Actor Lake Bell makes her debut as the writer-director of a feature-length film with this weekend's release of "In a World..." The comedy about a struggling vocal coach, played by Bell, who succeeds in the fierce world of movie-trailer voice-overs earned her the Sundance 2013 Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.
You've said that you're obsessed with the voice-over world. Why is that?
I think I'm more specifically obsessed with the idea of the blind voice and voice acting, the voice as a tool to express oneself, whether in characterization or in life. Needless to say, the voice is such an incredible tool, and for an actor, it's massive, but even just as a human, there are two things that dictate how the person across from you is going to judge you, and one is obviously how you look, but then of course there's the voice. It's the most influential tool when you first make an impression on someone.
So your character is the rare woman voice-over artist competing with men. Is voice-over dominated by men, and if so, why do you think that is?
I don't think that the entire voice-over industry is dominated by men, but there are different subdivisions that are. So the movie trailer voice-over industry and faction is, without hyperbole, dominated by men. I would challenge anyone to think of the last movie trailer they watched where a female voiced it. There was one woman who did it — Melissa Disney in the '90s did "Gone in 60 Seconds," but that's it. The most interesting part of the conversation is, this voice of God, this disembodied omniscient voice, why is that always deemed male?
Do you have a theory?
I do think that we're just used to it, so if not laziness then it's a lack of creativity to think of another way to express information in that medium. I think another add to that would be that the industry is so nervous about things succeeding that they don't want to change anything too much within the promoting of a movie, because they could then blame the female voice-over. There have been studies done that indicate men will listen to the voice of authority in a male voice but cannot hear a female voice in the position of authority. So then if the male viewers aren't going to hear it, are you losing out on a market? I think that's bull. If anything, it becomes interesting and enticing because it's a new and fresh sound and way to narrate and dictate story.
On the other side, though, your character says (and this drives me crazy too), "Women should be women, not baby dolls who end everything in a question." Can you talk about that?
I personally don't like to be preached to, but this is a small soapbox moment in that respectfully and lovingly because I am a woman and I love women, I feel that the sexy baby vocal virus that is rampant is unsavory because it is diminishing women and how they're representing themselves. It's a dangerous vocal trend, because it evokes the woman who's speaking it is a little girl submissive to the male sex. It's somehow to be more sexually relevant, whereas I would disagree. I don't think a 12-year-old girl is sexy. My point is not to be disrespectful to those who do talk that way but rather to say, hey, I think you're better than that, and frankly it's a dialect, and FYI, you can fix it if you just became slightly more vocally aware. I'm passionate about it, for sure.
I noticed that you filmed at the Church of Scientology. Is it commonly used as a filming location?
Yeah. It was just a good space. I don't have any ties with them. They have an event space. It's the Celebrity Centre. I'd never been in there. We were all enthralled.
The title of your film, "In a World ..," which is associated with the late voice actor Don LaFontaine, was that used in a lot of movies?
It was used in thousands of movie trailers. Don LaFontaine was a copywriter and he penned the words, "In a world where ..." The legend has it that he was writing for this one trailer and the guy who was supposed to record it didn't show up, so he got in the booth and his voice was so magnetic and profoundly deep and glorious and authoritative that movie trailers were forever changed. His estate actually owns that phrase.
I also noted you raided your fellow "Childrens Hospital" cast members, like Nick Offerman, Rob Corddry and Ken Marino, for your cast.
Basically my entire cast are friends of mine who I have on speed dial. I did write with people in mind and fingers crossed, hoping they would take a chance. I was inspired to cast not only people who are great comedians but that I knew as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, who have a complex life, who I've talked to about deeper things than sketch comedy. I knew that there was a profundity there that I wanted to tap into.
Who are your comedy heroes?
I have a handful of movies that I keep on my desk. The top of that list is "The King of Comedy." [Martin] Scorsese taking on comedy is so interesting and dynamic and strange and wonderful, but also the performances are so rich and neurotic and so deeply hilarious. I enjoy movies where characters that would usually be peripheral are the protagonists. I think "Hannah and Her Sisters" has that, "Citizen Ruth," "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," those are movies that help me stay inspired.
Congratulations on your June wedding to tattoo artist Scott Campbell. Has he tattooed you?
No, he carries all the tattoos in the family. There's no need for me. I feel like I have a full body of tattoos because my husband is covered from head to toe. It would be kind of redundant if I got them. Besides, I'm more novel to him completely blank.