For six seasons, actor Gillian Jacobs played the wannabe activist Britta Perry in the cult hit comedy show “Community.” She also did a star turn on Season four of HBO’s “Girls,” playing Mimi-Rose — a foil to Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah.
Gillian now stars in “Love” — a show about dating and relationships in modern Los Angeles. She plays Mickey, a program manager at a satellite radio station who struggles with alcohol, romance and just being a good person.
The “Love” star chats with Brendan about throwing out her formal acting training for comedy, making a sometimes prickly character likable, and more.
On the question she’s tired of being asked
Gillian Jacobs: Probably like, “You don’t drink in real life, what’s it like to play someone who’s, you know, an addict? How do you pretend to be drunk if you’ve never been drunk before?” […]
I do think it is kind of unusual that I’ve never drank. I understand people’s fascination by that. That does distinguish me but, yeah, I mean, there are plenty of things that people pretend to do as actresses, that’s part of the job. […]
And since I graduated from college it’s been pretty consistent for me that I play characters like this. At first I thought it was like kind of a fun anomaly and then I realized like, “Oh this is a pattern for me. I have to like seek out other types of parts.”
On what she had to unlearn from her Julliard training when she joined “Community”
Gillian Jacobs: I feel like [“Community”] tapped into my silliness, which I don’t feel was really valued when I was in college. That wasn’t like a quality that was high on their list of importance.
I also think that I got out of my own way enough to just follow any weird impulse I had, which was sort of the beauty of that show and that cast was that everybody was really supportive of each other and encouraging of each other. And so, you’d see people, as the show went on, really take big risks and do strange things.
You can feel kind of self-conscious on set if the other people that you’re working with aren’t kind about it. But that was a show where you’d finish a take and everybody would be like, “Oh my God, that was awesome!” I feel like I got silly again and it helped me get out of my own head.
On how she makes a character like Mickey in “Love” likable
Gillian Jacobs: It’s my innate charisma coming through. No, I think, I think that she’s very increasingly open about her issues on the show, which I think endears her to people. I do think that for as selfish as she can be, she also loves the people around her and wants them to like her. But she gets in her own way time and again and maybe that’s just a relatable characteristic ’cause a lot of people can be their own worst enemies.
On why she’s interested in making a documentary about actress Jean Seberg, who was also a target of the FBI
Gillian Jacobs: I think she lived a fascinating life. She was found in a contest for “Saint Joan.” She played Joan of Arc. I think it was like maybe a worldwide contest that she won. And then [she] had this great career and the French new wave with “Breathless.”
But [she] also had a lot of tragedy in her life. Had a child, who died, and she herself died young. And I think I read — although I don’t know if this is true or not — she attempted suicide several times on the anniversary of her child’s death.*
So she’s both this like, iconic beauty, fashion icon, but also somebody who had a lot of difficult times. And so she just sort of fascinated me. Maybe also I’ve always wanted that haircut, but I’ve never been able to go through with it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: You should do it. You can’t do that, can you?
Gillian Jacobs: No, as an actor you can’t, if you have a recurring-
Brendan Francis Newnam: Is it contractual?
Gillian Jacobs: I think, I think they’d be pretty upset with me if I showed up one day having cut all of my hair off.
Brendan Francis Newnam: But it’s weird ’cause a lot of people just think of the glamorous side of your career, but there really, there are restrictions on a lot of stuff.
Gillian Jacobs: I can’t cut my hair however I want.
On the one thing you might not know about Pittsburgh, her (and Rico’s) hometown
Gillian Jacobs: I think there’s a great museum in my home town of Pittsburgh that not enough people know about, called the Mattress Factory. […]
It is an installation art museum and they give artists residencies to live and work there and then they also have great, they have great artists work, like James Turrell. So I feel like it’s sort of an underrated gem of a museum.
*[Ed note: Seberg’s husband, novelist Romain Gary, stated this at a press conference shortly after the actor’s death.]
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]