Some actors make things better just by being there.
Lake Bell is one of those actors.
Often described as a 'scene stealer', Bell is — typically — one of the best things about Million Dollar Arm, a good-natured Disney comedy about baseball and ambition that opens Friday.
Jon Hamm stars in Million Dollar Arm as J.B. Bernstein, a struggling sports agent who hits upon the idea of recruiting cricket players from India to play Major League Baseball.
Bell co-stars as Brenda, a brainy neighbour and the moral centre of the story; her character guides Bernstein to seeing what's really important in life, love being foremost.
Bell and Hamm are fellow New Yorkers and friends. "And we're both comedy fans and players," she says, "so it was fun to get the opportunity to play these characters in this story, which is so beautifully written by Tom McCarthy."
Million Dollar Arm is based on real events. J.B. Bernstein really did put on an American Idol-type sports contest in India to find great baseball pitchers. And Brenda really was a crucial part of his life success, personally and professionally.
"What I like about this character is that she doesn't sit on the sidelines," says Bell. "Sometimes in sports films, the women often become secondary or not integral, but Brenda is very much a force in this man's emotional journey."
That man is most familiar to audiences as Don Draper in Mad Men.
"So it's very rare that he has a woman who is (A) not interested in him and (B), kind of puts him in his place and calls him out on his stuff," says Bell, laughing.
Bell is known for mainstream films such as It's Complicated, What Happens in Vegas and No Strings Attached. She also wrote, directed and starred in the brilliant comedy about voice-over stars, In A World. On television, she has starred in Boston Legal, How To Make It In America and the blackly comic Children's Hospital.
For Bell, making people laugh started in childhood.
"My parents were divorced so I think it was an opportunity to, sort of, make everything feel okay," she says. "Even very young, like four and five, I loved the whole idea of jokes and a punch line, and that people would laugh spontaneously if you said a certain sentence properly. I thought that was kind of magic."
The actress brings her magic to two new movies that just wrapped (The Coup and Man Up), and will finish work on season six of Children's Hospital. After that, Bell will likely take a break and get ready for the birth of her first child with husband Scott Campbell. The baby is due this fall. She's going to relax for a bit,
"Or at least attempt to," she jokes.
"After the baby's born, I think relaxation goes out the window."