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A Minute With: Actress Lake Bell on going from indie to Disney

By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Lake Bell, one of the few actresses in Hollywood who can also add the titles of writer and director to her name, swapped the world of quirky independent film for an international Disney movie in her latest on-screen role.

The 35-year-old Bell wrote, directed and starred in her own independent movie "In a World..." in 2013, winning critical praise for her comic look into the rarefied world of voice over artists. "It changed my life," she says of the experience.

Now Bell stars opposite "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm in the Walt Disney Co feel-good sports drama "Million Dollar Arm" opening in U.S. theaters on Friday. She plays Brenda the neighbor and doctor who helps sports agent J.B. Bernstein in his improbable quest to train two baseball pitchers from India.

Much to her disappointment, Bell didn't get to go to India to film. But she did get to talk to Reuters about what it's like to work in her first Disney film, how it is thankfully lacking in a "weird boob scene," and what it's like working with Hamm (a question she clearly gets a lot these days).

Q: Is directing and starring in your own independent film and then going to a Disney movie quite a unique transition?

A: It is. But I had a great experience. If anything it was refreshing to be in the hands of the very capable director Craig (Gillespie). And Disney, I have never worked for Disney before but it was a tremendous experience. And Jon is a really good friend of mine.

As a writer-director, I like being on other people's sets. I am an actor first and foremost and I think being an actor for hire is how I learn, seeing other people's sets ... Especially with this movie having sports elements, I've never seen anything like that. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to India.

Q: You get to play the bridge between the young Indian men and the prototype- American sports agent.

A: I play the literal girl next door who is somewhat irrelevant initially and then becomes incredibly relevant in suturing that relationship between J.B. and Rinku and Dinesh.

J.B. is kind of going down this straightaway of trying to find monetary gain from these investments he has brought back and he, with the help of my character, gets punched in the proverbial gut...'Hey check it out. This is so much more than monetary gain and the only way these boys will find success is if you respect that they are going through an emotional journey as well.'

Q: What did you like about the character of Brenda?

A: I enjoy Brenda's utter steadfast truth and her ability to express herself via tough love, which is something I relate to deeply in my own life.

Q: It is such a cliche question, but millions of women would probably want to know what it's like playing opposite Jon Hamm.

A: How do I answer that in a new way? Jon and I are good friends. We have known each other for a long time. He comes on (satirical TV series) 'Children's Hospital' occasionally as a recurring, so he is very playful and fun. He is really goofy and hilarious and people probably know that somewhat from his SNL career... But he really is a comedy fan and great comedy player.

In this film, he plays the straight man to a lot of fish-out-of-water elements, which I think is incredibly difficult and takes a comedic brain to know how to play the straight man with perfection.

Q: Some might say you are a knockout, but in your film and this film you play somewhat disheveled, messy women.

A: I really enjoy playing characters who are realistically put together, from "In a World...," playing Carol, the character I wrote for myself to depict, to Brenda who lives her life in scrubs and sweatpants.

I don't walk around in stilettos and fancy dress all the time. That's just not my life and I don't feel comfortable that way. I enjoy playing characters I can relate to personally who aren't 'glam squad' all the time. 'Glam squad' is fun sometimes, but I feel like I can breath a bit better in a character that speaks truth in her visual representation.

Q: This might be your most high-profile role and a lot of people may get to know you with this role, right?

A: It's interesting to think about it that way. Because it’s Disney, it's a very universally acceptable film for a lot of different demographics. This is the first time I am in a film I can say to any family member to go and check it out and I am not embarrassed by some weird boob scene or something. It's safe.

It is incredibly sweet and it's relatable for young relatives, older relatives and everything in between. That, for me, is a big deal.

(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Eric Walsh)

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