Oyster #95: Gillian Jacobs
"I don't know what it was exactly about me that led people to only cast me as a runaway stripper/prostitute."
Gillian Jacobs has an enviable life. She is beautiful, charming and has a biting wit - but most of all she gets to hang out with Chevy Chase and Ken Jeong every day. If, by chance, you find the latter unappealing, then you probably don't enjoy laughing, which makes me very sad. I spoke with Gillian about how addictive her hit show Community is (at least for me), how she prefers "deeply uncomfortable" comedy, and why she doesn't mind people getting her name wrong.
Alice Cavanagh: So, you're Gillian with a 'Gh' [as in 'ghost'].
Gillian Jacobs: Yeah, my mum decided to make life a little interesting for me and give me a name that no one could pronounce.
Do you get annoyed when people say it wrong?
No. I think I did in preschool, but then I realised that every day of my life somebody was going to call me Gillian [as in 'Jillian'], so if I continued to get pissed off I was going to spend a lot of time angry.
Are you someone who sometimes doesn't correct people? Because I'm an Alice, and I often get Alex or Alison?
Yeah, it's weird. I think people maybe mishear, or whatever, when I introduce myself, and so sometimes I just go along with it?
I remember I had a teacher in high school that called me Jillian, you know, every day of the school year, and the whole of my class used to yell in unison, "It's Gillian!", and he would still just call me Jillian. So, some people, they're just? there's no hope, and you just have to give up, you know?
So you grew up in Pittsburgh, but you live in LA. How would you compare LA to Pittsburgh?
Uh, there's no? there's no comparison [laughs].
And you started acting so young - you were eight?
Was it hard to convince your parents?
Well, actually, the school called my mum and told her that I had no friends and that I was talking to myself in the playground, so they suggested my mum put me in some kind of extracurricular activity. My mum thought that I was overly dramatic and would probably enjoy acting class, so she signed me up. But I became completely obsessed with it from the moment I got into class, so from there on out I kind of led the charge.
I have to say, I love Community? I'm one of those people who watched a whole season in a week. I would watch five episodes back-to-back until 3 am.
That's a huge compliment, thank you.
Well, it's a little sad - but it's such a funny show!
Because it's my show, it's a compliment.
What's it like working with Chevy Chase? Were you a fan of his when you were younger?
I was. I have not seen all of his films, though - which, I think, sometimes gets me into awkward situations, because I can't quote things back to him - but I was definitely a fan of the Vacation films when I was younger. So, it's kind of surreal. I mean, sometimes you just kind of forget that he's 'CHEVY CHASE' in capital letters, and he's not just, you know, Chevy your cast mate.
Definitely. And is he funny in real life as well?
He is a funny person in real life, and he's cute too because, you know, there's obviously the show plays into this - this age gap between him and the rest of us. It definitely comes to a head when it comes to technology. In our first season he told us that his email was in New York.
Oh, that's amazing. He is Pierce!
Yeah. Also, once we all took the train down to San Diego for Comic-Con and he texted me something, like, as a joke, but then he accidentally pocket dialled me. He couldn't figure out how to stop, either. I was like, "Chevy, you're calling me right now," and he's like, "I'm not calling you, but I did text you." Then I was like, "No, look." Then he's trying to turn the phone off and his wife was horrified, thinking, "You don't even know how to turn off your phone?" [Laughs]
Community is kind of your first comedy role, right?
But you seem like such a natural! Why did it take you so long to get a role like this? All your other roles [Choke, The Box] have been so dark and serious.
Yeah. I don't know what it was exactly about me that led people to only cast me as a runaway stripper/prostitute, but, um, I guess I had to work through something before I could get to the lighter roles. I was a huge fan of comedies, and it's been a really pleasant surprise to be a part of this smart, great show, and to feel like I have developed these comedic chops?
And you've just done a movie with Steve Carell [Seeking a Friend for the End of the World], which is coming out next year; you play a waitress who is high on ecstasy?
What was that like?
I got to work with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and T.J. Miller ? who's this really great comic - so it was a really great experience? I mean, Steve Carell is so lovely and sweet?
Do you like The Office?
I love The Office, I mean, I was an obsessive fan of the British Office, and then I became a huge fan of the American Office too.
And what do you think about British humour versus American humour? Ricky Gervais versus Steve Carell?
Well, you know, I tend to like things that are a little bit more depressing. I loved the American Office - but what I loved about the British Office, and also this American series, The Comeback, that Lisa Kudrow did, was that there were just deeply uncomfortable moments they didn't resolve.
That was The Comeback that wasn't really a comeback, wasn't it?
Yeah, but I love that show. I think that I really enjoy the kinds of shows where there are just deeply uncomfortable moments that just, sort of, linger.
Like a Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of thing?
Yes. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm as well.
I love it. I can only do one episode at a time, though, because I find it too painful.
Yes, I know. But there's something kind of perversely painful about seeing people behaving that badly.
[Laughs] Sure, I get that. Thank you for your time, GILLian!
Have a great day, ALICE, not Alicia or Alex.
Some of our favourite clips of Gillian as Britta in Community:
Photography: Lauren Dukoff