Ask her about singing Disney’s Little Mermaid and Aladdin songs into a recorder at age 10. As cute as a button as she is, Ms. Bell also has a nice sense of humor about herself. Getting her start on TV as Veronica Mars, she has always played spunky, personable characters with a fair degree of fanboy in her. Now, of course, she’s a full-blown cinephile, starring in comedies such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples’ Retreat and the upcoming When in Rome. But this time around, I had a chance to sit in a room with her – and a few other journalist types – to talk about her involvement in the animated Astro Boy, a re-imagining of the Japanese manga icon.
In this modern redo, Astro Boy (Freddie Highmore) is created by robotic scientist Dr. Tenna (Nicolas Cage) after his real son is killed, but even with all his nifty hidden gadgets and powers, Astro is rejected and has to leave Metro City, a metropolis in the sky. He ends up on the Earth’s surface below, now a virtual wasteland of trash, and meets Cora (Bell), the sort of teenage den mother to a band of kids who have all been abandoned one way or another. Soon, Astro and his new-found friends must help save Metro City from a megalomaniac trying to control it … and find their place in the world.
Bell, like me, hadn’t really heard much about Astro Boy, but she thought the story was “timeless” and jumped on board. I think she secretly wanted to belt out “A Whole New World” one more time, but that’s just me. Here are some of Kristen’s thoughts on the matter:
Step 1: Become infatuated with Disney musicals … and ducks
“I was obsessed with Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. I loved all those Disney movies and on TV, I was into Duck Tales. Anyone? Dark Wing Duck? And Tailspin – not sure why many of them involved ducks. This might also sound a little weird, but since I was so obsessed with Aladdin and The Little Mermaid as a kid, I wanted to get myself on audiotape singing the songs. Feeling like that was SO necessary. I don’t know what I was going to do with them, but somewhere there are tapes that exist of me with my tiny boom box, when I was 10 or 11, next to the television, singing along into the recorder. I hope they never surface. I hope my mother has lost them.”
Step 2: Learn to like the original “cool cat”
“I’ve always knew I wanted to be part of an animated film. Then I read [the screenplay for] Astro Boy and liked it so much. I had always known the name in my head and known it was a character from somewhere but didn’t know how iconic he was overseas and how influential he was in so many people’s lives. It was all just a learning experience for me about what a cool cat he was and how timeless the story was.”
Step 3: Then switch things up a bit
“I purposely didn’t familiarize myself with the original stuff because I was playing a new character and didn’t want to know too much about Astro going in. Because from my perspective, the story is about Cora and Astro getting to know each other. I do feel [our new storyline] provides a little more of the female perspective, little more estrogen, if you will. Cora probably ran away as a little girl, out of a rebellion that most young teenagers have, fighting with your parents and you think they don’t want you. And got caught up with the wrong crowd. But she’s a kind enough person to know she misses that sense of community and family and that’s why she’s the Peter Pan character, looking out for all the other kids. It’s a great way to show a friendship Astro builds and the rocky road it leads until they realize they are true friends.”
Step 4: Also, love the ones you’re with
“I have a couple of surrogate families in L.A., for sure. I think the idea of community, like what Astro finds on the Earth’s surface, is so vital to my way of living. I’ve had roommates before and we all lived in the same house, kind like a functioning commune. Look, switching out beds is perfectly normal, guys [laughs]. I find my friends out here are my surrogate family and I think that’s important for my sanity and well-being.”
Step 5: Do it in your PJ’s
“I shouldn’t be giving this away, but yes, we knew when the cameras would be there [for the behind-the-scenes featurettes for the DVD]. Because when they weren’t there, I was in my jammies, FOR REAL. Even if we were shooting at 5:00 pm, in principal, I’d change back into my pajamas.”
Step 6: Recognize your animated self
“It’s different because Cora has dark hair, it was more difficult for me to envision myself since she wasn’t blonde. I don’t know why. The one thing I loved was that I was able to take myself out of it and watch it as an audience member, which speaks to how good the film is. I can’t speak for all actors, but I’m always deconstructing my performances and criticizing. So it was nice to take a step back and enjoy myself. I even cried at the end and I knew what was going to happen!”
Step 7: Go see other movies, too
“I really liked Wall-E, and I was amazed how much I liked with there being so little dialogue. It reminded me so much of Short Circuit, which I LOVED as a kid. And I loved District 9! I liked the AUDACITY of that director and those producers to make a documentary and then all of a sudden abandon the documentary, but it didn’t matter because you were still so invested. Anything that is delivered with such a sense of reality with fantastical elements like aliens and spaceships, is impressive.”
Step 8: Lure Kristen back to TV?
“I’m always on the hunt for good material, period. A frequent question I get is why have I chosen such genre projects. It’s not that I’m out to just do sci-fi stuff or fanboy stuff, that’s just the best material I’ve run across. I have done a few more mainstream movies being released this year, so I hope my fanboy fans will still like them, whether it’s their cup of tea or not. I’m just constantly looking for good material and good people, and whether that’s TV or film, I really don’t care.”