Kristen Bell Is the Perpetual Helper

This year's cover star, a wife, mom, actor, producer, and executive, leads with empathy and vulnerability.

Kristen Bell was open about the messy parts of life—depression, addiction, parenting—way before it was cool. She is a fan of vulnerability and seems to have empathy in her DNA; you’d sooner expect her to end world hunger than star in hit TV shows (Veronica Mars, The Good Place) and films (a little thing called Frozen, among others). But in fact she is trying to end world hunger: She helped launch This Saves Lives, a snack company providing nourishing food to kids in need. She also cowrote a children’s book, The World Needs More Purple People, to help teach young readers acceptance. And she and her actor husband, Dax Shepard, cofounded Hello Bello to make affordable, high-quality baby products accessible to all. From the moment she got famous and had a giant megaphone handed to her, Kristen has hollered into it about stuff that matters, and in so doing, changed the Hollywood game for the better.


Chrisean Rose

ASHLEY C. FORD: What was your reaction when REAL SIMPLE said you were a game changer?

KRISTEN BELL: They could have put me on the Biggest Up-and-Coming Losers list for 2023 and I would have been excited! REAL SIMPLE was my first magazine subscription as an adult, and by adult I mean 18-year-old girl living in New York City.

Clockwise from top left: Bell on Veronica Mars; Bell's children's book; Bell as Anna in Disney's Frozen (with reindeer pal Sven); Bell with her The Good Place castmates (from left to right) Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, D'Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper and Ted Danson.

Getty Images (2), Disney, Courtesy

ACF: You seem to move through your many roles—actor, producer, CEO, parent—with a preternatural confidence. Do you ever doubt yourself?

KB: It’s only recently that I realized I might be qualified for any of this! I often feel underqualified, whether for an acting scene or a parenting moment. When I feel wonky about my day, I tell my husband, “I like doing this, but I don’t really know what I’m doing.” And he goes, “All you need to do is get the project to the finish line.” When I think about it like that, I realize I might actually be good at it.

Kristen Bell, on the power of humor

I try to lead with laughter to counteract this weird cultural and societal weighted blanket we’ve all put over each other.”

— Kristen Bell, on the power of humor

ACF: You’re pretty honest about your feelings, which isn’t always valued in a leader. Do you think it makes good business?

KB: I don’t have an MBA. When I’m working on projects and people are talking about ROI and endcaps, I feel out to sea. I’ve worked with people who are amazing in front of a computer but not as good with people. But there’s a place for that—for those of us who value the people over the process. Perhaps one of the things I’ll work on in 2023 is giving myself credit for the emotional intelligence I do have—and spreading the word about how valuable that can be.

ACF: How much better would it be if people could say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and not feel like they have to put on a front?

KB: I love asking questions. I’ve done a pretty decent job of surrounding myself with smart people, and I’m going to take full advantage of that. There’s the worry about looking foolish, but I’d disagree with that fear. I think you seem smarter when you ask questions, because your goal is to get the information. I hope people read this article and think, “Oh yeah, I’m just going to ask questions all the time.”


Chrisean Rose

ACF: Who is a game changer in your life?

KB: My husband keeps my mind and heart open and moving forward every single day, because he’s a challenger. We disagree about 99 percent of the things on earth, which is just fun and interesting. And I started taking mother-daughter jujitsu classes last year with Cesalina Gracie, our trainer, who is the closest physical representation to Wonder Woman you’ve ever seen. I could break your arm.

ACF: Kristen Bell, aren’t you five-foot-two?

KB: Jujitsu is all about leverage—it’s about using connection and distance. And doing it with my daughter brought us closer together. The first two classes were about using your voice, because if no one can hear you, you’ll never get any of your wants, hopes, or dreams. You have the right to take up the space that you take up, and to properly communicate with someone—to say yes or no.

ACF: I love this.

KB: Yeah, it’s been a ton of growth for both me and my daughter, who was struggling socially before we started, and has come so far and is doing things that just make my heart explode. She stopped a fight on the yard at her school! It’s kind of phenomenal.


Chrisean Rose

ACF: Amazing! What’s a skill or behavior that you think is underrated?

KB: Vulnerability.

ACF: Talk to me about that.

KB: It’s the most attractive characteristic on the planet. I believe that vulnerability only begets vulnerability. We have so many issues as humans. Each and every one of us is so hard to get along with. It’s true. But if you can maintain a sense of vulnerability, people read you in a different way. You are more successful in every aspect of your life.

ACF: What are you teaching your kids?

KB: Making amends and apologizing is an important thing in our family, because humans leave carnage wherever they go. I really respect when someone does something wrong or hurtful and they apologize. I’m like, “Yeah, right on.” That’s important. If there’s one thing I want to teach my kids, it’s how to make amends—and that it’s for themselves, so they can like who’s in the mirror a little bit more.

ACF: How have you learned to look in the mirror and like who you see?

KB: By dropping the pretense of being perfect. When I met my husband, he’d just recently started to be in recovery. If he found a pill, he’d be gone for three days. He’d miss Christmas and do lots of things that are inarguably bad things. I was a goody-goody with a temper. He was vulnerable and communicative. That scrambled my brain, because I was like, “I’m the one who does things right, OK?” And he was like, “But you don’t, because you’re scared to say what you really feel.” It was hard for me to say when something scared me. I realized that when I talked more about my fears, I gained more respect from not just my husband but everyone in my life.

Dax Shepard and Bell at the 2021 opening of Hello Bello’s manufacturing center in Waco, Texas.

RICK KERN/Getty Images

ACF: Sounds like you began to see yourself in a cool new way.

KB: I had been taught to stay inside the lines. When I realized I could break a mold and disagree with certain ways of doing things, I felt freer and more like me. I felt more comfortable with who I was, and then I realized, “I don’t need to be better than anyone else. I just need to be better than the person I was yesterday.”

ACF: Sorry for the hard left turn here, but I want to ask about Hello Bello. How did that come to be?

KB: There are a lot of people doing great work in the baby space, but there’s an accessibility-affordability junction that’s not being hit. One of our missions is accessibility. We’re also trying to convey that parenting is hard. It’s gross. It stinks. The baby products I bought for my nursery were all white, cream, and baby pink—but everything smelled like pee and avocado. There’s a dissonance. So I wanted to let things be weird. Let’s put the word “poop” on the diaper box because that’s what it’s used for. It’s for poop! Let’s stop pretending this is a baby angel sitting in a cloud, because kids are disgusting and sticky, and that’s funny.


Chrisean Rose

ACF: Your superpower is that you make reality seem doable.

KB: That is the hugest compliment you could possibly give me, so thank you. I think defusing some of the fear surrounding the hard things is maybe what I’m here to do.

ACF: Well then, you’re lined up with your purpose for sure. When and where can we find the next thing from Kristen Bell?

KB: I’ve taken the last year and a half almost off, to be a mom, and a producer when my kids are at school. I’m developing a couple of projects right now that I really love. It’s all spaghetti on the wall. Who knows what’ll stick? You’ll see me on social media, because that is sometimes a fun place to be, especially when my husband and I get to do it together. But I’m not sure what’s next! And I’m absolutely fine saying so.


Talent: Kristen Bell

Photographer: Chrisean Rose

Cover Story: Ashley C. Ford

Creative Director: Phoebe Flynn Rich

Photo Director: Muzam Agha

Video Producer: Lisa Fischer

Senior Video Producer: Jen Lomeli

Videographer: Micah Hamilton

Video Editing: Wes Reel

Wardrobe: Jack Eustace

Hair: Matthew Collins

Makeup: Courtney Hart

Manicure: Jolene Brodeur

Set Design: Wanenmacher Studios

Location: Milk Studios

Production: Ave44 Productions

Booking: Bethany Heitman

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