LOS ANGELES — Directors of romantic comedies have to be part alchemist in order to find the right mix of actors to create film gold. Mark Steven Johnson used a pinch of Kristen Bell and a dash of Josh Duhamel to create the chemistry for his “When in Rome.”
Bell plays Beth, a workaholic who decides there’s no such thing as true love. When she takes five coins from a magic fountain in Rome, the previous owners of the coins fall madly in love with her. Soon she’s hounded by the suitors that include Nick (Duhamel), a former professional football player.
Their efforts to woo Beth leads to both comic moments and romance.
“We hired them (Bell and Duhamel) because they are such great actors, they look so great together and they are so likable,” Johnson says. “They are both so funny, so physically funny.”
Johnson knew Bell had the looks to pull off the role. He was pleasantly surprised to find out how well Bell handles physical comedy
Bell says it was easy because she was just playing herself.
“Lucky for me the character was written as kind of a klutz. That’s what makes her likable and leaves room for a lot of funnies,” Bells says. “I’m very klutzy in real life to begin with, so we just captured that on film. There were times when I would just trip while the camera was rolling.”
Although Bell has appeared in comedies, such as the musical version of “Reefer Madness,” and the feature film “Couples Retreat,” she’s better known for serious work on the TV series “Veronica Mars” and “Heroes.”
When Johnson found Duhamel to be equally as deft handling comedy, more pratfalls were added to the script in an effort to make it more like the traditional screwball romantic comedies of the ‘50s. Bell didn’t get as many pratfalls because, as she puts it, “I bruise like a peach.”
Once the director was confident in the comedy bits of his formula, all he needed was the audience to believe the couple had fallen in love. Because of the magical element of the story, it was critical from their first meeting that the audience sees the sparks from their chemistry.
Bell says that’s not easy.
“I have seen a ton of movies were I believe the couple and I have seen a ton of movies where I have not believed them at all. Unfortunately, as an audience member, you check out if you don’t believe them,” Bell says. “Josh and I got along so well from the beginning that I think it was just natural. It read as romantic chemistry because we got along so well in real life.”