Lake Bell: Hardest Working Woman in Comedy

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Lake Bell called ETonline from a stoop in Brooklyn -- a location she deemed "fitting" given the fact we were talking about her hardscrabble series, How To Make It In America, which just kicked off its second season on HBO. It's one of many places you can catch the hard-working actress, as she's not only pulling full-time double duty with Adult Swim's Childrens Hospital but guest-starring on hot freshman comedy New Girl in addition to being an omnipresent force on the big screen.
During our conversation, Bell spilled on HTMIIA season two, Childrens Hospital season four and what you can expect when she stops by Zooey Deschanel's new series.
ETonline: What excites you about How To Make It In America, season two?
Lake Bell: It's funnier than the first season -- don't get me wrong, season one was great but like any show, we were finding our footing and settling in. This season kind of hammers home the zeitgeist aspect of thinking outside the box in the job market and having a sense of humor about your own existence. I think that's what really comes through. This year is sort of messier, things aren’t as clean and I think that sort of tone resonates and highlights what you're gonna see this season. All the characters have moments being derailed and Rachel is in this sort of purgatory of work and relationships and identity. I think when you see characters in a wreck, then it's sort of funny because with tragedy comes laughter. I hope.
ETonline: Absolutely. This week sees her get back into the professional world, right?
Bell: Yes. Rachel’s gonna throw some spaghetti against the wall and see if it sticks. There's a lot of spaghetti and meatballs this season: she's throwing everything against the wall and often it just kind of rolls off and looks messy. I think that's the fun of this year. In the next episode a new friendship blossoms and attempts to acquire a working position, like a normal person.
ETonline: And what about the Rachel/Ben/Julie of it all?
Bell: What's nice about the show is it feels very true to life. Like, just because we're on a television show doesn't mean Ben and Rachel necessarily get back together again. People start dating other people and it's very true to New York -- the social circles are so small that you're likely to end up bumping into people you might not want to bump into. I think it adds some drama to the show.
ETonline: While HBO is very clearly behind the show, I like that it has sort of been an under-the-radar thing.
Bell: I think so too. It's kind of like Childrens Hospital in that way. People who love the show watch the show. I’m hoping is that the season stretches to a larger audience -- it's more cheeky and more daring and just has this sense of humor about itself, so I feel like that will be helpful in finding some new viewers. But I agree that in the same way a cool kid is not gonna ask you to come hang out, I’m not gonna beg you. We're not gonna shove it down your throat. If you wanna come to the party, come to the party.
ETonline: Having been a part of major network shows, like NBC's Surface, and now these two cult-y hits, do you have a preference?
Bell: Being on shows that have a very specific, loyal audience is truly a pleasure and an honor. I take the subway and people come up to me and say, "Ah, man, Rachel what's up. Get back with Ben." It's always something very respectful and lets you know exactly who is on your team. With Childrens Hospital especially. I always get really excited when I meet a Childrens Hospital fan because that's an even smaller fan-base than HTMIIA. I'm always so surprised that I'm getting recognized from that, that I kind of stalk the fan. The man will make some kind of reference, and I'm like, "Yes, but didn't you love when this happened?" Or, "did you see the second episode? Do you remember when?" I get totally into that. Like, you're a fan? Great! But let's really talk it through. Inevitably, they're like, "Goodbye."
ETonline: You do come across like the kind of actor who is a legit fan of all the shows or movies they work on.
Bell: Absopoopley. I am. I am very lucky in that way. I always go for things that I genuinely love and that I would watch. It's nice to be a part of projects and work with people that you love. Especially with these two shows, I'm so proud of them and how utterly different they are.
ETonline: Did wee Lake always want to be an actress?
Bell: Yes. When I was just a puddle, hadn’t grown up to be a pond or a lake yet, I was a very precocious, very determined little person. I remember understanding conceptually what it was to be a performer at, like, two. And I liked that idea. I put on The Late Late Show, which was a show for my family only. It was really a procrastination tool to avoid going to bed. But I took it very seriously. I solicited help from friends who were very reluctant and made them throw on some costumes. I would be like, "Don’t worry. Just stand here, I'll do the rest." I always knew what I wanted to be. And my parents thought it was cute until it was like, "Honey please don't do this." It was so cute until I got of age, then it turned into, "Please, do anything else."
ETonline: So are they totally eating their words now?
Bell: Yes, now it's back to, "We're so proud."
ETonline: And, "Please introduce us to Ashton Kutcher."
Bell: [laughs] Yeah. But it's more like, "Meryl Streep .. she's the greatest you know..."
ETonline: You are also in next week's episode of New Girl, which I adore.
Bell: You know it's written by Liz Merriweather, a good friend of mine, who wrote No Strings Attached. She e-mailed me and was like "Let's go play with this character," and I was like, "Absolutely! You do not even have to ask twice." And I love Zooey [Deschanel] -- she's hilarious and just so likeable and talented. I love her music, so I was hoping to become friends with her.
ETonline: That's where this really stems from, isn't it -- the desire to befriend Zooey?
Bell: Yeah, I just want to see She & Him [laughs]. It's a really well-penned little character. I play a mini love interest for Nick [played by Jake Johnson] who is so sarcastic you have no idea when she's being serious or not. She's sarcastic about being sarcastic, so she's sarcastic about everything. Even if you're making out, she's being sarcastic, so you have no idea when she's into it or not. It puts Nick in a little storm of confusion. I don't know what they went with but what I shot is insanity, I couldn't believe this was going to be on a network. Like, I don't know how they could air some of it.
ETonline: And lastly, I have to ask -- I know Childrens Hospital resumes production in December -- any ideas what lies ahead for Dr. Cat Black?
Bell: I have no idea, but every year we all pitch out crazy cockamamie storylines and the [writers] just give us these absurdist trajectories for our characters. I mean Childrens Hospital is not gonna let you down, let's be honest. We have no rules on that show, there's no logic, the characters are totally interchangeable -- it's a free for all.
How To Make It In America airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.