AUSTIN - Lake Bell’s film “In A World...” – which she directed, wrote and lead acted– is laugh-out-loud funny, with what she calls a “scoop of message” on top. Leading the charge with a comedic ensemble that includes Dmitri Martin, Rob Cordry, Tig Notaro, Ken Marino, Nick Offerman, Stephanie Allynne and more, Bell outlines what is essentially a battle of the sexes.
Bell’s character Carol is a voice actor trying to make a dent in the commercial world doing voiceover gigs; Fred Melamed, who plays her father Sam in “In a World…,” is a master of the craft (both in the film and in real life). As Carol fights her way through auditions, and makes her way to the final round to utter the famed movie trailer phrase “In a world…”, she’s fights against the advisement of her father and other dude characters as the sole woman in a male monopolized industry.
But, y’know, with her voice. Or, rather, her voices.
Bell bowed the movie at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and it’s making its way to more markets today (Aug. 16). She’s made the rounds to promote, including some impressive late-night TV stops plus an eye-popping cover of New York Magazine, on which she poses nude
. We reference both below in an abridged interview, on “In a World’s” messaging, feminism, femininity, her husband (tattoo artist Scott Campbell), Maxim, nakedness, age and sexism.
Not to give too much away, but there’s a point in the movie where an older character approaches Carol to explain her hiring practices. It presents this scenario: where voice actors get the gig because they earned it, versus voice actors getting the gig, in part, because they’re female. Were you trying to make a point about affirmative action for gender in Hollywood?
Not necessarily, though that’s there. At the end of the day, [the older character] is a quality of woman that is complicated, because women in Hollywood who have found success get more complicated -- especially those of a certain generation where it almost feels unnatural to be utterly supportive of another woman that’s trying to make it. Like, “Hey kid I did it on my own with no help with no benefits, and I’ll only shake your hand when you do the same.”
She’s pointing out her own affirmative action measure. I wanted to illuminate to Carol that getting [a job] because of her gender is like, “I don’t like the way that feels. That doesn’t make me happy.” It really prods Carol to assess what she really loves in life…
I really do want to get jobs because I’m right for them. I wrote that scene because that’s exactly what would bum me out. From Carol’s perspective, to me, that would feel icky and slimy.
I genuinely think that female voices should be used more for trailers and other jobs... I think that it would make a lot of sense.
We’re just not used to it.
Right. Not every male voice is right for a voice-over. There are these rarified talents and they are right. I would say in the same respect that some female voices can’t take on that same authoritative gusto, and some do not -- but some have that rarified voices that nail it. When there are movies that are directed demographically at female viewers -- chick flicks if you will -- why aren’t there female voice-overs on those movies? We wouldn’t have a male voice on a tampon commercial.
That goes the same for female directors too. I saw you on 'The Daily Show,' talking about how a journalist sat in the same room with you as you were making adjustments for your film at a screening, and said something disparaging…
Ha, yeah, it hasn’t happened a lot. There aren’t a lot of times I think to myself, “Oh hey I’m a female director.” But yeah, he goes, “Oh, wow, it’s like you’re a real director!” I laughed so hard, the next thing I said was like, “Pretty good for a girl, huh?” and then he was like, “No no, I mean… ha ha.” He realized what he had insinuated.
I honestly have been met with such love and respect coming up as a director. I don’t think about being equal as being a female filmmaker, I just think about being equal as a director.
Speaking of being aware of your femaleness, and how you’re viewed, can we talk about your nude and tattooed New York Magazine cover? You looked great. But what’s going on there?
Yes. The whole thing came together quickly. My husband Scott Campbell, who is incredible artist, said “Hey would you…”
It wasn’t initially me [for the cover]. But he said, “What do you think? Would you ever do that?” I’m like, “For you, I would do anything. I couldn’t be more honored to don one of your creations.”
First of all, I’m not squeamish being nude. I’ve done it in the past, and I really don’t care. Certainly when it’s beautiful photographed in such a tasteful, epic way, with that photographer (Marc Jacobs), on the cover of the magazine I grew up with, as born-and-raised in New York. It seemed so profoundly bold, but it sort became so harmonious and poetic with the message of the movie…
I have a sense of humor about nudity and all that. It’s like, Hey, so what, we all get naked. In a more serious way, there is a female empowerment – there is something powering about being nude – and just owning it.
Also, I often struggle personally with this idea of intellectual expression, not having to cancel out feminine expression and sexual expression. When I first started coming out as a writer-director, I immediately was concerned about how I would present myself visually, like, Oh, I should wear more button-downs, y’know?
I judged myself. That’s my own judegement on myself. Like, this is how I need to present in order to be viewed a certain way. Which comes down to the whole “female filmmaker” thing. I’m experimenting with the idea that not losing my sexuality and femininity whilst also following my dreams of what I can be as a woman and be a sexual entity whilst also expressing myself very openly in a comedic way and intellectual way. For me, it is controversial, but its something I’m thinking about and very relevant.
So in that way, it was a confrontational move.
It is very confrontational. That said, it’s like: what are we all doing? I don’t want to take myself so seriously that I can’t do something kind of feminine and sexy like that.
There’s context, too, like the Maxim cover is this thing over here, New York Magazine is this thing...
I’ve done Maxim too. And the year I do Maxim (2011), I got accepted to Sundance [with short "Worst Enemy," her directorial debut]. Interesting, right? But I’m not ashamed of that, and I don’t want to apologize for that aspect of it.
Did you feel like it was correlative, working with an outlet like Maxim and getting attention at a festival?
I felt like it was controversial, and that was interesting. Then I kept judging myself for overdressing in what I though a director should dress in. I couldn’t win!
It was my husband who said to me, “You’re judging you. You’re a 34-year-old woman, you’re comfortable with your body, you also like fashion… why are you all of a sudden not wanting to look cute or something? I think you should be you and continue to be you and not apologize for,” y’know, “having boobs. You were you last year, and you’re gonna be you tomorrow.”
And then eventually I’ll be a mother, and I will make movies. Oh but a mother and making movies?! [Hand-wringing gesture.] There’s all these [roles] and I’ll be a mom and a wife… I’m interested in femininity in general and how it is complicated.
Men don’t often pose nude on the cover of a magazine, they don’t get asked as much. But there’s, like, Ben Affleck
taking his shirt off in a steamy way, and he’s an actor and therefore shows up as an actor sometimes. I look to him because he’s someone that’s doing a beautiful job juggling those two occupations [director and actor]. He has a persona as an actor and represents himself well in that way, and as a director as well.
So you have intentions as a woman posing nude, but then there’s complicated moments, like, 'What does that even mean?'.
Sometimes we judge ourselves the most. So I always need to learn that. I gotta juggle.