The LRM Interview with Fist Fight’s Jillian Bell

– by Edward Douglas

There’s a very good chance that you’ll remember comedian and actress Jillian Bell from her memorable fist fight with Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street or maybe you’ve had a chance to see her Comedy Central show, Idiotsitter.  

In the new comedy Fist Fight, Bell raises her comedy game even higher playing guidance counselor Holly, whose interests in meth and underage students doesn’t make her the best advice-giver for Charlie Day’s teacher, who finds himself having to face a fellow teacher played by the much tougher Ice Cube in a lopsided afterschool fight.

Bell really holds her own in scenes with Day and Tracy Morgan (as the school’s equally inappropriate gym teacher), which helps give the movie its rightfully-earned R-rating.

LRM had a chance to talk with Ms. Bell from the Fist Fight junket a few weeks back.

LRM: How did you get involved with this? I know Charlie and the director Richie Keen have worked together before. Had you worked either of them before this?

Jillian Bell:
No, I hadn’t worked with either of them before. I have been a fan of Charlie Day’s for a very long time. I think he’s one of the most talented people out there right now, and so, when I heard there was a script with him and Ice Cube in it, I was so excited and then I met Richie, and he’s one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met and has been so supportive and encouraging throughout the whole process, even more recently, he’s been texting me saying, “There’s a billboard at this location” or “This trailer’s coming out and you say this in it.” He’s like a fan, and I’m a fan of his, too, so it works out very well. I was really excited to be a part of it. It’s a really silly, fun movie, which is what I think we need right now.

LRM: At first, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work and how they were going to get the two of them fighting because it would seem very one-sided. They ended up doing more with it than I thought they could.

Bell: There is, and they also keep it pretty short, too, the actual running time of the movie is shorter, so you feel like it’s just starting and then it’s over and you want to see it again, which I think is the smartest idea for a comedy.

LRM: Absolutely. I’m a big fan of short movies in general. Was Holly pretty well developed when you came on board? Did you get a full script?

Bell: It was actually written as a man, which Richie and Charlie informed me. I think it’s great they changed it to a woman, because it’s sort of a little more ridiculous and less gross, because there’s this guidance counselor who is hitting on younger students, and I think it’s somewhat funnier when it’s a woman hitting on these younger, buff football players, as opposed to.. “That dude is kind of creepy.”

LRM: Had they already changed it before you came on board?

Bell: Yeah, they had already changed it to a woman when I got a hold of it, and then they let me know it was written for a man and that they changed it. Richie was so sweet—he felt really strongly that he wanted me to do it, and I loved it. I thought it was so funny, and the script was really hilarious. I was in, especially with the cast. It’s Tracy Morgan and Ice Cube and Charlie Day—I was in heaven. 

LRM: The scenes between you, Tracy and Charlie, there’s so many places to go to get laughs, so did Ritchie give you a chance to improvise and throw out ideas?

Bell: Yeah, I think we tried to do a couple takes as is, and then we were really loose with it, and obviously, you’re going to get gold if you have Tracy Morgan and are not saying “Cut” and just kind of letting him riff. Charlie as well. Their improv skills are amazing, so it was fun to try to keep up with that.

LRM: I always wondered how it worked on “It’s Always Sunny…” because it’s such a genius show and the stuff they do is so out there.  Since Charlie and Richie have worked together so much, was it easy to get into their working style?

Bell: Yeah, yeah. I think both of them are really good, especially Richie because he’s worked with Charlie so much, they’re both really good about encouraging improvisation and allowing time for that, making sure we’re not moving away from a scene if we haven’t gone down every road with it. I think that’s super-important for a comedy, ‘cause sometimes—it can be in the last take when you think you don’t have anything left in you—that you say something that’s so ridiculous and then it makes it into the movie and then into the trailer. 

LRM: Your character especially goes about as far as possible as far as hitting on students…

Bell: Yes, it’s definitely the craziest part I’ve ever played, I think.

LRM:  I feel like with Holly, you could go way way out there, so did you have to pull it back at any time or was Richie pushing you to go out as far as possible?

Bell: Richie and I talked about it a lot, because it’s a character who is hitting on the students and doing meth and all these crazy things, and we sort of thought it would be funnier if it was a little more subtle side as far as the look of the character and how she acts. Clearly, you can do up the drug part of it too much or we can have her dressed in some crazy revealing way that makes the joke land, but I thought it made the joke land harder if she was a little bit more innocent in her look, so you wouldn’t expect it as much, and Richie was on the same page, so that’s what we went with. 

LRM: I’ve seen you in a bunch of movies and television shows as well, but I never knew about your writing background on “Saturday Night Live” which is really impressive. I feel like the best comic actors have that writing background, and I was curious about that transition or was it more about being an actor and writing stuff for yourself. 

Bell: I think it’s important, especially if you do comedy… actually both, comedy or drama, I think it’s important that if you can write or if you have it in you to write until at least decent as a writer (laughs) that you do it, because Hollywood throw at you specific roles of what they imagine you to be, and there’s some roles that I’ve been offered in the past where I’m like, “Well, that’s not a very flattering role to play.” It’s somebody who doesn’t receive a lot of love or doesn’t she’s pretty or good looking enough, and I feel lucky I’m at a place now where I can come up with some ideas of characters I would like to play that I think a normal girl such as myself should play, so that’s kind of why I got into it.

LRM: I’ve talked to a lot of actors who worked with Judd Apatow including Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Kumail Nanjiani—he’s in your movie, too, and he wrote a movie that Judd produced.

Bell: Yeah, The Big Sick, that looks amazing.

LRM: Yeah, it’s pretty good. But Judd tells all his actors to write their own stuff and it’s really paying off. You co-wrote your own Comedy Central show, “Idiotsitter,” so what was that experience like? Is that still going on?  

Bell: It’s great. Yeah, we just wrapped our second season and we’re editing right now. I’m really excited for people to see it. We sort of went a different route in the second season, and we decided to go to college, and I really think the new characters and the new setting is agreeing with the show well, and I’m hoping that the people who watched it last season will be into it, and people who haven’t discovered it yet will check it out, because I’m really proud of the work that my writing partner—Charlotte Newhouse--and I did. Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. 

LRM: TV definitely seems to be more of a writer’s medium in some ways, so have you found that having your own show allows you to explore a lot of ideas that you might not have been able to do otherwise. 

Bell: Yeah, I feel with TV, it’s more like something random… I have a couple ideas I want to write for TV shows and some of them I’m not even in, but it just allows you to play a little bit. I want to write a short as well. I think it’s fun to kind of dip your toe into everything and just try it out.

LRM: I always wondered how it was writing your own show if it ever gets to the point where you have to write a certain amount of episodes and keep the show going but it must be hard to come up with new ideas every time. Do you generally bank a lot of ideas you can use for the show?

Bell: Yeah, yeah, we sort of throw a lot of stuff out there and then we see what sticks, like what everybody keeps coming back around to, and those are the ones that usually end up being episodes. Like we can throw out 100 ideas, but if these seven are sticking out to us, then those are the seven episodes we’re going to write. 

LRM: You’re in this movie “Rock That Body” which I’ve heard about for at least a year or more, but I have no idea what the movie’s about… have you finished shooting that?

Bell: I was so thrilled to be a part of that movie. I fought hard to be a part of that movie. (laughs) I think it was a good thing to fight for because the movie is going to be really cool. It’s five women as leads and they’re all really funny. I think people are going to be into it—I hope people are into it, ‘cause we put a lot of heart into it.

LRM: Have they even released a trailer yet?

Bell: No, it’s too early. It’s out in the summer, so maybe in the next couple months or so. 

LRM: Obviously, you had great chemistry with Jonah Hill for your role in “22 Jump Street." Do you think he’ll write your character into the planned crossover with “Men in Black”? It seems your character should come back in some way.

Bell: I would love to do it. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I would say I would be 100% on board if someone wrote that in there. It was probably the most fun times I’ve had doing anything. It was my first really big movie, and I loved working with Phil Lord and Chris Miller as well, so I would be on board if they wanted to have me back.

LRM: I saw “Fist Fight” back to back with the new LEGO Batman movie, and it was a fun way to spend a morning.

Bell: Yeah, it’s nice. We need it right now. We need to laugh a little bit.

Fist Fight opens on Friday, February 17.

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