In 1992, Bell went to her first audition and won a dual role as a banana and a tree in a suburban Detroit theater’s production of Raggedy Ann and Andy.Her mother had established her with an agent before Bell was 13, which allowed her to appear in newspaper advertisements for several Detroit retailers and television commercials. She also began private acting lessons.In 1998, she appeared with an uncredited role in the locally filmed film Polish Wedding.
In 2001, Bell left New York University to take a key role as Becky Thatcher in the short-lived Broadway musical of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. That same year, she made her credited film debut in Pootie Tang. Her one line in the film was cut and her appearance exists only as a scene shown during the credit sequence.Additionally, she auditioned for the television series Smallville for the role of Chloe Sullivan, a part eventually won by Allison Mack.In 2002, she appeared in the Broadway revival of The Crucible with Liam Neeson, Angela Bettis and Laura Linney. Bell then moved to Los Angeles, California in 2002 because of her friendship with writers Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, and appeared in a handful of television shows as a special guest, finding trouble gaining a recurring role in a television series. Bell had “tested like eight times and booked nothing and every show [she] tested for got picked up,” including auditions for Skin and a Norm Macdonald series.
In 2003, she landed a role in the Hallmark Channel film The King and Queen of Moonlight Bay. Bell appeared on the show Punk’d.
In 2004, Bell appeared in the Lifetime television film Gracie’s Choice, which received one of the network’s highest ratings. She made her debut in a theatrically released film, with David Mamet’s Spartan, as Laura Newton, the kidnapped daughter of the U.S. President, acting alongside Val Kilmer. Bell also guest-starred on the HBO’s drama Deadwood in a two-episode story arc (“Bullock Returns to the Camp” and “Suffer the Little Children”).
At 24 she won the role of the title character in UPN’s drama Veronica Mars, which was launched in the fall of 2004. Created by Rob Thomas, the series starred Bell as the seventeen-year-old detective Veronica, which put her alongside actors Enrico Colantoni who played her father, Jason Dohring, Percy Daggs III and Ryan Hansen. Bell noted the parallels between the character of Veronica and her own life — Bell’s parents had divorced and her best friend had also died, like that of Veronica. The series earned positive reviews from television critics, as did Bell’s performance. Some critics felt that she was overlooked, however, and deserved an Emmy Award nomination.
In 2005, Bell starred in Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical, reprising the role she played in the short-lived 2001off-broadway musical. The musical was a spoof of the 1936 exploitation film of the same name. Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical debuted on the Showtime network on April 16, 2005. On September 18, 2005, Bell performed the theme song from Fame on the “Emmy Idol” portion of the 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. She and the cast of Veronica Mars were nominated for two Teen Choice Awards in 2005: “Choice Breakout Actress” and “Choice Breakout TV Show”.
In 2006, Bell won the Saturn Award for “Best Actress on Television” for her acting on Veronica Mars, while the series was nominated for “Best Network Television Show”. Aside from working on Veronica Mars, in April, Bell starred as Gracie in Fifty Pills, an entry for the Tribeca Film Festival. She appeared in a short independent film called The Receipt and the horror film Roman, which was directed by her The Crucible co-star Angela Bettis. Released on August 11, 2006, Pulse starred Bell as the lead Mattie. A remake of the Japanese horror film Kairo, the film grossed US$27.9 million worldwide,however it garnered negative response from critics. Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter commented, “despite the starring presence of Kristen Bell, [the] young actress has far less interesting material to work with here than she does as [the character] “Veronica Mars.””
Veronica Mars continued on UPN until the third season, in which the show was renewed and returned on the newly created The CW. On January 19, 2007 CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff announced that, while she was pleased with the gradual improvement of Veronica Mars’s ratings, the series would be put on hiatus after February sweeps to air a new reality series, Pussycat Dolls Present. On May 17, 2007 Ostroff announced the cancellation of the series.The two-hour series finale aired in the United States on May 22, 2007, and on June 11, 2007 Thomas officially announced in an email to TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello that Veronica Mars had been canceled by the CW. A Veronica Mars feature film and comic book series continuation had been discussed, and for a short time there was talk of another collaboration between Bell and creator Thomas that would be unrelated to the Veronica Marsseries.
Following the cancellation of Veronica Mars, Bell had voiced interest in appearing on Heroes because she was a fan prior to being cast. On July 29, 2007, during a train ride back to Los Angeles from the San Diego Comic-Con with Heroes actors Zachary Quinto and Masi Oka, and writers from the series, the writers had mentioned that if she “ever want[ed] to come on Heroes, give us [writers] a call,” to which Bell said she would “love to.” She was also spoken to about a role on Lost, but turned down the role of Charlotte Staples Lewis.Announced in August 2007, Bell was to portray Elle Bishop, a “mysterious young lady” with an “awesome power”. She did not have to audition for the role of Elle, who made her first appearance in an October 2007 episode, and appeared in at least thirteen episodes during the run of the series.The casting of Bell, as Heroes creator Tim Kring explains, “was not easy to pull off”, but because of the large ensemble cast of the series and multiple story arcs, “we found a way to jump into a small window in [Bell’s] schedule.”Concurrently with filming on Heroes, she narrated as title character in the CW series Gossip Girl.
Shortly after the cancellation of Veronica Mars in early 2007, Bell filmed on location in Hawaii for her starring role as the title character in the Judd Apatow comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. She noted that the improvisational comedy in the film was “a lovely experience”.The film, written by and also starring Jason Segel, was released theatrically on April 18, 2008. Bell lent her voice and likeness to the video game Assassin’s Creed which was released on November 13, 2007 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and April 8, 2008 for the PC. Bell reprises her role of Lucy in Assassin’s Creed IIreleased on November 17, 2009, and again in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, released on 16 November 2010. In the spring of 2006, she finished filming the Star Wars-themed comedy Fanboys, which had its release date pushed to January 14, 2008. This was due to additional funding given to director Kyle Newman to shoot new scenes, however, the busy schedules of the actors only allowed for filming in September 2007, thus moving the release date to accommodate that.Bell will voice the character of Marybelle in the animated feature Sheepish, which also has a 2008 release date. She also starred in the 2009 comedies Serious Moonlight, alongside Meg Ryan, and Couples Retreat, which chronicled four couples who partake in therapy sessions at a tropical island resort. Jason Bateman played her husband. On March 31, 2008, Bell began shooting for the Mark Steven Johnson-written Disney film When in Rome in locations in Rome and New York; the film was released in 2010 Bell reprised her role as Sarah Marshall for a cameo appearance in the film Get Him to the Greek, a spin-off sequel from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, released June 4, 2010.
Bell has also said that when she is free from film and television roles, she would like to perform on stage again.She co-starred with singers Christina Aguilera and Cher in the film musical Burlesque which was released on Thanksgiving in 2010. Bell had a cameo in horror film,Scream 4, which was released on April 15, 2011. She also starred in the 2012 film Big Miracle.She has also appeared in the music video for “Madder Red” by Brooklyn experimental rock band Yeasayer. Bell portrays the role of “Mary Magdalene” in The Truth & Life Dramatized Audio New Testament Bible, a 22-hour, celebrity-voiced, fully dramatized audio New Testament which uses the RSV-CE translation.
She is the female lead on the Showtime series House of Lies, which premiered on January 8, 2012, and is directed by Stephen Hopkins. Bell will star in The Lifeguard, written and directed by Liz W. Garcia, which began filming in July 2012. She will also star as Anna, in the Walt Disney Pictures film, Frozen.
On March 13, 2013, it was confirmed that a Veronica Mars film would finally be coming to fruition. Bell and series creator Rob Thomas, launched a fundraising campaign to produce the film through Kickstarter and attained the $2 million goal in less than ten hours. The main cast members of the series are expected to reprise their roles in the feature film. Production is scheduled to begin during summer 2013, with a projected release date of early 2014.