Audiences have certainly sorted Kristen Bell into the “good” category — in recent years she’s became a beloved figure for her vocal turn in Disney’s “Frozen,” showed off her edgier side on “House of Lies,” scored a hit comedy film with “Bad Moms,” and a cult of the faithful are still pining for even more of her breakout hit “Veronica Mars.” Her personal life has also fascinated her fans, from her commitment to veganism to holding off marriage to husband Dax Shepard until same-sex unions were legalized in California to raising two young daughters to her adorable, not-so-mild obsession with sloths.
But is she a good person?
The subject of personal goodness lies at the heart of Bell’s adventurous new sitcom “The Good Place,” in which her character Eleanor arrives after a sudden life-ending mishap but soon proves to be a fish out of water, for very good reason, when it comes to fitting in the landscape of expected eternal bliss designed by the chipper afterlife architect Michael (Ted Danson).
As Bell tells Moviefone, in her own life, she’s doing what she can to stay on a path toward being good, as she defines it — and that includes keeping up a high standard of good work. “I had already been living that way in which my mind spins with every decision I make,” she admits. “That’s not to say I don’t mess up, because I certainly do, and I guarantee you you could pick me apart and find a thousand things wrong. But I’m striving.”
Moviefone: There was a period in the 1960s when Dean Martin had a hit television show, hit movies and hit music all at the same time. Are you our new Dean Martin?
Kristen Bell: Oh wow! I don’t know — I don’t think so. I think I’m just having a real lucky streak, and I am going to ride this shooting star until it fizzles!
It’s got to be pretty nice right now, because you’ve put in the work. You’ve built a nice career, and then to have different things in different directions clicking all at once has to be kind of, is it overwhelming?
No. Weirdly, it’s not overwhelming because I don’t put a ton of stock into it. I have had plenty of projects that have fizzled. I also treat every project the same, in which I don’t really care that much about its success. I care a lot more about my day-to-day life on that project. I care that I feel like I’m doing good, smart, creative work. I care that I’m putting in effort and a lot of hard work into it. I care that I enjoy the circumstances that we’re in, with both the people around us and the environment we’re shooting in. I care about my sleep at night.
Once all those things align, I believe that’s the recipe for getting something better — as opposed to sleepwalking or not being present through the whole process and then just waiting to check the numbers or what your stats are. I’ve really been able to unplug from the results business.
Tell me, then: for this one, there’s a lot of obvious reasons to say “yes” to this project, a lot of great ingredients — working with Mike Schur, working with Ted Danson, working with Drew Goddard — but what was the ingredient that you discovered in the doing of it? Once you showed up to work and you were like, “Oh, this part is really cool, too!”
Because there was no way for me to know this ahead of time, the comedic way in which Mike explains how to be a good person. It genuinely is two of my favorite things: laughing and exploring what being a good person means. And in action, I think it’s going to be a little inspiring to watch — at least I feel like I would be the perfect audience for this show.
Also, if you talk about in doing it, things I wasn’t expecting: there are four newer actors. There are four cast members people might not be as familiar with who are incredible, and you hope when you hire someone who doesn’t have the resume of Ted Danson that they are still going to be a firework, and man, did we get lucky!
Mike is incredibly adept at writing for an ensemble. He has developed each character in “The Good Place” neighborhood quite a bit, and it is just … it’s awesome. It makes me so proud of my new friends, going, like, “You are a star! Holy smokes!”
Because it can be so easy to do in Hollywood, did you find yourself taking steps where you were like, ‘Am I going down the path of not being a good person?” Did you ever have to check yourself at any point?
Yeah, I think earlier on maybe I did, because particularly in Hollywood where the carrot dangles above your head around every corner, it’s important to consider the ripple effect you have. And now I feel I’ve done enough research into what my ripple effect could be that it’s more of a gut instinct, because I know how my actions affect other people.
But sure, earlier on, it was like what anyone experiences in life which is, “I hope I’m navigating this to the best of my ability — particularly if my objective is to be kind.”
As I try to find my own enlightenment, I have these moments in life where I feel this sort of karmic pain of something I did in the past. Do you have things that haunt you?
Karmic pain, karmic … just … embarrassment! But I think admitting them … Weirdly there’s, in the 12 Steps of A.A., there is a 4th step where you sort of have to identify everything you’ve done wrong, what your culpability is. I take that advice to heart.
I think dealing with something is better than letting it fester. Even though every, every, every molecule in your body would tell you the opposite. It’s always better if you just say, “Remember when I stole that gumball out of your lunch 27 years ago? I’m sorry about that. I was being a bit of a bully,” you know?
Being a parent adds a whole new layer, because you’re not just trying to be a good person yourself. You’re trying to guide little people into growing into good people.
Yeah. Which is the one objective, is to not raise an a-hole. But it’s also interesting because I am such an optimist, I believed people were inherently good. I thought they’d get sidetracked and they’d get selfish, but at their heart, they’re good.
Raising two kids, I think I’ve changed my tune a little bit. I think we’re born a little bit closer to selfish little monkeys than I had originally thought. And you actually have to learn cooperation instead of domination. And it’s possible. You know, I think you do have to teach people to be good. Now, that said, when I think when they understand goodness and kindness, it’s very easy to fall in line with it.
American treasure Ted Danson: Tell me about the discovery of how the guy can do, quite probably, anything and make it look good.
America’s sweetheart. My sweetheart. It’s hard to articulate Ted because he’s just such a dreamy friend and a dreamy co-star. He’s just joy personified. He makes people feel good. He’s a pleasure to be around. It’s not that he doesn’t have depth and he’s just nice, because as you peel away his layers, sure he can get sassy and it’s adorable. But one of the most important things to me in life is being around people who make you feel good, who have a smile on their face, and he is that person.
Afterlife-wise, did you take the same approach you take in your career? Do you just want to live life and do it well and worry about that stuff later? Or did you have a concept that you tend to stick with?
In my real life? I certainly hope it’s like The Good Place. It would be great. I mean, the numbers that Mike has run is that it’s only about one in every 500 who are going to The Good Place. So it’s very difficult to get in there. Yeah, very difficult.
Everybody is obviously super-excited about a “Frozen 2.” Are you in the loop, or are you waiting to find out just like anybody else? Do they tell you where they are in development and things?
Yes, well, they’re finishing writing the script. They’re not taking their time to develop the script. They’re just not rushing. They don’t need to rush. They have a creative process that works brilliantly, as proven by the first one. And they don’t need to rush for anything, so I know a little bit about what the subjects are and stuff.
But we’re just basically on call because they’re getting struck by lightning bolts, and then deciding something is perfection, and committing it to pages in the script, and when they feel like it’s Christmas morning for all of us, we’ll see it and start recording. I certainly hope it’s soon, but I also know they’ve been working on everything “Frozen” for quite a few years, and I don’t want to rush them.
Why are you excited to return to that role?
Oh wow! Because Anna is very much my gift to who I was as a child.