Gillian Jacobs was a drama nerd in her native Pittsburgh who segued to Juilliard and the Off-Broadway stage. But when she was cast as Britta Perry in Community, a comedy star was born. She went on to roles in movies like Walk of Shame and a season of HBO’s Girls last year, and beginning this Friday, she headlines the Netflix series Love, Judd Apatow’s take on modern romance.
Jacobs plays the self-destructive, insecure Mickey, smarting from the end of a toxic relationship, and when she meets the equally love-bruised Gus (Paul Rust), it becomes clear that these mismatched misfits will get together, just not right away.
In this candid conversation, Jacobs weighs in on the role and reveals what scares her, what makes her laugh and what turns her on.
“I’ve always been drawn to people who are struggling, who want more from their life but keep getting in their own way.”
After Community, did you want to do another comedy?
I was looking to perhaps do a show that had two leads, like something like this. I had been cast but hadn’t started shooting my run on Girls when I learned about this project, and so I was really excited about doing something more in that vein, in the world of dramedy and getting to have incredibly serious scenes and then also very funny things as well. I was so fortunate to have six years on such a great show, and so it’s fun to do something very different tonally. I don’t think it gets much better than this, so it felt like a no‑brainer.
What did you like about Mickey when you read the script?
The fact that she was a vulnerable person who didn’t have it all figured out. Her desire for more, her desire to better herself and her fallibility—it’s pretty human. I’ve always been drawn to people who are struggling, who want more from their life but keep getting in their own way. Certainly I’ve seen that in my own life where it’s like, ‘Why aren’t things working out?’ And the answer is ‘Me.’ So that’s what drew me to Mickey. But she’s got a really big heart and she wants so much from life that she doesn’t have. She wants to be better, wants love, wants to have figured it all out, but she clearly hasn’t and she can’t hide that she hasn’t. And so there is something really refreshing about that. And as an actor, those are my favorite types of characters to play.
What do want to see happen with her?
I would like to see her figure out what she wants out of her life. She doesn’t really have a passion career-wise. She’s doing a job that she finds easy and they let her get away with a lot. The satellite radio station is dysfunctional enough for her to be a functioning member of that community, but I’d love to see her discover what she really loves and is passionate about.
Was Community good preparation for this?
Yes. Before I was on Community I’d never done comedy before. I feel like in the last six years I’ve gotten a whole education in comedy from the people I’ve gotten to work with and the writers and directors. I feel like I have a Ph.D. in comedy now.
What comedies make you laugh?
Nathan For You on Comedy Central is one of my favorite shows. I love [Unbreakable] Kimmy Schmidt so much. I binge watch that. Getting On on HBO.
What do you think Love says about relationships?
That it’s not easy, that it’s worth fighting for, that it will be complicated along the way.
What do you remember about your first love?
When you’re young, you think you’re in love just because somebody smiles at you. I remember having a lot of hopeless unrequited crushes that felt like love. It’s incredible how every moment and gesture means the world to you and you spend hours dissecting small interactions with your friends and replaying moments and potential future conversations and then getting totally tongue-tied when you see the person. I was really bad at dating. I didn’t have a lot of friends so I didn’t have much interaction with boys as a kid. I didn’t know how to talk to them. It was like they were members of a completely different alien race. I didn’t have a lot of good techniques. Experience is a good teacher, so I’m a little bit better at this point.
What do you find most attractive in men?
Compassion, honesty, patience, obviously a sense of humor. As I get older, I value kindness more and more. Curiosity about life is an incredibly attractive quality in both friends and romantic partners. Somebody who’s excited about the world and wants to learn new things—I always find that very appealing.
You have a few movies coming up.
Yeah, Dean, which is written and directed and starring Demetri Martin, with Kevin Kline as well, and Don’t Think Twice—I think both will go to festivals this year. Don’t Think Twice is sort of in the vein of Love, comedy-drama. It’s about an improv comedy group at a theater, like UCB or Second City. It’s me, Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci. I had two weeks of rehearsal and training in improv. They threw us up on stage and we had to do shows for live, paying audiences. I like to terrify myself, apparently. I was really scared but it was fun. There’s also Brother in Laws, more of a straight-up comedy.
What else terrifies you?
I’m very afraid of physical risk. I’ve lived in fear of damaging my knees since I was a child because my mom messed up her knees doing aerobics, so I’m afraid to run. My parents got me a ski lesson when I was little, like six, and I refused to ski. I told the instructor that it was too dangerous. But they’ve made great advances in knee replacements so I think I’ll be all right.
What’s on your to-do list?
I’d like to step outside of acting in the future. I’d like to start producing projects and direct some more documentaries—I directed a short documentary last year [The Queen of Code]—and perhaps write more. I like to challenge myself in different ways.
Any plans to appear on the final season of Girls?
I have made it very clear to Lena [Dunham] and Jenni [Konner] that I would like to come back, even if they just want me to walk through a party scene. We’ll see.