CS Interview: Jillian Bell talks Brittany Runs a Marathon
After years of supporting roles and voice work, Jillian Bell has become a mainstay of modern comedy, appearing in shows like Workaholics, Eastbound & Down and American Dad!, along with feature roles in 22 Jump Street and Inherent Vice, and more. Now, Bell is stepping into the spotlight with Brittany Runs a Marathon, a film about a woman who reluctantly decides to turn her life around by running, eventually training for the marathon — as the title indicates.
Inspired by real-life events, Bell spoke with ComingSoon about the arduous physical and emotional task of taking on the role in the Amazon dramedy, her Facebook Watch animated series Human Discoveries, and her big year for animated voice work.
I was just watching one of the Bob’s Burgers episodes you’re in.
Oh my gosh. That was so much fun to do. I’ve done Bob’s a couple of times now.
As two different characters. A rare accomplishment.
I know! Very happy to be part of that show.
So, how did Brittany Runs a Marathon first cross your path?
When my manager sent me the script, I’d been looking to do something a little out of the box. She read it and said, ‘You’re going to fall in love with the script. Read the first 10 pages and then keep going, because there was a lot that you’ll be, you know, unsure of what the messaging is.’ And also, ‘You might relate to a lot of things, but keep going is the theme of the movie is beautiful.’ I read it and I cried and I laughed a lot and I just fell deeply in love with her and wanted to tell her story.
I know that runners can have a tendency to be almost cult-like in their dedication to the craft. How deep into the world of running did you have to go?
I was not a runner myself and I looked up on Pinterest, actually, how to start. There was something called From Couch to 5k and I just thought, ‘Well, that’s probably the easiest way to start.’ And we’d go for runs around my neighborhood. I had my sister tape me, just so that I could see how I was holding my body and my posturing. And I actually wore the wrong shoes the first time I went on a run.
Was that on purpose? That seems like a Brittany thing.
No! I just thought for good while that I was wearing the right shoes. And apparently, I was not. It was just figuring out the little things that I did, and I wanted to do it on my own and see how hard it was. I eventually got a trainer as we got closer to shooting and then a trainer that helped me specifically with running. He trains marathon runners, and he showed me how I’d be pulling my body differently if it was my first run versus me running for like a year and a half.
Then I decided I wanted to do the physical journey that she goes through, as far as her weight loss. I lost 40 pounds on my own. It informed me so much of who she was and what she went through during that journey because I related to her so much when I read the script initially, but I understood her even more deeply after I did the physical aspect.
That’s a seriously impressive commitment to the role.
Yeah, it was intense. But it really did connect me to her. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of work. But I definitely started running for real.
Is that Brittany rubbing off on you a little?
I do still enjoy going on runs. I don’t do it as much as I was doing it for prep for this film, but it does, but it does help me unwind. And It helps my brain a lot.
How was balancing the emotional weight of acting with the physical demand of the role?
I went back and remembered emotionally what was happening for me when I was going through that in my real life. It, it really resonated. A lot of the scripts, was like, ‘Oh, this actually does happen when you start to run too much ,or you can be injured and then you have to work on your own mental health and rely on that to get you through, because running, in general, is just such a head game. Your brain will constantly tell you you did enough. ‘That’s enough. You can stop now. You’ve done more than other people today.’
There’s a running conversation about how smaller films are fairing at the box office against giant franchises, and how streaming is becoming a better way to get them out. You’re doing a theatrical release, but you’ve also got Amazon behind it.
We were definitely lucky to get Amazon as a partner in the film. We’re doing them as a slow build [theatrical release], basically. I think we’re only coming out in three theaters in LA in four theaters in New York — or reversed. Something like that. Then the next week, a lot more, and then the weekend after that a lot more. So we’re just seeing if this works. I just know that we’re so proud of this film and we really hope people go out to this theater and see it.
That was the same strategy Amazon used with The Big Sick a couple of years ago, another off-center film, and that turned out pretty well.
There is definitely seems like there’s more willingness to tell stories like this one that are offbeat, but still relatable. Again, not a runner, and this film probably scared me off to it even more..
I think people can relate to how hard it is to make a big change in your life. Everyone knows what it feels like to feel like you’re not moving forward or you’re stuck in a moment in your life and you want to take the next steps and how scary that can be, but how rewarding it can be as well if you just really connect to it.
And this is a very different telling of the transformation type of film. It doesn’t just say, like, ‘She went for a run and it was easy and she committed to it and she did it. It was like, ‘Oh, there’s ups and downs and there’s a real emotional journey here as well, stuff that she doesn’t realize, she has to um, do sort of, um, a, a lot of work on her, on her insides as well as her outside. That’s what I loved about the story.
You’re also voicing Minerva on the Facebook Watch cartoon Human Discoveries.
I love it so much. it was one of my most favorite jobs to do. We would just go in there and laugh. And I would always linger way too long when I would do my recording sessions because I just really enjoy the little crew over there.
Do you get to record with the whole cast or are you on your own?
No, it was solo recording, but we did a lot of table reads. It was really nice at the beginning because you know how you would use something, but sometimes it switches when you’re around other people and the tone might be different than you’re thinking. So it was nice to all get in a room together and read them out loud. We were just laughing so hard at the material. It’s really, really funny.
Do you know if there are more episodes in the future?
I have not heard yet, but I would love to do another season. I just think their episodes are so funny and topical, weirdly, for being from like caveman days. It’s so funny how they’ve taken things that are totally within our daily lives and exploring them and how they would go about them back then.
There’s also a lot to respect in terms of it getting some historical accuracy in the broad strokes. Like how to keep tigers away. That’s rare in any show.
It makes it interesting to try and improvise within as well. Certain things you’d say and they’d be like, ‘Well, would they know that yet? I think I said, ‘Oh my god’ at one point they’re like, ‘Well, I don’t know. Have they discovered god yet? Just little things that you’re like, ‘Oh, right, yeah, we have to keep on top of that.’ Or they do, more importantly. It really has been such a joy. Our cast is so incredible too.
You’ve got more animation on the way too, with Bless the Harts and Green Eggs and Ham.
Those are the biggest releases. I loved getting to do so much animation this year. I’m really excited for Bless the Harts, because out coming on after The Simpsons. You know, that little show called The Simpsons. We’re so excited.
I suppose that show has carved out a little niche for itself over the past few decades.
Yeah, they managed to do pretty well for themselves. To be after them, I mean… I’m so thrilled to be a part of it and also thrilled because Emily Spivey, who created it, is just a brilliant writer and I can’t wait for more people to see her work.
Brittany Runs a Marathon is starting its theatrical run today!
(Photo by Leon Bennett/FilmMagic)