Lake Bell, who voices the smug and seriously hungry cat Chloe in "The Secret Life of Pets," which arrives in theaters July 8, knows what it's like to be part of a tribe—whether it's a pet tribe, neighborhood tribe or mom tribe.
Mom to 18-month-old daughter Nova with husband Scott Campbell, Bell admitted at a recent press conference for the animated film that while she grew up as more of a dog person, she understands her character Chloe because—like women (and moms)—cats are "complex creatures."
"[Cats] have got two, maybe three, caregivers that they associate with—their person, their people, their tribe," she says. "And it's like, 'What families can I make friends with that also have 2-year-olds, or in and around that age? Who can I get my kid to play with?"
Bell also revealed her work-life balance, how she feels about mom guilt and, of course, her take on pets.
How have you balanced being a mom and being on a set?
I also write and direct, and I do the whole shebang. And it’s like really frickin’ hard. I’m almost offended when I hear people who are saying they are doing it all, and they’re just nailing it.
There comes a time in the pregnancy even where you’re kind of tapped out. You’ve got to check out. You’re like, “I’m out, I can’t work. I’m out.” And then, you give birth, and you’re like, "Oh, that’s like a vast injury." I didn’t realize that. I thought it was just going to be like, pop, and then I go back to work. But your brain is telling you, "You must stay and take care of this progeny." All of that adds up to just a lot of time out of work or not being able to work.
I think it’s strange that it’s not honored more in this country, while there are other countries that give a year of maternity leave. For instance—not to overly soapbox—but I do think it’s so obviously and profoundly noble to have a baby and to raise it. That’s literally, without hyperbole, our future.
Have you experienced any of the so-called "mommy guilt"?
I think that the key to all of it is just not being quite as hard on ourselves as society is pressuring us. It’s just important to accept that what you do is very noble and very justified and is paramount. It’s the most honorable thing to do.
I’m a workaholic. When I first looked at mommies quitting their jobs to be stay-at-home moms, I really didn’t respect it. I didn’t understand it all. I didn’t! I was just like, “That’s crazy—like, I would go crazy.” But then, I had a baby, and I was like, “Oh, oh, OK.”
I do think it’s so obviously and profoundly noble to have a baby and to raise it.
Do you have your own mom tribe?
Yes, you can’t even do it on your own—although a lot of people do. So, I’m like, “Jesus, they deserve awards”—women who are doing it all on their own. A lot of them don’t even have family. It’s so hard, but it’s also so fulfilling.
What do you hope kids take away from this movie?
The good news is that it appeals to parents and kids—there is sophisticated humor in it, as well as sort of silly humor and then everything in-between. There is just something about the responsibility of taking care of a pet, I think, that’s an overarching thing. I think having dogs my whole life was the kind of gateway to learning how to love full stop—like how to love another human, how to be accountable for something.