Jillian Bell

Brittany Runs a Marathon is a terrific, surprising comedy that is about to receive a limited release in Australian cinemas.  While she was visiting Sydney, I had the chance to speak to star Jillian Bell about the film…

Matt:  Can you tell us how this script first came across your radar?

Jillian:  The script came to me a couple of years ago.  My manager sent it my way and knew I was looking to do something a little different and outside my comfort zone.  It was also an opportunity to step up and take on a leading role.  She told me it might be a little daunting but it would be super relatable.

On reading it, I laughed so hard out loud in some parts and was crying in other parts.  I immediately became protective of the character that I haven’t been before and so I desperately wanted to play her.  I’ve shared a lot of the struggles she goes through and knowing that I’m not alone, I felt others would want to see it too.

Matt:  I was reading that you lost 40 pounds as part of your preparation for the role?

Jillian:  It definitely connected me to the character better which is why I did it.  I wasn’t asked to lose weight.  While there were parts of the script that I could relate to, there were other parts I didn’t understand.  I felt if I went through it myself, I could better get into her headspace.  I threw on my own running shoes and started prepping by myself at first and then I got a trainer.

Matt:  Did your own personal experience with that weight loss shape the script from writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo?

Jillian:  There were a couple of things I told Paul that I’d experienced in my own life.  I had the script about 7 months before the shoot and so we were chatting weekly about every scene in the film.  Because we had to shoot the film in just 28 days, it was important for us to get on the same page and make sure we were saying the same thing.  It was also helpful that Paul was also the writer because we could then talk about what we were shooting.  There’s such a delicate balance to the subject matter of the film and we didn’t want to screw it up or have anything lost in translation.  We were constantly having creative conversations.

Matt:  It’s not right to criticise people because of their weight but at the same time, we do have growing issues with obesity and heart disease in society. How do you balance that up in determining the messages to take away from the movie?

Jillian:  I don’t think we ever had the goal of criticising people because of their weight.  We wanted to make a film that shows what it’s like to make any kind of a change in your life.  For this one, it happens to be a woman training for the New York City Marathon and she happens to be losing weight but it’s not the goal or the focus of the movie.

There are parts where Brittany loses her values and starts to focus in on the number on the scales but that’s her low point in the film.  For us, it’s about what happens when you change your life and showcasing how difficult that can be.  It’s not such an easy thing to make any change.  That was the most interesting thing to me.  It comes with real highs and real lows but if you put yourself first, in any regard in your life, it can be a beautiful thing.

Matt:  The film is about more than weight loss. I loved the exploration of the character and how Brittany pushes people away and wallows I’m self-pity. Was that a challenging side to the role?

Jillian:  Yeah.  That was the one thing that I struggled with.  I surround myself with people who I love dearly and want good things from my life.  I don’t know if I could survive in this world without that.  Life is tough enough as it is and hard to not have people who are rooting for you.

Matt:  The film had a great response when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the audience award for US dramatic film. Were you expecting such a strong response to the movie?

Jillian:  You always hope that people like the film but it was still a big surprise to me.  I was already back home at the time of the awards ceremony and I was watching it on my laptop while playing a game on my phone.  I didn’t think anything would happen and I didn’t even know Paul was still there.  When we won the audience award, I was screaming in my house and the dogs were jumping on me.

It was such an incredible moment because it’s the audience that really matters.  They’d seen all these different movies and they voted for our film to win.  Since that happened, the responses have been so amazing.  Having women and men come up and say “thank you for this movie… I finally feel seen”.  That’s been the best response.

Matt:  It’s great to have you in Australia and doing a few Q&As.  What’s the response been like since you’ve been here so far?

Jillian:  It’s been wonderful.  We’ve been doing a press junket for the past couple of days and one of the publicists was saying the audience reaction has been so strong with people relating their own stories.  I told her that it’s been like that throughout the whole process.

I’ve been part of press junkets before where the interviewers are mundane off camera and then get all excited on camera as they go “we’re live here with so and so…”  I almost want to stop the interview half way through and ask if they’re doing okay and want to talk about their own problems.   With this, people have been coming in and sharing their own stories and their own backgrounds.  It’s been lovely.

Matt:  You actually shot scenes during the New York City Marathon?

Jillian:  Without giving too much away, they were.  It was one of my top 10 days of my life.  Being a part of something that big and to be shooting in it with 50,000 people deciding to do the same thing with the same goal.  It was incredible.  We were all weeping that day.  We had a small crew of about 4-6 people the day of the marathon and I didn’t even have a microphone on.  It was really about nailing the look, the feel and the emotion of the marathon.  It was a day I’ll never forget.

Matt:  So did you get to the whole thing yourself or was it select bits for the camera?

Jillian:  Yeah, it was select bits.  We also had a cheat day where we recreated the marathon and used extras to film certain parts of the marathon.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by asking what are you working on next?

Jillian:  I’ve been doing a couple of smaller parts in movies such as El Tonto with Charlie Day and Bill & Ted Face the Music.  I just wrote a movie that I’m hoping to shoot next year.  That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to work on.

Matt:  Do a few more doors open up when you’ve got a film out like Brittany Runs a Marathon where you’re the lead and it’s putting bums on seats and making money?

Jillian:  It seems to be.  I’m taking that and running with it as much as I can.  I would love to create more content myself.  I’m working to produce more, to write and hopefully direct some day.