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Kristen Bell: ‘I couldn’t be Stepford if I tried’

Kristen Bell: ‘I couldn’t be Stepford if I tried’

The Guardian

She’s made philosophy fun in The Good Place, has a model marriage and still finds time for charity work. No wonder Kristen Bell struggles to keep it all together

Thanks to The Good Place, Bell can now crisply outline the debate between Kantian and utilitarian philosophy. But at this moment, right in the middle of a sentence describing her personal belief in moral particularism, Bell is stumped by something she can’t explain. “Look at that. What is that?” she blurts, extracting a pair of industrial-sized shapewear knickers out of her purse. “I can’t explain.” Then she pulls out one sock, then an entirely different mismatched sock, and then a mangled sticking plaster. “I don’t know,” she sighs. Just one more mystery in the universe.

She is very visible – a blonde in a bright shirt in a restaurant where everyone else is wearing black, and the most famous face in the place – yet brandishing her underwear doesn’t make her blush. “One thing I really want to do publicly – like on social media – is a, ‘What’s in my bag?’” she says, referring to the fashion magazine features that are usually just plugs for lip gloss. “Like actually videotape myself and go, ‘This is no bullshit. Here is what’s in my fucking bag.’

In The Good Place, Bell would be forced to substitute “bullshirt” and “forking” for those swear words. On Earth, her goal is to tell everything like it is, as though every day is an exercise in Celebrity Demystification. She is publicly seen as a Very Good Person, an empath who volunteers for a half-dozen charities. Thanks to The Good Place – and honestly, just being a celebrity in these tumultuous, take-a-stand years – she is often turned to as an oracle of ethics. “I personally think it’s a responsibility that if you’re lucky enough to have been handed a microphone in your short time on this planet, use it. Use it.

Within her radius, I tip extra, and yet she still tips twice as much. And yet she prefers to play characters who are selfish creeps. “That’s what I feel like!” she protests. “Look, I consider myself a very nice person and there are plenty of times I want to scream at someone on the street. And Eleanor does that – she tells people to eat their farts.

Bell and her husband, the comedian and actor Dax Shepard, are aware that their marriage inspires awe. While they were dating, he surprised her on her birthday with a live sloth, and her ecstatic, sobbing meltdown went viral. The day the supreme court legalised gay marriage, she proposed to him on Twitter. Internet strangers reply to their tweets with hashtags such as #RelationshipGoals. Instead of leaning into the mystique, Bell prefers to talk about the hard work they do every day to stay together. Couples therapy, sobriety, the challenges of monogamy, and their constant bickering, which they recently allowed people to eavesdrop on during an episode of Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, where they relitigated whether or not he gawped at her chest on their first date.

I’m the polar opposite of my husband and that is not hyperbolic. We disagree on 99.9% of things and we argue all the time,” says Bell with affection. The 0.1% of things they share, she notes, are crucial. “We both have the type of brain that likes to be stimulated by the devil’s advocate point of view, so it totally works.” Plus, they were both born in Michigan.

As a child, Bell was a talented mimic. She would repeat unusual accents, Broadway warbles, even entire Lee Press-On Nails commercials from memory. Her parents split up before she was born, so to help her single mother earn extra cash, Bell began modelling for local newspaper ads when she was a pre-teen. She was small and cute, which made her perfect for posing with karaoke machines and kids’ bikes. “Every now and then, someone would bring a circular to school and be like, ‘Is this you? Ew!’” says Bell. “Kmart underwear and training bras was particularly embarrassing.” Her mother, a practising Christian, enrolled her in a Catholic high school, where she heard all the conservative fear-mongering that kept her gay friends from musical theatre hidden in the closet. Despite her daily religion classes, Bell refused to mimic their homophobia. “Definitely, people in my community had the same idea about lifestyles they were unfamiliar with, but I never had a point where I remember going, ‘Oh, being gay is OK!’ I was always like, ‘What are you talking about?’”

I was so hungry for weirdos,” says Bell. “I couldn’t be Stepford if I tried.” She pauses and reconsiders. “Well, maybe I could fit that box, but I don’t want the people around me to fit that box.” So as soon as she graduated, she moved to New York. “My first memories were just being slack-jawed at the amount of stimuli from other people and immediately recognising that I found my people.” They were in her acting classes, in her first gigs on Broadway, and even today, she refers to the crew of The Good Place as “my family members”. Bell uses the word “tribe” a lot. It’s part of her current thinking about how humanity can improve. Now that she has producer-level clout, her last three projects have instituted what she calls a “no jerks policy”. This includes no sexual harassment, no making people uncomfortable, no passive aggressiveness, and if she spots a director being rude to a crew member, they won’t be hired back.

Recently, she went to a lecture by the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and has fixated on caveman behaviour, which she refers to as the “outdated software in our brains”. Her cornerstone belief is that humans weren’t meant to live in large groups, not even places as fabulous as Manhattan. That we were meant to live in villages of 115 people, max, which is why we tend to be immediately suspicious of anyone unfamiliar. “If you and I met a couple thousand years ago in a field, we would probably kill each other,” she explains, with her friendliest smile.

Today, we’re less violent – at least, face to face – yet online, especially in 2018, that primal group-think is being battled with keyboards instead of clubs. “After the [presidential] election, the amount of hatred I saw from everywhere made me feel – and I could dare speak for my collaborators on the show – that The Good Place was more important.” This is good timing, as the show’s third season, which premieres on Netflix on Friday 28 September, starts off with Eleanor and her afterlife friends Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) alive and back on Earth with their deaths reversed, stumbling through a second chance at self-improvement, which comes with a new round of sinful temptations, such as when fatuous philanthropist Tahani publishes a best-selling book on enlightenment that gives her the Oprah-level fame she desperately craved.

There’s no bigger space that egos exist than in the non-profit world,” says Bell. Tahanis are real – and she would know. Bell’s current list of charities covers a staggering amount of ground: animal rights, prostate cancer, stem cell donation, Alzheimer’s disease, international child hunger, domestic chid poverty and young mothers raised in foster care. On birthdays, she and her friends prefer to furnish apartments for homeless people transitioning off the street rather than going out to a bar, and, this week, she will make her United Nations debut as an ambassador for the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.

My job is not to go into politics,Bell stresses. “My job is that I have the ear of 18-year-olds because of The Good Place or Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” It is almost impossible to imagine how she fits everything in. “Honestly, every day you quit at seven, throw in the towel, scream, and then wake up and do it all over again,” she admits. “I know from the outside it can look like, ‘Oh! She’s got it so together! And has a career that looks nice and is doing all these things with these charities.’ But I am struggling to keep it together on a day-to-day basis, and I know that’s what everyone feels like, so that’s what I like to see in my characters.

Still, she is questioning how much Hollywood loves anti-heroes. There are plenty of them in the news – do we still need them on Netflix? (Witness Bell and Kelsey Grammer as an estranged daughter and father in Like Father.) Is there a way to break Hollywood’s insistence on pitting heroes against jerks, especially when most people, even her, are both? Bell points to Frozen, the Disney blockbuster for which she voiced the lonely Princess Anna. In the first versions of the script, the frosty Princess Elsa was more of a traditional bad guy. What if they broke the mould? “In the final draft, it was like, ‘No, not only does she not need to be forgiven for anything, she’s the most sympathetic character in the whole piece,’” says Bell. “It’s a much more complex story when there’s no villain.

“I want to watch someone fight for the underdog, I want to watch a hero without a cape,” says Bell. “I want to watch someone trying to be good like Eleanor.” Which means it’s the right time to resurrect Veronica Mars, the TV show about a teen detective that made her a household name. Next month, she is jumping back into production for eight new episodes that will premiere – in the US next year. “It’s not high-school crime any more,” says Bell. “It’s going to be Veronica as an adult, so it’s going to be different … and I mean that from an emotional perspective of what Veronica’s dealing with. She’s going to take on much bigger problems.

For now, though, Bell is continuing to handle her ordinary problems, such as answering her daughters’ questions about death. “When you tell [your kids] some gigantic mythical story that they can sense is not true, they know you’re lying to them,” she says. Reading her kids scripts of The Good Place as bedtime stories, with its flying shrimps and roguish devils, is out. Yet her kids seem to be absorbing her own straight-shooting spirit. Recently, while preparing for the death of their grandfather, her five-year-old shocked her with another huge question: Did she need to pack her toy shovel for when he passed away? And where were they burying the body? On the side of his house? Bell beams with pride. “She was all problem-solving!

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Photo Sessions & Outtakes > 2018 > The Guardian

Kristen Bell at SiriusXM’s Radio Broadcasts

Kristen Bell at SiriusXM’s Radio Broadcasts

On July 21, Kristen and The Good Place cast members Ted Danson, Marc Evan JacksonWilliam Jackson HarperD’Arcy CardenJameela Jamila, and Manny Jacinto were SiriusXM’s Entertainment Weekly Radio Broadcasts Live From Comic Con in San Diego.

Bell was wearing an Anine Bing suit, Naaem Khan blouse, Giuseppe Zanotti shoes, and jewelry by Jennifer Meyer.

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Events > 2018 > Jul 21 │SiriusXM’s Entertainment Weekly Radio Broadcasts Live From Comic Con in San Diego

Photo Sessions & Outtakes > 2018 > Comic Con 2018 Portraits for Entertainment Weekly

Kristen Bell attends ‘The Good Place’ Press Line at Comic-Con

Kristen Bell attends ‘The Good Place’ Press Line at Comic-Con

On July 21, Kristen Bell joined Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, and the producers Michael Schur, Morgan Sackett and Drew Goddard for their 50-minute panel in the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego, where they shared stories about the origins of the show and standout moments from the first two seasons.

In accordance with Entertainment Tonight, fans were treated to an early sneak peek at the first two minutes of the third season premiere.

In the sophomore season finale, Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) were given a redo of sorts, as Michael finagled a way for them to return to Earth with the hopes they would become better people.

In the exclusive first look at the upcoming season, Michael (Danson), holding a piece of paper, is seen opening a door with a bright white light behind him as he steps onto a long, deserted walkway on a vacant bridge in the middle of a blackened, cavernous room.

He sees another door on the other side of the walkway and walks (and skips) down to the nonplussed guy, the Guard (played by new guest star Mike O’Malley), manning the desk.

“Hi, I’m Michael. You must be the guard,” Michael says enthusiastically to him. “This is wild. I had no idea this was even here!”

“So, I have this ruling. … It’s kind of tricky. It starts off a new timeline. … It’s necessary for the new experiment,” he continues, explaining the concept of this new chapter. “So… how long does this trip take? Hope I don’t get a middle seat!”

The Guard replies, “I haven’t heard a joke for 8,000 years. Still haven’t.”

Michael learns from the Guard that he won’t have any powers when he goes down to Earth, plus other logistics of which he never would have been aware. But a frog keychain attached to a key with “Do Not Duplicate” etched onto it will be his most prized possession for his trip to and from Earth.

As Michael walks through the door, we flash to Eleanor’s life being spared in the parking lot of the grocery store where she originally died. Moments later, Michael returns safely to the room and, clearly, his mini adventure was a mind-bender. “Wow! I was just on Earth,” he exclaims as he returns the key to the Guard.

“It was incredible. The traffic, the pigeons. … I saw this place that was a Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell. The mealsA Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell?” Michael says in wonderment as he walks back down the long walkway back to where he came from.

Following the panel, NBC released nearly eight minutes of bloopers from the second season:

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Events > 2018 > Jul 21 │’The Good Place’ Press Line at Comic-Con International in San Diego

Photo Sessions & Outtakes > 2018 > Comic Con 2018 Portraits for Entertainment Weekly

Kristen Bell and Ted Danson Dish on ‘The Good Place’ and Their Real-Life Bad Places

Kristen Bell and Ted Danson Dish on ‘The Good Place’ and Their Real-Life Bad Places

The Wrap – Don’t put Danson behind a bar or take him to an escape room, the way Bell recently did.

This story about Kristen Bell, Ted Danson and “The Good Place” first appeared in the Comedy/Drama/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Heaven or hell? Devil or angel? And does it even matter?

NBC’s delightful comedy series “The Good Place” started out as a vision of paradise, albeit a rather odd and completely secular paradise; it ended its first season with the show-shattering reveal that our human characters had actually been spending their time in a radical new version of hell designed to get them to torture each other rather than leaving that job to the pros.

And in Season 2, the show from “Parks and Recreation” creator Mike Schur kept upending itself in the most delicious of ways.

This is a show that can make hell kind of charming and give a fun, cuddly twist to the afterlife. Kristen Bell somehow makes us root for a woman whose self-obsession knows no bounds but who’s smarter and maybe even nicer than she lets on. Ted Danson was a scene stealer even in the first season as a human-torturing demon who had to hide his true nature from the other characters and from the audience.

(Granted, words like demon may not be appropriate for an altogether nonreligious and bureaucratic afterworld; he’s middle management at best, and not very good at his job of torturing humans.)

On a break early in the filming of Season 3, Bell and Danson discussed the pleasures and challenges of a show that delights in blowing up its own premise over and over. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

Season 2 must have been a real kick for you, Ted, because you finally got to…
TED DANSON Be who I am. Yeah, it was really fun. And it was easier to find the funny, because funny usually is this kind of triangular thing between you, another character and the audience. But I had no relationship to the audience in Season 1. They never saw me in a private moment, or I would have been twirling my mustache.

Would you have taken the part without the knowledge that eventually you were going to get to show who this guy really is?
DANSON Oh, I would have done it. I signed on before I saw a script. I knew that Kristen was likely going to do it. I then listened to Mike Schur empty his mind for an hour and tell me everything he knew about the show and the twist. And I really signed up for Mike Schur.

KRISTEN BELL He can tell a story with detail that is frightening, like a computer. “Here’s what I want to do in Episode 9, and it’s a callback to Episode 6…” And I’m like, “You haven’t even written the pilot, bro! Slow down!”

DANSON Is this the first job you’ve taken when you haven’t read a script?

BELL Yeah. Wow. Yeah. We were sold on the idea, with the twist, and with his commitment to cliff-hangers and pulling the rug out from under people. I just thought, “What a goal. Let him try, I’d love to be a part of it.”

I feel as if Ted needed to know the twist to play his part, but you didn’t.
DANSON But she needed to know in order to take the part.

BELL Well, yes and no. Mike is an unparalleled collaborator, and I think he had respect enough for me to say, “I would like you to know what you’re signing up for.” So he opened the whole kimono that day.

Was it frustrating to hide who this guy was, Ted?
DANSON I don’t know about frustrating, because I had my hands full just trying to fulfill the script. But watching it, I would go, “You’re either doing a really good job, Ted, or that’s some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen.” And I couldn’t quite make up my mind.

BELL Around Episode 8 of the first season, my husband [Dax Shepard] said, “I love your show, but my one critique is that Ted is just wildly underused. He’s just kind of one-note.” And I didn’t tell him the twist, because I can keep a secret.

DANSON [Silently mouths] I can’t.

BELL I couldn’t tell him that there was a very specific reason you’ve never seen Michael on camera by himself, that all those choices were leading up to something wonderful.

DANSON It was hard.

BELL Keeping the secret?

DANSON No, that was easy, because I didn’t. But I didn’t know how to be funny.

BELL I don’t think you realize how funny it is when you’re bumbling.

DANSON I don’t.

BELL It’s pretty cute.

So Kristen, were you looking forward to working with the unleashed Ted Danson in Season 2?
BELL Big time. That terrifying cackle he gave at the end of Season 1, I was like, “What is in store?”

What’s in store is that Michael changes — he starts the season torturing humans and ends as something of a guardian angel.
DANSON Well, he’s madly in love with humans. And I think he recognizes that Eleanor’s way smarter than he is.

BELL I agree.

DANSON He watches her change and still be doomed. And if you can change in the afterlife, you should be able to garner points or something. The system sucks, and it just seems horribly unfair to him that people he’s grown to love don’t stand a chance to be in the Good Place.

As a viewer, I have no idea where the show is going in Season 3. You blew up the premise at the end of Season 1, then took the setting for both seasons and stuck it in a museum on hell. The humans are back on Earth, but for how long?
DANSON Nice try, thinking you can get us to tell you something about Season 3. Not me.

BELL It’s impossible not to say at the end of each of our seasons, “Where on Earth are they going to put us?” No pun intended. “What is going to happen, how could we possibly raise the stakes?” But they figure it out. They are given a problem in that writers room and they figure it out. I don’t even know how they do it, but it’s fascinating what they do.

Kristen, when you were on TheWrap’s comedy actors panel, you talked about how we’re in a time where we need heroes who are good — that we’re not looking for Walter White or Tony Soprano anymore. Do you think this is a show for its time?
BELL I do. I think that when your reality is comfortable, you can be entertained by something uncomfortable. When your reality is more uncomfortable, I think you want to see people fighting for good. You want to see something relatable: “Oh, those people are in a crazy/s—ty situation as well, and they’re figuring it out, and they have hope and drive.”

I think that’s why our show has been successful, because people enjoy that these characters are fighting for goodness amidst all their bumbling complexities and idiotic behavior.

DANSON When I think about Mike Schur, one of the things I think about is that he’s a decent man. And I think to talk about decency and ethics and consequences and do it with a 9-year-old’s fart sense of humor and magical visual effects, it’s just brilliant.

Was the morality of it, for lack of a better word, one of the reasons you were interested?
DANSON I don’t think I got it until I started watching the shows and would see Eleanor wrap up a little moral to our story. It took me a while to get it. You must have gotten it faster.

BELL For sure. In that love fest with Mike in our first meeting, I realized that he, too, has long been preoccupied with what it means to be a good person. I felt a connection with him.

So you have that preoccupation as well?
BELL Oh, yeah. It began as your regular old therapeutic codependency. I wanted to please people, and I want to be liked, and I’m afraid to disappoint people. And in learning how to manage that a little bit more, and figure out how to be good to myself with self-care and boundaries, I realized that a lot of my codependency was things that I really enjoyed, and some of it wasn’t codependency at all. It was just who I wanted to be.

There is a part that recognizes that good behavior makes me feel good. Who knows if there will ever be a reward, but the reward of feeling good is enough for me right now.

Ted, was it as much fun for you as it was for the audience when you showed up as a bartender in a scene late in Season 2?
DANSON No! I hate getting behind a bar. It took me a year on “Cheers” to not be embarrassed or shy. I was so not a bar person or a confident Romeo. I was a backwards, shy kind of kid. Took me almost a year to get that Sam Malone relief-pitcher, bartender arrogance. So having stopped that, I seriously have anxiety stepping behind a bar. It was a great scene, but I was so uncomfortable.

Had you two met before this series?
BELL We had. My husband and I had just watched the first season of “Damages,” which is so good. Ted plays Arthur Frobisher, and we were so obsessed with it that for that year or two, we changed our alias to get mail to Holly and Arthur Frobisher.

Then I booked this movie called “Big Miracle,” which Ted was also in. And I met him for the first time in Alaska in this lobby of the hotel. And I said, “Hello, Mr. Danson, my name is Kristen Bell. I don’t want to freak you out, but I do want to let you know that I am checked into this hotel as Holly Frobisher.” And he was like, “Oh, OK. Very nice to meet you.” I realized in retrospect that was maybe not a good opener.

DANSON Captain Cook.

BELL It was the Captain Cook Hotel. Did it freak you out when I told you I was checked in as Mrs. Frobisher?

DANSON Well, maybe.

BELL Did you, like, tell the ADs to keep me away?

DANSON No. And now that I know you and Dax, I can see how much fun you must have had doing it.

BELL Oh, we loved it.

I hear you took Ted to his first escape room, and I’m wondering if there will be a second.
DANSON No. No f—ing way.

BELL Shut up! There will be a second escape room. First of all, if Mary [Steenburgen, Danson’s wife] and I have anything to say about it, there will be.

DANSON Mary is dying to go again.

BELL I should have done more research, so this one is on me. I should have realized that this was an escape room where A, they split your group up, which is already no fun, and B, they turn off the lights, so it’s pitch black. You are given flashlights, and Ted just sat down on the little twin bed that was in the room and handed Dax his flashlight…

DANSON And just stretched out.

BELL Meanwhile, Mary was killing it on our side. She was an amazing detective.

DANSON It wasn’t just that the lights were out and I like to take naps. It’s also that I was with the guys, and the guys are meant to relax. If I’m around women, I’m up and interested. If it’s the guys, I’m gonna stretch out. There’s no one to impress.

Getting back to your show, do you have any ideas of how you’d like things to end for your characters?
DANSON I can guarantee that whatever I could possibly imagine would fall so short of whatever comes out of Mike’s noggin.

BELL Ditto. Yeah. We know our place, and we’re so happy to live here.

It’s a good place?
BELL Exactly. I have no problem leaving the heavy lifting up to them.

Read more of TheWrap’s Comedy/Drama/Actors Emmy issue here.

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