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Lake Bell on the challenges of navigating motherhood, a film career and being a workaholic

Lake Bell and Owen Wilson star in
Lake Bell and Owen Wilson star in "No Escape."

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Lake Bell is probably best known as an actress, having appeared in the movies “It’s Complicated” and “What Happens in Vegas.” She currently stars opposite Owen Wilson in the new thriller, “No Escape,” and she also acts in the television series, “Childrens Hospital” and “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.”

But Bell is also a director. Her feature debut, “In a World,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago, and she also directs episodes of “Childrens Hospital.” She is currently developing a screen adaptation of the novel, “The Emperor’s Children.”

In “No Escape,” Bell plays Annie, the mother of two young children. Her family, with Owen Wilson playing the father, is caught in the middle of a violent coup in Thailand, and Bell’s character has to try to get everyone to safety. Bell wasn’t a mom when the film was shot, but she’s a new mother now — and her parenting instincts got a good test while making “No Escape.”

When Bell stopped by The Frame studios, we asked her about the impact that having a daughter has had on her approach to work, the rigorous ways in which she approaches directing, and the importance of family meetings.

Interview Highlights:

How has becoming a mother changed the way you work?

Before my daughter, I definitely was a workaholic. And I still am, and that's a part of the texture of who I am, but I had no idea that I would consider my daughter in every breath that I take. [laughs] That can be exhausting, certainly, and I understand that it's not even sustainable.

I'm only 10 months into being a mom and I'm still trying to navigate how to shift all of my priorities. Right now, they're unabashedly in the direction of my daughter. Like with this press tour, I'm away from her for the longest time that I've ever been, which is five days. I'm still wrestling with it, but yes, every call and every requirement definitely sift through the filter of, Will this take away time from my daughter? And/or: Will this be disruptive to her and her life, or will this enhance it?

So even if a movie like "No Escape" came along now, which would require you to leave the country and go to Thailand for a couple months, I suspect your answer would probably be different now.

I think that little blips of time are actually the most disruptive. Months are almost easier when you have a baby — Oh, we're all moving here for months. But then you have to consider your life partner as well, so my husband would have to up and leave as well. So you're right.

I have something called family meeting, which is what happens when there's anything difficult we have to discuss about the baby, scheduling, and all these new life changes. Like, "I'm feeling stressed, can we family meeting right now?" [laughs] It becomes a verb — I need to family meeting with you.

You're not only an actor, but a filmmaker as well. You've directed your first feature, "In A World," and I believe you're preparing to direct the adaptation of the Claire Messud novel, "The Emperor's Children." It's hard enough for any woman to become a director, and it's harder still for women who have children to become a director. Tell us a little bit about the progression of your career as a filmmaker and where you see yourself going in addition to directing episodes of TV shows like "Childrens Hospital."

Look, the subject of women in this industry is ever-evolving and there's no one answer, like This is how we get more lady filmmakers. But you're right, it's deeply complicated, mainly because women are also mothers, and I'm learning that firsthand now.

Already, to get a great project off the ground, it takes years. It just does. And I have a great respect for the process, which includes the writing process, the development process, the casting, the producing — all of it. Before you're even on set calling Action!, there's so much that goes into making great movies. After "In a World," I just wanted to respect that process, so I had a project that was an original work that a lot of people were telling me to push into production when it wasn't ready, and I just felt uncomfortable with that. At the end of the day, I'm not in a rush. [laughs]

I consider making movies a great privilege, and I also wanted to start a family. So those two things came at the same time, and there are only so many hours in the day. I often joke that women would do a lot better if we had clones of ourselves or we could exist in alternate realities simultaneously, or just not sleep. If I didn't sleep, that would really alleviate a lot of my problems, because I could just write through the night.

We were talking a couple days ago with David Wain and Rob Corddry about "Childrens Hospital," and we talked a little bit about your directing style. They said that you're incredibly well-prepared and you're very efficient. How would you describe your own approach to filmmaking and your relationship to actors and story?

That's nice to hear that they said that. [laughs] I am very academic with my preparation. I like to make a lot of lists, drawings, bird's-eye views of where the cameras will be placed, and some modest but effective storyboarding so that I have a very specific roadmap to follow.

At the end of the day, filmmaking is very chaotic and accidents happen all the time — you can lose a location or someone might not know their words. Whatever it is, it'll cost you time, so I like to have something to look at, because often everything blows up. [laughs]

I think preparation is vastly important for me, but also a deep respect for everybody on that set. That's the name of the game for me. I appreciate every person who is there hustling for the ship that I'm captaining, so I take it very seriously. I check in with everyone from craft service to the second [unit director] to my lead actor, all in the same way. I just want to make sure that everyone's happy, because if everybody ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Listen to the audio to hear the full interview with Lake Bell

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