Community’s Gillian Jacobs on Her Role in the Season’s Most Hyped New Sitcom

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In the past few years, Gillian Jacobs has played a druggie in The Little Flower of East Orange at the Public Theater, a prostitute in Gardens of the Night, and a stripper in Choke. No question, the girl deserves a laugh, and in the new NBC sitcom Community, premiering tonight, she’ll finally have a go at comedy. Jacobs plays Britta, a high-school dropout who, after joining the Peace Corps and working as a foot model, is now a student at Greendale Community College. She spoke with Vulture about her indie pedigree, co-stars Chevy Chase and Joel McHale, and being compared to two well-known actresses.

Was there something about Britta that you really identified with?
Yeah, definitely. I think I really loved the way that she gave it right back to Jeff, Joel’s character. She wasn’t fooled by him at all, but maybe she was charmed by him enough to give him a shot. And she cared about the other people in the study group. She’s the sort of girl that I would want to be friends with, not like a one-dimensional bimbo.

In the pilot, more than one character compares you to Elisabeth Shue. Do you get that in real life?
I’d never really gotten that before, but they all seem to think that. I mean, it’s a compliment — I won’t complain if people compare me to Elisabeth Shue. Oddly enough, I get blonde Liv Tyler far more than I get anything else, which I also don’t get. I can’t tell you the number of people that are like, “Has anyone ever told you you look like a blonde Liv Tyler?” And at this point, I’m like, “Yes … yes, I’ve been told that.” I mean, she’s beautiful. It’s not like I’m not totally flattered by it, but then again, I think I look like myself.

What’s Chevy Chase like to work with?
He’s hysterical. He has the most amazing stories, everyone from Bill Clinton to Quincy Jones — you wouldn’t even expect half the people. He’ll tell you stories about playing backgammon with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion. And like playing the drums with Steely Dan. And he was telling us about playing tennis with Arnold Schwarzenegger. So you never really know who he’s going to come up with a story with.

And what about Joel McHale?
He’s hilarious, and then he’s also incredibly sweet to me. I love that they keep referring to him as Ryan Seacrest on the show. I just wish he wasn’t so tall because I’m pretty short so I have to wear heels. But other than his freakish height, I love Joel McHale.

In the past you’ve played a prostitute, a stripper — we’re not going to suddenly see some dark side of Britta, are we?
I hope not! But you know, that’s the thing about TV. They could always be like, “Oh, yeah, we forgot to tell you about that six months when she was a prostitute in Denmark.” No, I don’t think so — I’m very happy to be on a show when I’m not playing any more strippers, although I really did love all those parts. But it’s very nice to be on a comedy for a change. And thankfully, I guess they didn’t know about my history in the indies when I went in to audition, so they didn’t have any preconceptions about me as a runaway street prostitute.

You also have the movie The Box coming up. Can you tell me about your role in that?
Yeah, I play the babysitter for Cameron Diaz and James Marsden’s son. And, as you find out in the movie, I might have something to do with the larger thing that’s going on involving the box, but I probably shouldn’t say anything more about that.