Wednesday, June 10, 2009

INTERVIEW: 'Family Dinner' Time For Lauralee Bell

Lauralee Bell comes from soap opera royalty. Her father, the late William J. Bell, wrote for several classic soaps, helped develop ANOTHER WORLD, and created THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL with her mother, Lee Phillip Bell.

As a teenager Lauralee took on the part of Cricket on Y&R, a role that lasted two decades. It would have been easy to stay in that comfortable position and rest on her laurels, but Lauralee left the nest and has found great success in multiple areas. Her boutique, On Sunset, is thriving, and she has landed a variety of roles in film and television. As her latest project, the web-based comedy series, FAMILY DINNER, launches this week at, she talked with We Love Soaps about her famous family, her time on Y&R, how the new show came together and the many hats she wore to make it happen.

We opened our conversation by discussing the classic article I posted in March about her famous parents.

Lauralee Bell: You found pictures I had never seen. I sent it directly to my husband and said, 'please print this picture of them on the bridge.' They have so many scrapbooks and I'm always going over to their house and going through my Mom's albums, and I had never seen that picture. And seeing the two of them at the desk was so exciting. I made sure my Mom got it right away. It was great.

We Love Soaps: The article was a total reversal of what many people's perception was about them.
Lauralee Bell: Unless you're a Chicagoan and knew my Mom and her show, you are absolutely right. But he was in total awe that she would even go out on a date with him. In Chicago, we couldn't go anywhere without being stopped.

We Love Soaps: Between her long-running talk show in Chicago and Y&R, your mom has earned so many Emmys.
Lauralee Bell: She has. It's really cool to walk up to my Dad's office where they are kept. My son loves going up there now. There's an old typewriter and an almost life-sized picture of my Dad and there's all the Emmys. She has her Chicago Emmys and the Y&R Emmys. It's very cool. It's like going up to a little museum. I'm hoping this year will be [my brother] Brad's year [for THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL]. That would be so great.

We Love Soaps: I feel that THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is the most deserving of the three drama series nominees. It seems like some shows submit stunt episodes to get nominated, and your sister-in-law Maria Arena Bell at THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, did not want to do that.
Lauralee Bell: I emailed her and told her my Dad would say that ratings are most important thing, and she is consistently number one. I'm super proud of her. It's not an easy job.

We Love Soaps: With such creative parents and so many creative people in your family, was there ever any doubt you would end up in the entertainment field or doing something creative?
Lauralee Bell: I suppose I didn't really realize it at the time, but when I was younger I would make little pictures of art and have an art show in our living room. Or I would watch The Wizard of Oz a hundred times and know what everyone was doing. I even knew the Mrs. Butterworth commercial, and hoped someone would ask for waffles in the morning, so I could recite that commercial. I see young girls now who want to be Miley Cyrus or I want to be an actress. I don't remember saying that so much. I feel like there were just artistic signs, and once I did Y&R, the bug was there, no Cricket reference intended. [laughs]

We Love Soaps: Did your parents or anyone in your family do any acting? Were you the first actor?
Lauralee Bell: What people don't really know about my Dad, and he's very much like Brad, was that he was the most approachable boss ever. He was a jokester, and was always waiting for a punch line, and was never really angry or mad, and was like a mini-comic in my eyes. I feel like what I'm doing now in FAMILY DINNER, which people think is so different from Christine, is really my natural instinct, to always go to a humorous place. Our rehearsals at THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS were also so funny because we would do it exactly opposite of how it was written. Doug Davidson and I would have the best time. So even though my Dad wasn't an actor per se, he definitely had some show business in him.

We Love Soaps: How did your role on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS first come about? You were still living in Chicago at that point, right?
Lauralee Bell: We were all in Chicago, and my Dad brought out each one us (Lauralee, and brothers Brad and Bill) separately to see the set. I think my first day on the set was as an extra in a scene with David Hasselhoff. After it was over I said, 'Wow, that is so easy. It's easy being an extra.' And then my Dad waited a couple of years and said I didn't get the right impression of the whole thing the first time or understanding of the work involved.

I was going to be on two days and I was nervous and excited. [Former Y&R executive producer] Wes Kenney was trying to break me out of my shell and I was a little scared. But when the two days were over, I thought it was really cool. I said I would take dancing lessons or singing lessons if I could just have two more days. It was two days in June and I came back for two more days in August. Some fans wrote in and said it was so nice to see a young person actually playing a young character on the show. So it just grew, and luckily I had a great supporting group around me like Tricia Cast.

We Love Soaps: Do you have a favorite storyline that you ever played on the show?
Lauralee Bell: I always mention a storyline that I wasn't in. When Paul was undercover against his father, and his father didn't understand why he was against him and Paul was trying to protect him. It was really well done. For me, it's hard. The whole thing with the date rape was so intense. The time of having the first trial was exciting, though a brain buster. I loved when Rebecca Street was on playing my mother [Jessica Blair].

We Love Soaps: I loved the storyline with Rebecca Street so much. It's hard to believe that over 20 years ago since we had the first AIDS storylines on daytime, on ALL MY CHILDREN, ANOTHER WORLD and Y&R.
Lauralee Bell: I was running a booth at the Pediatric AIDS carnival on Sunday and I was thinking, 'Here we still are. Let's find a cure for this already!'

We Love Soaps: I posted a picture on We Love Soaps from that event. Your family is beautiful.
Lauralee Bell: Oh, thank you. They're growing up so fast.
We Love Soaps: Do you think your kids are going to come to you someday and want to be actors?
Lauralee Bell: [My husband] Scott and I literally had to read kids for FAMILY DINNER, and my daughter said, 'I can do it.' I would love for her to do some school plays, and she's graduating from kindergarten and practicing some songs around the house. But the longer you wait, and the more you know as a person, the better actor you automatically become. I would like to push that down the line as far as I can.

We Love Soaps: With Thom Bierdz and Tricia Cast back on Y&R at the moment, I'm sure you get asked about returning to the show all the time.
Lauralee Bell: I just don't think I'm ready to come back full-time. I still have to do a few more things on my own. But would I could back for a little thing with them? Absolutely. I had dinner with Tricia a couple of weeks ago, and talk to Doug and a few people. That's my home.

We Love Soaps: I loved the friendship between Cricket and Nina.
Lauralee Bell: They were girlfriends and it was so great. And we became friends. What my Dad was so good at was doing things in real time. On so many shows a couple meets and then next week there's a wedding. Our viewers are real people, and they are smart, and it doesn't happen overnight. You have to see the relationship grow, and that was definitely the case with Cricket and Nina. And I would love to see Thom too.

We Love Soaps: During your years on Y&R, you played your share of angst-filled storylines as Cricket/Christine. But there was a bit of character-driven humor that your Dad worked into the show. Do you remember any humorous scenes from the show?
Lauralee Bell: Well, I remember watching clips where people laughed, but I'm not sure it was supposed to be funny. [laughs] Tricia and I in the dreaded wigs with Rose Deville haunts me to this day.

We Love Soaps: I've talked a number of soap actors who have told me that they never thought back in the day that those old scenes would come back around, like on a video-sharing site such as YouTube. They thought after they taped the scene and it aired, it would never be seen again.
Lauralee Bell: Martha Byrne was over here the other night and we were discussing just how bad our hair was back then. I didn't know I had multiple pages on YouTube until recently.

We Love Soaps: While you were doing Y&R, did you think someday you would love to do comedy?
Lauralee Bell: When people asked me my dream job, I would always say a sitcom. My natural instinct is to always make light of a situation. I got that from my parents, as there was always a lot of happiness and light. To me, being Elaine on SEINFELD would be the greatest job ever.

We Love Soaps: Let's talk about your new comedy web series, FAMILY DINNER. How would you describe the show in a nutshell?
Lauralee Bell: It's a dysfunctional family around the dinner table. Anyone with small kids knows that it's hard to get your family around the dinner table, and if you do, it's hard to angle the conversation in a way that makes sense. It can be a catastrophe, and when you have a big age difference like on FAMILY DINNER, things spill, people tend to talk about nothing or don't talk at all.

Everyone has a story, and everybody gets it in some way. And if they don't have dinner with their family, come to our family dinner. And if you do and think your family is crazy, maybe our family is crazier.

We Love Soaps: How did the idea for FAMILY DINNER come about?
Lauralee Bell: I have six things that I've written that I had tucked away. I came up with FAMILY DINNER years ago, and I kind of put it on the backburner. I really have to hand it with Martha Byrne. She sat me down with Anne Clements, who had worked with her and done a lot of shorts. Martha said we were both talented and didn't know if we would work together, but wanted to talk about ideas everyone has, say goodbye, and see what happens.

I talked about so many other things I had ideas for, and when we were leaving I said, 'Wait, I have this FAMILY DINNER thing.' After the writer's strike, I wanted to do something where fans could write in, and if they come up with a great family dinner topic, we could use it, and they would get a "concept by" credit. I thought it would be fun if [FAMILY DINNER actress] Phyllis Diller was reciting your concept.

So a couple of weeks went by, and Anne and I emailed and agreed to do it. Scott and I met with another producer, Chris, and the four us began looking at locations and to cast the show. It was just quick, and all of a sudden it was done.

We Love Soaps: When you originally wrote FAMILY DINNER, did you always envision yourself as the mother?
Lauralee Bell: Yes, but she wasn't crazy. I think you kind of lose yourself sometimes when you've had a few kids, and after they're a little bit grown, you're sort of like, 'Now what?'. I wanted to make her, 'What about me?' now. She wants to be OPRAH, her husband isn't giving her any loving, her family doesn't appreciate her, and Grandmas is a nutcase at the dinner table. She wants something she can brag about that's about her.

We Love Soaps: You are producing with your husband, Scott Martin, as well as directing, writing and acting in the show. What was the set like.
Lauralee Bell: We had a huge crew. It was a full on production. And to have Jack Allocco, whose up for three Emmys for Y&R this year and such a good friend, come in and do the music was great.

We Love Soaps: Your husband is a photographer. Have the two of you worked together on a project like this before?
Lauralee Bell: No, not like this. I would write it and hand it off to him. And a couple of days later it would come back with a few red marks. He is so visual. We really talked it through and it was fun.

We Love Soaps: One thing I love about FAMILY DINNER is that every single character was brilliantly cast from Phyllis Diller as the Grandma to Aaron Lustig (ex-Tim, Y&R) as the husband.

Lauralee Bell: The whole cast was great. Makaela [Renae Johnson], the little girl, has never done anything. And Max's [Knight] mom, whose name is Laura Lea, is the biggest Y&R fan ever. I told him to do that mocking of me talking in the first episode and he completely exceeded my expectations.

We Love Soaps: All the actors seem to perfectly nail their reactions to all the wackiness that is going on at the dinner table. The first episode was just over four minutes long. I watch a lot of web series and really try to support good web shows and foster that creativity, and many of those shows range anywhere from three to 10 minutes long. But I have to say that FAMILY DINNER worked more dialogue, story and reactions into that four minutes than I have ever seen on any web series.
Lauralee Bell: This wasn't like one camera on a three-shot of people on a dinner table. I have to give such a huge thank you to David Gil. We spent a lot of time in editing. The whole beginning segment was Dan {Cortese] and I at the front door and we took that out. I just wanted it to move. When the little boys says the brother doesn't 'vocabulate,' we cut to all these various reactions and I thought that was important.

We Love Soaps: I thought you were fabulous on the show. But this probably isn't the type of role fans might expect for you.
Lauralee Bell: [Laughs] This type of part comes much more naturally to me.

We Love Soaps: Since you are part of soap's first family, I have to ask if mother, brother, Brad Bell, or sister-in-law, Maria Arena Bell, have watched and if they had any feedback for you?
Lauralee Bell: Brad and Maria and Bill have all been out of town. They're kids have been great. My Mom is so cute. She's excited. She had dinner with Phyllis [Diller] last night and they've become such good friends.

We Love Soaps: How many episodes have you produced so far?
Lauralee Bell: We've only shot two. But we have the next ones ready to go. We were waiting to figure out if we got a lot of hits on might we be part of that. And there has been a little talk about it being a CBS promotional tool. We're just trying to find its place. Ideally, would I love it to become a half-hour sitcom? Yes. Would I love for Heinz ketchup to say they'll sponsor us? We can write it around any product. We have a lot of potential in today's market.

We Love Soaps: You guys could order pizza for dinner or eat out.
Lauralee Bell: Right. The sky's the limit. I just didn't want to shoot too many if we were going to go into a different angle. I didn't want to put people's time into it if we are going to rework it or if we have an offer that sounds appealing. But episodes 3 and 4 and ready to shoot at any time.

We Love Soaps: So many shows are serialized today, at least to some degree. Is the plan to see any growth over the course of these episodes in any of the characters? Are there any through lines in the stories?
Lauralee Bell: In the second episode, there is insanity between the husband and wife and then it ends with a loving moment. Then the next episode it's insane again. I would love to touch on so many topics, like why does Jeremy not talk.

We Love Soaps: Are there any "dream" guest stars you would like to have appear on the show?
Lauralee Bell: I just an email from my publicist that Rip Taylor wants to audition to be the weird uncle. Cheri Oteri was on our set when we were shooting it and she's already agreed. But definitely Oprah, because of my character's fascination with Oprah.

We Love Soaps: It seems like a such a great concept for a show and very timely.
Lauralee Bell: There's a huge product placement opportunity because of the dinner table. And viewers can send in dinner topics. There's so many possibilities and it's a one set, character-driven show. What my Dad taught me was that you don't need all the hoopla, just good characters people want to see. I just want to keep pushing it and get crazier and crazier.

It would be fun to see who's coming for dinner each week. We had to sort of explain the concept in the first couple of minutes. Then the next episode is about the kids and Grandma. There's a lot of fun to be had.

We Love Soaps: Thanks so much, Lauralee. It was a pleasure.

You can watch the first episode of FAMILY DINNER at Please be sure to support the show and vote for it after you have watched.

You can also follow FAMILY DINNER on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. I love how she talks about her family.

    I watched Family Dinner and thought it was funny.