Rough and ready
Jillian Bell has been promoted from sidekick to star, writes Neala Johnson
Jillian Bell has just taken the biggest step in her movie career to date: Rough Night, in which she and Scarlett Johansson lead a group of old friends whose hens night goes hilariously off the rails when their stripper accidentally dies.
Now, freshly back in LA after the flick’s premiere in New York, Bell is working towards another huge challenge: cavorting with merman Channing Tatum in the gender-flipping remake of ’80s favourite Splash.
Bell will play the Tom Hanks role — the human who falls for the handsome creature from the sea.
“It’ll be the most preparation I’ll ever have to do, as far as falling in love with Channing Tatum,” Bell says, in as serious a manner as she can muster. “I’ll have to prepare for months and months; a lot of training of my face trying to look at him like he’s dreamy. Yeah, that’ll be tough.”
Bell has just seen the first draft of the Splash script and is hoping production on the Disney film will get under way next year.
The remake was actually her idea. After going toe-totoe with Jonah Hill as the surprise baddie in 22 Jump Street, Tatum invited Bell to come pitch ideas to his production company. Splash was the one “we couldn’t stop thinking about”, she says.
After getting the blessing of the original writer/director combo Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, Disney snapped up the Bell/Tatum concept.
“It was shocking ... and it’s still shocking that we’re going to do it,” says Bell. “I feel so excited and happy.”
It’s fair to say comedy has been 33-year-old Bell’s life.
Growing up in Las Vegas she started out trying to make her family and friends laugh and was doing improv classes by age eight. She consolidated her skills as part of the Groundlings troupe in LA (which has also produced comedy stars Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell and Melissa McCarthy), then in 2009 wrote for Saturday Night Live.
After being nabbed for TV comedy Workaholics, she has had countless scene-stealing weird sidekick roles in films such as kids’ scare-fest Goosebumps, last year’s Fist Fight and Seth Rogen’s The Night Before. But Rough Night is the first time she’s really stepped centre stage.
Bell plays sex-starved Alice, who hasn’t really progressed from her college days, still clinging to her best friendship with Jess (Johansson) even though Jess has moved on.
Reunited for Jess’s hens night, the group — completed by Ilana Glazer, Zoe Kravitz and SNL and Ghostbusters star Kate McKinnon — goes through disaster after disaster, until the girls finally let their true feelings fly.
“It did feel different,” Bell says of the size of the role. “I’ve never played a character that had so much vulnerability to it; a lot of layers to this one.
“It’s really interesting to go from playing these roles that are one liners here, one liners there, to having an emotional arc. It was something I enjoyed.”
Not so enjoyable was the day she and Johansson had to spend “screaming at each other”.
“You think something like that wouldn’t affect you, but it starts to wear on you after a while — someone screaming at you and basically calling you pathetic,” she says.
Luckily, Johansson is “really down to earth and super supportive”, she says.
On a set full of ladies cracking each other up, McKinnon probably came out the winner on points.
“She’s a living, breathing, walking little clown,” says Bell.
“I’ve never laughed so hard around anyone. But we can also really relate to each other, so it was hard doing some of the scenes where I had to hate her, because I genuinely wanted to laugh along with everyone else.”
There’s a moment in Rough Night where Alice, feeling unloved, screams “I’m a f...ing princess!” That one line could be used to sum up Bell’s comic style: she can be sweet then filthy, sunshiny then psycho.
“I like making people laugh and making people happy, so I am that person. But I also have a dirty sailor mouth,” Bell says with a laugh.
“I don’t know where that comes from. I feel like I started cursing at a really young age and my mum, I was the second child, and she didn’t really know what to do about it so she just kind of said, ‘Don’t use it a lot ...’ She realised who I was.
“I’m excited to do Splash, actually, because it’s the first time, besides Goosebumps, I’ll be in a movie where I’ll really have to watch my mouth. It’ll stretch me to not curse too much.”
ROUGH NIGHT IS NOW SHOWING
“I like making people laugh, so I am that person. But I also have a dirty sailor mouth
Jillian Bell (centre) with her Rough Night co -stars Zoe Kravitz and Scarlett Johansson.
Kate McKinnon and Bell in a scene from Rough Night.