Showtime’s House of Lies, which returns this Sunday for a third season, offers a comedic look at one of our era’s great scourges. No, not gluten; management consulting! Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell star as Marty Kahn and Jeannie van der Hooven, a flirtatious pair of down-sizers-for-hire who are too skilled at backstabbing to ever really pair up romantically. (Their sleazy firm also employs characters played by Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson.) To celebrate the show’s return, VF.com asked Bell, who is married to actor Dax Shepard and gave birth to a daughter, named Lincoln, last March, to play journalist for a day and interview Cheadle. Turns out their witty—and occasionally brutal—banter doesn’t end when the cameras stop rolling.
Kristen Bell: Don, you’ve played Marty Kahn on Showtime’s House of Lies for three years now. What’s your favorite thing about working with me?
Don Cheadle: Did they write this for you? Oh, you must have written this yourself. My favorite thing about working with you is that when I look closely in your eyes—you know how you get emotional and your eyes mist up when we’re doing dramatic scenes? When that happens, I can see myself reflected in your eyes really, really well.
So what you love most about me is you?
I mean, if you are going to distil it to its most salient point, yes.
Do you prefer me pregnant or regular?
I don’t really focus on you like that.
You don’t prefer me.
When you were pregnant, you were jolly, sort of like St. Nick.
I had a lot of good hormones.
You did. You were really in good spirits. You never even broke down and had a ridiculous cry for no reason.
I was also eating a lot of cake.
You were gross. Let’s just be honest.
I was on a constant sugar high—that might have had something to do with it.
And then you got skinny, like you are now.
And I went back to being bitchy. Do these questions make me look fat?
When you sit back like that, yes. (Laughs.)
At the end of House of Lies, do we find out that your character has been dead the entire time?
What is it with you and these ridiculous questions? Vanity Fair is a legitimate periodical and people are going to read it and expect something a little more than this.
What is a quality of Marty’s that you share? I know there aren’t many, since you’re kind of the yin to his yang.
We have a very similar waist size.
Your body shape is identical? Is what you’re telling me?
I don’t know if it’s identical. There is more blood in certain areas in Marty’s body when I play Marty than when I am just being Don.
God, you are such a committed artist.
But I guess I like my kids like he likes his son, so that’s pretty cool.
You’re also a humanitarian, so I’ve heard. Are there ways you bring your humanitarian work to the job?
Not as much as you do.
This interview isn’t about me.
Really? Let’s read it back and see. It’s been 90 percent you.
Only the questions are about me. The interview is about you.
You know how we do. Sometimes we are able to get together on things, because we both have a tendency to be active in that area. I think the celebrity thing helps the humanitarian effort by opening certain doors, but really I am drafting other people’s work. I am not leading most of those charges.
What makes you want to be a philanthropist?
Because I feel very blessed to be in the position that I am in. I know a lot of people who have worked very hard and cannot bust a grape in this business. I think when you have the mic in front of you and you have the cameras, it makes sense to try to deflect some of that attention toward people who need it more than you do.
If you call Obama, will he answer right away?
Does he have caller ID? If so, then, no, he will not answer.
You’re making a film about Miles Davis. Tell me about that.
It’s not a biopic, per se. How do you fit inside of 90 minutes or 120 minutes this life that was relevant for 40 years and changed music four times? That would give short shrift to any of those eras and any of those movements of his life. So we are taking a really small part of his life and extrapolating a lot out of those two to three days. I am attempting to do what he did with his art and push it and be bold and aggressive and not give a fuck and be very personal with it.
Have you been playing the silver jazz machine also known as the trumpet?
Is that your trumpet case?
That is, but there’s nothing in it but corn on the cob.
Have you ever rejected a woman for declaring her love for you the way Marty does to Jeannie in Season 2?
No, never. Marty is a beast like that.
You got behind the camera in Season Three. Do you enjoy bossing actors around?
I didn’t. How did you enjoy me bossing you around?
Well, you make us refer to you as King Cheadle on set. Don’t you think that’s mean?
For whom? O.K., it’s probably too much when you forget and I dock your pay, but how else are you going to learn?
How much involvement do you have in choosing where Marty’s story line goes each season?
A lot, and your story line and Ben and Josh’s storylines, too. I go in the writer’s room very early and they pitch stuff like, “Hey, how about Jeannie looks really hot and has a cute boyfriend and has a lot of fun and does smart things and looks like she’s smart”? And I’m like, “Hmmmm.”
“It won’t work. It won’t be believable.”You’ve got to put the kibosh on it.
Yeah. “It’s Kristen Bell. Let’s deal with who were talking about.”
Who do you like more, Josh or Ben?
Me too. What is unique about this job opposed to all the other jobs in your life?
There are more white people. That’s not true—I was on Pickett Fences. This sounds corny to say, but there is a real closeness on the set and a consistent support for one another that is not often seen. There is no diva behavior.
There is no enemy on set.
No. Until your baby shows up.