They may look like a picture-perfect couple, but it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard when they met at a mutual friend’s birthday dinner in 2007.
“Neither of us was bowled over,” says Shepard, 44, revealing that they were both in the midst of breakups. But two weeks later, they bumped into each other at a hockey game, where both Michigan natives were cheering on their beloved Detroit Red Wings against the Los Angeles Kings.
Bell jokes that her interest was piqued when Shepard asked if she had any chewing gum. She said, “Just this,” and removed the piece she was chewing. He took it, ripped it in two and popped half into his mouth. “I was like, ‘Oh, these signals are clear!’” she recalls. Several days later, Shepard tracked down her number, and they’ve been together ever since. Today they’re one of Hollywood’s most endearing—and enduring—power couples: They’re married with two daughters, and both have high-profile careers. Currently, Bell stars as Eleanor Shellstrop on the hit NBC sitcom The Good Place and Shepard plays Luke Matthews on The Ranch.
If you’re wondering if they have the same chemistry in real life as they do on screen (they’ve co-starred in a number of movies as well as those adorable Samsung commercials), the answer is yes. Their relationship is a walking rom-com, a mix of playful, witty banter and gestures of affection, like Shepard arranging for a baby sloth (her favorite animal) to pay his wife a visit, or Bell convincing the King’s Hawaiian bread factory to gift her man the chance to devour rolls fresh out of their oven (his lifelong dream). The duo would completely agree that the Samsung commercials accurately depict their real life.
“Dax has 100 percent creative control over those,” says Bell. “So we do silly things, like wear matching Christmas pajamas, which we actually do.”
That’s not to say they don’t have their differences. In the early days, Shepard was a self-proclaimed bad boy, while Bell was focused on philanthropy and her friends. “I believed the whole world was filled with sheep and he believed the whole world was filled with wolves,” she says.
They admit to bringing out the best in each other. Since meeting his wife, Shepard is “less naïve, 10 times nicer,” and Bell has gotten “better with boundaries.” But she says that they still “agree on almost nothing.”
“When we’re walking down the street and we pass someone, my first thought is, This guy’s gonna try to take my wallet,” says Shepard. “Kristen’s first thought is, That guy might cure cancer.”
They do, however, share some similarities. For starters, they’re extremely frugal. “Even that first dinner we were at, I remember Kristen talking about some deal she had gotten at Target,” says Shepard, who found that “extremely attractive.” And both being from the suburbs of Detroit unifies them. “We were grown from the same seeds and watered with the same rain,” says Bell.
Both acknowledge that their relationship takes work. “This isn’t a special fairytale,” she says. “This is two people who worked really hard and it’s attainable for you if you work really hard in your marriage too,” adds Shepard.
Bell and Shepard got engaged in 2009 but held off on making things official until California legalized same-sex marriage. Once passed, Bell proposed to her fiancé in a tweet and they wed at the Beverly Hills county clerk’s office in 2013. It was simple and understated; the entire ceremony reportedly cost under $150 and everything was exactly the way they wanted.
Bell laughs as she recalls that hours after the ceremony, she was back to work on her TV sitcom House of Lies, filming an intimate scene with her co-star Ryan Hansen, one of their best friends—whose wife, Amy, had been their wedding witness and photographer.
The couple, who recently celebrated five years as husband and wife, often forget their anniversary. Fortunately, like clockwork every year, Bell’s mother texts them a reminder. “We both wake up, check our phones and we go, ‘Happy anniversary,’” says Bell. “We’ve been together 11 and a half years. We’re much prouder of that than marriage,” says Shepard, who reveals that his favorite thing about his wife is her thoughtful nature. “She’s regularly going out of her way to anticipate some need you might have that maybe you didn’t even recognize.”
Bell admires her husband’s “endless patience with people,” joking that she takes an eternity to tell a story but Shepard hangs in ’til the end. She also finds it sexy that he’s so direct and has become the “go-to therapist” for her girlfriends. “They’ll say to me, ‘Is Dax going to be home tonight? I want to run something by him.’”
Shepard humorously equates himself to “Simon Cowell on the first season of American Idol.” “I’ll just tell them, ‘Get real! You’ve done this with eight boyfriends. At what point is it your problem?’”
With hectic schedules, nabbing time with one another can be difficult. But Bell says, if life pulls them in opposite directions, they’ll hunker down and say, “Hey! We’ve got to hang.” Sometimes that simply means finding a new Netflix show to binge; their current obsession is Patriot on Amazon Prime. They also aren’t big on date nights.
“We’ve probably had nine in the last six years, if we’re being honest,” and much prefer intimate group hangs with friends and their children, daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 4. “We play board games and the kids destroy the house and that’s just a fun Sunday,” he says.
Though they often grace your television screens and are hyped as a power couple, their real life is not so much different than anyone else’s—except for having to deal with millions of people’s perceptions of them. There are always rumors flying around, which Shepard finds hilarious. “We’re boring, so when they print these things—that we’re swingers and stuff—it gives us a little edge that we don’t have,” he jokes.
In addition to Bell’s current prime-time starring role alongside Ted Dansonon TV’s The Good Place, she’s also gearing up for the reboot of Veronica Mars later this year on Hulu. And she’ll reprise her role as the voice of Princess Anna in Disney’s mega-hit animated musical Frozen when the sequel, Frozen 2, arrives in November. Shepard is a writer, director and producer with more than five dozen TV and movie credits on his résumé, including the role of Crosby Braverman in Parenthood and voicing several characters on the Adult Swim animated series Robot Chicken. His movie comedies include Employee of the Month, Without a Paddle and Idiocracy.
But their celebrity doesn’t make them any more put-together. “We’re behind on laundry, our house is a mess, there’s dog hair that we’re trying to constantly Swiffer,” says Bell, who discloses that things got even wilder when their children entered the picture.
“They leave stuff everywhere! It’s like they booby-trap the house and sometimes they actually do booby-trap the house,” she says, noting that she once found pieces of gum taped to the seat of a chair. “Our oldest builds forts and a good half the week all the couch cushions are off. No one can sit on the couch and the only thing that’s exposed are crumbs!”
Shepard is the disciplinarian and refers to Bell as the “endlessly patient and generous” parent. “They’re whiniest with me because they know they can get away with it,” she says. Her husband, who is completely outnumbered by females, jokes that he sometimes finds himself palling around with dad friends, eager to soak up whatever testosterone he can find. “My sister works with us, Monica [Padman] co-hosts my podcast, my mom lives with us half the year, even our dog is a female!” he says.
Bell does the majority of the housework and is completely OK with that. “I don’t have this secret feminist inside me that wishes he would cook four nights a week. I want him out of my kitchen!” she jokes. Shepard keeps the cars running, gets the Christmas lights up the day after Halloween and is a mean dishwasher. He’s banned from putting them away, however, as Bell teasingly suggests he often complicates her system.
There is no one who raves about Bell more than Shepard. “I can’t watch Kristen sing live without becoming a mess. I start this weird thing, which is about to turn into a cry, but I keep it in the laugh zone so I just laugh neurotically with wet eyes,” says Shepard. Bell—who grew up loving opera and sang in various solo and ensemble competitions in college—welcomes the praise, since her kids are immune to their mom’s Frozen success. “I’m not allowed to sing around my girls. Whenever I sing, even to the radio, they cover my mouth,” she says.
And Bell is a huge fan of Shephard’s Armchair Expert, his weekly podcast which has attracted celebrities including Jay Leno, Sarah Silverman, Conan O’Brien and Ethan Hawke for wide-ranging conversation and topical probing. “When he told me he wanted to start a podcast in the garage, I said ‘Oh, honey, that’s so cute.’ A month later, I was like, “You have a million subscribers?” she recalls. “It’s my Frozen!” quips Shepard.
Besides sharing the screen in films, including When in Rome, the movie remake of CHiPs and the comedy-romance Hit & Run, which Shepard wrote and directed, they’ve embarked on a new joint adventure.
Their latest venture is Hello Bello, a plant-based baby-product line currently available at Walmart. “We wanted people to have access to baby products they felt good about that didn’t kill their pocketbook,” explains Bell, who says she and Shepard had fun collaborating. “He was saying, ‘Let’s put the word ‘butt’ on the packaging for the diapers and ‘booger’ on the wipes,’ which makes total sense. Why are we trying to pretend these are elegant products? They’re not!”
And of course, being married to anyone in the same line of work—like a fellow actor—has its advantages. “It’s a great antidote to your ego,” says Shepard. “If I go, ‘But, honey, I gotta go do X, Y and Z,’ she’ll go, ‘Yeah—I did that last week. You’re not that special!’”