How Lake Bell Made Poison Ivy TV’s Best (Animated) Character

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Look, Lake Bell is no stranger to the world of voice recording. Just scroll down her IMDb page and find out for yourself: her distinguished career is dotted with voice acting roles. Heck, she wrote, directed, and even starred in a movie about voiceover work. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet) In a world…get on with it.)

The point is, Bell has played many iconic roles, both in animation and live-action, but over the past four years, she’s stolen hearts and took on names as the voice of Poison Ivy in the frenzied HBO Max – in the best way – animated series. Harley Quinn. And it might be her best voice work to date.

Taking on a role in the DC Universe is a daunting task. Fans can be famished over any portrayal of their favorite comic book characters, and a loved one like Poison Ivy is an even bigger target. But strangely, Bell was not aware of all this. In fact it is what the Harley Quinn makers primarily for her.

“They liked the fact that I had little preconceptions about the character because it allowed for a refreshing view,” Bell told The Daily Beast. “I just see it as this person I created, this character I created with the extraordinary writers. I trust them and they trust me to improvise and derail when I see fit.”

That is, if you think Bell is going to enter the recording booth knowing every line she’s going to say and exactly how she’s going to say it, you’re wrong. “I have a Wild West approach to recording everything related to” Harley Quinn as my poison ivy alter ego,” she says. “The confidence is there now that I can show up and really just jump off the ledge into the character and into the abyss of wild craziness they always seem to deliver.”

Improvisation is common in recording sessions for: Harley Quinn— and most of the improv, as Bell describes it, revolves around swearing. There is a certain amount of “fucks” that can be said per episode, so there is always a battle between the cast partners over those last “fucks”. And like Ivy, Bell loves to win that match.

“To be honest, I try to sponge them all up,” she says. “You have to fight for your ‘fucks’.” When you think about this, it’s funny that Bell’s favorite impromptu line doesn’t contain a “fuck” at all. This particular one can be found in the ninth episode of the second season when Ivy says “piscakes of a dick” after waking up in bed with Harley on her bachelorette weekend. “I tend to push the boundaries with swearing in creative ways,” Bell says with a laugh.

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It’s this very unique blend of excessive swearing with complete tranquility that makes Bell’s version of Ivy so refreshing. The character of Poison Ivy (aka Dr. Pamela Isley) was created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino and first appeared in Batman #181 in 1966. She has long been portrayed as a beautiful temptress and femme fatale who often acts as a foil. serving for Batman and his vigilante friends. But, like Harley Quinn herself, Ivy is not a one-dimensional villain, often teetering on the line between villain and antihero.

In addition to voicing one of the most iconic characters in the comic book universe, Bell is now responsible for half of one of the most important and beloved couples in animation. And for the first time, it’s a same-sex couple – in a superhero universe, that is! Season 3 of the series is so good because of how deep, how raunchy and how recognizable the relationship between Harley and Ivy is. So much of that is down to the humanity — and the wild streak — that Bell gives the character.

In other words, this is a perfect time to jump on the phone with the voice of one of the most profound characters in animation right now.

We talk about all things big and small.

For an example of the greatness, an aspect that remains constant in both the comics and Harley Quinn is Ivy’s dedication to plants that once again rule the earth. Given the climate crisis we are currently experiencing, she is not whole wrong about the damage humans have caused to the ecosystem. And it’s this part of Ivy’s story that Bell likes to play with. “It’s an unusual combination to be a villain and seek out the vile evil while protecting the environment and the earth,” she says. “It’s a funny juxtaposition, but I think it makes for a really nice contradictory path.”

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But then there’s also the amazing fact that Poison Ivy is allowed to wear pants in this show. Gone (but not too far away) is the iconic green leaf dress from the comics. “She’s Not in a Bikini” [or] half-naked and I think that says about her intellect,” Bell says. “She’s smart, she’s stubborn and a bit intellectual. So I think that even becomes intrinsic to her sound.”

Intellect is something that both Harley Quinn (who is voiced by Kaley Cuoco) and Ivy have in spades. Both characters have their PhDs – in psychology and botany respectively and ironically – and the animated series never lets you forget that. Harley’s self-therapy sessions are the introspection television needs, as are her quick and unsolicited diagnoses from friends. “They are insanely smart. And you know, sometimes they have a point,” Bell said.

Since the first season of Harley QuinnOriginally premiered on the short-lived streaming platform DC Universe, Bell’s Ivy has always been Harley’s moral (ish, they’re villains after all) compass, voice of reason and best friend. She helped Harley realize and escape the toxic relationship she was trapped in with Joker (Alan Tudyk), saved her from botched robberies on many occasions, and has always been a shoulder to cry on.

But now, after many episodes of Will/They Won’t, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn finally have a romantic relationship – a development that didn’t come as a surprise to Bell. “When I first read the script that they would be together, it made so much sense,” she says. “There was zero demand. It was so obvious that they were in love.”

The superhero genre has always been hesitant to portray LGBTQ relationships, especially in movies, but television and streaming DC shows (whether on HBO Max or The CW) have always strived for inclusivity. In that spirit, Harley Quinn doesn’t shy away from showing the relationship between Harley and Ivy in its fullest and truest form. All the speed bumps, fights and make-ups are shown and portrayed with real seriousness – which may come as a shock considering Harley Quinn is an R-rated cartoon.

“It’s my pleasure to be a part of it because I think the relationship is very real and very real,” Bell says. “Despite being animated and in this elevated space, it’s nice to normalize and incorporate something into media and culture that feels more representative of how relationships are today.”

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Much of the beauty of the relationship comes down to how Cuoco and Bell convey the passion through their voice acting. Both actors absolutely nail the chaos of the show, but also bring passion, sincerity and heartbreak when needed. That’s even more impressive when you learn that Cuoco and Bell don’t shoot their scenes together.

“It’s so funny because Kaley and I have a really beautiful, intimate relationship in this other dimension of the show, but we haven’t been in the same room for two years,” Bell says with a laugh. “We just do our part and then we watch the show and watch our relationship unfold. It’s still exciting for me to see the show because I haven’t been able to hear all the other parts. So it’s going to be like this” a very unique experience.’

The voice acting skills of these two stars become even more apparent when you see what the couple is going through this season – whether it be normal relationship issues like exes or an in-depth look at how a couple interacts with an independent person (Ivy) and a codependent person (Harley). can still thrive. Again, a rare concept to tackle a cartoon, but Harley Quinn is not your average cartoon. It has always been on a precarious tonal tightrope.

“The most avant-garde way to attack animation is to take on real, real stories about the human condition,” Bell says. “So, in the midst of all this absolute madness and robberies and things blowing up, it’s incredible, like I said, avant-garde to tackle something as nuanced as communication and relationships.”

The tightrope walk takes it a step further this season as Ivy begins to discover more of herself as she has a loving and committed relationship with Harley.

In a funny twist, as our conversation ends, Bell happens to pass by a billboard before the show and takes a moment to admire it. “There I am. It’s very cute. They look cute,” she laughs. Classic ivy.

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