ON THE CASE: Bell as the titular character on TV's Veronica Mars
Everett Collection

Here’s the real measure of Bell’s winsome appeal: She persuaded more than 90,000 strangers to donate $5.7 million to fund a movie even though they hadn’t seen the script. Veronica Mars, an adaptation of Bell’s cult TV series about a teenage detective, is due in theaters this March as the highest-budgeted crowd-funded movie in history. For the 33-year-old, Veronica Mars is an opportunity to reprise the titular role that first showcased her facilities for comedy and drama. Not to mention her likability.

“I found my voice as an actor through Veronica Mars,” Bell tells American Way while sitting inside her trailer. “I found out what my strengths are. I’m pretty good at being snarky. I have that portion of my career cornered. I also realized that what I enjoy is that paradox between being really vulnerable and really sassy.”

In the neo-noir series, Bell played a plucky outcast who used her sleuthing skills, plus the occasional stakeout, to survive high school. If you’re thinking that sounds just like Nancy Drew, that’s only because you haven’t heard Veronica deliver lines such as, “I hope we’re still friends after I taser you.”

“You can’t fake smart,” says Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas. “Kristen is razor-sharp in real life, and that translates to the screen.”

The low-rated series, which ran from 2004 to 2007, was canceled despite an Internet campaign by its fervent fans (nicknamed “Marshmallows”). Yet Bell never lost faith that her signature character would return.

“I knew it in my bones,” Bell says. “The people who love it will not let it die. The ability to track its success through social media has been a great thing to watch because I get tweets all the time: ‘Got the DVDs from my sister. Loved it. Going to give it to my best friend.’ ”