When Jillian Bell’s manager sent her the script for Brittany Runs a Marathon, she told her client, “I know you’ve been looking for something different. I think this might be it.” She warned Bell that she was “going to be very nervous” reading it because it may hit “too close to home,” but told her to keep reading because it could be “amazing.”
“I read it and had that reaction,” the comedic actress, best known for stealing scenes in films like 22 Jump Street, tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I was laughing, but then I was crying. And there were certain lines where it was like, I’ve said that to myself. And I immediately was so scared of it when I finished but I also thought, I don’t want anyone else playing this.”
The title character in first-time writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s new film, which hits theaters on Aug. 23, is inspired by his real-life best friend Brittany, who really did decide to run the New York City Marathon as a way to break out of the unhealthy funk she was in as she approached 30.
Watch an exclusive clip from Brittany Runs a Marathon below:
“I’m not going to be your fat best friend anymore,” Brittany tells her roommate at one point. She’s talking about her role in their friendship, but it’s a sentiment that Bell says could also apply to the types of roles she’s been asked to play on screen.
“I like to play a lot of odd women,” Bell says. “But this woman was layered in a way that was funny at times and breaks your heart at times and sometimes you want to strangle her because she’s doing the wrong thing. I don’t get those kinds of roles.”
Until she did.
As excited as Bell was to land her first leading role in a film, she says she was “terrified” because she knew she would be asked about her own relationship to her body in interviews. She also knew these were conversations that needed to happen.
On the physical transformation she had to undergo for the role
“It was a lot. It was the first movie I’ve ever been attached to seven months before we started shooting. Physically, I obviously had to start running. And I’d never been a runner. I wanted to start running on my own at first without getting a trainer. Because in the movie, she starts off on her own and has no idea what she’s doing. And then I decided on my own—no one asked me to do this—but I wanted to do the physical journey she does throughout the film, so I lost 40 pounds. I lost 29 pounds before we started shooting and then I lost 11 pounds during shooting. I just felt like it connected me more to the material. But emotionally, too, I went through a lot. There are things that she was experiencing that I had experienced. And it showcases what not all, but most women go through. We have an interesting relationship with our bodies. But there were definitely things that I was scared to go into, because I didn’t know if it would be therapeutic or if I would go into a little spiral. It turned out that maybe both happened after shooting, but in a good way. It was stuff that I needed to examine within my own life.”
On the controversial conversation around ‘fat-shaming’
“That is such a big conversation and I believe in body positivity and I love when women are like, I am bigger and I feel really great about myself and that’s how they should feel. I think it is different when a doctor is saying, there’s some unhealthy habits here and I’m worried for your health. And then there’s the difference of having a friend in your life who says, I think you’d look better if you lost weight. Those are two completely different things. Usually in transformation stories it’s like, someone loses weight and then their life is great and they get the job and the guy and that’s the end of the movie! This felt different. When she loses weight, she struggles with her insides. We never talk about the emotional journey of those types of characters.”
On getting called in to audition for the ‘fat best friend’
“It is typically a role that sometimes I would get called in for. Sometimes it wouldn’t be so on the nose, sometimes it would just be like ‘a woman surrounded by cats who has never experienced romantic love.’ And I was like, but I have experienced romantic love. And I know that you play characters that are different from you but I was like, this is what you guys all see me as and that is sort of a bummer. Usually those characters come in to encourage the lead to go for the job or the guy and then walk out and say, like, ‘Who took the last bagel?’ and leave. And I have played that character before.”
How she pitched the gender-swapped ‘Splash’ remake with Channing Tatum
“I went to Channing and had a meeting with him and his production company because we wanted to work together again [after 22 Jump Street]. It’s funny when you meet people and are like, we are similar. We just like to make each other laugh and there’s no drama there, you just want to keep working with them. So we sat down and I came up with a few ideas. Some were very stupid, some were crazy. And we started talking about Channing playing a character who’s discovering the world for the first time. He really loves the movie Elf. And we were talking about movies that did that well and we started talking about Splash and we were like, what if we did Splash? And we couldn’t stop laughing about it and then we sort of got serious and we were like, ‘What if we did Splash?’ And we just thought that would be interesting, doing a role reversal. I would play the Tom Hanks character, which I mean, I always want to play Tom Hanks characters.”
Did she have any reservations about appearing in ‘The Bare Midriff’ episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm?’
“Yes! Are you kidding me? I was terrified by it. I was like, what do I do here? And I sort of just thought, this is an incredible opportunity. I mean, to have my second job be this guest star on Curb Your Enthusiasm. And I loved improvising, I loved the show and I was sort of like, well, what if she owns it? Because that’s the good thing about the show, you can improvise whatever you want, you can create whatever character you want. So I was like, what if she’s really happy with her body and she’s proud of how she looks? And that’s the way I felt good about doing it.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan.