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Q&A: Bell and Howell-Baptiste on ‘Queenpins’ and friendship

September 28, 2021 GMT
This image released by STX Films shows Kristen Bell, left, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste in a scene from "Queenpins." (STX Films via AP)
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This image released by STX Films shows Kristen Bell, left, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste in a scene from "Queenpins." (STX Films via AP)
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This image released by STX Films shows Kristen Bell, left, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste in a scene from "Queenpins." (STX Films via AP)

Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste first met by chance on the set of Showtime’s “House of Lies,” but the two actors have made co-starring together a habit. They’ve shared the screen in “The Good Place,” the reboot of “Veronica Mars” and now, their first feature: “Queenpins,” available Thursday on Paramount+.

Loosely based on the real story of a $40 million couponing scam, “Queenpins” features Bell as a depressed suburban housewife who has struggled with infertility and British actor Howell-Baptiste as a small-time video blogger who devise a scheme to sell counterfeit coupons. Filmed in the first fall of the pandemic, the comedy also stars Vince Vaughn, Paul Walter Hauser and Bebe Rexha. It was written and directed by husband-and-wife team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly.

Bell and Howell-Baptiste got together in Bell’s attic in Los Angeles to talk about the film and their friendship. Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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AP: Kristen, you were on “Queenpins” first. Did you give Kirby’s name to the filmmakers to consider?

Bell: I’ve texted Kirby about every project I’ve done over the past five years and been like, “What role do you want to play in this?” Kirby is one of the most creative people and the most trustworthy safety nets to have in an acting scene. I also just really enjoy being around her on set. So selfishly, yes, I invite Kirby on everything and I’m lucky when she says yes.

Howell-Baptiste: But just so you know, how it came around, it wasn’t like “I like Kirby, I’m going to call my agent, have them call her agent, then we’ll pitch it to Kirby.” It was a text at night that said, “Do you like working with me and can you do an American accent?” And that was the extent. And I said yes to both.

AP: What was the draw?

Bell: The initial intrigue was that it was a husband and wife directing team. I love working with my husband and I find I know exactly what that sort of relationship looks like. If it’s done well, it can be so, so beautiful. It’s also very exciting to receive a script that says “based on a true story” on the front... I like to do stories that I can relate to. And I do a lot of work in the mom space and I have a very big spot in my heart for what women who struggle with infertility might be going through. Also the idea of a woman who’s in a marriage that she really wants to leave but doesn’t necessarily have the financial capabilities to do it.

Howell-Baptiste: I thought Jojo was hilarious. She is an entrepreneur, and yet she also has like an overinflated sense of her entrepreneurship and that’s always really fun to me, to play a character that believes that absolutely anything is possible. She’s doing her thing, but it’s just not enough.

AP: When did you two realize you were real friends and not just colleagues who get along?

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Howell-Baptiste: We were on “The Good Place” and we were like chatting, chatting and then we both went off and were on our phones and had things to do. It just felt comfortable. It wasn’t like, “Oh, can I use my phone for a minute?” We were just sort of comfortable in each other’s presence. That, to me, is what I consider a friendship.

Bell: I know Kirby has zero judgment in her entire being. Like if we make plans and one of us says at 11 a.m., “You know what? I’m not going to make it to lunch. I’m just not feeling it.” That’s the end of the conversation. We’re both like, “Cool, peace, next week.” That’s just a real freedom and a real love.

AP: There’s a theme of people underestimating your characters in “Queenpins.” Could you relate to that?

Howell-Baptiste: I was essentially told I couldn’t be an actor. I think that what we’re trying to show in this film and what I believe is true for myself, my character and for other people is that, only you can determine what you can or can’t do. You can’t buy into someone else’s negativity or someone else’s insecurity about what they can or can’t do because people are limited by their own imagination. So if someone is telling you that you can’t do something, it’s often because they don’t see it’s possible for themselves.

Bell: The only person that’s really told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something is my husband, but it’s not in a bad way. Probably 10 years ago when I was still hustling in so many different other ways before I found my lane and my joy and what I was good at, I would be like desperate to get that gritty Michelle Williams indie. And he would look at me go, “Why are you doing this? Stop. That’s not you. Like I mean, you can try if you want to, but like you have something different. Lean into your something different.” He was like you’re way quirkier than that. Think about your quirks and how you could apply them to entertainment. And then all of a sudden it was “Oh, I have a lane.” I didn’t even realize I had a lane and there is no traffic.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr