Jillian Bell loves playing "odd ladies".
She hurled deadpan insults at Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street, was a socially awkward office employee (named Jillian Belk) in Workaholics and played an overeager best friend in Rough Night.
For Brittany Runs a Marathon (in cinemas now), Bell took on a new challenge: balancing comedy with drama.
"It was the first time that I was the title character. There were the dramatic elements—I've never done that before—and I'm in every scene," the 35-year-old told E! News while in Sydney. "Also, doing press and opening up about my own personal issues with my body, all of that is a little daunting."
In the film, Bell plays serial party girl Brittany, who visits a doctor hoping for Adderall but is instead told to get in shape. Her solution? Take up running and hopefully conquer the New York City Marathon, with some help from running mates played by Michaela Watkins and Micah Stock. The film was based on director and writer Paul Downs Colaizzo's real-life former roommate Brittany.
Just like Brittany, Bell struggled the first time her feet hit the pavement while training for the role.
"I was terrible at it. I wore the wrong pants and they kept falling," the Las Vegas-born actress said. "My sister was taping me running so I could remember what it was like the first time and how I was holding my body wrong. I was clenching my fists really tight and not wearing the right shoes. All of that helped for the character."
To get motivated, Bell's running playlists included Diplo, Pitbull and Chance the Rapper, plus podcasts like This American Life. ("Anything to distract my brain.") She's since kept up the running—and, yes, even enjoys it.
Shooting the New York City Marathon sequence was one of many highlights of working on the film.
"I had never been to a marathon before and to be able to experience it in this way was epic," Bell said. "There are 50,000 people there and they all want the same thing. They're all going for it and pushing as hard as they can through pain and sheer happiness of people rooting for them."
Despite her initial fears, the actress ultimately triumphs in a film that she would have loved to have watched while growing up.
"I just hadn't seen a character like this before. I hadn't seen a woman who was struggling with issues with her weight and also figuring out her own value system," she told E! News. "That would have been such an eye-opener as a kid. Realising that society tells us we can only do certain things because of the way we look, and we can change that any day."
After Brittany Runs a Marathon, Bell is keeping up the momentum. Fans can still expect that reboot of the 1984 comedy Splash, with Bell starring as Tom Hanks' character and Channing Tatum as a beautiful merman.
"Someone is writing it right now, so I'm waiting to read that draft," the star said. "I hope we get to make it within the next year or two. I'm excited for that."
She's also filmed a part in Bill & Ted Face the Music as a couples therapist alongside stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.
Asked what she can tease of her character, Bell joked, "I can say that it's a role in the movie. That the movie will come out and that I will be in the movie."
She added with (slightly) more detail: "I was there when they first got into character—the first time that they were in a scene in the film—so that was really exciting to witness."
Up next, Bell hopes to continue juggling dramatic roles with the offbeat hilarity she's now known for.
"I've played a lot of weirdos, so maybe a few more of those," she said. "Whatever is fun and different and nuanced, I'm into."
Brittany Runs a Marathon is in cinemas now and on Amazon Prime from November 15.