Hot off the critical acclaim for In a World …, of which she was writer, director and star, Lake Bell currently appears opposite Mad Men’s Jon Hamm in Million Dollar Arm, a film about a struggling sports agent who recruits a pair of young cricket players from India to try their arms at baseball. We spoke to Bell about badasses, Ben Affleck and throwing like a girl.
On the cover of May’s Esquire magazine, it’s suggested, perhaps playfully, that you might be the most important actor/director/writer of your generation. Is that praise undermined by having you pose for photographs without your clothes on?
Well, it’s Esquire. And just because you’re an actor/writer/director, it doesn’t mean you’re void of all femininity or sexuality. Don’t you think?
Sure. In fact, I think Ben Affleck said that very same thing.
[Laughs] I look up to Affleck. He’s talented and accomplished, and sometimes he takes his shirt off. Listen, I feel very powerful in those photos. It’s actually kind of fun to be described in those terms and then be able to express that kind of visual.
I only bring this up because Million Dollar Arm is a sports film, and my editor wanted me to ask you a bunch of baseball questions, but you have an athletic look about you. Do you have a tomboy past?
Thank you. I do have a background of being athletic, but in my adult life I have rare times to express it. It’s a muscle that can atrophy.
Please don’t tell me you throw like a girl.
I try not to. I hate to think that I would, but I am a girl. And it’s not a bad thing if I do throw like a girl. Some girls are very badass.
You penned a Test Drive column for The Hollywood Reporter, in which you test-drove and reviewed some hot, fancy wheels. Are you a badass?
I can’t self-proclaim that. But I do aspire to be a badass.
You’re a native New Yorker. Mets or Yankees?
I have to be a Yankee fan, just given my family structure. I would get into trouble with a lot of family members if I said otherwise. But I don’t know the players like I should. I’m not into live sports, but I’m a huge fan of sports films.
We’re seeing a lot of them lately. I mean, we always have, but I think something like Draft Day, for example, probably doesn’t get made unless Moneyball is a hit.
The sports element is an umbrella to tell the story. What makes it great is that you’re latching onto the human experience that’s involved, and the interpersonal relationships and the journey that has to be made.
Usually involving underdogs, such as Million Dollar Arm, right?
Certainly. And I think that because this story is a true story, it adds another level of goosebumps that you get in the theatre. We met the actual baseball players that the story was based upon, and it was a joy. They’re very kind, nice, generous, spirited people. They competed in professional baseball with other people who had been doing it since they were five years old, and they had picked up a baseball for the first time when they were 17. That’s a remarkable physical feat, and a mental feat, to do that.
We could see you, as a woman, as an underdog. The film industry is dominated by males, and your film In a World... explores the world of movie trailer voice-overs, which are always voiced by men.
I don’t want to get on the soapbox about it, but I certainly wrote a film that depicted that in a comedic way, to ease the conversation into more of a discussion. I’m a woman, obviously. Feminist issues are interesting to me. I’m a lady and I feel it sometimes, and I’m in a world where there’s definitely an opportunity for me to express those conversations.
Your character in Million Dollar Arm is the film’s strongest. That must have been appealing to you.
The fact that she gives this man [played by Hamm] a proverbial kick in the gut and calls him out on his crap is refreshing. Usually, the woman is doting, on the sidelines and a pretty thing the man conquers. In this, the romantic connection is very much on her terms.
So, in closing, I’ll ask you the question which Esquire asks: Are you the most important actor/director/writer of your generation?
We’ll see. I didn’t know that was going to be the headline, but my mom and dad were excited about it. At the end of the day, though, I’m just going to do what I’m going to do. I consider myself lucky that I’m able to have such a good time doing it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.