Kristen Bell’s Big Miracle
By: Lynn Barker
Kristen tells us all about playing a TV reporter in the “Save-the-Whales” movie, Big Miracle.
Back in 1988, three gray whales, named Bamm-Bamm, Fred and Wilma (after the famous “Flintstones” characters) were trapped beneath Alaskan ice that was quickly thickening. Their one small breathing hole in the ice was freezing over. While environmentalists rallied to find a solution and free the whales, a herd of TV journalists rushed to the scene to record the outcome… and build their careers. In the new movie Big Miracle, ambitious Jill Jerard played by Kristen Bell is among them.
Kristen, well-loved from her TV role as “Veronica Mars” and from tons of feature films, is now starring on the Showtime series “House of Lies”. She was happy to talk about how TV news has changed since way back in the ’80’s and how she got into the head of her ambitious young journalist character. Hey, her dad ran a TV newsroom! She is also a big fan of animals and the great outdoors.
Q: Do you think because there wasn’t the wide use of the Internet or multiple news outlets in 1988 that this story was able to be a bigger deal than it might be today? There are so many world-wide stories to distract us.
- Kristen: Yeah, I think that too much stimulus can make you feel crazy. Nowadays, it’s harder to tell what is important because there is so much news on the table. In a way that is really good because we all feel a little bit more connected.
- The interesting thing about this piece for me was not only did everyone in the world seem to connect with the emotion behind this story and wanting to save the whales, but everyone also came on board and decided to drop all their differences and work together for a common goal, which almost never happens. (Note, native Alaskan people, Russians and several nations helped).
Q: Many of the characters in this film are based on real people but your character is really a representation of the many different competing journalists who covered the story. Is that more freeing in a sense to be playing a fictional character rather than someone who actually exists?
Kristen: It’s better and it’s worse at the same time. You don’t have anyone specific to draw on so you’re not sure that you are doing it right. But at the same time, I can certainly identify with the idea of competition. My existence is in a business where there is always someone better than you right around the corner. So the idea of that competition and that hunger and that aggressive dedication I could identify with because I have wanted jobs so badly.
- I feel that Jill Gerard was just a mish-mash of all these journalists that thought that this was the story that would make or break them and that they had to do a great job.
Q: She has a moment in the film where she contemplates giving it up and going into teaching. Have you ever had a moment where the competition was too high and you thought about doing something else?
- Kristen: Yeah like legitimately every five minutes. It’s something that I’ve learned to deal with over the last couple of years. I find my sanity because I evaluate my self-esteem based on the integrity of my actions versus the jobs I get. There was a huge portion of my life where whatever job I was getting was who I was. Whatever job I had was my entire existence.
- I think that since I’ve grown up I’ve realized that I’m a human being that likes acting a lot, but I love being a human being. So it’s a really delicate balance to stay sane and not think that that one job that you might obtain could make or break your life.
Q: Good lesson to learn. Did you study different newscasters to really get your character right?
- Kristen: A little bit. My dad is a news director so I had kind of grown up with it. I tend to speak in sound bites, because I’m trained by him. I did hang out at his news station a lot and I was excited because I knew the local celebrities that were the anchors and I played around with the teleprompter.
- When journalists would submit their tapes and he had to hire a new producer or on-camera person, I would watch them with him and I say “It makes me uncomfortable that the weatherman is in a sweater. Number one, he is too comfortable, I want a professional delivering my news. Number two; it makes me feel like it’s going to be cold and it’s not good news”. I always felt like my dad was really open to my feedback in creating a good station.
Q: What was it that originally drew you to the Big Miracle script?
- Kristen: Initially, the fact that it was about animals. I thought, in simple terms, “Oooh, I like animals”. Then upon reading it, the complexity of the story, it seemed almost unbelievable to me. I was like, “Oh really, a hundred and eighty journalists from different countries flew in and two million dollars was spent on this, really”? People got married who met talking about the whales. The most outrageous portions of the movie are the truth. It’s incredibly rare to have everybody check their baggage at the door and work together and it is so powerful I think.
Q: And, on a lighter note, you really rocked the ‘80s look.
- Kristen: I tried. Thank you very much. That was also exciting because I grew up in the ‘80s but that wasn’t like my prime. My prime was definitely like 95-96. I had older sisters and I definitely looked up to the way my mom dressed. It was really fun working with the costume designer to create all these amazing shoulder pads and cool pastels. Her hair obviously had to be big, so we did hot rollers every day, which was really fun. I teased the c**p out of it and I wore press-on nails because everyone had long pink fingernails in the ‘80s.
Q: Hilarious. What was it like filming in Alaska? And it’s a very male dominated cast with the exception of you and Drew, what was that like?
- Kristen: Truth be told, the guys are pretty much sissies on this film and Drew and I are way stronger so that is how it breaks down. No, this cast got along really well because everyone is kind of a goofball. No one in the cast or crew had friends or family in Alaska that I knew of, and no one could really travel because there were icy winds all the time, so we visited a lot of pizza joints. We saw a lot of movies; we played a lot of poker in each other’s rooms.
Q: When the whales poke their heads up out of the ice, it is a big animatronic whale that was really there for the actors to act to. Did that help?
- Kristen: For me, yes. I’m kind of an idiot but when I was looking at those whales. I’ve been whale watching a few times and been in Capetown where the Southern White Whales come from. It’s extraordinary. You look into their eyes and you just feel something magical.
- I hate to say it but I kind of felt the same thing when I was looking at these [animatronic] animals. It was sad, visually how small the hole was for them to come up [to get air] and when you see the three of them surface together, just the story that the picture told, kind of devastated you.
Q: Do you consider yourself an outdoors person and a nature and animal lover to begin with?
- Kristen: A wood nymph? Yes! Yes, I do like being outdoors a lot. I hike a lot, and I’m a huge animal lover. So Alaska was a really wonderful location for me because we really got a chance on the weekends to explore its majesty and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s kind of hard to articulate, because it is so untouched. Like, we hiked to the top of [a mountain]. You are actually above the clouds and you are able to take pictures.
Q: Is it safe to say that you would go back to Alaska again?
- Kristen: I would yeah, I really would. I didn’t get to see the Northern Lights or go up to Fairbanks when I was there and a lot of the cast did. I drove down to Seward and saw the aquarium where they rescue or rehabilitate otters, seals, and damaged wildlife. I would definitely go back to Alaska. There is a harmony up there that is non-existent in LA.