I was shocked and amazed to find out recently that Kristen Bell, best known as Veronica Mars, also played Uda Bengt in Rob Thomas’s other show, Party Down.
I had known Kristen Bell played Veronica Mars for several years, from seeing commercials for it on UPN back in 2004 and 2005 (though never watching it) and from adding the three seasons of it to my Amazon wish list, where its description was always “Kristen Bell et al.” However, despite being intrigued by Veronica Mars when it originally aired (though apparently not enough to tune in) and obviously planning on purchasing it, I ended up watching Party Down (all 20 episodes of it) first because it was streaming on Netflix and I had heard great things about it. I had no idea there was any connection between the two shows.
After I watched Party Down this summer on Netflix, I happened to buy all three seasons of Veronica Mars on DVD because they were all finally cheap enough for my standards. Somehow, after seeing all two episodes of Party Down in which Bell guest-starred as the cut-throat, competing caterer Uda Bengt, I never noticed her name in the closing credits. In that show in particular, I always read the closing credits attentively to see who played the guest characters and to see if there were any names I’d recognize. I can’t understand how I missed Kristen Bell. I had seen her name underneath the show title on those Veronica Mars DVD’s while scrolling through my Amazon wish list dozens of times. It’s understandable that I wouldn’t recognize Bell herself in the episodes because I had never seen her in anything else, but I can’t understand how I missed her name.
Because I watched both shows in such close succession, you’d think I would have recognized that the same actress who played Veronica also played Uda, instead of the other way around, but I never did. I have little doubt that I would have recognized Uda as Kristen Bell if I had watched a lot of Veronica Mars and then watched Party Down, especially because of all the other Veronica Mars alums who have large and small roles in Party Down. But that’s not the way it happened. After learning she was Uda and thinking back to that character and those episodes (including a GIS and this short preview clip), I was really amazed that I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together. This revelation really shook the foundation of my entertainment world for a few minutes. It was like when I found out my NIH friend Jessica Dolle pronounced her name “Dolly” and not “Dole” after knowing her for about 10 months.
Kristen Bell herself looks about the same in both shows, as they were only filmed a few years apart, but the way she acts, speaks, carries herself, and presents herself as Uda Bengt (including the work of the wardrobe and hair people) make her seem like a completely different person from the young, sarcastically bubbly, determinedly spunky Veronica Mars. (I’m given to understand that this is called acting.) Uda is robotic, serious, humorless, all business, no fun, and ruthlessly efficient as the Valhalla catering team leader. She is always barking orders, threats, or insults into her Bluetooth earpiece intermixed with her face-to-face conversations, to much comedic effect (all of which would be lost on Uda). Her hair is just pulled straight back into a boring, non–time-consuming ponytail. She wears all black as her work uniform. She asks a man out on a date the way she would schedule a business lunch. She knows with passionless certainty that she and her team are leagues better than the Party Down catering team, but she spares no hurtfulness or nastiness when she hurls insults at Ron Donald and the losers who work for him. Uda’s jaw is different somehow—more prominent, clenched, impatient, intolerant, ready to bite any slacker’s head off. Perhaps her odd, foreign name added another element of differentness to this Kristen Bell character that prevented me from recognizing her mere weeks later when I started watching Veronica Mars.
The reason I’m writing about this is that Kristen Bell’s performance as Uda Bengt provides a great life lesson for all of us. We can project the image of ourselves that we want others to see, and we can influence how people think of us by how we dress, speak, stand, walk, and style our hair. When motivational speakers or guidance counselors or whoever advise us to start actively embodying the change we want to see in our lives or start acting the way people in our desired station/position in life act, this really is some of the best advice you can heed, especially at a young age. There are probably better examples of this than a pair of an actress’s characters, but it prompted this realization in me, and hopefully it can impact more people’s lives than mine in a positive way. If you want to succeed in a field of study or a career, start behaving, talking, interacting, and even dressing the way people who are successful in those areas do. If you want people to see you as more confident, smart, outgoing, interesting, older, younger—then make the change in yourself first to make others see you that way. In many cases such superficial changes are only the precursor to the more important step of thinking like and being a new and improved person, but no one does anything in a vacuum, so changing the impression you give others is often necessary to become a successful employee, boss, leader, colleague, student, friend, or loved one. Become the character that you want to become.