While she’s best known to comedy fans from her years playing Britta on Community, Gillian Jacobs is about to make you fall in love with her all over again. For her latest leading role in the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix series Love – which earned a rare double-season order back in September – Jacobs plays a New Jersey-to-LA transplant named Mickey grappling with all the self-worth issues of a newly single 32-year-old woman who loves weed, booze, and bad boyfriends. Jacobs stars alongside co-creator Paul Rust as Gus, Mickey’s budding love interest, and the way their relationship develops – slowly, tediously, bit by bit – is a painfully close reflection of the realities of love today. (Check out our complete review of the series here.)
Ahead of Love’s Netflix debut last Friday, I spoke with Jacobs about why she loves playing characters like Mickey, not being restricted to a 22-minute TV format, and what it’s like being a beloved cult TV figure thanks to Community.
Hey Gillian! How’s 2016 been treating you so far?
Pretty good so far, I would say! I’ve gone to the White House, I’ve had a premiere for my show, I got to go to New York…it’s been pretty good.
I wanted to ask you about Mike Birbiglia’s movie. That’s premiering at SXSW, right?
And you play a member of the improv group, right?
I do, yes. It’s myself, Mike, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, and Tami Sagher, and we all play an improv group at a fictional improv theater. It’s sort of following all of us as we realize that all of our dreams might not come true. It’s kind of about what happens – after all the youthful enthusiasm and joy and passion you have for this art form – what happens if you don’t “make it”?
How was he as a director?
It was great! He was wearing three hats, because he was the writer, director, and actor. But it was really wonderful. He set up these two weeks of rehearsal before we started shooting where we took improv classes as a group and performed shows at UCB and other places in New York. Kate Micucci and I didn’t have improv backgrounds, so for us it was this great cram session of learning about improv, and then there were people in the cast who had done it for years and years, and it really gave us the chance to gel as a group and really become close and have inside jokes and have done shows together in front of an audience. So I thought it was so brilliant what Mike did.
So let’s talk about the Netflix show. I read Judd Apatow said in a recent interview he really wanted you for it and had you in mind for the part. How’d that come together?
I was in New York, I’d been cast on Girls but I hadn’t started shooting yet, and I got a call saying that Judd Apatow wanted to meet with me. Community had just been canceled by NBC – it was our first time being canceled – so I was freshly out of a job. I was very surprised and happy to get a call saying Judd Apatow wanted to meet with me and I had no idea what it was about. But yeah, he said “There’s this pilot we’ve been working on and we’re thinking of you for it,” and I was like “Oh! That’s nice!” So then it all happened so quickly. You know, for all of us, our sort of post-Community life was always a big question mark, and to have that question answered almost immediately, for me, was such a shock and such a pleasant surprise.
Now that you’ve had a little time since Community, have you gotten a bigger perspective on the whole experience? It’s a very unique case as far as how passionate the fans are.
Yeah! When it was going on, I tried to remind myself that it might never happen to me again – you know, that I might never be a part of a thing that moved people and meant so much to people – so I really tried to enjoy it as it was happening. The fans of the show organized their own convention for the show called CommuniCon and I went to all three of them. I tried to go to all those types of things – they had a fan art show where they had their own art gallery full of fan art, and I went to that – so I really tried to soak it in as it was happening, because there are no guarantees that you’ll ever be a part of something that moves people like that again.
Let’s talk about your character in Love, Mickey. Especially considering that they had you mind to play her, do you see any of yourself in her – or do you bring some of yourself to her?
I think on the surface she feels very different than who I am as a person, but if you really go down to the basic emotional needs or the core of the issues that she’s struggling with, I think I relate to it more. Wanting to be loved, feeling dissatisfied with your life – all those kind of big, big driving forces behind her I can relate to. And it’s funny too, because I thought that we weren’t really alike, and then my family watched the first two episodes and they were like “I saw so much of you in there!” and I was like “Really?!” And they were like “Your sense of humor!” and all these things, so I guess it’s also not exactly clear to me too, because you sort of fuse with it. It’s hard to be objective; I can’t see myself and my day-to-day life from somebody’s perspective. So it surprised me, but it was nice to hear that my family felt like there was a lot of me in there as well.
How do you choose roles you want to take on? Are there certain types of characters that get you the most excited, or types that you’re not as into?
Well, I think the fact that Mickey makes a lot of mistakes is good for me as an actor. [laughs] Because it gives you a lot to work with, and she’s a character who’s constantly in conflict and turmoil, and that’s a really good engine for storytelling. So I haven’t really been as interested in playing people who have it all figured out. It’s fun to play people who are really grappling with their lives.
You star in Love alongside Paul Rust, who also is a co-writer on the series. As an actor, how does the dynamic change when your costar is also the writer?
Well I’ve had that experience a couple of times now with Paul, with Lena [Dunham], with Mike Birbiglia, with Demetri Martin – I’ve acted alongside all of them in things they’ve also written. So it’s interesting, because sometimes you see them thinking as the writer in the middle of a take. So I would see Paul sort of being self-critical or more like “Oh, we gotta get that again” or “We should try this,” you know? It’s not a job I envy, because I’m overwhelmed with wearing one hat. So I think it adds a level of stress, but it’s great because if you ever have any issues or questions or confusion you can just ask your scene partner and they’ll have the answer for you in a way that you don’t normally get with your fellow actor. It’s kind of amazing for me too, as an actor, as a resource – like “What did you mean by this line?” or “I don’t know how to tell this joke” or whatever it is, you can just, right there with them, very quickly get clarity on things. So I find it to be very helpful, but I can also see how much added stress it can be for them to be performing and writing.
Just after watching the first couple episodes, I gave up listing all the supporting cast. There are a lot of great people in this show.
Yeah! For me, it was a great mixture of working with people who I already knew like Brett Gelman or Kerri Kenney and then people like Claudia O’Doherty, who I think is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met – she’s so smart, she’s so cool, she’s just the best, and I didn’t know her before this. I really enjoy that mixture of working with what feels like old friends and then new, cool people.
Apatow referred to this show as the “five-hour movie” he’s always wanted to do. It’s interesting how there’s no restrictions on how long each episode is – the premiere is 40 minutes but others are closer to a half hour. It must be nice to be able to let the story play out and not worry about fitting into the 22-minute mold.
Yeah. I felt like that on the sixth season of Community that we did for Yahoo too, where it felt like Dan [Harmon] could tell different kinds of jokes – like there could be more extended bits or extended runs or things could go on for a little bit longer that would’ve been just cut when we were on network television. So I do feel like yes, it does give the writers a lot more freedom, and it’s fun to see what they do with it. There are so many things I love about being on Netflix, and that’s just one of them.
What’s it like as far as making a show where viewers can binge the whole season over one weekend or read a season review before it’s even on Netflix?
You know, it just feels like television keeps changing every 18 months. [laughs] So you just keep adapting. But certainly being picked up for two seasons before we started shooting is very much more desirable than, you know, having to fight for episode-by-episode on broadcast television. So there are so many upsides to this new world of TV.
I think the title of the show, Love, is arguably a little misleading. Sure, it has a romantic aspect, but that’s not all it is.
Yes. It’s a show about people who are really struggling…with love, finding love, what is love, what’s a good relationship, what’s a bad relationship, who are these people…yes, I know. And that’s another thing that I really love about this show – ha, ha, ha, I said the title of the show [laughs] – you really get to know these characters in depth and separate from this relationship. I really enjoyed seeing their separate work places, their separate friend groups…it’s as much about that as it is about the relationship, so I’m really psyched about that and the way that they structured the show.
And the pacing of the show is unique too. It’s not afraid to stay in moments a little longer than usual.
Yeah. We were joking that if it was a network show that the whole season would happen in the pilot, you know? You’d have to hit all of those moments in 22 minutes. I also think it really reflects the way how when you meet somebody, it can be kind of on-and-off and there’s false starts and miscommunications, so it’s not always this very straightforward trajectory where you meet someone and then you’re dating. It’s nice to see something more real like that reflected on a show as well.
Season 1 of Love is now available on Netflix.