NEW YORK — Minnie Driver is the definition of well-rounded.
So curious and versatile that a lunchtime interview with her crosses any number of topical boundaries, from Kim Kardashian to grief to baby smells to toddler manners (or lack thereof) to paparazzi to Kristen Bell.
"Lovely Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. She is a force of nature. She's a really amazing woman," Driver says. "She has a great energy about her, and the two of them together have one of my favorite relationships. They're so mad about each other, and they have so much humor. I would not bet against them."
She's referring to Bell's crusade against the photographers who pursue celebrity offspring for lucrative photos. But she could just as well be describing herself. Driver, 44, is intelligent, intuitive and empathetic enough to tackle a subject most parents shy away from, for good reason: stillbirth.
In Return to Zero, premiering Saturday (8 p.m. ET/PT) on Lifetime, Driver plays a pregnant woman whose baby dies in her belly. People have asked Driver why, why, why she'd want to play that woman.
So, then, why?
"I am a fundamentally better person for having had my son, no matter what. And this was the worst thing I could ever think about. This was the one thing we don't talk about," she says. "We watch all manner of horror porn. But death is not a part of our culture. But it's a part of life. This is a hard story because it's a hard story. It doesn't mean it shouldn't be told. Go ahead and apply your humanity, actor, go ahead and tell a story that's hard."
She filmed it in Los Angeles, and at night, she would come home and sit in son Henry's bedroom, inhaling his scent as he was sleeping. And she thought about how random life was, how people dealt with things they never thought they could handle.
"People survive loss — not just survive but carry on living in a beautiful meaningful way. It's OK to get over it," Driver says. "There is so much guilt associated with getting better as their lives carry, the guilt at laughing at a joke."
She remembers when her own father died, and it was Henry, now 5 (and her dog), who helped her deal.
"On the days you can't quite catch your breath because there's nothing you can say to change it — I have to get him up and get his knickers on and get his T-shirt on," she says. "Just that practical everydayness, if you keep doing it enough, eventually you have enough days, and you're walking forward."
And then there's her close friend Natascha McElhone, a British actress who went through her own tragedy in 2008. "She was pregnant with her third child. Her husband put his key in the door and dropped dead," Driver says. "She went back to work the next day. It was her way of coping. Who's to say how people do it? They just do it."
But it's all doom and gloom and deep thoughts over here. Driver is also one of the leads in NBC's hit comedy About a Boy (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT), something that makes her very, very happy. Suddenly, her live has become smaller, in the best way possible — and the show was just renewed for another season.
"The fact that Universal is six minutes from my house — I cannot tell you. Proximity is everything. I can do the shopping and pick Henry up from school. I feel, for the first time in my entire career, I have the first iteration of what it means to have a normal life, and it is absolutely fantastic," she says. "I love that his backyard is the back lot of Universal. He's in my life, and I want him to be part of that in a functional way."
That's another reason that Driver so admires Bell — the way she has decided to manage her life now that she's a mom. Driver has long kept parts of her own life secret, just recently revealing that Henry's father was a writer on her show The Riches.
Driver says she is appalled by what she calls the "Kardashianization" of children of the famous, of putting them in magazine spreads and on reality shows, of using them to promote your films and clothing lines. And she regrets the few times she showed Henry's photo during TV interviews. On the one hand, Driver says, she wanted to share her mommy pride with the world. On the other hand, he never asked to be the son of someone famous.
"(The paparazzi) get us walking around Malibu. It's so frightening, that kind of attention, that sustained attention," she says. "I don't want Henry to think that's OK. He thinks I'm famous because I'm his mummy. Of course people love me, because he loves me. He's only seen (1999's) Tarzan that I was in, so it hasn't quite connected. It's hard to explain the negative stuff."
But we're not betting against her, either.