While they're waiting for her Kickstarter-started “Veronica Mars” movie to come out, fans of Kristen Bell can see the actress in the new indie film “The Lifeguard.”
Though they'll be in for quite a surprise.
“Lifeguard's” lost, languorous Leigh is nothing like the energetic TV teen detective Bell is best known for playing.
A 29-year-old journalist who retreats from New York to her small-town Connecticut home after combined professional and romantic setbacks, Leigh veges out in her parents' house before re-upping for the summer job she had before college: lifeguard at a condo swimming pool.
Leigh hangs out with old friends who never left town like Mamie Gummer's Mel, now an administrator at their old high school. She also makes new friends such as Little Jason (David Lambert of “The Fosters”), the skateboarding son of her boss at the pool, a student at Mel's school and, eventually, Leigh's lover.
Wait. What? Veronica, what are you doing!?!
“It was very different,” Bell, curled up on a couch in a private West Hollywood club, understates regarding director Liz W. Garcia's “Lifeguard” script. “I had been in the mood, at that moment, to do something unlike anything I had done. I have a tendency to veer toward bubbly type roles and I wanted to do a movie where my character didn't have a reason to smile at all. I wanted to challenge myself there, to be less like I am in real life, which is kind of very perky. This really fit the bill in so many different ways.”
Garcia, a television writer-producer who's making her feature-directing debut with “Lifeguard,” was sure Bell could handle all of her script's dramatic, and sometimes comic, challenges.
“I've always really loved watching Kristen and found that she brought more depth than necessary to a lot of her roles – meaning that she's really funny, but you could feel that there was a really adept actress there who understood the emotional underpinnings of the character,” Garcia says. “I wanted Leigh to be someone who felt like a smart, with-it, funny person, which Kristen is, but also someone who used the funny to sort of mask pain.”
There was one challenge, however, that neither the actor nor the director expected when production commenced near Pittsburgh last summer.
In the film, Bell has many scenes in a red lifeguard swimsuit. She looks great wearing it. But . . .
“I was a week pregnant when I got to Pittsburgh, and I didn't know it,” says Bell, now 33. “Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I peed on a stick in the middle of Pittsburgh, and then got into my wardrobe, which was a one-piece bathing suit, the next morning.
“I was certainly convinced everybody knew,” she recalls. “Toward the end of the film, Liz has told me now, it was very obvious — to her, simply because I was so tired. I was eating a lot of watermelon, a lot of bagels, and I was making little blanket-and-pillow nooks all around the set.”
Bell's pregnancy wasn't what made her big love scene uncomfortable, though.
“I had never done anything that was this intimate before, this real and intimate,” Bell admits. “I mean, I've done goofy sexual scenes before, and I've touched on a lot of things in ‘House of Lies' with sexuality. But this was a lot more graphic than anything I've ever been a part of. The reality is that my job sometimes involves locking lips with people I don't know. It's scary, it's not nearly as exciting as it sounds. There are 40 people in the room and you're told you're doing it wrong because the camera can't capture it and you don't know the other person. It's weird.”
Then there was the conversation she'd had with their now 5-month-old daughter's father, actor-director Dax Shepard, before Bell committed to making the film.
“I think Liz is such a provocative writer and I really liked the way the scene was written, it was so daring,” Bell says. “I spoke to my significant other about it and said ‘I really want to do this part, it's further than I've ever gone in a sex scene and is this cool with you?' Because I also have a reality to live, which is I don't want to upset my partner.
“He said ‘I totally trust you, it's fine. Just don't come home pregnant, whatever you do' as a joke. And I came home pregnant, which makes us laugh to this day.”
As for the film's fictional relationship, it obviously causes problems for the Leigh and Mel characters, but neither the protagonist nor Little Jason seem damaged by it.
“I think the movie would be interpreted differently if I were a male and David Lambert's character was a female,” Bell reckons. “For me to be the aggressor in this situation, it doesn't come across as exploitative. And the beauty of this script is that it's not about anyone taking advantage of anyone else. It's a mutual attraction that can't and shouldn't be, but it is.”
The next we'll hear from Bell will be in the Disney animated feature “Frozen.” That opens in November, but of course her fans are anticipating next year's release of the “Veronica Mars” movie.
After years of speculation and the studio that owns the property, Warner Bros., saying no, Bell and “Mars” creator Rob Thomas finally launched a Kickstarter campaign to help produce the movie last fall. It was a massive and widely reported success, reaching its $2 million goal in under 10 hours and eventually racking up $5.7 million for the production. It also started a small avalanche of actor and filmmaker attempts to crowdfund their passion projects – some of which have worked and some of which haven't.
“The night before we launched the campaign, we were still terribly nervous that we were listening to the same 20 fans that wanted us to do it and that it would be a huge, embarrassing failure,” Bell reveals.
“I had so much confidence, though, because every interview that I've done since the show was canceled, every journalist asks ‘Do you think we'll see a ‘Veronica Mars' movie?' I'm like, you guys speak for the people because you write about what they want to read about, so I'm not crazy in thinking that there's interest.”
The movie, which has completed filming, sees a reluctant Mars sucked back into sleuthing while attending a 10-year reunion of the her old gang. While others are waiting to see how it turned out, first-time parent Bell is focused on other happy concerns.
“It's wonderful,” she says of motherhood. “I love it. I mean, I made a new best friend. That's kind of what it feels like.”
Typically perky, though, she couldn't help throwing in a joke.
“I gave life to my best friend and she gave me a comical amount of midsection skin,” Bell deadpans. “I don't really think it's very even, if I'm being honest, but I'm not going to tell her that.”