Kristen Bell didn’t exactly leave TV behind when “Veronica Mars” ended its run in 2007. She had a recurring part on “Heroes” and guested on a couple episodes of “Party Down” — and you can hear her every week as the voice of “Gossip Girl.”
But she’ll have her first regular role on a series since “Veronica” when Showtime’s dark comedy “House of Lies” premieres. At the Television Critics Association press tour on Wednesday (Aug. 3), Bell talked with Zap2it about what appealed to her about the series — about a team of anything-for-business consultants — how she sought out the new gig and moving between film and television.
Zap2it: Are the characters political consultants?
Kristen Bell: Really anything. It’s basically a group of cutthroat management consultants that will do whatever is necessary to get the job and the after-work. It’s murky as to what they actually really do, which I think is the actual description of consultants. If someone has a problem, we come and fix it — you’re downsizing, you need to stop fighting, whatever needs to be done. And their moral compasses are a little bit wonky. … But there’s a dynamic between the four of us — Don Cheadle, me, Josh Lawson and Ben Schwartz — that’s very fun. We travel together all the time, we spend 100 hours a week together. So it’s kind of our life as traveling salesmen.
Would you call it a comedy, a dark comedy, what?
It’s a dark comedy — a dark dramedy, I’d say actually. Tonally, it’s very Showtime.
What about the role appealed to you?
I’d been searching for the right TV project. I knew I didn’t want anything built around me, for the reason of it’s difficult to be No. 1 on the call sheet. It’s a very different workload than No. 2. But also I wanted to find a writer or creator who had a story to tell, who wasn’t just like, “OK, what can we do with her?” I didn’t want it to be sold on me; I wanted to be part of a good project. And I trust Matthew Carnahan [“Dirt”], our creator, implicitly. I think he’s very funny, he’s very dark, he’s very provocative. I think Showtime also has a lot more they can do with storylines — what they show, the subject matter they broach. And working with Don Cheadle is not a bad thing. He’s pretty exceptional, both as a human being and as an actor, and I just feel like I’m learning a lot from him. I’m trying to absorb how he works.
Other than not being in every scene, what’s different about being part of an ensemble vs. being the star of a series?
When you’re No. 1 on the call sheet, when you completely represent a show, there’s so much more that’s required of you. You’re in every frame of the show, but there’s also the publicity aspect that’s a reality for us. There’s just a lot more on your shoulders, a lot more pressure. There’s a lot more pressure when you’re the main component of a show, and I didn’t want that pressure. I wanted to have fun, and this has actually been really fun.
Can you talk more about your character?
I don’t know if I can. A lot is revealed in the first three episodes. She’s very compartmentalized. She has a lot of issues.
I’d imagine that in a show called “House of Lies” the people probably aren’t squeaky-clean.
Yeah — she’s very flawed. All the characters are kind of flawed. So the dynamics are a little bit deeper — no one is exactly what you think they are. That’s partly because their line of work bleeds over into their personal lives. They’re chameleons. They transform into whatever the client needs them to be and do whatever they need to get the job. If you need us to be firm, we’re firm. You need us to be soft, we’re soft. You need us to rub your back, we’ll rub your back. The ability to transform to get what you want is what bleeds into my character’s personal life.
It almost sounds like you’re getting to play several different characters.
There are many facets to my character’s personality, and every time they come up with a new one they’re like, “Oh yeah, and she’s this, and she believes this. Which could be directly contradictory to something we’ve already established, but that’s what they’re asking me to do, and it’s really exciting as an actor.
“House of Lies” is scheduled to premiere in January.