Interview: ‘How To Make It in America’s Lake Bell

Lake Bell in How to Make It in America (HBO)

Sometimes God does give with both hands. Case in point: Lake Bell, the talented, gorgeous, wise-cracking star of HBO’s hustling comedy, ‘How to Make It in America.’  The kicker? She’s humble, too. When questioned about her status as a sex symbol, Bell responded with a skeptical “Is that real?”

With recent, prominent film roles alongside Meryl Streep (‘It’s Complicated‘) and Cameron Diaz (‘What Happens in Vegas‘), Bell is expertly cast in ‘How to Make It’ as Rachel Chapman, a twenty-something interior designer conflicted over her role in life, and whether or not to take up with ex-boyfriend Ben [Bryan Greenberg], or shack up with current “looks-great-on-paper” beau, Darren [Jason Pendergraft].

The New York native took some time out last week to tease what’s in store for Sunday’s finale, share a hilarious anecdote about exacting revenge on a message board flamer, and weigh in on the chances of a second season return.

There’s a great Twitter comment about how you should become Rene’s [Luis Guzman] Rasta Monsta.
I thought that was a creative idea that should be shared in the writers' room. Really, I'm a fan of Luis Guzman and I've been begging them - like, 'doesn't Rachel have to get involved…somehow? Maybe I can re-do his apartment?' First of all I think they get to have more fun over there, anyway. They get to ride around in a graffitied van. I'm like, 'where's my graffitied van?'

You get to take Ecstasy and have your boyfriend hook up with another guy, though.
But is that fun? I mean, come on. My whole thing was I felt that ladies, such as ourselves, would be kind of annoyed; not that he was kissing a dude, but that he was kissing a sexy club lady. If you're kissing a dude then that doesn't even apply to me - you're clearly off your face. But if you kiss another girl in front of me and we're dating, I'm like, 'you're done.' That's me personally. Rachel was befuddled by the whole f*cking thing, but I was talking to the guys who write the show and I was like, 'guys, I mean…this girl is hot, what kind of f*cking treatment is that?'

There have been a couple moments like that, like when Ben is naked in bed with Julie [Margarita Levieva] and then he answers a phone call from Cam [Victor Rasuk]. That would never happen.
Right. See these are the things that ladies tend to think about. If we get a second season I'm gonna to talk to them about it.

What do you know about that – the chances of it getting picked up for a second season?
I don't know anything other than the more people tweet and big up it, that definitely helps for HBO. Their ratings system is different - it's not the same as network television. So if there's a fanbase we'll get picked up.

Have you been told anything about when you’ll find out?
They said we have to wait basically for weeks. I was like, ‘what?!‘ But I feel good ‘cause the response on Twitter alone shows there’s interest, but we don’t know.

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Can you talk about the casting process? You were only meant to be in the pilot, right?
Yeah, it was really cool. I was just like, 'Oh, this seems like a cool thing to do - a TV pilot. I'll play the ex-girlfriend.' I just went in for five minutes, auditioned for my four lines in the pilot and they were like, 'Cool, we'd like to have you.' So I was like, 'Awesome! HBO, New York, it's a comedy - let's do this.' Then I did it, and forgot about it, and they called and were like, 'Hey, so…how much do you like the show? Would you come on and be a regular and represent the ladies?' I was like, 'F*ck yeah!' I'm from New York, my pals are in this, my family are small business designers, so it was definitely a relatable thing. It was a no-brainer.

How did they come to that conclusion?
I think they wanted a female contingent. They wanted to see an entrepreneur or a hustler - we have unconventional hustlers, where it's not like we're pimps and ho's, we're just trying to make a buck. They wanted a window into another type of New York.

What do you think about the show’s comparison to ‘Entourage‘?
I think it's inevitable because it's the same makers, but I think once you see the show, it is a departure from that tone. The only similarity is that everyone is hustling, but 'Entourage' is a little tougher than our show is. It's more funny in the fact that everyone is playfully naughty. Our show is a little sweeter and I think there's a lot of, like, every character is hovering in this place of hope versus having already made it. They're still hungry-that injects an energy into our show which seems a little more hopeful.

Do you have a favorite on or off-camera memory from this season?
I gotta say, being from New York, I feel like I willed it in the world to shoot a show here. We were working an exterior in Nolita, and I’m waiting for them to call Action outside and it was around the time when Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind came out on the radio and there was a car driving by booming it and we had to wait for that person to drive by, because of the sound, and it [the song] was like ‘Newwww Yorkkkkk.’ It was awesome.

And now that song is being used in the ‘Sex and the City 2’ trailer.
I saw that. It was hard for me at first, but I’m accepting it.

I think a great question the show raises is whether or not exes can stay friends. Where do you weigh in?
This is a personal question, which I'm dealing with in my own way now, but I personally think that it is not helpful to be - I've always been friends with my exes, like my entire life, but I think that basically there is an amount of time that needs to be in between starting communications with your ex. If there's not enough time, it's confusing for both parties and therefore unfair for both to move on. So in terms of Ben and Rachel, do I think it's an ideal situation? No. I don't think either of them can move on. You know, there's nostalgia involved. If you're strong enough to maintain some kind of relationship, then go for it, but it does get complicated, especially if you're unhappy in your own life. It might not be in relationships, but it might be in your work.

You’re dealing with a similar ex issue right now?
Well, I'm not going to talk about it but I can just say that - it's funny because I've been discussing it with friends and people who are going through this themselves, and we kind of watch it for fun and then we all get into talking about whether you should be friends with your ex or not. I think you can, but I also think time is the prescription for a future friendship.

Watch a recap of last Sunday’s episode:

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Last we saw Rachel, she was drunkenly slipping into Ben's apartment, but we won't learn the outcome of that night until - at least I hope - the finale. When I was looking through your Tweets, in December you mentioned being in bed naked with Bryan Greenburg. Is that a spoiler alert?
[Stammers] Umm…no…because there might be a flashback situation. Umm…sooo…also we did a photo shoot, mind you, where we were doing some crazy sh*t, so I can’t say whether or not because it’s kind of complicated, but you’ll see.

Who do you think Rachel should choose – Ben or Darren?
I love the actor who plays Darren so it's a little unfair, but Darren as the character, given what we know of him at this point - the pushiness factor - that you can be perfect on paper but the idea of someone being like, 'I don't like taking no for an answer' - I find those kind of guys freak me out and they don't turn me on. I feel like if you're in a relationship in a show, it's kind of the kiss of death. Sometimes with this show, especially because it's playful and you're on the hustle, it's kind of hard to be in a relationship, you know?

Maybe she can just play the field.
I’d like to see Rachel playing the field.

In December 2009 (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
In December 2009 (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

How do you feel about being called a sex symbol?
I don’t really…I don’t think…I mean, is that real?

It’s totally real. You were in Maxim’s Top 100.
But I didn’t pose for them!

You were sandwiched between Heidi Klum and Molly Sims at #32.
Listen, I think that that stuff is cool because then you can show your kid and be like, 'See, I was cool.' Not that I'd show my kids Maxim…or maybe eventually, when they grow up. I feel like on this show it's nice to be represented as a real person. I don't think I set out to do, like, sexy mama roles, but it's certainly fun. When you're young and you can, you should go for it. I also like looking good and making people laugh. There's kind of a double life there; you're all sexy and pose-y in a photo and then I get to the set and I'm not thinking about looking sexy and beautiful.

Do you still feel like there’s a lot of pressure on you to try and maintain that image?
Not at all. I think that's really flattering to have some sort of 'Hey, that girl is hot' occasionally on the Internet, but frankly, there's also stuff that's like, 'She's an ugly b*tch, I can't stand her.' It really goes both ways. Everyone's got an opinion. If you're on the Internet long enough, you're gonna see something like, 'This b*tch is the ugliest piece of sh*t I've ever seen.'

And then you go to their house and punch them in the crotch, like in ‘What Happens in Vegas.’
Exactly, and I go, 'You know why.' That's what I do. Really, you just can't take it too seriously because it's just certain people's opinions. Look, I know when I look good. Sometimes I walk out of the house and think, 'I know I look good, and the guy I'm dating thinks I look good,' so that's pretty much all that matters. Sometimes I walk out of the house and I'm like, 'God dammit, this is not a good day for me! It's not even a good face day!' Do you have bad face days? I have bad face days.

At least you have a sense of humor about it.
Yeah. My mom was laughing because she was like, 'You're not allowed to look at the forums anymore!' And I was like, 'I'm not! I'll only look at safe forums!' Which is like fan sites. Then I went to the HBO fan site and - my friend is gonna be so mad at me - I don't want to give this person any more weight, but I don't care, I'm gonna tell the story. So I went on and it was like, 'Will Rachel go with Darren or Ben?' And some people were like, 'I don't know, I kind of like Darren!' Then the next person was like, 'F*ck that, she should be with Ben.' Then the last person was like, 'I don't give a sh*t, this girl's an ugly b*tch. She's so annoying. Why is she even on the show?'

Bryan Greenberg and Lake Bell (HBO)

Yeah, I was like, ‘What?! This is my house. Don’t come to my house and pee on me.’ So I logged on and my comment was, ‘Daaad. Ugh. So embarrassing. I schooled him at table tennis the other day and he’s really got his knickers in a bunch. Sorry guys. Dad, will you get off this message board?!!’

That’s the perfect way to handle it.
I know. It was like, what a f*cking - just don't be a hater. What is the point of being a hater? By the way - signing on, I had no idea. It's like a whole goddamn to-do. You have to type sh*t in, like cookies, whatever. The point is…

That’s the Internet for you – you never know what kind of people are going to be out there.
There was one girl who was really mean, and I went to junior high with her. I was like, 'Dude!'

What happened in junior high to make her feel that way?
I don't know. Literally we were friends, I was, like, a dork. Well, not a dork. I was just, like, normal.

Have you gotten a lot of the ‘You’re too Hollywood’ backlash now that you’re doing more high-profile projects?
You know what? I'm still friends with people from school. I still take the subway and nothing seems different. Occasionally people are like, 'Hey, love the show,' and I'm like, 'Cool man,' and it's fine.

Can you tease the finale on Sunday?
The show is only thirty minutes and I feel like I can’t tease anything ‘cause that will be, like, five minutes right there.

How about a word? One word that Rachel says.
Mr. Coffee.

What would it mean to actually ‘make it?’
I think we just have to have a second season and then we can say that we made it. We'll rename the show.

It’s ‘We did It!’
Yeah - 'We did it'! Then the next season is 'We Did it Again'! Then the next, 'We Totally Just Did it Again'!

The season finale of ‘How to Make It in America’ airs Sunday, April 4, at 10 p.m. on HBO.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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