Interview: Kristen Bell, Voiceover Queen, On ‘Frozen,’ ‘Veronica Mars,’ & More
She is the voice of ice princess Anna in Frozen, of Gossip Girl, and even part of the trailer for the forthcoming Veronica Mars trailer is narrated by her. The very busy actress talks to The Daily Beast about her Disney dreams, House of Lies season 3, and Scarlett Johansson’s voice-only work on Her.
Kristen Bell is everywhere. Seriously. Go to a movie theater, and you will see Bell—or, rather, hear her—as the ice princess Anna in Disney’s animated holiday hit Frozen. Turn on your TV starting Jan. 13, and there Bell will be, playing lovelorn management consultant Jeannie van der Hooven on Showtime’s House of Lies. Earlier this year, Bell collaborated with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas to fund a $5.7 million Mars movie through Kickstarter, so she’s got her online bases covered, too. (The film was shot over the summer and is scheduled to arrive in theaters next year). Bell even had a hand in the most exciting Broadway news to hit the wires in ages: the March 2014 debut of the musical adaptation of Heathers, the 1988 high-school classic starring Winona Ryder. Bell workshopped the Ryder role on stage in New York and Los Angeles.
Fortunately, Bell was able to make some time in her very busy schedule to talk to The Daily Beast about her big year: how she helped create Frozen’s Anna, what to expect from Season 3 of House of Lies, why the Veronica Mars movie is going to “make fans happy,” and more. Excerpts:
Let’s start with Frozen. You’ve said you always wanted to do a Disney movie.
Why? That’s not an ambition that every actor has. I mean, it’s not the “coolest” career goal…
But those movies were the ones I watched over and over again when I was a kid. They were significant to me. They were important to me. They were where I wanted to escape to on the weekends and after school. I knew every line from The Little Mermaid. I loved Aladdin. I loved animation. So to picture myself in one and have it become a reality was pretty special.
Did you have a favorite Disney character growing up?
Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Because I think it was a shift that Disney had, where a female lead—the “princess,” I guess—didn’t just want to find her mate. She wasn’t singing “someday my prince will come.” She was singing “I want to be where the people are. I want to see the world. I want to venture outside my comfort zone.” That was a beautiful thought, and one that I could really relate to growing up.
When you were offered Anna in Frozen, you asked them to rewrite the role. How was she originally written?
It was very much a collaboration. It wasn’t that I asked them to rewrite her so much as I offered up wild suggestions around every corner. It was a surprisingly collaborative process, actually, because they wanted the movie to be very truthful. And I was put in a position where they were ready to hear my opinions on the subject, and that isn’t always why an actor gets hired. So I was lucky.
She was written just plainer. More general. In the first draft of the script she was written more, in my opinion, prissy. She was kind of specific and very girly. And to me, it just wasn’t appealing. There were some fun parts to it, as anyone who’s a bit anal retentive is also funny to watch. But to me it wasn’t what I felt like I wanted to play. She wasn’t as likeable as she could have been.
So you pushed the writers in a different direction.
Yeah. I attempted to, yeah. And they were responsive, and that only bolstered my brainstorming sessions, so the next time I came in with more ideas. We were sort of spit-balling off of each other to find out who Anna was. And we eventually found her in a specific moment.
What moment was that?
Well, Jenny [Lee, the screenwriter] told me about it after the fact. I was just improvising the scene where Anna first meets Hans. There’s this typical Disney moment when they’ve come too close physically and they kind of recognize it and they both have a crush on each other.
Exactly. And as you know, someone has to speak. I guess I felt like Anna would say something that I, Kristen, would say—that I have said in real life—which is nonsensical rambling. You end up with a foot in your mouth. And I think I said, “This is awkward. You’re not awkward. Me, I’m awkward. You’re gorgeous. Wait—what?” Words just spill out of her mouth too quickly and she has to backtrack. In that moment I think we all kind of realized, “This is it.” She’s funny, she’s appealing, she’s likeable—this is the girl you want to see go on this adventure.
House of Lies is returning for Season 3 in January. I have a theory about third seasons: that’s when shows that have been flying under the radar—that have been underappreciated—finally get the recognition they deserve. It happened with Breaking Bad. I think it happened with The Wire, too. Do you feel that House of Lies is next?
I feel like there’s a momentum with this season because of the amount of work and love and affection that people have put into this show. The love for this show on set has grown exponentially as we’ve gotten to know it better. As a cast and a crew, and as a writer’s room, we have fallen deeper and deeper in love with this show as the years have gone on. And I honestly don’t want it to ever end.
There’s been some criticism, which showrunner Matthew Carnahan has acknowledged, that House of Lies is trying to do too many things at once. Is Season 3 going to be different? Have you guys settled into a groove?
I definitely think we’ve found our way. It’s the same thing that happened with Frozen—except that we had two or three years of not being on the air to find it. The story kind of exposes itself and shows you what it wants to be.
In the beginning, House of Lies relied a lot more on a procedural aspect. We were given a case, and we reiterated throughout the show how we were going to close the business, and then slam-dunked it in the end. On the sidelines there was character development between Marty [Don Cheadle] and Jeannie [Bell’s character], or Doug [Josh Lawson] and Clyde [Ben Schwartz]. And I think the procedural aspect was there less in the second season, and it’s almost not there at all in the third season. It’s very, very much about the emotional connections between the characters and the overarching storyline, as opposed to episode by episode.
More serialized, more character-driven—sounds good to me. Let’s talk about the forthcoming Veronica Mars movie. When creator Rob Thomas came to you and said he was going to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film, did you tell him he was insane?
Oh I was on board from the word go. We had discussed at length numerous ways we could make the movie, honestly, from the day we were cancelled. We felt the fire from the fans about it. And since it ended, social media has rooted itself as the main form of communication in the world, so we started taking a broader view of how much of a success it could be. We could see the passion and track it online.
It was definitely Rob’s idea to do the Kickstarter campaign. I had known about Kickstarter but I hadn’t connected those dots because Rob’s much smarter than me, and he always will be. The minute he said let’s do it, I said OK, and we met talked about the rewards packaging. We were really specific that we wanted it to be actually rewards. We didn’t just want to give a t-shirt or a flyer. We wanted it to be interactive, because the fans set that precedent in the way they supported the show in seasons past.
They sent in Mars bars to the CW when we were going to get cancelled. They sent in dollar bills that said “Veronica Mars is smarter than me,” which was a portion of an episode in Season 3. They hired a plane to fly over with a banner. That energy is out there, so we felt like we wanted to make it really, really interesting: Twitter follows, tickets to the premiere. When we were put on hold by Warner Brothers we just shot our Kickstarter video at my girlfriend’s house down the street. Rob and I wouldn’t let the ball stop rolling. But for a while we were like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain.
You mentioned the rewards. One person pledged $10,000 on Kickstarter. His reward was a speaking role in the movie. Did he blow it?
No! He is the shit. He nailed it. He is a businessman from Canada, and there were weird legalities about us getting a Canadian to play a speaking role on camera. Different countries have different rules about their unions. So we actually wrote a specific scene where he videotapes himself—it’s a bit more like an Internet search when Veronica finds him. And he was wonderful. But we couldn’t technically roll the cameras on him on ground in America, so we shot his thing in Canada.
Then he came to visit for a few days, and he was on set and lovely. Very smart. He’s a big fan of the series, and I think that this money might not have been very inconsequential to him. So he was just happy to be there. It was a present to himself. He introduced himself as “10K,” which I thought was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. We got to spend three great days with a big supporter.
What’s going to surprise fans about the film?
I don’t know that I’d use the word surprise. I personally think the film is going to make fans happy. I think Rob has set up a device—the 10-year reunion—to bring everyone back together. I don’t think fans are going to be surprised. I think they’re going to be satisfied.
Also, you could tell me that Rob wrote and directed all the Godfather movies and I’d believe you. He is just … I trust him so implicitly. I trust the way he thinks. And he writes for the fans. He is an unselfish writer. And he wrote Veronica having left Neptune. In the beginning of the film, Veronica has washed her hands [of sleuthing]. She doesn’t want the chaos. She doesn’t want the drama. She wants to be normal.
And that’s the perfect hook for the audience, because you sit down in the theater and you go, “No way, she’s got to do it again!” And everyone is hooked. He casts a major fishing line out there and he’s got everybody.
News just broke that the Heathers musical will open off-Broadway in March. You workshopped it back in 2010 or so, right?
Yes! I did all the workshops up until now, I think.
But you’re not going to be in this cast?
Well, I’m 10 years too old to play that part. It’s an age thing. When we first did it, I think, we did three, maybe four workshops—some of them were in people’s living rooms, a few of them were on stage. And the cast changed ever so slightly, but it was mostly a group of [director] Andy Fickman’s go-tos, and I played Veronica [the Winona Ryder part] each time. It was so, so much fun. And to be able to get it shown for the writers, and to get it perfected…
Ultimately I knew going into it, as the years progressed—this girl is supposed to be 17 and I’m 33—that me playing Veronica on stage wasn’t very likely.
Come on. You can play young!
Does the musical do justice to the movie?
I would be there opening day. It’s going to shock people how good it is. Kevin Murphy wrote the lyrics; he also wrote Reefer Madness. Larry O’Keefe, who wrote Bat Boy, wrote the music. The music is so crazy catchy. The musical is so funny. To me, it’s way funnier than the movie.
Let me see if I’ve got this right: you’ve had starring voiceover roles in Frozen, Gossip Girl, Astro Boy, Unsupervised, and Assassin’s Creed. Even the new Veronica Mars teaser features a voiceover. Am I missing any?
[Laughs] There’s been other things here and there.
Why so many voiceovers? Do you just hate getting dressed for work?
I mean, who doesn’t? [Laughs] For me, because I studied music through my whole life and in college, my voice is my instrument, whether I’m on camera or not. For me, it’s not any different than other work. Some actors dance: Julianne Hough gets cast in a lot of dancing roles. That’s just part of her performance.
For me, V.O. is the same thing. It’s just part of a body of work that I gravitate towards. I don’t really separate the two. Voiceover work is certainly easier, logistically. I can wear what I want. I don’t have to sit in the hair and makeup chair. There’s not people powdering your nose every ten minutes when you get oily under the hot lights. Sometimes its more creative, sometimes its more boring. But it’s just a portion of the work I really enjoy.
Given the way Hollywood treats actresses over the age of 25, I’d say it’s a pretty savvy long-term plan. By the way, do you think a voice-only actor should be allowed to be nominated for an Oscar? This is a hot topic right now with Scarlett Johansson’s performance in Her.
Oh wow. I have no idea.
But people who do voice-only in a role shouldn’t be ruled out, should they?
I’m not starting a campaign for it, but just from what I’ve heard in the previews, [Johansson’s] presence seemed to be extremely connected and extremely influential to the whole film. And if we’re talking about whose performance deserves to be recognized, I wouldn’t put it past her in the slightest. Even just from the previews you can tell what a great performance it’s going to be.
Final question: have you met any nice sloths lately?
[Laughs] Ha! Sadly, they’re not as common around Southern California as you’d think.