Kristen Bell – Hit and Run Q&A

Together with her real-life partner Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell (Heroes, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) stars in Hit and Run, a fast-breaking comedy road movie. She plays Annie Bean, a teacher living in northern California who gets the shock of her life when she realises boyfriend Charlie Bronson (Shepard) is a former criminal now in the Witness Protection Programme. When he decides to break his cover and drive her to LA for a job interview, his former gang-mates who he gave up to the Feds decide to give chase.

Credited as executive producer on the film, which Shepard wrote and directed, Bell explains below why Hit and Run proved to be a significant learning curve for her, how they conceived and executed the film in record time and why she’s a terrible driver.

Q: Is it true that Hit & Run took three months from its conception to its execution?

A: It’s absolutely true. It’s twelve weeks, actually. Dax [Shepard] had the idea a few weeks prior…basically, the first movie that he directed was called Brother’s Justice and during the press tour of that, he kept saying, ‘My next movie will be about a car chase.’ And then finally his hiatus [on TV show Parenthood] came around, and he went underground for about three weeks, wrote the script, we prepped in under four and we shot it in six.’ So start to finish it really was about a twelve-week process.

Q: How difficult was it to get the money together so quickly?

A: Our producing partner Andrew Panay, right before Dax’s hiatus, said ‘Hey, are you serious about making that car-chase movie, because I think I have someone who wants to make it.’ And Dax said, ‘Yeah, but I haven’t written it yet.’ And Andrew said, ‘Get on it!’ We had had a couple of high interest levels that we didn’t feel were right, and we were about to call it off, then at the very last minute we got a private equity lender out of Palm Springs who the whole time had been trying to give us the money, but we didn’t think was real! His name is Jim Casey, and he’s one of the producers. He basically said, ‘Listen, I’m not going to beg you to give you this money, but if you’d like it, I can put it in the bank account by Friday.’ And he was real, and that never happens! That’s a storybook scenario. So you can understand why we doubted it.

Q: How much luck was involved in getting it all together so swiftly?

A: We were uncannily lucky with getting all of the scheduling with all of the friends that we’d asked favours for. We had had all of these actors attached because they were all our friends. They had known Dax was writing them a part and agreed to do it as a fun experiment, but we didn’t know how scheduling would shake down, if everyone would be available. And just every single time, by the skin of our teeth, it worked out.

Q: Did Dax write the role for you specifically?

A: Yes. I actually said ‘yes’ before I read it, so thank god it was good! It could’ve been a pile of shit! He said, ‘When I do this car chase movie, do you want to play my love interest?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And when he came back after three weeks of writing, I read this beautiful little piece that ended up turning into this gigantic film we have now.

Q: How did you and Dax meet?

A: We actually met at a dinner party. It was the first time we were introduced. Then two weeks later, we met at a Red Wings game. Which is a hockey team from Detroit, when they were playing the hockey team from Los Angeles, the Kings, and we really hit it off at the hockey game, and have been dating ever since then.

Q: Did the energy of the film benefit from this speed of execution?

A: It was. And the pace sometimes lends itself to better material. When you are lethargic and take all of your time, the momentum just isn’t there and the creative process is dulled, I feel. We were up against everything. We strapped the camera to the hood of that Lincoln and we drove around town until we felt we got the scene, like we wanted it. There was maybe one light in the car, there were no camera guys in the car, and it was just Dax and I. I was working the sound equipment and everyone else was sort of at our base camp. We had a lot of very specific amounts of time to get each scene and I think that pressure definitely helped us more than hurt us.

Q: Were you nervous that the pressure might get too much for Dax?

A: No. I knew he had the capabilities to execute this entire project. I, as a significant other, monitored his fatalistic outlook sometimes! He can get very pessimistic and I am eternally optimistic. I’m sure reality is somewhere in the middle. But when he would get a little bit too concerned with the results of the movie, and was it going to be good, I would remind him that the only thing he can really control, and flash what’s going to make it good, is you having a good time on set and doing what you know how to do, which is direct your friends and make this movie with the best possible decisions.

Q: Bradley Cooper is hilarious in the film. Was that a wig he’s wearing?

A: It was a wig. That was one of the things I was responsible for! Bradley said he wanted to wear dreads. We didn’t have a huge budget but clearly we wanted to get him the highest quality possible hairpiece, and so we got his Limitless wig! I contacted his hair stylist who basically dreaded it out and dyed the tips golden.

Q: What do you like about the arc that your character, Annie Bean, takes?

A: I actually love the arc that this character takes because it’s such a beautiful life lesson about what to do when someone’s past scares you. It’s really the acceptance of not allowing your past to inform your future. Even when you’re sub-consciously punishing someone for who they used to be. Or decisions they made before you were around. And that’s really never OK. It’s just not healthy. And I think that’s what Annie was faced with, learning about Charlie’s past. What she wanted to do was react and yell at him, and the reality was, she was feeling insecure and scared. And so the quicker you can get to the truth – which is ‘Wow, that information scares me’ – the sooner you can get to the solution, which is ‘How do I help calm your fears?’ Well, I’ll prove to you that I will never be that person. I’ll prove to you that I will be this Prince Charming you’ve met, and known and loved.

Q: Was Smokey and the Bandit a big influence on the film?

A: Well Dax has seen it upwards of a hundred times. He really wanted to make an homage to the ’70s car chase movies – to Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields. Specifically where there was no CGI involved, where the cars were doing all of the stunts. Even subconsciously, there’s a disconnect when you know that the computer is generating the image. He really wanted the audience to stay with it.

Q: Are you a good driver?

A: Absolutely not. I’m a terrible driver. I’m not allowed to drive Dax’s cars, but I don’t really care! He’s not allowed to use my handbags – though I’m sure that doesn’t bother him!

Q: You’re credited as an executive producer. How much did you learn from that experience?

A: It was the most I’ve ever learned on a project, hands down. I had no idea what I was getting into because it’s a very, very different ballgame – behind-the-scenes versus being an actor.

Q: Was it tough to both produce and act?

A: Well Dax wrote it so much like me that it was kinda easy to play this character. He wrote it very much in my voice. Maybe she’s not as naggy or doesn’t have the same concerns, but he wrote to my strengths as an actress. Luckily, Andrew Panay and Nate Tuck…they are experienced producers, and I simply said ‘I want to do anything possible. Tell me what to do.’ So I did a lot of the product placement, and some of the day-to-day stuff, and basically just learned a boat-load about what goes into making a movie before the actors show up. And I’m so grateful to have that knowledge now. I considered myself a well-behaved actor prior to this project, but it will affect my behaviour in future, for sure. I know the domino effect of the tiniest decision.

Q: Annie is very different to many of your other characters. Is it important for you not to get boxed in?

A: I think not getting boxed in is just a delicious symptom of me having a lot of interests. I like action movies very much and I like horror movies and I love comedies. I love working on television shows. I never really know what I want to make until I read it. Or until I’m given an opportunity. I think it’s been a little bit of luck. It keeps me more interested to dart around. I’m not interested in doing the same thing over and over again.

Q: Were you keen to act from a young age?

A: Yes and no. It was never really an epiphany. But I did theatre as a kid, and I loved it, because I felt very accepted. I was the weird kid who loved show tunes, and that was awesome in that group dynamic. I was always too petite to excel in sports. So when I met with the high school counsellor to hopefully hone in on what kind of career I might have, I said I like doing theatre, and he said ‘Perfect, you can study theatre in college’ and that was the only decision made. It wasn’t a lightening bolt moment. It was more a natural progression, continuing to do the thing that I loved.

Q: Were you encouraged to act by your family and teachers?

A: Yes, very much. I had a lot of encouragement and we had a great arts department in our high school and that’s a huge reason why I was able to do what I do.

Q: Did you ever think about a back-up career?

A: Not really. I never thought much about a back-up career because I felt that if I did, I’d probably fall back. Granted, I know what has happened to me is a huge bundle of luck, and most of the time a fluke. I have plenty of friends I went to college with who studied theatre who aren’t working and are much more talented than I am.

Q: Does that make you feel bad?

A: Of course. It makes me wish I ran the world. A lot of things do – can I be honest? A lot of things do. It would be a great world. I promise you that.

Q: You’re also coming up in The Lifeguard, right?

A: Yes, it’s a wonderful indie, written and directed by Liz Garcia. It’s a coming-of-age emotional drama, I guess, about a girl who is deciding to grow up. I think it’s by far the biggest emotional journey I’ve been on as any character, because it’s rife with a lot of controversy. And then I did a small part in a movie called Stuck In Love and a Neil LaBute adaptation of one of his plays, called Some Girl(s), that’s being edited right now.

Q: What is Stuck In Love about?

A: That stars Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connolly. I have a very small part, but its written and directed by Josh Boone. It’s a man going through a midlife crisis, because his wife has left him. He’s a writer, and both of his children are writers, and it’s about a family of writers and how they communicate and see their projects through to the end. It’s a beautiful family emotional drama that’s also very funny.

Q: It sounds like you’ve got some very different roles coming up…

A: Yeah. I don’t wear the same set of clothes every day. I like to change it up.

Q: Talking of which, you influential was your time on Heroes?

A: Oh my gosh! Absolutely. Zachary Quinto is such a dear friend, and that role was written to intertwine with his, and that was amazing for the two of us. Veronica Mars had just been cancelled and…you know I love the whole ComicCon world and I love sci-fi and I had been watching Heroes the whole first season and loved it, so when that opportunity came up, it was exceptional. I kind of got to play a superhero in so many words – and who doesn’t want that?”

Q: Will you work again with Dax?

A: Hopefully. He wrote another script called Send Lawyers, Guns and Money that we will ideally shoot in the beginning of 2013 – his next hiatus from Parenthood.

Hit and Run is released on DVD and digital Download on 18 February from Momentum Pictures