Brittany Runs a Marathon is a beautiful film about a young woman's quest to take charge of her life. Directed by acclaimed playwright-turned-filmmaker Paul Downs Colaizzo, Brittany Runs a Marathon is a heartfelt snapshot of life in New York City. From the joy of follow dreams to the existential terror of struggling to survive, from the wonderful diversity of its inhabitants to the crippling isolation of city life, the film truly captures the spirit of the New York experience.
Part of what makes Brittany Runs a Marathon feel so authentic is the magnificent cast assembled for the film. Lead actor Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street) delivers a raw and resonant performance as the title character, and the supporting cast includes Michaela Watkins, Micah Stock, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Lil Rel Howery.
During a press event for Brittany Runs a Marathon, Screen Rant spoke with director Paul Downs Colaizzo and cast members Utkarsh Ambudkar and Lil Rel Howery. The director and actors discussed making a film with a diverse cast of characters, reflective of the actual population of cities like New York. They also discuss Lil Rel's character, who was re-written to suit the actor.
I'm so glad to be able to talk to this group, in particular, because this movie is about building connections with people. You're the person who built these connections behind-the-scenes, and you play these characters who Brittany shares connections with. Can you talk about having such a diverse, New York City... Even though your character, Lil' Rel, is not based in NYC, but having this circle of people around Brittany?
Paul Downs Colaizzo: Yeah, I think, you know, we wanted to create a film where people see themselves in the characters, and we wanted people to feel all aspects in these characters, in a world like ours, like New York City, that has a diverse population, and that includes personality types and ethnicities, and ages, and life choices. This film, ultimately, is the exploration of what happens when we take people who are typically sidekicks, and make them deeper, more complex, and more human, so that we're not laughing at them – we're laughing with them. We relate to them as humans who want things and pursue those wants.
Do you think that comes from your experience as a playwright, having these stock characters as shorthand, and being like, "let's develop them into whole people," even the ones who, in this movie, could be the stock characters. Like, Gretchen, for example, is so fully developed, even though she's a character who is the inverse of the roommate, because she would otherwise be the main character in her own movie?
Paul Downs Colaizzo: Right. I'm sure it plays into it some. What I'm interested in is taking fascinating characters with great psychologies who are complicated and flawed, and have things we love about them, but also things that are off-putting, and dare the audience to love each of them. I was lucky enough to have this insanely talented cast who naturally knows how to bring the comedy, and also has pain and pathos, and the longing for human connection inside of them that they got to bring to the screen, this time.
Utkarsh Ambudkar: Lot of pain. Lots of pain.
Paul Downs Colaizzo: Utkarsh is in a lot of pain.
Utkarsh Ambudkar: Tons of pain. My leg's asleep.
When you're acting that, do you feel like it's more difficult, but more rewarding to play a character who is so fully-featured, when it might be easier to crack a joke or a one-liner, if you didn't have this depth?
Utkarsh Ambudkar: I think it's so rewarding, as an actor. I've been acting professionally for a long time, and I think this is the first time I've played a character that has an arc. I did it in stage plays, I've done it, but on screen, the first time you meet the character one way, and when you leave him, he's transformed into something different. It's a great privilege to be able to be part of this cast and this ensemble and have that opportunity. And I think the approach is really fun! It's, like, fun to be able to chew into really good material, and be like, "Okay, I've seen this movie. This character is supposed to respond this way." But we're just gonna throw a curveball in, or we'll make different choices and then communicate with Paul. I mean, it really is the way it's supposed to be. And to have the opportunity to do that, in many respects, for the first time in my career, was extremely, really, probably some of the best days of (to Paul) this guy's life! It was really great.
Lil Rel Howery: It's fun watching Paul direct you. (To Paul) You know what I mean? Because you were into it!
Utkarsh Ambudkar: So passionate!
Lil Rel Howery: You would see him yell "Cut" with tears in his eyes. (Whispered) "Okay, uh, cut." Okay, I guess I did good! (laughs) Brother's cryin'!
I heard your character was rewritten specifically for you. Could you talk a little bit about how you won him over?
Lil Rel Howery: I mean, Paul can talk about this, but I think we just had a really good conversation about a really good script. I really was... I read the script, and it was really good. So it was almost like... It's interesting, when you think about it, too. I reacted to the script like the audience is reacting to the film.
Utkarsh Ambudkar: Oh yeah.
Lil Rel Howery: I was lucky enough that I could talk to the director, one on one.
Paul Downs Colaizzo: He had such an incredibly empathetic and insightful reaction to the story, and also to the character of Brittany. When we were talking, he had these desires for this character. He really cared for her and wanted her to change the way that she was behaving, which is the journey of the film. As he was explaining his own reaction to the film, I was thinking, I want to hear what you're saying in the film; I want you in the film, saying these things. So I rewrote a part and was lucky enough to get Rel.
Brittany Runs a Marathon hits theaters on August 23.