Gillian Jacobs talks TV, female comedians and never drinking alcohol

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An introduction from Lena Dunham: “Gillian Jacobs stars in Community and is coming to Girls next season. I’m so transfixed by how smart, funny and beautiful she is. She’s the greatest.”

When Lena Dunham sings someone’s praises, the world joins in. And that includes Stylist, especially when Lena tells us she’s cast American actress Gillian Jacobs in the next season of Girls. Unless you’re already a fan of US cult comedy Community, you may not have heard of Jacobs, but all that’s about to change. She’s already a bona fide comedy legend in the States, due almost exclusively to her breakout role as Britta in Community (think The Big Bang Theory meets Arrested Development via The Breakfast Club), where she plays an uptight high-school dropout who, in her late 20s, resumes her studies at community college. She’s also about to hit our cinemas shortly in Life Partners, an indie flick about codependent best friends that was well-received on the film festival circuit earlier this year, and comedy Walk Of Shame with Elizabeth Banks that has blockbuster written all over it.

We have a feeling, however, it’s her turn as the new character on Girls that will push the 31- year-old to next-level stardom. Series four introduces Jacobs as a multimedia artist who shakes up the group’s already rocky dynamics and challenges Hannah’s ideas about art. “Gillian is incredibly smart,” Dunham says. “Even though she could just subsist playing some sort of ingénue, she’s allowed her personality to shine through and inform all the choices she makes in her career. I really admire her, so when there was finally the right part for her on Girls, I was thrilled. It was just as much fun as I thought it would be to work with her. And we came in wearing the same Sandro sweatshirt; it was great.”

Identical choice in clothing aside, it was also recently announced that super-producer and Girls executive producer Judd Apatow has cast Jacobs as the lead in Love, his upcoming Netflix series on relationships, which we’ll be binge-watching come 2016. Here, Stylist meets the infectiously funny, warm and engaging rising star that is Gillian Jacobs…

How do you know Lena?
I first met her years ago because my friend produced her 2010 movie Tiny Furniture. We’ve got friends in common from New York, as I used to live there before I moved to Los Angeles, so I would run into her sporadically.

How did you end up getting a part in Girls?
I was in New York earlier this year walking down the street and randomly happened upon the set. I wandered in and got talking to Jenni Konner, who runs the show, and she asked if anyone had talked to me about this role they wanted me to do. I said no, then as I walked out the door, I got a call from my agent saying, “Girls want to talk to you about a part,” so it was a really lucky walk down Lafayette Street. Lena was someone I wanted to work with, so I leapt at the opportunity.

What can you reveal about your character?
She’s called Mimi-Rose and some of the characters find her very irritating. She’s a successful multimedia artist and I think that makes Hannah insecure.

Have you had to do any embarrassing scenes?
I’m totally game for whatever Lena and Jenni want to do, but I haven’t had to do anything physically embarrassing. I wasn’t in a neon mesh shirt with no bra like Hannah was in one of my favourite episodes (Bad Friend, season two), but my character is kind of pretentious, so I’ve said some things that are cringe-worthy.

What was the most challenging thing about filming Girls?
The only bad part was that it ended. It’s funny because we were shooting in Williamsburg one night, close to where I used to live, and it was a full-circle moment for me. I wasn’t very successful when I was living there, so to be there a couple of years later, working on Girls, felt great. I had a real sense of accomplishment.

The women in Girls don’t have their lives together. Do you?
I relate to Girls so much because I used to be that friend where everyone was like, “Oh God, what’s going to happen to her?” I was sleeping on their floors; I lived that reality, but I’m not in that place now.

Would you say you’re Hannah, Jessa, Marnie or Shoshanna?
I truly think I’m Ray! He was the character that made me think, ‘Yep, that’s me’. But out of the four main girls, I would say Hannah. She wants all these things for her life but it doesn’t always match up with where she is and I relate to that struggle.

How would you describe your other big series Community to someone?
I would say it’s closer to The Simpsons than it is to any live-action comedy you can think of. Anything can happen, as we don’t follow any rules of a traditional sitcom. We’ve had animated episodes and ones based on action films – it’s got really unique characters. 

How did it feel when the show was cancelled back in May? 
Well, we were sort of prepared because every year it was a fight to get it renewed, so even though it was painful, I can’t say it was a shock. It was more shocking when we got picked up by Yahoo! Screen (uk. on the last day of our contract [an onlineonly sixth season has been commissioned]. Most of our audience is online so it makes sense.

Have you had any weird fan moments? 
The fans of Community are very sweet and polite – they even organised their own convention called CommuniCon. I went last year and there was a guy with his entire forearm tattooed with [the main characters] in cartoon form. It was mind-blowing because I don’t think I’ve ever loved anything that much.

I've never had alcohol, so I often have to ask my cast mates, 'Is this what being drunk is like?'

Who are TV’s female comedians we should be keeping an eye on this year?
There are so many women not just acting in shows but creating them. I’m such a fan of Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer), New Girl, the girls of Garfunkel And Oates and the girls from Broad City, which Amy Poehler produces. I have so much admiration for Amy because she’s giving shows to other people. Helping other people out is the best thing you can do when you reach a position of power and Tina Fey is doing the same thing. Her show 30 Rock, was the first series I remember being really obsessed with after college, so I’ve always been a fan of Tina.

What TV series are you obsessed with at the moment?
I’m such a huge fan of Armando Iannucci. I watched The Thick Of It, so I was so excited for Veep – that show keeps getting better. I also adore Nathan For You, where comedian Nathan Fielder goes around ‘helping’ small businesses which is hysterically funny, and Drunk History, where they get people very drunk and ask them to retell a historical story, which they then record and have actors act out the dialogue.

Do you have a favourite TV character?
I love a lot of British TV and I mean, obviously Idris Elba is the sun, the moon and the stars. You truly never know what’s going to happen in Luther.

I’ve read that you don’t drink but often play characters who do. How do you portray being drunk?
I’ve never had alcohol, so I have to ask my cast mates, “Is this what being drunk is like?” I had an episode in Community where I was supposed to be hungover, so I kept grilling everybody about what it was like and they told me lights are really painful and you hate loud noises, so I was like, “OK, got it!”

Catch Gillian Jacobs in series four of Girls in January 2015 on Sky Atlantic

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Stylist Team