Actress Lake Bell has spent her life surrounded by dogs, whether it was with her family’s many dachshunds or her pit bull Margaret that she had for 15 years.
So, of course, when she was approached to provide a voice in the new animated film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” coming out Friday, she was cast as Chloe — a cat.
“They told me I was playing a cat,” says the 37-year-old New York City-born actress. “I was like, ‘OK, this is going to be new territory for me.’ It was supremely fun.”
amNewYork spoke with Bell about the film and all things pets.
How does one get into the mindset of a cat?
Well, animation is sort of unique in that I didn’t go and follow a cat around to understand a cat, but Chloe was written deeply sarcastic and wry. I’m down with that kind of cadence and playfulness, so it was sort of intuitive. That said, I’m a dog person in my life. I’ve been learning a lot about cats in this process and understanding why people staunchly love them, people who are cat people. I’m learning that there’s a complexity to them and the feeling of earning a hug or a cuddle is fulfilling in many ways, while dogs just give it up right away.
What pets did you have growing up?
We always had dachshunds. We had smaller dogs. We then moved to Florida, we had more dachshunds. We always had dachshunds growing up. Smaller dogs are easier in the city. I tend to feel bad for really big dogs in the city. Hopefully people are responsible pet owners and take their dogs for a run or a jaunt of some sort. ... We always had dachshunds and then when I grew up, I rescued a pit bull, because my mom always rescued dachshunds. A lot of dachshunds around; a lot of wiener dogs.
Tell me about your pit bull.
So I had my girl Margaret, which was the first dog I had as an adult, who I rescued, and she was with me my whole adult life until only a few months ago. She was with me for 15 years. She was my best friend through silly boyfriends, through meeting my husband, my wedding, through seeing me give birth and have a baby. She needed to see me through to all of that stuff and then she felt like she could go. So she did a wonderful service in being my partner.
Any tips for having pets in New York City?
The good news about pets, especially dogs, is that they inspire you to be active. If your dog is feeling restless, it probably means you should go out for a walk too. It’s also important in this day and age of texting and advertising everywhere you look. ... A pet forces you to look away from those distractions and sort of consider something that is quite pure and simple — unless it’s a cat and they’re very complicated. But the point is there is a very primal and connected experience to care for an animal. It’s how you learn to be a better human.
Your directorial debut, “In a World...” deals directly with the world of voice acting. What draws you to that aspect of the craft?
I’m pretty open to the world about being obsessed with voiceover, so much that I had to make a movie about it. I ostensibly made “In a World...” — it was a 90-minute audition tape to the voiceover industry. ... It’s one of my favorite parts of being an actor. It’s one of the most liberating versions of acting because there’s no hair and makeup, you just show up in your sweatpants and you do your business. And you’re not judged by what you look like, you just get to be anyone behind closed doors of the studio. You get to live out different characters that you would never be able to realize in your body.
What’s going on with your next film?
The next movie, that’s what I’m editing now. I’m in the trenches of editorial on my second original work, which I wrote, directed, produced and co-star in. and I’m super proud of it. It’s called “What’s the Point?,” it’s a comedy about marriage, so you can let your brain run on that. And I have an awesome cast and I’m tremendously thankful that I had the opportunity to get to make another movie. It’s a screenplay that I had been writing for over seven years. It’s epic to see it finally realized and to be at this juncture with it. It’s moving and exciting. I’m hustling right now to get it cut, submit it to festivals and then go from there. But the cast is awesome, it’s Ed Helms, myself, Amber Heard, Wyatt Cenac, Dolly Wells, Paul Reiser and Mary Steenburgen.