Last year, Judd Apatow made Katharine Heigl a huge star by giving her a starring role in his hit comedy Knocked Up. Now, the producer of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad has a new leading lady: Kristen Bell. The 27-year-old actress – who first made a name for herself on TV shows like Heroes, Deadwood and Veronica Mars – is about to become a major movie star with the title role in Apatow’s new romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
What drew you to this project?
Clearly, having seen the people involved, I was eager to read the script. Knowing it was produced by Judd Apatow was a huge deal. A lot of romantic comedies tell you who you’re supposed to love and who you’re supposed to hate, and this was one of the only romantic comedies I’ve ever read that let the villain get the chance to explain herself.
The movie is written and directed by funnyman Jason Segel, and there are rumors that the story is based on his relationship with actress Lindsay Cardellini (of “Brokeback Mountain” and the show Freaks and Geeks). Do you think that’s the case?
I don’t know. That’s a question for Jason. He has said he pulled from a variety of relationships – not just one. He did have a naked breakup.
Has promoting Forgetting Sarah Marshall kept you busy?
It’s been the biggest press tour I’ve ever been a part of. I am still just starting to understand how much goes into something like this – even after you shoot it. There is such a requirement of doing talk shows and interviews and it’s been really fun. The greatest part about it is that we got to go back to Hawaii for our press junket. It was surreal being back together with the cast for 5 days.
What was it like shooting in Hawaii?
Very relaxing – it was like paradise. We got to be creative during the shooting and had fun at work. I don’t really drink a lot of alcohol, because I get really bad hangovers from just one glass of wine, but there was this thing – it was called a Monkey’s Lunch, and it has about an ounce of alcohol in it with vanilla ice cream, a banana and Kahlua. It’s low in alcohol, so that’s what I had.
What will audiences like about this movie?
I think the way Judd Apatow has been reinventing the R-rated comedy. He has sort of added the boy humor and by doing so, expanded the audience so that guys can go see it. But the movies haven’t lost their heart. This movie will appeal to everyone because the ebb and flow of how these characters love and hate each other is very realistic.
Your character Sarah Marshall is a famous TV actress, and you’re also a famous TV actress. What similarities and differences are there between you and your character?
I hope to say that we’re different in a few ways. I think we’re the same on paper, but the way we handle things is different. There is one scene when Sarah’s long-running television show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime gets cancelled and she starts to have a panic attack. Two weeks before I shot that scene, my television show Veronica Mars had gotten cancelled. Despite our smiling faces, lots of actors are insecure. You always think, “well, this is my last job. No one’s ever going to hire me again.” To play Sarah, I tried to go into my deepest darkest insecurities and think, “how would I act if I didn’t have manners and wasn’t polite?
Is Sarah a cold-hearted character?
I don’t think she is. If you examine the movie, what Jason does brilliantly in the beginning is show that his character hasn’t left the house and is very depressed. Sarah was just at her wits end in terms of not knowing how to fix it. She tells him that at the end. I don’t think it was selfish for her to leave him. I think she leaves him because she’s so scared. She didn’t want to watch his heart break.
Tell us about that naked towel scene everybody’s talking about…
That was something that was written from day one. And Jason [Segel] had been adamant about how we never see male frontal nudity during the first few minutes of movies. He is balancing the scales from how many flashing boobs we’ve had in history. He was naked for two days. The scene ended up being cut down a lot. I have a feeling it will show up on the DVD. At one point there was some sort of nylon sock involved. It was better without the sock.
Usually in Hollywood movies, a guy breaks up with a girl, and she’s completely devastated. Did it appeal to you that in this movie, it’s the other way around?
Oh yeah! I think things are never so black and white. And movies present them as so. It’s always a girl who wants to get married and while they may be the majorities, the minorities are never spoken for. Jason is really sensitive, and I applaud him for writing something that is awkward for people – seeing a guy being broken down, being obsessive.
Why do you think it’s so hard for the Jason’s character Peter to forget Sarah?
I think what happens in breakups is that you end up loving the idea of someone so much more than look at the realistic circumstances of how they made you feel. Sarah does not make Peter feel good. The lesson in the movie is that you’ve got to go with the person who brings out the best in you. Being in love is a thin line away from obsession because you’re risking a lot. There’s a lot of passion involved.
Do you think it’s harder for a guy to get dumped than it is for a girl?
No, I think it sucks either way.
Are you still the voice of the hit CW show, Gossip Girl?
Yes. I’m on for the rest of the show’s run. I’m permanent as long as it’s on. It’s fun to go to work in your pajamas and work in a booth!
You’re a former stage actress: What are the chances of you starring in a Broadway show?
Very high! It’s also a matter of scheduling. When you sign on to work on Broadway, you have to clear your schedule. But I definitely want to get back on stage.
What’s next for you?
I just got an apartment in NYC, and I am about to start production on When in Rome (a comedy co-starring Meg Ryan and Dax Shepard).