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Gillian Jacobs on Her Seeking a Friend Cameo and Community Without Dan Harmon

Gillian Jacobs. Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Gillian Jacobs, best known for her role as Britta on Community, has a delightful cameo in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. After getting the news that there is nothing stopping an asteroid headed straight toward Earth, two characters played by Steve Carell and Keira Knightley pop in a T.G.I. Friday’s–type establishment called Friendsys — where everyone’s your friend — to get a drink. Far from being closed, the restaurant has become party central, with mudslides, conga lines, and plenty of love for the customers. Jacobs, who plays a touchy-feely waitress, chatted with Vulture about kissing Keira Knightley, setting fires, and missing Dan Harmon on Community.

Did you get to pick out your pieces of flair?
I had a lot of pieces of flair. [Laughs.] And a lot of glow sticks. And a whistle. I think there was a lot of debate about whether I’d have to wear a crop top, and I was seriously in fear of that crop top, so when they settled on a full shirt, I was excused from that humiliation. But my character doesn’t mind. I think the ecstasy she’s on was helping with that. [Laughs.]

So your restaurant scene basically devolves into an orgy. What was it like to shoot that?
You know, the first few takes were far too polite. It’s funny, because as an actor, you know what you’re supposed to do, despite your natural shyness — but to kiss all these people in rapid succession was a kick in the ass. I didn’t have a lot of time to do it, so [director] Lorene [Scafaria] was like, “Now, please. Not in two hours.” I had to swallow my pride and do it. I had kissed a girl in the second season of Community, but that was my first time kissing a girl ever, and I was so nervous, I almost knocked Brit Marling’s teeth out. So this time, I didn’t maul Keira Knightley, but I had to just go for it. It was kind of an out-of-body experience — you know, when you find yourself doing something you haven’t done in your life. It’s like when I had to simulate a screaming orgasm in an ice-cream shop full of children and grandparents.

What? When did that happen?
In this movie I did, Gardens of the Night, when I was playing a street prostitute. It was right in my wheelhouse. [Laughs.] I was doing this full-on When Harry Met Sally… speech about how she talks to johns. I don’t know why I get cast in these roles, but I have to keep doing things that make me really scared. I say, “Sure, I’ll do it,” and then I’m like, “Oh my God, why am I doing this?”  

Okay, so if the world were coming to an end …
There’s really no hope. We’re all going to die. I’ve thought a lot about how if something horrible happened, and if it were like The Road situation, I’ve decided I don’t want to survive past the death of society as we know it. I don’t want to fight for my life, or fend off roving gangs of rapists. I would want to just die instantly. I would have cyanide capsules ready. [Laughs.]

But let’s say you take a moment to indulge yourself first. You can eat whatever you want, break whatever laws you want, do whatever you want. What do you want to do as the world’s collapsing?
I’m a very law-abiding citizen, and I’ve never consciously broken any law. I get nervous just jaywalking in Los Angeles! So I might want to go on a rampage and commit a bunch of felonies. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but perhaps I could set fire to an abandoned building. What I’m telling you is I’m an arsonist. [Laughs.] I never went through that phase as a kid, because I was scared of fireworks.

Britta’s a bit of an arsonist as well, even if only accidentally.
I know! But any time she tries to do some anarchy, it’s sadly contained, and it ends up with her in a dog crate. She’s not setting the world on fire like she means to. She’s just causing a ruckus.

What do you think of the ways the cast of Community has been reimagined by the fans? Such as when you’re drawn as the Avengers, Batman villains, or become Star Trek: The Next Generation?
I used to babysit a little boy who was into superheroes, and he had tons of Batman figurines, so I used to do the voice for Poison Ivy for him all the time, so that one was nice for me. And I enjoy Thor as well, because he’s pretty hunky. If I could have that beautiful, flowing blond hair, and those biceps? Yeah.

I just would have thought Britta would be more Deanna Troi than Dr. Beverly Crusher, given her emphasis on psychotherapy and on-off relationship with Will Riker, i.e., Jeff Winger.
Yeah, sometimes it requires a bit of a leap. It’s not always one to one. But there have been so many! I’ve seen ones where we’re The Wizard of Oz, and Street Fighter. We even did that whole photo shoot as The Breakfast Club and Animal House. What hasn’t been tackled? Independence Day. The Addams Family. Men in Black. I could be Vincent D’Onofrio. He’s a big bug stuck in a man. I think there is something totally distinct and unique about our characters where they have somehow also become archetypes, which relate to other archetypes — and it’s awesome!

Like (500) Days of Britta, where Britta’s recast as the rom-com heroine?
I have got to go find and watch that! I hadn’t thought of Britta as a manic pixie dream girl, but the thing I like about Britta is that she doesn’t care what guys think of her. I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve worn a dress, and it’s always a plot point for a very specific reason. I like playing a character who isn’t stereotypically feminine, but is still very much a girl, and who fights against the system. It’s like in that scene when Jeff says, “That woman is a hurricane.” And Troy says longingly, “Yeah.” There are two different responses to her in that moment, because there are different sides to Britta, who is a person in conflict with herself. A lot of people can definitely relate to her.

Will Community be the same kind of show without Dan Harmon? Did you at least go and celebrate the Critic’s Choice Award with him?
We all texted him to say our congratulations. We’re all very grateful to him, because he really changed our lives and our careers, so we have an infinite amount of gratitude towards him and his beautiful writing and his ambition. But being an actor, we don’t often have any power [over who is showrunner or not]. We’re all used to being in a position of no power, no decision-making. We’re trying to focus on making the fourth season, despite all the bumps in the road, because this is remarkable that a low-rated, underwatched show made it to season four in spite of everything.

If the goal is six seasons and a movie, what’s the movie?
It would have to involve Torg from the timelines episode. He might curse us and we would have to venture into the magical forest to defeat him. It would be very Princess Bride, and Britta, of course, is the Robin Wright Penn of the group. [Laughs.] I mean, as a cast, we are obsessed with Torg. We put him back in the Christmas episode — you can see him if you freeze the frame. So we need to see him come back to life and terrorize Troy.  

Speaking of bringing something back, since you guys had all the Beetlejuice references on the show, you know they’re making a Beetlejuice 2 now?
They are? Will Winona Ryder be in it? Wow. That was one of our longest running jokes, so that after the third time we said his name, you saw Beetlejuice walk on by. We timed it out very carefully. It took three seasons to tell that joke!

Tim Burton may not be involved in the sequel, so maybe that’s the analogy you can use for the Dan Harmon situation: You need something more Community-like than those corporate talking points.
I’ll try it. [Laughs.] If that goes over well, I’ll let you know.

Gillian Jacobs on Community Without Dan Harmon