Lake Bell Tells R29 Why Her New Movie Is An "Unromantic Romance"

Photo: JB Lacroix/WireImage.
Lake Bell is more than a triple threat. She's an unstoppable force as an actor, writer, and director — but she's also just all-around funny and kind. Both in front of the camera and behind it, Bell brings a vibrant energy to everything she does, whether that's tackling sexism in In A World or leaving us in stitches on Children's Hospital.
For her new movie, I Do...Until I Don't, Bell wrote the screenplay, directed the film, and she stars in it, too. I Do... Until I Don't has been a long time coming for Bell — she started writing the script nine years ago. "It's an intimate, dear, dear friend of mine, this movie," Bell tells Refinery29. "And it's deeply personal as well. It's obviously about a subject matter that is intimate."
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I Do...Until I Don't is an upbeat comedy, but it's not just Bell's relationship with her husband, Scott Campbell, that inspired the film. Bell's own mother also helped inspire her character, Alice, through her "quirks and her mannerisms and style," she explains. Alice is also a character Bell says "nobody would ever cast me as" if she hadn't been in charge of the movie herself.
We talked to Bell about the inspiration for the movie, being a woman behind the camera in Hollywood, and Hallie Meyers-Shyer's Home Again, in which Bell stars alongside Reese Witherspoon.
Refinery29: How did you come up with the idea for the seven-year marriage contract? Were you just going off of the "seven-year itch" saying?
"The inception of the idea really came from, there's a German politician named Gabriele Pauli who presented this concept that marriage should be a seven-year contract, with the option to renew. She presented it without joke, very really, to her German constituents, or whatever, to her government. And I remember reading an article about that like nine years ago and being like, Wow, that is controversial, and something that's an interesting point of view...
"I started writing the movie in a place that was somewhat jaded and a little bit cynical. And then I met my now-husband, Scott Campbell, during the writing of this movie, thankfully. I think every unromantic is desperately hoping to be proved wrong — at least, I was one of those. And he is every reason.... he is 1000% why the movie is so hopeful and evokes a message that is very pro-commitment, ultimately."
Did you originally have a different ending in mind, before experiencing that personal change?
"I always considered this movie an unromantic romance, so that's what I set out to make. But I didn't understand what it meant yet, so that's why it took me so long to write it. And upon meeting Scott, I wanted to adjust it. I knew I wanted a hopeful ending. But it took me forever to finish it, because I was waiting to experience in my own life the feelings that I craved, and the understanding and meaning of a committed relationship, where both parties are showing up in a way that they present to each other that they're not going anywhere, that they're seeing each other. And it was just really important for me to experiment in these expressions.
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"Sometimes when I think about meaningful and committed relationships — in a vortex, perhaps they'd be much more successful. But in this day and age, we have so many outside forces just injecting their sticky paws, whether it's apps or advertisements or media, or whatever it is, just thrusting distractions in the way of a focused rapport. I think that's what Dolly Wells' character represents: all these outside forces that are messing up a perfect union. And I think she's almost a pug-like character, a rabble-rouser who is desperately trying to prove her thesis based on her own heartbreak.
"But ultimately, I think in this day and age, there's a lot of tension in the air, in the country, and in the world, really. And there's a lot of angst and worry. I think that the small party favor trick that I could share with the world is that, here's a story that hopefully upon seeing it, it offers a sense of hope and kind spirit. That's really important to me. I feel like it’s the least I can do. Even with In a World, I really did want the messaging to be kind in spirit. And, especially now, more than ever, to offer a little bit of hope..."
The subject matter of I Do...Until I Don't is so different from In A World. Are there other topics that you're dying to tackle in future movies?
"Oh, yeah! I got a whole slew of things that I gotta talk about. But I will, obviously, reveal those things as they come to fruition."
You said that Alice was a character you wouldn't normally have been cast as. I wanted to ask you — when Reese Witherspoon founded her production company, she said she wanted her daughter to "see movies with female leads and heroes" and stronger female characters. Do you agree that to be able to play complex characters, women have to create the roles themselves?
"I’m sort of excited with where we are, the direction we're going in this industry, for female characters depicted on the screen. I think we're getting much better. I think where there's a vast dearth of diversity, still, is behind the camera. I feel like in front of the camera, we're in a much better place. It's just what I feel right now is that we still have just a ton of work to do. Even though Wonder Woman was a massive step in the right direction, it's not going to change the whole industry overnight..."
Speaking of Reese, how did you get involved with Home Again? What drew you to the project?
"Nancy Meyers and Hallie [Meyers-Shyer, the film's writer and director] called me. They texted me, because I've known Nancy for a long time, since It's Complicated. And they just texted me and said, 'Would you come and play with us?' And I said yes, because I love both of them. And it was just a fun time. It's a very different character than I've ever played, in the sense that it's just a good old-fashioned bitch, which is always fun to do. I also was super-pregnant when they shot that, so it'll be interesting to see if they can hide that."
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Are there particular directors and screenwriters you look to for career inspiration?
"I feel really lucky that I have people who are friends of mine who inspire me. I have so many friends who are writers, whether it's Michaela Watkins, or Liz Meriwether, or Katie Aselton, Catherine Hardwicke, Kimberly Peirce. I have a myriad of people who I truly admire who are also people I also love to hang out with and who I'd invite to a dinner party at my house...
"I look up to Miranda July and Carrie Brownstein. There's so many great creators out there right now, and people are wearing multiple hats. And I enjoy being a part of that camaraderie, I guess, and that community."
What advice would you give young women who want to succeed in industries that are male-dominated?
"If you don't believe it’s an issue, then they won't...There's just gotta be a sense that you have every faith in yourself. And you have to really, then, have every faith in yourself. You can't mask it. But I do think it's important to, if you have a strong voice and you have a strong work ethic and belief in yourself, then I feel like that's a really good place to start. But you can't even afford to have any laziness. So if you want to do something, you’d better be pretty on the front foot about it. So when people say, Oh, if you want to be a writer, what's the one way to start? I'm like, You gotta write. Like, all the time. And the great thing about writing is, you don't need an agent to write. You don’t need anything to write. You literally just need your tools to actually, physically write."
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
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