Jillian Bell: ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon made me take a hard look at myself’

Jillian, 35, stars in a film inspired by a true story and talks to James Mottram about body shaming and the loneliness of weight loss

What attracted you to playing hot mess Brittany Forgler?

I had been looking for something a little different because I play a lot of odd birds! My manager said, ‘Here’s a real woman. I think you’re going to relate to her and you’re going to be a little anxious when you start reading it, but keep going’ – because a lot of times when you read anything to do with women’s bodies or weight, it’s not always handled in the best way. But I read it and I laughed out loud, so hard, and I cried.

How do you think most Hollywood scripts treat weight issues?

Honestly, any time I hear that someone is going to be in prosthetics, in a body-suit, most times it’s been for a joke. It’s like a flashback to what someone used to look like, making fun of them. There has just been a lot of examples of it. I never thought it was very funny. It just feels very cheap to me.

Were you training in tandem with Brittany’s race to get in shape for the New York City marathon?
Yes, I did lose weight just to gain perspective of what she was going through. There were certain parts of the film where I thought, ‘This was taken from my own life’ and then there were other parts where I didn’t quite understand what was happening for her. Like experiencing a runner’s high or what it feels like to have accomplished three miles. I’d never done that before. So I started running on my own. I decided I was going to lose the exact same weight that she loses in the film, also to see how people were interacting with me.

What did people say as you lost weight?

I had a close friend, one of my male friends, and he’s a good guy, but he said, ‘This is the weight you should be’ once I lost 40lbs. It’s just interesting. I didn’t have the best advice for how to treat it. If someone said nothing [about my weight loss] I’d think ‘Well, I did a lot of hard work here!’ But if someone said something it made me feel like, ‘Well, was I so bad before?’ We have our own relationships with our own bodies and our own weights, so it’s weird when other people interject their opinion.

Jillian Bell

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Did you keep up your own running after the shoot?

I did. I don’t do it as much now. When I was prepping, I was doing meal plans, I was running all the time… it’s a crazy amount of work. And it leads to a lack of a social life. Truly. Everyone wants to go to the movies and get some popcorn or go to a nice dinner. And I’m doing this to myself by the way – no-one on the film asked me to do it. But I wanted to go through it because I wanted to know how she felt. And I felt very lonely at times.

Do you now feel happier at your current weight?

I probably gained back 20lbs of the 40lbs that I lost, and honestly, I am in a pretty good place right now. Once the movie ended, I had a hard look at how I spoke about myself and spoke to myself.

What does the film say about the way we seek approval through social media?

It’s a constant projection of what you hope your life looks like. It’s funny – I was talking to somebody about Facebook. If you scroll through, you’ve found out that someone has died, someone has cancer, someone’s getting married, someone’s pregnant – all in a matter of 45 seconds. It’s overwhelming. So I think there is something that’s great about social media, but I also try to keep it to a minimum.

Will you get offered different roles now because of losing weight?

I don’t know. I haven’t seen it happen either way. I don’t feel like I lost out on anything because of gaining weight at times. I don’t think I’ve gained anything from losing the weight either.

You started writing on Saturday Night Live when you were 25. Are you very goal-oriented?

SNL was always my goal. I told my parents when I was very young that I wasn’t going to go to New York until I was auditioning for SNL. I knew I wanted to be a performer on it. And then I actually came to New York for the first time, testing for SNL. I didn’t get it but two weeks later they called me to be a writer on the show.

Brittany Runs a Marathon opens in cinemas on November 1st.

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