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Actress Jillian Bell On Her Role In 'Brittany Runs A Marathon'


You know those moments every once in a while - you've had a bad day. Maybe you've had a bad year. And you decide, enough. I am taking charge. I am fixing my life. Well, the new movie "Brittany Runs A Marathon" is about one of those moments. You can probably guess from the title what the plan is. Brittany is going to get in shape. She's going to run a marathon and - voila - happily ever after. Well, that is not quite how things turn out.

Jillian Bell plays the Brittany character. Her agent sent her the script for "Brittany Runs A Marathon" with a caveat - you might relate to the character to the point where it might be a hard decision to make. And Jillian Bell told me she was apprehensive at first.

JILLIAN BELL: Every person's relationship with their body is very interesting. And sometimes, when people decide to write about that, it can be very insensitive. As I kept reading, I thought, what a beautiful message - to believe in yourself and to decide to put yourself first. It was the movie I would - wanted to see when I was 13 years old.

KELLY: I mean, to give people just a little taste of the plot, Brittany is in her late 20s. She's not loving her job. She has not met the love of her life. She goes to her doctor, and he says...


PATCH DARRAGH: (As Dr. Falloway) Your resting heart rate is elevated. Your blood pressure is very high, especially for a 28-year-old. For you, I'm worried about fatty liver disease.

BELL: (As Brittany) Oh, even my liver's fat.

DARRAGH: (As Dr. Falloway) Let's get you healthy - diet, exercise. I want you to try losing between 45 and 55 pounds.

BELL: (As Brittany) That's the weight of a Siberian husky. You want me to pull a medium-sized working dog off of my body. Is that right?

KELLY: And so she kind of thinks about it and decides to go for a run.

BELL: Yeah, she's going there for a very different reason. She's going there to score Adderall, and she's sort of a party girl. And then she's hit with these health concerns from her doctor, and she has to figure out what she wants to do with her life, ultimately. You know, it's one of those awakening moments, and it's hard. It's a hard moment. And I've been to the doctor. I've had those moments, and it's a bit of a reality check.

KELLY: Yeah. So you, Jillian Bell - you were not a runner.

BELL: I was not a runner, no.

KELLY: But you started running to take this role.

BELL: Yes. I - well, I figured I'd have to run a lot when it came to shooting. But...

KELLY: Maybe you shouldn't do it first with the cameras rolling. So...

BELL: Yeah.

KELLY: I mean, how'd you go about it?

BELL: I'm like, that can't be the first time.

KELLY: Yeah.

BELL: I - well, I decided to do it on my own at first because I thought it was important to sort of see the things I was doing naturally, the mistakes I was making. I had my sister videotape me when I first started running - and just seeing just little mistakes you make as a first-time runner. But...

KELLY: But you were brave. You did - even if it was your sister's camera, you had somebody filming the first time.

BELL: Yeah, I did. I did. I mean, I trust her more than anyone in my life. But still, there's video proof of me not being a great athlete. And I wanted to take on her physical journey, so I lost 40 pounds. I lost 29 pounds before we started shooting and 11 pounds while we were filming.

KELLY: I read you lost so much that by the time they started shooting, they had to use prosthetics to make you look like the Brittany in the early scenes.

BELL: They did. They did, which I thought, you know - it's always hard 'cause you want to show the real thing because people have a hard time with prosthetics and bodysuits. You know, they're like, well, what are you saying? And everyone gets very sensitive, as they should. But we shot this in 28 days, so it was impossible for me to do the entire physical journey while we were shooting.

KELLY: There's a scene. It's in New York, just outside of Brittany's apartment as she's trying to psych herself up to take that very first run - like, literally move her feet and take the first steps.


BELL: (As Brittany) One block, one block.

KELLY: I mean, it's funny because running is something, obviously, we all know how to do. We've done it since we were toddlers. But you capture that moment of just how hard it is.

BELL: Yeah - deciding to put yourself out there, especially out in public. Exercising can be kind of a triggering thing for a lot of people. I know when I was exercising, even when I had the trainer, I would break down and cry in the gym because I said, I know that I'm not doing it the way that other people can do this. And it makes me really - it - I felt very vulnerable. I related to her even more because when I first read the script, I thought, oh, someone's bugging me. Like, these are things I've said to myself - some of the lines Brittany has throughout the film.

KELLY: Like what?

BELL: Well, there's certain things that she just goes through that I'm like, yes, I've been there, and I've said all of these things about myself. And I don't want to talk about myself in such a negative way anymore. It really opened my eyes to the way I was thinking or the jokes that I would make before someone else could say them, even though no one ever said them. It's just a defense mechanism.

KELLY: Yeah. Your character is very real in that she is no angel. She can be really mean. There's a scene - really hard-to-watch scene where she confronts an overweight woman at a party.


BELL: (As Brittany) I'm having a conversation with a nice overweight woman.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Stop it.

BELL: (As Brittany) Her BMW is high or whatever - the chart. There's a chart.

KELLY: I mean, I just wonder what that was like to shoot and how you thought about letting that just sit with the audience and feel just really uncomfortable to watch.

BELL: It's definitely the hardest thing I'll ever have to shoot. I struggled with my own body issues. And I met with the actress, Sarah Bolt, who plays Jasmine. And I sat with her in her trailer for a couple hours before we had to shoot. I asked for the time because I thought it was important, and we talked about why this scene is necessary and this projection of - this character puts on and how it has nothing to do with this woman who is very happy and living her life but how it's important for us to see that Brittany has only worked on her outsides and not her insides. And a lot of times, in these type of movies, we don't address that. We think that people lose weight, and then their life is just perfect.

KELLY: What do you say to people watching - especially a lot of women watching - who will look at your before body onscreen and see themselves and who will not, over the two hours of this movie, have emerged and gone through a huge physical transformation? What do you want them to take away?

BELL: I want them to know that, for me, you can be happy and beautiful at any size. Now, there's a lot of things that deal with weight in this movie. If someone feels like they are healthy and they're happy in whatever size that is - whether it be thin or bigger or whatever - I just want women to know, like, you should feel happy with yourself. For Brittany, she was struggling with her health, and she decided to do something about it.

KELLY: And for you - what will you take away from having lived this onscreen and in real life?

BELL: I think it was therapeutic. I think it made me look at what was important to me. And how do I speak to myself? And how can I be kinder to myself on this journey? - because the amount of people that are relating to this, both men and women, is unbelievable to me. And it just makes me feel like I'm not alone.

KELLY: Jillian Bell - she is star of the new movie "Brittany Runs A Marathon."

Thanks so much.

BELL: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TREMOR'S "CARACOL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.