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Lake Bell dishes out tough love to Jon Hamm in 'Million Dollar Arm'

Lake Bell is shown in a scene from Disney's

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Lake Bell is shown in a scene from Disney's "Million Dollar Arm." THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Disney Enterprises, Inc.-Ron Phillips

TORONTO - Lake Bell isn't one to sit on the bench — and she says she was drawn to her role in "Million Dollar Arm" because her character stands up to the self-centred sports agent played by Jon Hamm.

The 35-year-old actress, writer and director plays Brenda, a quirky medical student who rents a guesthouse in the backyard of J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) and becomes his unlikely love interest. But she's also fearless and quick to point out Bernstein's flaws, said Bell.

"I was very attracted to how direct and comfortable she was with dishing out tough love when necessary and admitting she wasn't interested in him — which I think in itself is a refreshing concept coming from a female character in any movie, but especially a sports film," she said.

"Usually the ladies are sort of doting and always there, no matter what. I was attracted to Brenda punching J.B. in the proverbial gut and not being afraid to say, 'You're being a jerk.' ... The female supporting character has larger cojones than some of the other male characters."

"Million Dollar Arm," produced by Walt Disney Pictures, opens Friday. The film is based on the true story of Bernstein's efforts to transform two Indian teenagers, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel (played by Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal), into Major League Baseball pitchers.

Bell didn't meet the real Brenda until the premiere of the film, so she said she played the character as screenwriter Tom McCarthy had written her. She said she was "shocked" when Bernstein approached her after the screening and said she'd gotten his wife "down to a T."

"When you're portraying a real person, but they're not an iconic figure in our society, so you're not mimicking or transforming into Abraham Lincoln or somebody... it's almost more important to pay homage to the message of that journey, versus the nuance of each character," she said.

In one pivotal scene, Bernstein flies off the handle and yells at her — but instead of yelling back, her response is cool and collected. She later says to him, "There's a side of you I don't like," simple words that deliver a deep blow. Bell said she especially admired her character in that moment.

"I'd like to be a person who could dish that kind of eloquent criticism... In fact, I avoid confrontation in my own life," she said. "But he is being a jerk. He is treating (Rinku and Dinesh) like an investment, and that's gross. For her to call that out, I felt connected to that."

Bell has played supporting roles in comedies like "No Strings Attached" and "What Happens in Vegas," and last year took a starring turn in "In a World," which she also wrote and directed, about an aspiring voiceover artist in a male-dominated industry.

"Million Dollar Arm" represents a shift toward family fare — which the newly pregnant Bell said she's always wanted to do.

"This movie is so sweet and so earnest," she said. "I just think it's nice to have something that you're proud of that any family member can see. There's no, 'I hope my uncle doesn't see that' or 'My dad might not like that' ... This is a film that really does span every demographic on my Rolodex."

Bell and Hamm have been friends for years, she said, and had long hoped to do a movie together. Hamm, known for his gloomy Don Draper on "Mad Men," is also a great comedic actor, said Bell.

"We are both, Jon and I, comedy players and comedy fans. We share that as well. So when there's back and forth, you do have some harmony in the comedic musicality of scenes," she said.

Bell sheepishly admitted she was not a sports fan, but she said she loves sports movies. Her favourites are "Miracle" and "A League of Their Own."

"Great sports films, you kind of forget that they are sports films. They're just about the characters and this movie really does that," she said. "Because it's a true story, that resonates in a different way. You have an extra tear in your eye at the end, when you see the real players and the real J.B. and all of these real people who experienced these obstacles."

Bell, who will also appear in action thriller "The Coup" later this year, is expecting her first child with artist husband Scott Campbell. She said she found out she was pregnant the same day she was set to pose for a sexy photo spread in Esquire magazine.

"Like with anyone who pees on a stick and sees that you're pregnant, I think it's always more shocking on the day than you ever imagined ... My husband and I immediately wanted to pee on 12 other sticks just to make sure it was right," she said with a laugh.

"You spend your whole life trying not to get pregnant, so when you're trying, it's sort of shocking."

She said the timing of the Esquire shoot — she appears topless on this month's cover — felt serendipitous.

"Thank God I did that while I could," she joked. "In a way, maybe I just knew that I was preparing to be a mom, so if I could just get all that out of my system, make sure my husband has really sexy photos of me to remind him in a dark moment... Now, I can go and be a mama."

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