On a 34-degree Sunday in early October, Kristen Bell stands in the parlour of a dilapidated mansion in Los Angeles’ Historic West Adams neighbourhood wearing Lanvin resort and pulling faces at the camera. “Like you want to make a baby laugh!” directs photographer Yu Tsai, and Bell, skilled funny woman and, as of this past spring, new mother, obliges by unleashing her full rubber-face arsenal: cheeks puffed, eyes popped, tongue out. When the action breaks, her face relaxes into its default symmetrical planes of Nordic loveliness. At 33, the actress, a veteran of TV series (including the beloved Veronica Mars) and film for more than a decade, can turn it on and off like a pro.
During the next setup, Yu Tsai pauses to address a wardrobe issue. He and the stylist crouch at Bell’s knees and adjust the infelicitous draping on a pair of sparkly peach trousers. “We’ve got to style this so she doesn’t have a penis!” he cries.
“Good luck,” Bell purrs under her breath. it’s a throwaway line and nobody’s listening, but handled with her precision instruments—the cut-glass voice, still recognizable as the insinuating narrator of Gossip Girl; the sharpshooter comic reflexes—it lands like a dart piercing the bull’s eye. Thwack.
“That combination of all-American cuteness with subversive wit is a surprise whenever you run across it,” says Matthew Carnahan, her boss on Showtime’s House of Lies. “Kristen looks like a little china doll. And then she’ll say something, and your jaw drops and you can’t stop laughing.”
Bell currently has three upcoming projects that showcase her versatility as a performer. she’ll realize a long-held dream of starring in a Disney movie when she voices (and sings) Anna in the animated film Frozen (out November 27). House of Lies, the caustic cable comedy in which she plays the ethically and romantically challenged careerist Jeannie Van Der Hooven, returns for a third season on January 12 (The Movie network at 10 p.m. ET/PT). And in the much-anticipated movie version of Veronica Mars, due in early 2014, Bell will reprise her indelible mid-aughts TV role as the jaded young detective patrolling a landscape of California noir.
Though best known thus far for her roles in Veronica Mars and ensemble comedies such asForgetting Sarah Marshall and Couples Retreat, Bell has won even more fans of late just for being herself. During an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, she shared a home video depicting her unscripted reaction when her long-time partner, Dax Shepard, told her he had invited a sloth to her 31st birthday party. The clip, which shows Bell sobbing uncontrollably with excitement, pulled a staggering 17 million views on Youtube. (even now, “Kristen Bell sloth” remains one of Google’s top search suggestions when you type in her name.) Earlier this year, when Warner Bros. wasn’t convinced there was an audience for a Veronica Mars movie, Bell and series creator Rob Thomas took to crowd-sourcing (with the studio’s blessing) in an attempt to prove them wrong. The resulting campaign raised $5.7 million, shattering Kickstarter records and inadvertently crowning Bell a kind of Hollywood Norma Rae in the process. And after the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act this past June, Bell, an advocate for gay rights, upset gender conventions by proposing to Shepard via twitter.