Jillian Bell on 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' and listening to her body

Amazon Studios

Jillian Bell stars in "Brittany Runs a Marathon," which explores the life of a millennial woman as she works to improve her health and wellness.

Staring at the stark white walls of her general practitioner's office, Brittany Forgler was confronted with the truth. At 28 years old, her Body Mass Index was over 30, her resting heart rate was elevated and her blood pressure high. It was time for a change. She was instructed to "get healthy." The task seemed daunting -- what does healthy look like, act like and eat like?

The Amazon Studios film "Brittany Runs a Marathon," which releases on Friday in theaters, is about the personal transformation of the fictional Forgler. Jillian Bell, known for "Workaholics" and "22 Jump Street," is an executive producer and stars in the lead role. The protagonist's visit to the doctor (which was initially made to procure Adderall for recreational purposes) forced her to press reset on a lifestyle that included lots of late nights and hangover-filled mornings. The script was inspired by the life of Brittany O'Neill, who decided to take charge of her health and train for the New York City Marathon, shedding 60 pounds in the process. Her former roommate and close friend Paul Downs Colaizzo wrote the movie about her experience.

And in playing the role, Bell transformed herself. She had to train and eat like Forgler, run in the New York Marathon like her character. "Life is ... I mean this is so cheesy, like a marathon," said Bell. "And every moment doesn't require perfection." This film proved that to her.

espnW talked to Bell, 35, about her personal and physical evolution for the film and why the project made her fall back in love with humanity.

espnW: Did this film push you to reevaluate your personal health and wellness?

Jillian Bell: It made me look at how I treat myself and how I talk to myself. It made me think about my own goals. Because so much of life is hearing what other people think about you. And it's just none of my business anymore. I'm done with that. I feel like it's more important to feel good in your skin. Some days that means going for a run and eating healthy, and some days that means going out for a really yummy, great dinner with a group of friends. This project has helped me figure out what feels good to me at that moment.

Some days I'll wake up and think, "I want a good, green smoothie and a Greek salad," then I'll go for a hike. And that feels good. And then other days it's the last thing I want. I listen to my body. If you listen, you'll hear your body shouting out what it needs. And sometimes it needs a good run. And sometimes it needs some terrible TV. And there's no embarrassment with either option.

espnW: You became a runner for this film. What was your training process?

JB: I ran a lot. At first, I ran on my own because I just wanted to see what it was like to push yourself to work out for the first time. [Brittany] was kind of like me. I've worked out before, but this was the first time I was taking on running. It was hard at first. And it's a bit of a mind game. You have to constantly be telling your brain, "No, I'm going to keep going. It doesn't hurt. It doesn't feel bad." Because your brain will constantly tell you, "You did enough, you did more than maybe most people." So I had to listen to a lot of fun pop songs and keep pushing through. And then eventually I got a trainer to help me build stamina.

I met up with a trainer who trains marathon runners when I moved to New York City to shoot. He was helping me with the day-to-day of what it would be like for my first big run, the best ways to position my body and breathing techniques.

And I lost 40 pounds in the process. Yeah, it's a lot. I, unlike Brittany, love the people in my life helping me out. I had people going for runs with me and helping me do meal prep. I was not asked to lose weight, but I decided that I wanted to relate to Brittany's journey. Connecting to her physical journey helped me better connect to her overall. And it was really, really tough. By the end of filming, I sort of thought, "Okay, what am I going to do for me now?" I had to figure out what feels good for me. And I cut off most of my hair. My hair is really short. And I gained some weight back just because I felt more like myself somewhere in the middle. Each person's journey is so different, and their relationship with their body is so different. And for me, that's just where I felt better. And I still like to go for runs.

espnW: What music helped you push through on particularly tough runs?

JB: I definitely played a lot of Diplo and Pitbull. I have to say; Pitbull was extremely helpful. He's a motivator. His music tells you that you're lucky to be alive and that you've got to keep moving. He might also instruct you to spend your paycheck in the club, so not that. It's the other stuff.

Amazon Studios

Jillian Bell's character Brittany as she joins her first group run.

espnW: The film doesn't describe a particular body type as healthy. It's about finding out what's healthy for the individual. Was that with intention?

JB: It was the script. Truly. I was very apprehensive. I was like, "What are we getting to and what are we saying with this film?" And as I read the whole thing, I knew this was the movie I'd wanted to see since I was a young girl. I think it's incredibly relatable. The message wasn't just, "Here's another movie where a woman gets thin and her life's perfect." It's the opposite of those types of films. Yes, she has a transformation, but it's emotional and physical. It isn't until she works on herself as a human being, and on her insides that she starts pulling her life together. And that's not often the case in transformation-type films.

espnW: Your character Brittany ran the TCS New York City Marathon. That meant you had to film during the marathon. How was that experience?

JB: I'm pretty sure the crowd thought I was doing a documentary about running the marathon. I had a six-person crew trailing me as I ran, so everyone kind of left us alone. Though the people waving at the camera and doing silly things behind me as I ran was all real. They didn't know I was portraying this woman who is trying to run a marathon for the first time. (Bell did not run the marathon officially.)

It was unbelievable to witness all of those people who were out there and had set this epic goal to run the New York City Marathon. They struggle and still make it to the end. It felt like I was on a different planet. They motivated me. There's so much humanity at the marathon. People help each other along the race, and people on the sidelines encourage the runners. A lot of people will tape their name to their shirts so that people can yell out, "Go, Carl." And I was like, "Yes, go Carl." I believe in Carl. It's so unbelievable. The experience made me fall in love with humans again.

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