Lake Bell On “In A World…,” Voiceovers, and “Children’s Hospital”

Plus: She’s down to do another season of How To Make It In America, should the opportunity arise.

The former Maxim cover girl talks about her new movie, In a World…, which she wrote, directed, stars in, and cured of cancer using only the healing power of laughter. Or maybe we’re confusing it with Children’s Hospital? Either way.

Your new film explores the tight-knit world of voiceover artists, and your character, Carol, is the daughter of a famous voice actor who is trying to launch a career in her own right. Is it true that you did some voiceover work when you first came to Hollywood?

No, that is actually incorrect. I tried to get into the voiceover industry, and I looked at it as an aspiration, but I was never accepted into it because it was such a damn clique, and so hierarchy-based, and there’s not a lot of ladies who do it. It was one of those things where I was like, “Oh, yeah, I know how to do voices, I’m so talented, maybe I’ll be able to break into the voiceover industry and I won’t have to be a waitress and I’ll just hit it big,” – you know, because I went to drama school, and I had this voiceover demo, and I had all these dialects. And then it turned out that you can’t just roll into someone else’s industry and think you’re gonna conquer it. I was like a crazy person – totally naïve. So, obviously, I became a waitress.

You’ve directed several episodes of Children’s Hospital and some short films, but directing yourself in a feature-length film that you also wrote must have been a whole different experience.

Naturally, when you’re writing, directing, and acting, it requires so much preparation it’s almost overwhelming. So I think the way I attacked it was that I started prepping almost a year before day one of shooting. Normally there’s soft prep and then there’s hard prep, but for me I was like, “Look, I want to buy any kind of preps I can buy. I mean, is there medium-soft prep? Is there mild-to-hard semi-prep?” Whatever preps there are, I got. Making movies is inherently chaotic, so you have to be prepared for all the kind of fun chaos that happens.

The movie has a great core cast (including Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Michaela Watkins, Demetri Martin, and Nick Offerman), but it also boasts some A-list cameos from Eva Longoria, Geena Davis, Jeff Garlin, and some other surprises we won’t ruin here. You’ve worked with some of them before, but was doing this movie a tough sell for any of them?

I am lucky to have gotten the support from my very talented pals, who lent their trust and their talents to me, because it’s harder to ask your pals to do something like this, because you know their set of life circumstances, you know that they are trying to get their own projects up and running, that they’re producing or writing something else, that they’re a husband or a wife or a dad or a mom. You understand what their life is, so you know it’s a big ask. And it could be horrible – [I’m a] first-time director – and then there’s no excuse, it’d just be on their resume forever. So, thank goodness they are proud of the movie, and I’m supremely proud of their performances and us as a collaborative team, so it ended up great. People like Eva Longoria and Jeff Garlin are totally supportive pals who have a great sense of humor about themselves and in general, and could come on and do those little cameos.

You wrote some of the key parts specifically for the actors who play them. But that’s not the case with Demetri Martin’s character, Louis, who ultimately turns out to be Carol’s love interest. How did you decide to cast him?

Demetri I’ve known for years, but more peripherally. I wrote the parts of Dani and Moe for Mikhaila Watson and Rob Corddry; that was always my intention. But then Demetri came about, someone brought up his name, and I was like, “Oh my God, he couldn’t be more perfect for Louis,” because he embodied such an earnest, sweet soul, and he’s just hilarious. He embodied all of the characteristics that I really wanted for this character so deeply, that it just felt written for him. The truth is, in casting, certainly for comedy, you try to find people who will understand the musicality of the comedy and the character, and he really understood the game that was going on back and forth between Louis and [my character] Carol – that sort of awkward repartee.

This is a very sweet and funny movie, but it also has a bit more depth than your average comedy, and explores some complex themes like marital infidelity, and an intense father/daughter rivalry. Do you think of it as more of a comedy or a drama?

It’s hands-down a comedy, but I think that I never treated it as a comedy as I shot it, if that makes any sense. It’s written as a comedy and the players are all comedians or comedic actors, but the way that I shot it, and the way that my director of photography and I addressed the visuals and the tone of the movie, was never overly judgmental about what genre it was. It was always intended to be shot as a drama. And even in the directions to my actors, there’s no wink in the performances; they’re all very grounded in reality, and all the actor-comedians I hired are capable of that type of characterization of real, grounded humans dealing with real problems or real conflicts, but within inherently comedic circumstances. And then all the people in the movie have funny bones, so you know, things come out funny in the wash.

The fifth season of Children’s Hospital is underway, and we recently spoke to David Wain, who told us to expect a wedding in the country, and lots of guest stars. What can you tell us about the storyline for your character, Dr. Cat Black?

Oh God, the poor Children’s Hospital doctors go through so much. As per usual, Children’s Hospital offers all kinds of sexual mishaps in its bizarre hilarity, and Cat Black gets married to…let’s just say you can expect Justin Kirk in that episode, as well as Weird Al Yankovic and Richard Kind, all at the same wedding retreat.

We recently interviewed your How to Make It In America co-star Luis Guzman, who said he was still hopeful that that series might return in some way, shape, or form – whether to another network or as a movie. Is that something you’d like to see happen?

[We had] such a great group of people – and we had such an awesome time making that show, and being that I’m from New York, and finally got to do a project in New York City that was about my peer group…I mean, I’m never going to argue with anything that shoots in New York. If we’re shooting downtown, I’ll be there.

What’s the worst job you ever had before you found success as an actress?

Probably the worst job I ever had was being a promotional girl at a tech conference where I had to wear like a skimpy, dumb, space outfit and show people where the bathroom was and how to work a cell phone. Yeah, it was really lame-o. And I was kind of treated like a moron. It was not fun. I mean, it was funny in hindsight, but at the time I felt like a total turkey.

Photographed for Maxim by David Oldham | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013

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