Jillian Bell on Brittany Runs A Marathon, the importance of female led stories and embracing your own self-image.
Brittany Runs A Marathon is one of my favorite films of the year. It is funny, full of hope, and inspirational. The film features a star making performance for Jillian Bell, who before this role, was always known as the plucky comic relief side character. In this film, she plays Brittany, who is struggling to get her shit together and turn her life around. I saw this film at Sundance and I have been able to stop raving about it since.
I recently got a chance to chat with Jillian Bell about the film and tell her personally how much I adored it. We spoke for about fifteen minutes and while some of that time was me repeating to her how much I loved the film and her in the role, we did talk about the film and how important of a story it is.
Scott Menzel: Hey, Jillian.
Jillian Bell: Hi, how are you?
Scott Menzel: Good, how you doing?
Jillian Bell: I’m good, I’m doing really good.
Scott Menzel: I have to tell you how much I love and adore this movie, and how much I love and adore you in it.
Jillian Bell: Oh, my gosh, thank you so much, what a compliment.
Scott Menzel: This is just a film that you don’t see very often nowadays. It’s something that hits all the right notes, and is a star-making movie for you, and I hope nothing but great things to come to you after this film.
Jillian Bell: That is so nice of you to say. It’s different than a lot of things out in the theaters, huh?
Scott Menzel: Absolutely, I was talking to Paul earlier, and we were just talking about that. It’s like, I don’t feel this kind of emotion when I see The Lion King remake.
Jillian Bell: Well, maybe but yeah, it is a different kind of storytelling, and I credit that all to Paul.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, it’s fantastic. Have you been to Sundance before?
Jillian Bell: You know what, I actually haven’t. I hadn’t been to Sundance. I’ve never been to any other film festival before. This is my first time going, and after we had a pretty good reception, I looked to one of the producers, Matt, and he said, “Don’t ever come back to Sundance, because this is the best it will ever go for you.” And I said, “I’m gathering that this is not what always happens.” And we just had the best time.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, it’s funny, because I was there for the world premiere for this. I’m actually the person who actually filmed the Q&A that’s on YouTube.
Jillian Bell: Oh, my gosh, that’s so wonderful. It’s good to talk to you again.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I really loved this, but I mean, what was that like for you, to be in that 1,200 seat theater, to see everyone so emotional and just get that kind of response from something that you poured your heart and soul into?
Jillian Bell: It was unreal. We did, we poured everything into this. Paul and I, especially, but everyone that was involved, we all put so much into it. And to see people understand the film and get it and get what we were going for, it made everything. And I was so nervous right before it. I remember because that theater, the Eccles, correct?
Scott Menzel: Yeah. The Eccles Theater.
Jillian Bell: It’s in a high school. And so, I was sitting outside this theater before we were called to go in. And everybody was in the green room, and I was sitting outside. And the classes were coming out. Everybody was filing out into the hallway, and I was looking. There’s a bunch of teenagers changing and getting their books out of their lockers, and I was just like, “This is such a weird moment in my life that could either go very well, or very poorly.” And I was just like, “Life is a funny thing.” But thank goodness it went alright. And we were really so happy that people were into the movie.
Scott Menzel: As I said, when we opened this conversation, this really is a career-making performance for you, and I really only see you getting more and more incredible roles out of this. So kudos to you.
Jillian Bell: Thank you, that’s so nice of you to say.
Scott Menzel: There’s so much to talk about with this film, but I think one of the biggest topics the film embraces is a personal struggle with self-image, which I really think is so relatable to almost everyone. Can you talk a little bit about that? Normally, I hate going into the more personal questions with interviews, but I feel this movie is open to that.
Jillian Bell: Of course, of course. Well, when I first read the script, I was terrified about it, but I was like, “I don’t want anyone else to play it, because I relate to this character so much, and I want to protect her, and I want to make sure that the story is done right” Not that anyone else would have handled it in a totally wonderful way, but I think I just knew her. I felt like I was her at times.
And I’ve had moments that are directly cut from that movie. I mean, I’ve had moments in my own life, where I’ve said, “Well, I’ve said that negative thing about myself, or told that lie.” And I think it’s a very personal subject matter, and to tell that, you have to know the intention of every single moment in it.
There can’t be one area where we improvise something, and it was funny, but it wasn’t what the theme of the movie was. I mean, Paul had to be on top of every part of that, and so did I, and I think we did. I think we told the story and how truly crazy it can be when you make such a big life decision, how you set a goal to do something that seems almost impossible, and then trying to go for that. And also, talks about the relationships women have with their bodies and how sometimes we equate weight loss with being happy and being better and being perfect. And that is the wrong message.
And I think so many transformation films have told the story of a person gets thinner and their life is better. And this is the opposite of that story, and what really drew me to want to make this film.
Scott Menzel: Woah that was a great frigging answer.
Jillian Bell: Thank you so much.
Scott Menzel: So, part of the conversation that I had with Paul was about how he thought that females would connect with this movie. But what he was somewhat taken back by the fact that so many males are also connecting with this movie and connecting with your character. Did you think one way or the other when you were going in, or were you just thinking of, “I’m just doing this because it’s part of who I am?”
Jillian Bell: I definitely related to the character and the story, and I thought it was something that as a woman, I thought other women would like to see, and I thought younger girls might want to see it too. As a young girl, I would go to movies with my dad every Sunday, and you see a lot of stories from a male perspective. And I feel like this kind of a story is told in such a way that you’re laughing, you’re crying, but the character is so real and raw, and it shows the ups and downs that come with this kind of a life change
For me, I think not all women, but some women, most women, maybe relate to that and know what it’s like to have different bodies throughout your whole life. And I don’t want to use the word, surprise, but for lack of a better word, surprise me that so many men did relate to the story and came up to both me and Paul and some of the other members of the cast and said, “That was my story.” Or, “This scene in particular happened with me and brother.”
It was so wonderful, because I do feel that a lot of times women put themselves in the male perspective, because a lot of stories are told from that point of view. And it’s so wonderful when men do the same for women. I think that’s so great. A lot of men have told me, this doesn’t feel just like a story about one woman. This feels like a story about me. It feels like a story about my dad, it feels like a story about someone I work with, a male coworker.” And I think that’s wonderful. I think that’s wonderful when more people can relate to something than just what maybe was initially a target audience, and I love that.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I think the message in the movie and every single one of these characters in some way, shape or form are very relatable. The theme of this movie I think is universal, because, yes, you can take that Brittany Runs a Marathon, but you can take the marathon out of it and just apply it to something else, and it would still work. And I think that’s what’s so special about it.
Jillian Bell: Yeah, it can be as simple as making a phone call to set up a doctor’s appointment. That’s someone’s marathon, you know? It can be having a difficult conversation with your boss. Whatever it is, big, or small, we all have these things that we’re trying to overcome or make better version of ourselves in whatever form. And I think that’s what resonates with people when they see this film.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, it’s such powerful stuff. One of the most powerful scenes in this movie is a scene where you’re with Lil Rel Howery (Demetrius in the film) and you’re sitting around the table having dinner. You begin to fat shame one of Demetrius’ friends, the wife. And then Demetrius and you have this conversation about being mean and not letting people support you. How the hell did you pull that scene off? Because I hated your character in that moment but completely understood where she was coming from.
Jillian Bell: Well, if you’re human, hopefully you’ll do both. Hopefully, you can see where she’s coming from and know that it comes from a place of self-hatred and not anything to do with this woman. And hopefully, you do hate her a little bit, but you know what? If we didn’t have that type of a scene in the movie, the scenes wouldn’t come through as hard.
I think that a scene like that is necessary, because a lot of people see her, “Oh, you’re running, you’re losing weight, and now you’re better or good now.” And what they don’t realize is that if you don’t fix yourself mentally and emotionally that you need to do that. That’s a big part of this journey. And a lot of time in transformation stories, they don’t talk about that, about how difficult it is to realize that you may be working on the outside, but you have not worked on the inside at all.
I also think as an audience too, if you’re watching the film and at the beginning of the movie you’re thinking certain things about Brittany, or how she looks, you’re seeing that moment come out of her mouth, and it’s disgusting. But it’s really a part of what being a human is about, you have terrible moments, and that the people around you hopefully realize that’s a projection, and that Brittany has to come around. And she has to deal with how she feels about her own self, and then apologize to this woman for being a little bit of a monster. We’re flawed as humans, and I think that’s the perfect scene to showcase that.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, it’s literally my favorite and least favorite scene in the movie, just because it’s so real and so honest. Ok, so final question, I remember at Sundance you guys were talking about how you actually got to partake in the New York City Marathon, and this was one of the first films to ever film there, is that correct?
Jillian Bell: Yes, that’s true, that’s true. It was an unbelievable experience. Getting to witness all these people that were working so hard and making their dreams come true. I mean, that’s a pretty big goal to accomplish. And to be able to sit there or run there, and watch everyone doing this in real time, it’s a moment I will never ever forget. I feel very lucky to have been there and seen it firsthand.
Scott Menzel: Well, thank you so very much. I’m going to continue to promote this film and try to spread the love for it as much as I can.
Jillian Bell: Oh, please do, thank you. I really appreciate that. Good to talk with you again.
Scott Menzel: You as well. Bye, bye.
Brittany Runs A Marathon opens in Los Angeles and New York this weekend.