. But I’ve seen it out there—people joke that we’re sisters from another mother.
AVC: When people got you confused, would you try to make the effort to correct them, or at a certain point were you like, “Ugh, fine, whatever”?
LB: It’s funny, I mean, there’s two—because I have other friends who get mistaken—I work with Dax Shepherd on Bless This Mess and he would always joke that he gets—is it Zach Braff? People always think he’s Zach Braff or something. And at a certain point—he likes to be, like, “I loved you in Garden State.” “Oh, thank you.” He just goes with it. I tend to come at it—I love that—I almost feel like I’m not cheeky enough or something to pull it off. The moment when it happens—“Oh, I loved you in Togetherness” or whatever, and I’ll go, “Um, you’re thinking of Amanda Peet. Thank you so much for thinking that I look like her. She’s super foxy.” Without making the person feel bad, but also making sure that—I don’t know—it feels like the overly honest, I’m-a-child-of-divorce, I-just-want-to-be-upfront-with-everyone kind of thing.
LB: I would say Goodfellas. Goodfellas or King Of Comedy—basically, Scorsese. If Scorsese’s on, it’s really hard to turn it off or switch channels from it. You’re immediately riveted no matter where you inject yourself in the movie. It’s just so—for me, it’s a total pull. Yeah. But I would say Goodfellas. I used to watch Goodfellas just… way too much for a young brain. I was just so tremendously into it. And it held up. I loved it when I was in my teens and then I loved it whenever it came out—I don’t even know when it came out on TV. But I loved it when it came out and then I loved it beyond that and to this day. So I guess that’s the one that holds up.
LB: I am a sucker—I mean, I like to get rid of stuff, I do clean sweeps and things like that—however, hand-me-downs I have trouble getting rid of. My mom and my grandmother were big into keeping things in the family and so there’s a lot of hand-me-downs that probably I don’t need and I don’t know if I’ll ever wear or use, but they will remain in my house till I die. Because my mom gave me things—I think we all are victims of—we’re all kind of guilty of being hand-me-down hoarders, so I have lots of boxes of memorabilia—hand-me-down boxes galore. Hand-me-down miscellaneous—I have all these boxes in my garage and in my closet. I’m always building boxes for my daughter of hand-me-downs that I’d like to give her and to my son. I think I have a hand-me-down problem, a little bit. I give hand-me-downs to friends, and they’re like, “Thank you.” I think they appreciate it, but then they give me back the hand-me-downs that they don’t use, and I thought that was interesting. I’m like, “No, no, you keep those forever until you die.” So I have a strict kind of passion for hand-me-downs.
AVC: When somebody hands the thing to you and they’re like, “This was mine and now I want it to be yours,” there’s the assumption of, “Oh, okay, this will be with me until I die.” So the give-back thing is surprising to hear about.
LB: Yes. I also thank you for acknowledging my discomfort with this gesture. I think it was meant to be polite, like, “I’m not using these anymore,” but I was, like, “No, no, no, no, no.” Now I have to hold onto these until I find somebody else to hand-me-down them to… Wait, what? Is that a word? [Laughs.] Hand-me… hand-them-down?
AVC: Hand-them-down. Yeah, there you go.
LB: Yeah. But hand-them-downs doesn’t sound as good as hand-me-downs.
AVC: It’s almost like there’s this spirit imbued in them where the only way you can get rid of a hand-me-down is by making it someone else’s hand-me-down. Like, that’s the only thing you’re allowed to do with them.
LB: Right. Because if they’re precious and dear to you, you’re, like, “Okay. I don’t have a need for them anymore, but they can’t go anywhere.”
I donate boatloads of clothes to Salvation Army, and there’s a women’s shelter near me that I like to send a lot of my kids’ clothes and things like that and give them my clothes—but then there are certain items where it’s like, “This might not be special to someone else, but I know that both of my kids have worn this T-shirt and I want it to go directly to another friend who has a kid at that age and this T-shirt will then live on.”
So it totally is about sentimentality. It’s very specific, these hand-me-downs. You just want your friends and family to have that sort of spiritual energy of those little garments to keep running around the house and running around your family.
LB: Great question. Well, I’m married to a prepper—a bona -fide apocalypse prepper—so—
AVC: Wait, really?
LB: Oh, yeah. We’re talking—he chimes in to the podcasts about prepping. There’s a stockpile of supplies and necessities in the garage and hidden in other places—this man is ready. It would almost be disappointing if it didn’t happen at this point for him.
AVC: That’s very respectful of you.
LB: I’m very respectful of it. Our car has—he’s got an apocalypse-mobile. Because Scott is from Louisiana and the bayou, and he just is incredibly capable and makes up for all my sort of Upper East Side neuroses and inability to fix a doorknob and the like. I think I am a tremendous organizer and assembler of large masses of people, given my directorial experiences. So I feel like, because we’ve talked about this a lot and I’m like, “Oh, my god, would I be one of the ones you’d eat?” And he’s like, “No, I feel like we’re going to need you to assemble troops and to assemble and organize the people who are still alive and functioning.” Depending, obviously, on whether it’s a zombie apocalypse or if it’s more of an environmental apocalypse. We don’t know, okay? But I do think that my skills in assembling and rallying people and keeping organization within a large group or a selective group and being sort of calm under pressure would be my additives.
AVC: Duly noted.
LB: And I can cook.
LB: Whew! All right. God, there’s a lot. It’s interesting, that question, because—you know what? There’s a lot of people. Shit. There’s a lot of people I feel like—I have friends who—we all came up together and I’m so excited that they’re now hitting hard, like my friend Janicza Bravo, who’s an amazing director and who’s now kicking ass. I can’t wait to see more Janicza Bravo. I love her as a director, I love her as a person, and I’m just Team Janicza. So that’s somebody I want to love and plug. And then my friend who just doesn’t get noticed enough, Jennifer Aniston—I feel like people need to appreciate her—no, just kidding. I guess she’s doing okay.
I would say also—someone who I feel like I just personally adore and love from every angle is Miranda July. I feel like she is deeply appreciated in my industry and she has sort of tailored it—this is my fantasy of how she’s made it—she’s tailored it so that she’s protected from being overly exposed, so that she can continue to write, direct, produce beautiful art, and put it out into the universe. And that’s how she—she actually built it so that she’s not overly exposed. Because otherwise I’m not sure why she’s not on the cover of every magazine. But I’m like, “Oh, I do know why. It’s because she built it so she could live in a sphere of honest and pure art-making.” That’s my fantasy of it.
AVC: That’s a very generous answer.
LB: You’re going to get that from me. I’m a sensitive person. I’m a mom, I’m a child of divorce, I’m in therapy.
LB: Guns N’ Roses, because I was obsessed with them as a kid. I feel like there were no women in there, but a lot of long hair. I felt patently obsessed with them when I was—I saw MTV in my brother’s room and I remember I saw “Welcome To The Jungle” and being, like, “Oh, that’s sexuality.” I literally—I had no idea what feeling sexual thoughts towards any species—I didn’t understand it until I saw Axl. So it was, like, “What the fuck?” So I was like a child, but I remember feeling something that was different. And so, in lieu of that, you asked me what band I’d want to be in, I’m like, “They looked like they were so fucking hardcore.” Yeah, it’s past—done—but that would have been a total fantasy for me. Because I was also, as a girl, like, “Why can’t I be in that band?” Because he did dabble with some—he was kind of fluid with his gender a little bit. He had long hair, he wore spandex—I’m like, “I have long hair and I wear spandex.” Spandex with roses on them. That feels like I am part of the band. For Halloween, for many years I dressed up as Axl.
AVC: This is a level of fandom I hadn’t anticipated when you first answered.
LB: Yeah. For my 30th—maybe it was my 26th birthday party—we had a Guns N’ Roses themed birthday. I was too young to ever attend a concert of theirs when it first came out—they’re kind of slightly before my social time. So I just was like, “Aw, fuck, if I could be onstage sweating and yelling with them, that would feel really great.”
LB: I think I’d probably eat gluten. [Laughs.] It’s where you’re allowed to commit a crime, right?
AVC: Yeah. For one night only, all crime is legal.
LB: I would eat a fucking bagel, fucking lactose. Because gluten and lactose and carbs—I’d be so illegal with how many fucking carbs I would ingest.
AVC: You would commit your own dietary crimes, basically.
LB: You don’t even know the half of it. Goddamn pizza with bagels on it. I would get so wrong.
Bonus 12th question from writer Marlon James: What book, movie, or TV show do you talk about the most that you’ve never seen or read?
LB: That’s a great question. Goddamn. All right. Frickin’ smarty-pants. Let me think. It’s hard because it’s like, “I’m not going to talk about something I haven’t read.” I guess he’s trying to expose the people who talk about things they’ve never read or seen.
AVC: Either that, or the people who never watched Game Of Thrones and have to put up with 10,000 dinner conversations about Game Of Thrones.
LB: I would say I was that person—because I haven’t seen all of Game Of Thrones, but I then, for my marriage, I had to hunker down and watch the last season with my husband. I watched the season finale of the last one because I realized that my husband had been watching it without me and it started to feel like an affair. [Laughs.] He’d say something that I didn’t know, and it was kind of like, “Who are these other people that you’ve been hanging out with?” And so I had to bite the bullet and watch the final season. I have no idea what the origin or the history of these characters are or anything, so I really just—yeah, I’m a last season kind of gal for Game Of Thrones. So I guess the answer is Game Of Thrones. However, I did bite the bullet and see it, so I’m sorry I didn’t have a sharper answer. I generally, as a rule, like to not talk about things that I have not seen.
AVC: What question would you like to ask to the next person we talk to?
LB: When was the last time you called your mother?
AVC: That is—you’ve positioned yourself this whole time as the sensitive child of divorce—that is the most I’m-a-mother, child of divorce, in therapy, sensitive, thoughtful question that we’ve ever gotten.
LB: Yeah, because they’re going to be really thrown. Especially if you have a real sort of, “I’m going to joke” bit and then you’re going to wham them with that at the end.
AVC: Either that, or it’s going to be to a member of Guns N’ Roses.
LB: Oh, my god, can you call me?