Actress Kristen Bell, best known for her role in Veronica Mars from 2004 to 2007, as well as the title role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the narrator of Gossip Girl, also has a passion: helping the children of Northern Uganda. She talked to WebMD the Magazine recently about her acting, her advocacy, and her avocations.
You regularly carve out time from your work -- including narrating Gossip Girl and appearing in Serious Moonlight -- to work for Invisible Children, dedicated to helping raise awareness about the hardship kids face in Northern Uganda. What drew you to this movement, sparked by a documentary about children in a country ripped apart by war for more than 20 years?
It’s so shocking to see those children sleeping like sardines [on the streets of Uganda], because their homes are unsafe for them at night, and it’s not safe for them to be out past dark. I just think no child should have to deal with a war-torn area. You should be allowed to have your childhood. And on top of it all, if they’re abducted, and lucky enough to escape, they’re not only left with the ability to kill, but the instinct to kill. And brainwashing children is just something that’s completely unacceptable.
How did you first get involved?
The older brother of one of the girls I worked with on Veronica Mars, Jason Russell, started the organization. So I started hanging out with these wonderful people, and they’re making a gigantic change in the world. And they’re so inspiring, I told them I wanted to do whatever I could to help.
How is Invisible Children giving these young people hope?
First and foremost, Invisible Children bases itself upon the idea that what the youth of America are concerned about cannot be ignored by the American government. And what the American government are concerned about cannot be ignored by the rest of the world. So to give this issue worldwide attention, we create lots of demonstrations to get the message out. On top of that, we use the funding and the donations of people’s time. We have offices over in Uganda; we’re rebuilding 11 schools, which educate more than 8,000 kids. The buildings were condemned, and we’re rebuilding all of the structures, so that these kids can have a place to learn, and to thrive in school. And there are over 700 kids whose school dues we pay.
How would you like to see the rest of us contribute to Invisible Children?
The amazing thing is that the majority of what they ask is for people’s time, because it’s more valuable than money. And whether it’s going and volunteering in Uganda, or asking you to sit down for five minutes and think of an idea of how you can make a difference to these kids, they want to put people’s brainpower to work.
What are your charitable goals for the future?
I hope to be working with Invisible Children for a long time. And I know that once they end this 20-year war, which I think they will, then we would find another place where kids are unseen and need a voice.
What is the best health advice that anyone has ever given you?
My mom is a nurse, and she shared a lot of information with me at an early age. When I was 11, I wanted to be a vegetarian, because I never liked meat. And I think the best health advice my mom gave me was that I could do whatever I wanted, I just need to know what I was risking and what I needed. So she made me do research on what kind of vitamins and minerals I would be lacking, and how I could get them. A lot of vegetarians tend to just eat bread and pasta and not realize that they need zinc or iron. You usually just worry about protein, but that’s not the only thing you’re lacking. So I’m able to be a really healthy vegetarian because she educated me.
What do you do for relaxation?
Sit in a giant pile of dogs at my house. My cuddle time with my dogs invigorates me beyond belief. That and spending time with my friends one on one. The Los Angeles lifestyle tends to get very fast-paced. Sometimes sitting down and taking a deep breath is all the relaxation that I need.
Of the five senses, which do you value most and why?
Touch, because there’s nothing like a really good hug.
What’s your best health habit? Your worst?
My best is that I’m very active. I love being outside, and going hiking with my dogs. And not only does it make my body feel good, but it makes my mind feel good. Unfortunately that also allows me to indulge when I want to eat half of a cake, and I don’t have a lot of willpower in that department.
What is your personal health philosophy?
A lot of the stuff that I do is ingrained in me because of my mom. So just being aware of new medical studies, and not sinking into old habits. So much new medical information comes out each month. And when my mom has to renew her nursing license, she always shares new information with me. So I think keeping up to date is really important.
I also think that as much as I trust hospitals, I know how busy they can get. So I truly believe and would advise people to talk to the hospital advocate if they’re not feeling like they’re getting the treatment they deserve -- or if they want to feel more informed about having a surgery.
What disease or condition would you most like to see eradicated in your lifetime, and why?
I don’t know how I would narrow it down. I would have to say all of them, because I think we have the scientific capabilities.
If you were recovering in a hospital and you could have anyone, from any era, recovering next to you, who would it be?
Jesus, because I’ve got a couple of questions for him.
What would you ask him?
I think that’s between him and me.