Landing her breakout role in 2004 as a crime-solving high school detective in the TV series Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell successfully segued into a movie career as the title character in 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Next up for Bell is the romantic comedy When in Rome, opening in January. A vegetarian for more than 15 years, the 29-year-old animal lover shares her home with three rescue dogs: Lola, Shakey, and Sadie. Bell first met Sadie, a Hurricane Katrina survivor, on a visit to the Helen Woodward Animal Center, a shelter she's active with near San Diego.
Q What introduced you to vegetarianism?
A I had a lot of quirks as a child. One was that I didn't like to eat meat: I didn't like to chew it, didn't like the taste or smell of it, and just wasn't having any of it. I was in the minority of kids who actually loved fruits and vegetables. My mom, who was a nurse, was very supportive of my choice to become a vegetarian, but said we were going to do some research. I'm constantly monitoring how colorful the food on my plate is, which is a trick my mom taught me. I make sure to eat really dark power vegetables, like broccoli and kale.
Q Do you get to cook for yourself much?
A I cook a lot. Cooking makes me feel calm, makes me feel empowered; it makes me feel like I'm a provider. One of my favorite things to do is to pick a food, like kale, and get some fresh from the farmers' market, then look up different recipes with it as an ingredient, make all those recipes, and decide which is best.
Q Is it true you have dessert after every meal?
A Yes, even after breakfast. I like having something sweet to finish a meal, and I'm not ashamed of that!
Q How much does your concern for animal welfare influence your vegetarianism?
A When I was little, I loved my dogs so much. Part of my becoming a vegetarian was that I would look at my burger, then look at my dogs, and I wasn't able to see a difference. But I think it was Milan Kundera, in [his book] The Unbearable Lightness of Being, who said something like you can really judge people's personalities based on how they treat those who are at their mercy—in other words, animals. That's a great way to live, because a lot of creatures in this world are defenseless and we have to be compassionate and aware.
Q You've said how hard it was to keep a straight face while filming [the 2009 release] Couples Retreat with funnyman Vince Vaughn. How important is laughter to you?
A It's vital, it's No. 1. Laughter provides so much to your emotional and mental health. And you have to be able to laugh at yourself. That's key. At a dance rehearsal for You Again [scheduled for release in 2010], I wasn't picking up the steps quickly. I just couldn't get the "booty shake" right. I looked over at the director and the choreographer, and they were cracking up and videotaping me. I'm sure it'll turn up on some blooper reel!