Class Is IN Session With Gillian Jacobs
Community has has taken off, with a viewership that’s closing in on The Office’s and a cast of quirky characters sharing almost nothing in common. But somehow it works — and Gillian Jacobs is a major reason. Playing Britta Perry, a student trying to get her shit together, Jacobs fills the role with sex, sass and hilarity, all the while making it look easy.
In keeping with the collegiate theme of the show, we figured we’d school the ANTENNA community on the blond bombshell.
1. Her name is pronounced Gill-ee-un. Don’t fuck it up, her name is Gillian, and that’s not like Jillian. With a G. It’s “gill-ee-un,” which somehow makes everything she says slightly more endearing. Her voice is creamy; it hovers between authoritative and warm. As she’s talking, you’re wishing she goes off on a tangent, just to hear her tell you a story.
2. Community is her first TV gig. “Being in your first season on TV is kind of like treading water,” she laughs. “I think I tried to have as little expectations as I could, because you never really know with TV what’s going to take off or what’s still going to be around in a couple of years. So I just tried to appreciate it for what it is and not set my expectations too high.” The whole comedy thing is completely new for her, too. Her past film roles include a prostitute (Cagelove), a rape victim (The Little Flower of East Orange) and a drug addict (Gardens of the Night).
“It’s definitely been a transition, because I’ve never done this sort of stuff [comedy], but I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’m much more comfortable in comedy and more confident now,” she admits. Jacobs is the kind of actress who deliberately leaves her comfort zone for the challenge; she works best like this. “I’ve never actually been a prostitute or a stripper or done heroin or all that stuff,” she says with a pinch of sarcasm. “But there was some aspect of the character that I related to or sympathized with, and that’s what we had in common.”
3. She is humble. Super humble. She’s reluctant to take credit for her obvious talents. She chalks up her character’s success to the show’s writers and luck. It’s borderline frustrating to hear her pass it off. If our interview hadn’t been cross-country, from my cell phone to her publicist’s, on her lunch break from shooting an episode, I’d shake her and say, “Give yourself some fucking credit! You nailed this shit. Carry on.” But I guess it’s better off this way. At least she’s not obsessed with herself. Hell, I don’t even know if she’s got a boyfriend. I tried asking and she yelled back at me, “Come on, man! Next question.”
4. She and her co-workers just click. What makes Community work — now in its third season — is the cast. The actors share a collective charisma. They feed off each other in a way that seems so natural the awkward moments on screen actually make you uncomfortable. The synergy is surprising, since the actors couldn’t come from more diverse backgrounds: a guy who loves to wear sweaters and is the face of Talk Soup (Joel McHale), the little Asian man from The Hangover (Ken Jeong). And Chevy Chase? The one guy you remember from Vegas Vacation? How the fuck did that work out? But it works. The aging Chase fits right in.
Jacobs credits — who else — the writers. “We all get along and find each other funny, and that really helps,” says Jacobs. “But so much of it is the writing itself. We’re really lucky to have such talented writers, because they’ve created the dynamic between the characters, and we just kind of flesh them out.” There’s that aforementioned modesty again. All right, it’s an admirable trait. I’ll give it to her.
5. Right now, she’d rather be bowling. At 29 years old, Jacobs is just doing what she wants. She’s a theater lover, living the major-network-TV-show life and shooting at Paramount five days a week. In an ideal world? “With no obligations, I’d be bowling. I like bowling. I’m no good at it, I just really enjoy it,” she giggles. She’s got new projects in every direction, from animated-movie voice-overs to big-screen roles. And while people might screw up her name here and there, I’m going to guess that they’ll get it right after the amount of times they’ll be hearing it in the near future. —Alex Bernstein
(This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of ANTENNA.)