Interview: Gillian Jacobs On Community Season 4, Dan Harmon & More
Anyone who says a beautiful woman can’t be funny has clearly never met Gillian Jacobs. Her willingness to give herself over completely to a joke for the sake of a laugh is reminiscent of a young Cameron Diaz. If you’ve yet to see Gillian play Britta Perry on the cult wonder Community, catch up on seasons 1 through 3 on Netflix Canada before checking out the season 4 premiere on NBC on October 19th. We sat down with the Gillian at Toronto’s Hazelton Hotel where we talked to her about Community creator Dan Harmon’s dramatic departure from the series after season 3, her upcoming film with Busy Philipps and everything we can expect from season 4, including a new romance for Britta.
How did you take the news that Dan Harmon was leaving?
Obviously, that was not something that we as a cast wanted, so we were very sad. He created the show, and he created these characters, and we’re all really grateful to have this job. As an actor, you get accustomed to having little or no control over what happens around you. Regardless, we have to keep making the show, so then it’s about moving forward and trying to make the show as good as we can and getting excited about the new episodes. Obviously, we would have never chosen to lose Dan, but we’re still really excited about the show.
Was there any fear about how the fans would take the news?
Our show has such a direct connection to the fans. All of us are on Twitter. Dan Harmon was incredibly active on Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr and Facebook, so the fans know a lot about the show. Dan was so open and talked to them about it, and they had more of a window into our show than other TV shows. That means that, when there’s a big change, it’s going to create a big wave among the fans. Comic-Con went well for us. People seemed receptive and still very excited about the show. I think people are hopefully willing to give us a chance. Dan Harmon is incredibly talented, and he’s going to be fine career-wise. I think we all need to give ourselves a chance to be fine. I think the fans will follow us and continue to love the show.
On the next season – season 4 – Britta and Troy might be getting together…
Some sparks flying! I don’t want to say too much because a lady never tells, but Troy and Britta – there’s some movement in that direction. We’re also been told that we will meet Jeff’s father, we’re going to go to an Inspector Spacetime convention, which is our version of Comic-Con, and we see Chris’s mansion. We have a really great Halloween episode. That’s about all I know!
Do you have any dream casting for Jeff’s dad?
Bill Murray’s character in Stripes was a big inspiration for Dan in creating Jeff Ringer, so obviously in a dream world it would be Bill Murray. Realistically, I don’t know if we’re going to get Mr. Bill Murray to do the show. There are so many tremendous actors of that age that would be fantastic on the show.
Before you got involved in Community, you went to Julliard and you were doing off-Broadway shows in New York. Did you have any desire to go into comedy?
Yes, after playing runaway-stripper-drug addict-rape-victims for a couple of years, you really want to get into comedy! For me, it was more about finding someone who was willing to cast me in a comedy. It was a fervent desire of mine to stop doing really depressing independent films, stop being raped on stage and to laugh for my job. This was a dream come true.
Obviously, you’re very beautiful. Is it hard to find a female character to play in a comedy who is well-rounded?
I think they’ve done a great job of making Britta such a distinct, unique character who is unlike any character on TV. I feel very fortunate in terms of the character that I’ve been given to play. I’ve had a lot of fun. I did a couple of scenes for this movie called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World that was really fun and different from Britta. I did this movie called Burt Wonderstone, again with Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. That is very different from Britta and still very funny. I’ve been trying to branch out and do different kinds of comedies and making other friends in the comedy world and starting to work with them, getting to explore the different parts of your comedic persona. That’s been very fun for me because no one gave me the opportunity before.
Are there any parts of your personality that the writers of Community take from a put into Britta?
My love of NPR, my love of public radio, has definitely made it’s way into the show. If I was Canadian, it would be CBC. I tried to find the CBC in my hotel room last night but I couldn’t find it. My family grew up in Eerie, Pennsylvania, so I used to listen to the CBC in Eerie. I can’t sing and I can’t dance and neither can Britta. I think my goofy, awkward physicality has made its way into the show. I’m not very graceful, and neither is Britta. There are a lot of times where Britta and I diverge. I was a good student, and Britta dropped out of high school. I’ve hopefully not made as much of a mess of my life as Britta has made of hers. She’s a rule breaker, and I like to follow rules. I’m obsessively punctual, and she considers herself an anarchist. We diverge there.
What comedic skills have you taken from your cast mates?
Comics brains who so quickly. I watch how quickly Donald Glover and Jim Rash – how quickly their minds move. Another thing I’ve learned is to turn off the critical part of the brain that censors whatever impulses you have. I now try to do things that embarrass me as I’m doing them. Hopefully, that will be for the good of the show. You can’t self-censor. I’ve learned from other people. They make a choice, and they just go for it. I’ve learned to embrace that as much as I can. Yvette has Swiss watch level timing. I’ve learned how to deliver a line from watching Yvette and watching all these people on the show. Being around funny people makes you funnier.
You’re involved in a new movie called Cleveland, I Love You
That was actually written by Karey Dornetto who used to write on Community. Her girlfriend Jamie Babbit knew Busy Philipps. Busy and I both joked that we should play sisters in something, and literally a week later we got offered this short. We thought, that’s fate. I knew the writer, and Busy knew the director, and we knew each other. It was really fun to get to do that.
It’s similar to New York, I Love You?
Yes, the director Jamie Babbit is from Cleveland, so that’s the Cleveland connection. We shot it for like two days in the dead of winter in Cleveland.
What do you think Britta brings to the new outlook we have on women in comedy?
I think Britta is pretty great because she’s a sexual character who isn’t ashamed of her sexuality and isn’t shamed for it by the other characters. I’ve seen women really respond to that because a lot of times it’s the virgin/whore thing for women, and not just in comedy. You’re either one or the other. To be a character who’s sexual and not afraid of her sexuality but isn’t being called the whore or being stigmatized for it, I think a lot of times as a female character, it’s hard to be opinionated and principled without being called a bitch or strident. It’s been interesting to walk that line, being a character who has strong believes but is still endearing and is still relatable to the audience. As more and more of her personal flaws come out, people are able to relate to her and laugh with her. It’s an interesting thing as a lady, an actor, to see how audiences respond to a man of strong opinion versus a woman of strong opinion. I think sometimes it took people a long time to warm up to Britta because she was so definite in everything that she believed in and she wasn’t charmed by Joel McHale’s character. A lot of times as a woman, your role on the show is to be that object of desire for the man. I really appreciate that Community has developed all of its female characters beyond just being physically attractive to the male characters. I love the fact that Britta rejected Jeff Winger. So often in a show it’s the woman pining for the man. It’s all the lead up to them kissing for the first time. Dan Harmon said, “Screw that. They’re going to kiss in the second episode, and it isn’t going to mean anything. We’re just going to get that out of the way.” I think all of that has really been such a gift. We’ve had such strong female writers on the show who’ve helped shape Britta. It’s been really great to develop relaitonships with them and their ideas of women and to put all that into Britta.
Is it hard to detach yourself from Britta after so many seasons?
Yes and no. The first day back, I’m always like, “How do I play Britta?” And then it just immediately slips in. I feel very protective of her as a character. I really love her, and I feel sad that everything goes wrong for her, but then I also love that everything goes wrong for her because it makes her such a great character. I have a lot of affection for Britta. Sometimes when I do something really stupid, I’m like, “Oh Britta!” But it’s really “Oh Gillian!” because I’m the one who did it.
How do you hope Britta evolves?
I was really excited that she got a major, because up until that point, we didn’t really know what it is that she wanted to do. I really hope she continues down that path of becoming a therapist, even though she’s not really good at it. To just keep being a bold, audacious, strange, awkward girl – that’s what I hope for Britta.
Was your chemistry with the rest of the cast as electric as it is right now from the beginning?
Initially, nobody knows each other so nobody was being their weirdest self, but I didn’t want to stop shooting the pilot when we began filming. That was a really rare feeling because a lot of times with a job you’re just counting down the days until it’s over. I remember one of the camera operators from the pilot said, “You better get an apartment out here.” I lived in New York at the time. No one had ever said that to me before. It was one of my first inklings that this could really be something. I think the thing that’s great is that we all find the same things funny. There’s this shared sense of humour, and that was always there. We find each other funny, we like the same things in other people. We have running inside jokes. I don’t get sick of them! Danny Pudi is always in a good mood. No matter how tired you are, whenever you show up, Danny Pudi is going to be in a great mood and it’s going to make you laugh and you’re going to feel like an ass hole for being in a bad mood.
Photo Courtesy of: NBC
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