“I don’t think you can ever come into a part that is seemingly the antagonist and, as the actor, believe that they’re bad,” Bell says of her character. “You have to look for the reasons why Nikki thinks what she’s doing is right. She’s just more entitled than everyone else. She’s had it easy, she’s also worked very hard to get where she is, and she’s going to defend her territory. Nikki doesn’t think she’s bitchy. She thinks she’s trying to cope with everyone around her.”
Much of Nikki’s protectiveness and insecurity is wrapped up in her relationship with Tess (Cher), the owner of the Burlesque Lounge. Bell explains: “Nikki admires Tess so much. Tess is this beautiful, gorgeous, talented woman who owns this club and who gave Nikki her start. She allowed Nikki to dance, and they have been friends for a long, long time. When Ali (Christina Aguilera) weasels her way into the relationship and Nikki’s no longer the favorite, it really makes her angry.”
Playing bad has its charms, especially for someone who typically finds herself playing good. “It’s fun to play the mean girl,” Bell says. “There are fewer rules. You can do what you want because bad people don’t have much of a conscience.”
In a confrontation between Nikki and Tess, Bell had to dive right into one of her most dramatic scenes mere moments after meeting Cher. “Shooting the parking lot scene was kind of bizarre because I hadn’t known Cher at that point,” Bell recalls. “We both knew this was a pivotal point in our relationship, so it had to be good and it had to be real. We sat down and talked first and we said, ‘Obviously we’re best friends. We’ve had a million movie nights where I’ve burnt the popcorn and you’ve made gin and tonics and we’ve painted each other’s nails and you’re my idol and I’m your protégé and this has been going on for years and this is how it works and tonight’s the night of our break-up.’”
Despite the level of fame Cher and Aguilera brought to the production, Bell found her work environment to be exceptionally supportive. “They’re both so down-to-earth, which I hate to say is surprising, but it was,” Bell recalls. “You don’t know what kind of personality someone’s going to have when they’re that iconic, but they’re both lovely and so much fun to work with and so blunt and easy to be around. It’s become like a really nice family, kind of like these girls actually have at this burlesque club.”
Bell held her own with Aguilera and the team of seasoned dancers. “They danced with Michael Jackson and they dance with Beyoncé. These girls are the best of the best. You would think that it might be a giant catfight with this many women, but it’s not. It’s such a supportive environment. I’m very much trying to keep up with them in the dance department. I can pull one aside and say, ‘Can you show me that step again?’ They’re ready and willing to make it the best it can be,” Bell says.