Times Staff Writer

If YOU’RE an actor looking to learn the art of stage combat, there’s likely no better training ground than the drama schools of London, which is where New York native Lake Bell studied the sword-and-dagger moves. But she hasn’t had much opportunity to use those skills. Instead, she’s played her share of comely lasses in “Boston Legal,” “Miss Match” and, more recently, a lovestruck psychic in “Over Her Dead Body.”

Then came “What Happens in Vegas,” this summer’s big rom-com, opening Friday with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher playing out the gender wars. They get hitched during a drunken night in Sin City and then promptly win $3 million, to be split between them but only after serving a marriage sentence issued by Judge Whopper (the honorable Dennis Miller).

The script calls for Bell, Cameron Diaz’s protective, sass-mouthed friend, to pummel Rob Corddry, Kutcher’s lawyer pal. It’s not plunging a rapier into someone’s side, but the thorough beating sets the boys-versus-girls tone.


“The stunt coordinators showed us the moves . . . he throws me against a lamp, over a chair, up against a wall, then I run back in, smash him, fall down.” Bell tries to remember the rest, giving up. “I woke up the next day with bruises all over. It’s weird to get bruises from a comedy.”

The fight, a result of Corddry and Kutcher accidentally getting booked in the same hotel room as Bell and Diaz (while the latter is in the shower, natch), is one of the memorable physical stunts Bell pulls off in “Vegas.” The coltish vegan with bright green eyes also had to chicken-fight a buxom showgirl while squeezing some poor extra’s neck. “I told him, ‘Hey, I’ll be straddling you tonight.’ Then I got on his shoulders and acted like an idiot.”

With all the rumpus on film, it figures that the cast bonded with a go-kart race, a familiar battleground for Bell, whose father is a race car driver and owner of the Virginia International Raceway. At 29, she’s been training for several months with go-karts so she can race in a celebrity charity event she’s planning for next year. “It was me, Ashton, Demi [Moore], Cameron, [director] Tom Vaughan . . . I wouldn’t let Cameron pass me and then she crashed into me and we’d fall off. Corddry was waaay back there, like, ‘Isn’t this great, guys?’ ”

Bell is still a little embarrassed when she recalls meeting Diaz for the first time. “I heard these heels coming down the hallway. She was on the phone and I could hear, ‘OK, perf. Oh, my God, that is so perf. Love you!’ And then I saw her and I just said, ‘Perf! I say that too,’ and gave her this awkward, dorky hug. She was so accepting.”

The two clicked during the shoot with shopping trips in Vegas and a trip to the Hamptons, but it’s Bell’s scenes with Corddry, her archnemesis with the Charlie Brown pate, that really got her blood pumping. “We had so many scenes where we’d just mess with each other relentlessly. It’s so much fun to hate someone.”



Where you’ve seen her

Like many a box-office draw before her, Lake Bell got one of her first gigs on TV’s “ER.” She quickly graduated to the TV movie “War Stories,” in which she played a reporter in Uzbekistan. Then in 2004, she became a David E. Kelley girl, entering the courtrooms of “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.” In “Surface,” NBC’s sci-fi show, Bell took the lead as a marine biologist.