The Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, a sceney restaurant in midtown Manhattan, is closed, but the maître d’ lets Lake Bell in anyway. His name is Fluke, which Bell finds highly entertaining: You’re Fluke? Like the fish? I’m Lake! We could. . . After deciding against taking a table (she doesn’t want to disturb the staff), Bell makes her way to nearby Bouchon, where the waiter gives her carte blanche with his pepper mill. “I get nervous, you know—you might put on too much,” she explains, smiling. He says he knows, and hands it to her. Bell grinds it over her Bibb salad (hold the Gorgonzola). “So now I’m a control freak,” she says mock-defensively. Well, yes, but thanks to the 29-year-old actress’s raven hair and a body that looks like it was made for the leggings she’s wearing—without a skirt—she can get away with it.

Add to Bell’s charms that she loves fast cars (her father is an amateur race-car driver), has something of a dirty mouth (her rundown of drama-school memories includes being forced to “look like a fucking asshole”), and gravitates toward characters that aren’t exactly buttoned-up. “I’m always having sex in stuff,” says Bell, a native New Yorker. She had some steamy scenes with James Spader during her two-year stint on Boston Legal and with Paul Rudd in last winter’s comedy Over Her Dead Body. In What Happens in Vegas, which came out in May and costars Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz, Bell has a tawdry make-out session with Daily Show regular Rob Corddry. The two knocked vases over as they went at it, and Corddry’s chest, which Bell describes as “awesomely hairy,” sustained a cut. At one point, her foot ended up on his head. “There are probably some things on the cutting-room floor that are a little too much for [an] R rating,” she says.

Her mother and brother will not be pleased—“Luke, sorry,” she whispers, leaning in close to the tape recorder. But Bell is accustomed to family controversy: After she finished high school, her parents wanted her to attend a liberal-arts college; she wanted to “get to L.A. and go be an actress.” They compromised and Bell spent four years studying drama at Rose Bruford College in London. Since then she’s worked steadily; she’ll appear in the soon-to-be-released indie film Still Waters and in Pride and Glory, out in 2009, in which she plays Colin Farrell’s wife. Lately she’s been trying her hand at writing and producing. Her first project is Not Our Class Dear, a forthcoming film about a Wasp who learns he might be Jewish. She expects to find herself apologizing to her family once again. “It’s a comedy about the Upper East Side,” Bell says. “I grew up there, so there’s stuff I don’t think my parents will be very proud about.”