Man Up is a sweet, funny and heart-warming romantic comedy that follows 34-year-old, single Nancy (Lake Bell), who decides to just roll with it when she’s mistaken for the blind date of Jack (Simon Pegg), a recently divorced man that’s looking to put himself out there again. As they get to know each other over the course of an unexpected night, Nancy wonders whether she should just tell Jack the truth.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Lake Bell talked about why she was attracted to the refreshingly sweet film, embracing classic tropes in a modern way, staying in a British accent (to play a girl from London) for the entire shoot, and how much fun she had improvising with Simon Pegg. She also talked about getting ready to shoot her next film as a director, voicing a voluptuous and sarcastic cat for the animated feature The Secret Life of Pets, and the upcoming dramatic thriller Shot Caller.
Collider: This movie was so sweet and funny, and I really enjoyed it.
LAKE BELL: Aw, thank you so much. In a way, it’s more refreshing because it is sweet. There are so many lewd and naughty versions of a romantic comedy now, to try to reinvent the wheel, but the wheel works great.
Was this a character that you were drawn to because you saw something of yourself in her, or were you drawn to her because she’s so different from you?
BELL: It was both. I enjoy, in general, portraying characters that feel relatable. I certainly know this person. I come at it from a place where I’m married and I was pregnant when I shot it. I was in a very different place, but it was not dissimilar from what I liked about the character I wrote for myself in In a World. There’s an arrested development thing, and I think I’m drawn to characters that are steeped in some sort of mud, in one way or another. I enjoyed Nancy so much because she’s this fully realized British character that I had never been able to play. That, in itself, was very enticing to me, to take on. That was a huge draw. I went to drama school out there and that was definitely on my career bucket list. Something that has always attracted me to even taking on the occupation of actor is the idea that I could be lucky enough to portray different characterizations from different places in the world, whether it’s speaking another language or taking on a dialect and building a history from where they were born. I was very attracted to that concept, in becoming an actor.
Romantic comedies are so tough to get right and make memorable, so that people want to keep coming back and watching them again. And you want to hit all of the classic aspects while still standing apart from the rest. Was there anything that made you most nervous, in that regard?
BELL: I just remember reading it and thinking, “Okay, this girl, Tess Morris, is on to something.” She’s so unafraid to embrace classic tropes, and yet she’s made it feel so current and so modern that somehow it just works. It’s almost comforting because you have sense memory for that structure, but it’s planted in London right now. Even Nancy is very much representative of a single girl in London right now. There’s the texture of the city. And Ben Palmer, the director, did a great job in making sure that everything was incredibly naturalistic. We improvised a lot, allowing these scenes to be grounded in reality. A movie of another time sometimes feels dated because it’s so pointed and not as loose. I think the contemporary directing style pared with the script policed that issue.
When you’re going full-on with an accent, like you had to do with this, do you prefer to stay in it the entire time, at least on set?
BELL: A thousand percent, but I didn’t just do it on set. Even when I was home alone or I was going to the shop to get milk and coffee, I stayed in the accent. Because Simon [Pegg] and I both enjoy improvising, the only way that I was going to be able to not get caught off guard, or in a word or phrasing or a cadence I didn’t understand, was just to commit. So, I worked with my dialogue coach two months ahead of time, and the second I landed in London, I was Nancy.
How much improvisation did you do on this film, and what was it like to have someone like Simon Pegg to play off of?
BELL: It is so appealing because, at the end of the day, when you make a comedy, it is about play. It’s about playfulness and being able to be comfortable with the other person to play comedy table-tennis with them. That is what I think of when I think of improvisation. He and I had a great rhythm together with that, and it felt very effortless. We had room to play, and [the director] really wanted to support that kind of play. That’s what makes it contemporary.
You got such a great response for your directorial debut, In a World, and people really loved that film. When can we expect to see your next directorial effort?
BELL: Thank you. That’s really nice of you to say. I plan to shoot my next original feature at the beginning of the year. I’m actually looking for financing, so if you know anyone . . .
When you survived that first experience, did it make you want to approach anything differently, the next time? How much did you learn from actually doing it?
BELL: I learned everything. It’s priceless what you learn when you actually do. It’s like going to film school times eleven. The best education is effectively to be functioning in the occupation that you want to take on. Making the short film, Worst Enemy, that I made was a tremendous education. But then, taking on a feature and starring in it, writing it and directing it was like a college level course in filmmaking. At the end of the day, as I take on this new project, I do feel more prepared, but I also understand and respect deeply that each project brings its own secret and wonderful gifts and happy accidents.
What kind of film is it that you’ll be doing?
BELL: It’s an ensemble comedy. I am in it, but I co-star with a few other people.
You voiced a character for The Secret Life of Pets, which looks so cute. How cool is it to get the opportunity to voice a character that there’s no choice you could actually play, in real life?
BELL: It’s like living the In a World dream. I love voice-over, so I continue to pursue those opportunities and truly love them. That comes from a really earnest place. So, voicing a character for this was a very special thing because I got to be anthropomorphized as something that doesn’t usually speak.
How would you describe the pet that you voice?
BELL: I play a big, fat cat in the movie. She is a bit sarcastic, a little wry, and, in general, has a little bit of an air of being higher than thou. She’s sweet, though, despite her high status. She’s a larger lady. She’s a little voluptuous. She eats a little too much, so she has some trouble just moving sometimes. She is humbled, whether she likes it or not.
Shot Caller seems very intense. Was that part of the appeal of that film, shaking it up after doing a lighter, funny film?
BELL: Yeah, absolutely! I think I always need a respite, especially doing something like Shot Caller or No Escape, and then pairing it up with something like Man Up or The Secret Lives of Pets. I need a vacation from both of those things, and certainly when I do a drama. Shot Caller is intense and very emotional. It’s a way to exercise emotional muscles.
Man Up is in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on November 13th, and is nationwide and On Demand on November 20th.