On July 18, Kristen Bell turned 38. And while inching forward that extra year on the age spectrum might make many of us more uneasy than we care to admit, Bell welcomed it. Aging, she told SheKnows a few days later, fills her with a sense of security. “When I understand things, I feel more comfortable — and I understand things better when I’m older. I feel like I have more wisdom, and that makes me more at ease in my life,” she explained. “That’s why I actually like getting older.”
Bell admits that this ease with which she lives in her skin didn’t happen overnight. In fact, she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s a work in progress — but with every passing year, she becomes more self-assured, and the projects she chooses to take these days are a direct reflection of that.
We caught up with Bell to discuss one of those roles — her new film Like Father, written by Lauren Miller Rogen and co-starring Kelsey Grammer. In it, Bell plays a young workaholic about to get married who unexpectedly winds up on a wild vacation with her absentee dad. Although there are plenty of laughs, the Netflix feature is also filled with a sort of intrinsic messiness: complicated relationships, raw emotion and the nuances of love.
As Bell tells it, she didn’t think twice about taking the project.
“Movies with a lot of complexity that have a tone closer to real life are my favorite because there are times when you smile and there are times when you cry — and to represent both is more difficult, I think, but it’s more exciting to watch,” she said.
It’s Bell’s commitment to representing the complexities of real emotion that made Rogen seek her out for the part of Rachel, a fact that made Bell feel honored. Like Father isn’t just funny or just dramatic. It’s more dimensional than that, which is a hallmark of all of Bell’s favorite projects.
“I definitely gravitate toward those roles or those projects where something is different,” she told SheKnows. “It’s not standard. Like, in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I gravitated toward the villain — who I was playing, Sarah Marshall. I felt she was very likable, and I wanted to play her very likable. I didn’t want you to be angry at her; I wanted you to understand her and sympathize with her, even when she was being catty.”
The same can be said for Eleanor, Bell’s character on the NBC sitcom The Good Place. “You know, she’s not a good person, but she’s learning and she’s trying, and that’s an opportunity for me to ask people to root for her through my performance. I think that stuff is much more challenging and much more interesting,” she shared.
Bell particularly admires the redemptive nature of Like Father. “What I love about this movie is that it brings it full circle. You realize that humans have faults, and you can choose to be angry or you can choose to forgive,” she said.
As far as her own faults go, Bell confesses that she’s constantly readjusting her radar. When we ask if she is sometimes guilty of taking on too much and spreading herself too thin, the actor laughs. “I don’t sometimes take on too much, I always take on too much.” She struggles with this to the point that one of her New Year’s resolutions was to “stop feeling responsible for everything.”
You might recognize the pattern in your own life: She is asked to do something and feels compelled to say yes because she’s been lured with “esteem and flattery,” or because she gets the overwhelming fear she’ll disappoint someone if she says no.
So, Bell relies on a system of checks and balances to keep from spinning herself too fast in too many different directions, or simply spinning out altogether.
“I have good people in my life, like my friends and my family and my publicist, who will say, ‘Look, if you don’t accept being a judge on Top Chef, they’re gonna find someone else. Top Chef is not going to fold because you said no,’” Bell said, laughing.
The rest is up to her. “You’ve got to (a) get your ego in check. And (b), if you want to spend time with your kids that day, then do it,” she explained, adding, “There are helpful, logical reminders I have coming at me from all angles, and I curate those people to stay close. They’re important things to hear because I am co-dependent and it’s hard for me to say no.”
Even so, Bell says it’s a day-to-day ordeal. Like her Like Father character, Rachel (and, well, most of us), untethering from technology is often easier said than done.
“It is still hard for me to put down my phone, whether it’s for work — which a lot of it is — or whether it’s just zoning out because I like looking at funny animal Instagram videos,” she told us. “It has to be a constant reminder to put it down, look in the sky, go in the pool with my kids… just stay present.”