Kristen Bell might be one of the raddest people I have ever talked to. I’m probably more than a little biased on that point, though. What’s even radder is that even when our phone interview (which she was conduction from Austin while attending SXSW) was cut short due to technical problems, she called back an hour later to finish the interview, just as happy to talk about her latest project as when she first called.
“Andrew, the universe heard we were getting together for this and it just couldn’t handle it and it made the connection drop. They know that if you and I get together, it’s going to be epic.”
She didn’t have to do that and most people on the kinds of whirlwind junkets that people have to go on to promote films and TV shows probably wouldn’t have had enough time/would have been too exhausted to do it. Like I said, Kristen Bell is rad.
She was pretty cool before our lighthearted and jokey conversation, though. Recently working as one of the voices in the incredibly successful animated feature Frozen and appearing on the Showtime television show House of Lies, Bell has certainly been keeping busy. She’s also been keeping up with a large amount of charity work and a recent (and wholly understandable) campaign to stop “news” outlets from purchasing pictures of celebrity children from paparazzi.
But none of that is why we’re talking today. We’re talking about something that has been close to her heart for years and something that fans of great television have been waiting years to see: a feature length Veronica Mars movie, based on the cancelled-far-too-soon series created by Rob Thomas (Party Down).
Backed by Kickstarter funds from almost 91,600 people around the world – all of whom donated between tens and thousands of dollars towards the movie’s budget – the film sees a limited theatrical release this Friday (with some shows already sold out in the city of Toronto, including a public advance screening on the night before) alongside a day-and-date On Demand release. Bell sounds eternally grateful when talking about the many people who backed the film and proved to Warner Brothers, the film’s distributor, that a film based on a short lived, but deeply beloved television show about a teenage sleuth that’s been off the air for about seven years could still be something people wanted to see.
In the film, set well after the open ended and somewhat melancholy series finale, Veronica Mars has been pushing her way through grad school and is about to take the bar and become a New York City based attorney. But her old life in the fictional suburb of Neptune, California pulls her back in when her former lover, antagonist, and friend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) has been charged with the murder of his troubled pop star girlfriend. She returns home to her past life, her private eye father (Enrico Colantoni), and her old friends on the weekend of her old high school’s ten year high school reunion; an event she wouldn’t be caught dead at. She also returns to find that the Neptune police department (now run by Jerry O’Connell’s crooked sheriff) is far worse off than she left it. Eventually what was intended as a quick trip to help a friend in need before getting back to the life she has started to build for herself in New York with her boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell) turns into the slow realization that Neptune might need her more than she needs Neptune.
Bell chatted with us about why the time was right to make the movie, what it was like getting the band back together, the conflicted nature of Veronica’s quest this time out, and if she really did try to smuggle a burrito into The Oscars.
Dork Shelf: I know the idea for a Veronica Mars movie had been sort of bandied about for a while and there was even talk of a fourth season, but as with a lot of things news kind of grew a little quiet about the project and life and economics kind of get in the way and things sort of slow down. Did you and Rob Thomas ever have a discussion that maybe there would have been a “drop dead” date for any of this to happen? Was there a point beyond which either of you couldn’t really see doing the film?
Kristen Bell: Yeah. We had been scheming to get this made since the day it was cancelled. There were many, many different incarnations of what it could be that we went through over the years, and the reality is that even though Warner Brothers wanted to make the film, the economics were just never in place. They didn’t know if there would be an audience, and no matter how much Rob and I tried to tell them that there would be and it wouldn’t be hard to make, we never convinced their money men. (laughs)
We found Kickstarter to be the perfect platform to not only prove there was an audience, but to bring something back to the table and show them definitely that there might be something there like we had been saying. We were also really excited to pose the question to our fans and say “Do you want us to make this? If you do, we have to pre-sell it.” That’s essentially what we did because everyone that donated enough to the campaign gets a digital download of the movie shortly after it comes out. So we were able to take all of that, almost immediately as soon as it started, to Warner Brothers and said “See?” and they were utterly impressed. They’ve been super supportive ever since.
But, you know, I don’t know why it worked at the moment that it did. I think Malcolm Gladwell might be the only person who could explain that. (laughs) If you ever run into him, please ask him.
DS: One of the things that I really liked about the movie that I wasn’t expecting to feel having been a follower of the show when it was on TV is that it captures Veronica at a really interesting time in her life. I felt kind of conflicted watching her go back to her old life when she’s made so much progress at the beginning of this film to get away from that. What was it like to play with that side of her character and was that more interesting than just picking up directly where the show ended?
KB: Absolutely. The greatest stories have an octagonal amount of side to them. I think Rob really knew that he needed stakes the moment the movie began, so taking Veronica immediately out of Neptune provided exactly that. It gets fans at moment one to suddenly “What? Get her back to Neptune? She needs to be solving crimes! She needs to be a P.I.! What are you doing Veronica?” He needed them to want something right from the start.
And yes, it is a little sad to see all of Veronica’s hard work to be a lawyer flushed down the toilet, but I think this is where she’s supposed to be. I think it’s also satisfying when someone accepts their destiny, right?
DS: It’s definitely an interesting thing to think about because this all happens at the time in a person’s life where the ultimate final decision of whether or not you want to stay close to home or get as far away from it as possible is going to be made.
KB: Yeah, that’s true, and as you can see in the film, Neptune and Logan and a lot of other people can really use her help there. She can do a lot of good in Neptune that I think she can see, whereas everything in New York is still kind of up in the air.
DS: How easy is it to get back into the role of Veronica and to get back into sleuthing mode? Were you a little rusty at first or were you immediately ready to dive right in?
KB: The interesting thing of Veronica over any other role that I’ve ever played is the ease with which she comes to me. I don’t feel like I’m acting when I’m playing her. I’m 100% present, and I was a bit nervous that it’s been so long that I wouldn’t find that again. But after about ten minutes into shooting the very first scene, all of that worry was for nothing and it all felt completely natural again.
DS: Was it any different for any of the other cast members coming back that you might have noticed or was the general vibe on set the same as when you left it?
KB: No, but what I think is going to be interesting to people is to see how these actors and the characters have really grown up. I mean, Jason is still a stud muffin, but he broods even more if that’s somehow even possible. Ryan Hansen has children in real life now which is still strange to me. (laughs) But the most shocking to me was seeing Percy Daggs come back to play Wallace. He was handsome and nerdy on the show, but he is a straight stud muffin now. I don’t think the ladies, or the guys, are going to be prepared for Wallace to kind of steal the show from the group of the other stud muffins now. (laughs)
DS: It’s kind of cool that a movie that seems to revolve around a really terrible high school reunion that this has a feeling of a much cooler high school reunion.
KB: It absolutely was. That’s the perfect way to describe it. Because we’ve all kept in touch, but people’s schedules don’t line up perfectly and you never see each other as much as you all would like. We’ve had a couple of Veronica Mars reunion barbecues over the years, but getting to spend 30 days with these idiots was just such a treat. (laughs)
DS: Is it more fun after all these years to play with some of the call backs throughout the movie to the old TV show? It was great to see her old cell phone, which looks ancient now, make a comeback.
KB: It was so exciting when I get there to see her toolbox again because there’s so much great history and character stuff in that, and that’s just a testament to one of the things that made the show so great in the first place, the fact that we could go back to all these things and people would recognize them right away.
But it’s also just such a joy to once again be able to say the words of Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggerio, who penned the script with him. Their words are so much fun to deliver that it made all those little things around them feel important. Everything was so exciting to come back to.
And just to be back in all those scenes with Enrico Colantoni again and to just play that beautiful, progressive father/daughter relationship between Veronica and Keith was also really exciting. Those are all some of my favourite things to come back to.
DS: One thing that I find about your career right now that’s really interesting is that you are on a show like House of Lies that’s geared towards adults, you were just a big part of one of the most successful animated films of all time with Frozen that might make younger viewers take more notice of you, and you’re not returning to the character that kind of gave you the career you have now. It’s kind of like a tour of the past, present, and future for you as an actress.
KB: Wow. It’s really interesting to hear it explained like that. I really don’t think about who will see a film when I pick a project. Really doing the Veronica Mars movie might be the only exception to that I’ve probably ever made. I like to pick projects that I like to work on and I never really think about how they’ll be received. I kind of run them through my own filter and ask myself “Do I think this is quality? Do I think this is fun? Do I think this was a good experience? Is this worth seeing?” I haven’t really wrapped my head around the success of Frozen or being on TV again or even the success of where Veronica Mars has been or is going. All I know is that I have really enjoyed being involved in all of those.
DS: Before I go it’s kind of silly, but this has been bugging me all week. Before you went to The Oscars the other week, you tweeted that you were going to be smuggling a burrito into the show in your clutch, which I thought was pretty badass and a pretty solid idea. Did you really bring the burrito, and I know that you were one of the lucky people who got pizza from Ellen, so in hindsight did you wish you HADN’T brought the burrito?
KB: (laughs) Wow. The tweet was because I actually did consider putting the burrito in my purse. I had a burrito before I left, and I saved half of it, and I was just standing there with this burrito in my hand and wondering “Do I dare? Are they going to check?”
DS: Because between the red carpet and the show you are going to be there for a really long time, hence why I thought it was a good idea.
KB: RIGHT? That’s exactly why I considered it. I decided no because it was a very nice clutch, but I thought it would be funny if I did have one, which is why I made the joke on Twitter. And I can’t tell you how elated I was when Ellen passed out pizza because it really hit the spot.
DS: You guys looked really happy to have that pizza.
KB: Believe me. We were. We each got two slices. She got the good stuff.