When Gillian Jacobs won the role of Britta Perry, the rebellious activist and armchair psychologist of the Greendale gang on NBC’s Community, the world had yet to see what comic potential she possessed. Until then, Jacobs had primarily taken darker roles in films like Choke and The Box. But she positively sparkled alongside a talented cast that included Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, and Ken Jeong, and it’s paved the way for further comedy roles.
Next up for Jacobs is Walk of Shame, which opens this week and stars Elizabeth Banks as Meghan Miles, a TV news anchor who finds herself stranded in the wrong part of town after a night of partying. RT spoke with Jacobs about her role as Meghan’s BFF Rose, working with comedy vets, and what it’s like to party “stone cold sober.” But first, here are Gillian Jacobs’ Five Favorite Films:
American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999; 94% Tomatometer)
You know, a movie that I always come back to, which is a documentary — I hope that’s okay — is American Movie, which I think is one of the funniest and saddest movies I’ve ever seen. So quotable. And it really says a lot about hope, optimism, naivete, the movie business. Even though they’re hundreds of miles away from LA and have no real access to Hollywood… I just love that movie so much.
Fanny & Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982; 100% Tomatometer)
A movie that I’ve seen probably the most is Fanny & Alexander, the Ingmar Bergman movie. I even dragged my friends to the super long version that had an intermission. I don’t know how much they liked me that day.
Well, I was a super fan of Katharine Hepburn as a kid, so let’s say The Philadelphia Story. I also really loved Cary Grant as a kid, so you could do a subset of, like, His Girl Friday; you know, Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, incredible movie. The dialogue is just mindblowing. The pace at which they manage to speak, I find to be incredible.
Was it someone in your family who introduced you to these classic films?
I think maybe my mom thought that Katharine Hepburn would be a good role model of like a strong, smart, independent woman. Maybe she steered me in that direction. You know, because she was really so ahead of her time. Like, she bought the rights to the play of The Philadelphia Story and made that movie when she was considered box office poison and no one wanted to hire her. I think she was pretty amazing in terms of how she controlled her career and gave herself second chances when people totally counted her out. So it might have been my mom leading me in that direction, but I really responded to her as a kid, and watched Bringing up Baby and Holiday and all of those movies.
Okay, let’s go for a more recent movie. How about that? You know what movie I loved recently? The Raid, to go in a completely opposite direction. I really enjoyed that movie. That was so fun to watch in the theater. That’s one of those movies where like, it’s so cool to sit there and watch it on the big screen.
Are you a big action fan?
I really enjoy them. I have a hard time watching people getting punched on screen; I have to close my eyes a lot. But somehow, maybe just the sheer number of punchings overwhelmed me and I was okay.
Okay, let’s do something completely different. Here’s a movie I was watching the other day on cable that I loved as a kid and it still made me laugh: A Fish Called Wanda. It’s still funny.
Next, Jacobs talks about Walk of Shame, working with comedy vets, the future of Community, and how she feels about six-pack abs.
Gillian Jacobs: Not really. I mean, no, you kind of don’t know you can do it until you do it. I remember doing one scene in college that was funny, and the teacher said, “Okay, well you can do that, but never bring in a scene like that again.” [laughs] So he didn’t really encourage me to be funny in college. So maybe it was just something in my back pocket that I just always loved comedy, just as a viewer. But I don’t think I was entirely sure I could do it until I got the chance to actually do it.
RT: Was it ever something you hoped to break into at some point?
GJ: Definitely, definitely. You can only do so many serious dramas in a row before you want to break. You want a change.
RT: You’ve worked with people like Chevy Chase, Ken Jeong, and now in Walk of Shame you’ve got Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Nealon, Bill Burr, and Tig Notaro, who sports an awesome mullet-like creation, by the way.
GJ: I know, I know. I just saw Tig last week and I was reminding her of that mullet.
RT: Was it intimidating to work with all these people, or were you like, “Pshh, I can hold my own. Ken Jeong ain’t got nuttin’ on me!”
GJ: [laughs] I’m always intimidated. I mean, I love and respect all those people. Somebody like Tig, for example, she did an episode of Community in maybe our second or third season, and she’s someone that I’ve become and stayed friends with, and she makes me laugh so hard. I think she’s just one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. She makes me want to be funnier, but I know I’ll never be as funny as her.
RT: I’m sure there’s a mutual respect there, though.
GJ: I don’t know if Tig respects me. I won’t speak for her.
RT: Now, in Walk of Shame, you play Rose, who is one of Elizabeth Banks’s character’s BFFs, and you’re super protective of her in the film. Are you that friend in real life? Are you the one threatening your friends’ potential dates with castration if they hurt them?
GJ: I don’t know that I’ve ever done that, but I’m sure I give a really good mean stare. I’m sure I give a good evil eye. [laughs] I don’t know that I intimidate anyone in real life. They’d probably laugh if I said that.
RT: So you’re not the one organizing a lynch mob if one of your girlfriends gets dumped, or that sort of thing.
GJ: I’m more organizing the ice cream.
GJ: My mom. Well, my mom is the only person whose number I have memorized at this point, so she’s actually the only person I could call if I lost my phone. That and my now deceased grandfather’s number at the nursing home. Those are the only two numbers I know. I called my grandpa a lot; that’s nice, right?
RT: That’s really nice. I loved my grandpa a lot too, so I get it. I don’t think you’ll need the number though, because somehow, I don’t actually see what happened to Meghan happening to you; at least, not any more, since you’re a responsible working adult now and all. But back in the day, were you a more disciplined partier, or did you get a little crazy?
GJ: I don’t drink, so it’s kind of hard to go that crazy stone cold sober. So yeah, I’ve always kind of been a grandma, as my friends would tell you. I much prefer to go home and get a good night’s sleep. [laughs]
RT: Well I don’t drink either, and I’ve been known to love my sleep, so we’ve got that in common.
GJ: All right. There you go. See, yeah, when you’re stone cold sober, it’s harder to excuse bad behavior.
RT: Now, another thing I want to point out about your character Rose is that she ends up going home with a rather older gentleman, and she’s visibly disturbed by it. But come on, that dude was ripped!
GJ: Dude, he’s a model! Yeah, he’s f***in’ ripped.
RT: As a contemporary, modern woman, sometimes isn’t that enough when you just want to hook up?
GJ: That’s intimidating to me. I don’t want any part of that. That six-pack was too much for me. That was too much. It was too much.
RT: I do want to mention Community, because that show kicks ass, and you are so good as Britta. The fifth season just ended; have you heard anything at all, through the grapevine or otherwise, about a sixth season?
GJ: You know, I’ve not heard anything definite. The grapevine for me is Twitter, so I probably read about things at the same time you do. You know, we find out about our renewals on Deadline Hollywood, same as everyone else. That’s how I found out about everything that’s happened to my show, basically, the last couple of years. [laughs] So I have no definite word, but you know, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I’m feeling less stressed, and more… I don’t know if it’s blindly optimistic or not, but I’m feeling good right now.
RT: As a child of the 1980s and a fan of classic G.I. Joe, I have to ask, is there any place where I can purchase a Buzzkill action figure?
GJ: Oh my God, they should do it! You should tweet Sony and NBC and ask for it. Start a campaign. And I think they should make the “Britta, the One True Five” poster available for purchase, too.
RT: That would be amazing. Tell me they at least let you keep the one they made for the episode.
GJ: You know, Rob Schrab, who directed the episode, he made that art — that’s his work — and so he gave me a copy, and I framed it and it’s in my house now.
RT: What TV shows did you watch growing up?
GJ: I watched a lot of animated cartoons. I watched X-Men and that Batman cartoon that was on, and Animaniacs and Tiny Toons and Darkwing Duck. I watched all those shows.
RT: Community should do a Darkwing Duck episode next season.
GJ: Oh, that would be awesome. Or Count Duckula.
Walk of Shame opens this weekend in theaters, and if all goes well, you can catch Gillian Jacobs as Britta on NBC’s Community again next season.