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Brittany Runs a Marathon
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon StudiosBrittany Runs a Marathon

Jillian Bell makes the leap to serious with Brittany Runs a Marathon

A buzzy title out of Sundance, the comedy-drama concerns a New Yorker who's tired of being the “fat best friend.”

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf

From childhood on, Jillian Bell’s dream was to come to New York and get a job on Saturday Night Live. Not so surprisingly (she’s immensely talented), this dream actually came to pass in 2009. She was hired—as a writer. “I sort of mourned it over two weeks,” Bell tells me at Soho’s Crosby Street Hotel, smiling because she knows she’s had the last laugh. After stealing scenes in 22 Jump Street and Rough Night, Bell now stars in Brittany Runs a Marathon, the kind of foray into drama that every SNL alum wants.

The first time I saw you was in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where you played Maureen, the assistant with the revealing crop top.
Yes! It was my second job ever. I thought about whether or not to take it. Obviously, I’m very happy I did. But I did think: What are we saying here? When I did the audition, I played it as this woman who felt very good about herself. And in that way, I thought: What’s the harm in this? I’m just showing off what my body naturally is, and being confident about it.

These were probably good instincts to have for Brittany Runs a Marathon.
I was instantly protective of Brittany. From my own experience, I know what it’s like to be chosen for certain roles based on how you look. But this film’s actually saying something—and I respect what it’s saying.

The movie is hard on fake friends.
As it should be. I think it’s good to explore—especially in our 20s and 30s—which friendships feed you and which ones make you feel exhausted after you’ve hung out for even just an hour.

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Brittany Runs a Marathon
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Did the shoot require you to train and get in better shape?
I did start running. They never asked me to do it. I just thought it would help me connect some of the dots that were missing. I wanted to get closer to the character. There were parts of the script where I was like: Is my iPhone listening to me right now? I’ve said these things out loud about myself.

So you De Niro–ed it. This is your Raging Bull.
Yes, it’s my inner De Niro coming out. No, I don’t think I lost weight the way Robert De Niro did. I did the let’s-look-this-up-on-Pinterest method of how you start running.

Is exercise a part of your real life?
It is. Not as much now as it was during the shoot. I love it. [Pause, laughs] To say I “love” it—I don’t want to go that far. But it makes me feel better. It makes my brain feel better. It’s hard to push yourself sometimes.

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Brittany Runs a Marathon
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Unlike most actors of your generation, you can say you’ve been in two Paul Thomas Anderson films: The Master and Inherent Vice.
Wild, right? It blows my mind. When I met Paul for the first time, he came up to me and said, “I’m a big fan of Workaholics.” Who would have guessed? He’s a comedy nerd, I think.

What did you learn on his sets?
Honestly, I hadn’t taken a lot of acting classes. I think I took one when I moved to L.A., and thought it was weird. So I remember going to The Master set and watching the first day. Philip Seymour Hoffman was doing a speech over and over again—it was a wedding toast. I’m just sitting there, drinking fake champagne, watching Philip Seymour Hoffman perform. Incredible. Getting to see how he changed the meanings of the words, the importance. Or to watch how Method Joaquin Phoenix is.

And now you’re finding your own style.
Which I’m still figuring out!

Brittany Runs a Marathon opens Fri 23. Read our review


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