Gillian Jacobs: “I’ve Always Kind of Been a Grandma”

The Community star talks with DAME about her leading role in a post-DOMA gal-pal film, and what keeps her grounded in La-La Land.

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When Gillian Jacobs was in elementary school, she was known for talking to herself on the playground because she didn’t have any friends. But now the actor’s one of the most popular rising stars in Hollywood. In addition to starring as feminist activist Britta Perry in the final season of Community, which premieres in January, and as a new girl in Hannah Horvath’s narcissistic orbit on the fourth season of Girls, she has one of the two female leads in a film make its debut this weekend, Life Partners. In it Jacobs and Leighton Meester star as besties Paige and Sasha whose nights of wine and America’s Next Top Model come to a halt when Paige (Jacobs) meets a guy (Adam Brody) she actually likes while Sasha (Meester), who is gay, continues to date women embroiled in drama (Gabourey Sidibe, Abby Elliott, and Kate McKinnon make awesome appearances in her lesbian circle). Co-written by actual best friends Joni Lefkowitz and Susanna Fogel (who also directed), the movie first found its footing as a stage play with a political bent: a major plot point involved Paige pledging to not get married until Sasha could. The script got a makeover in the wake of the overturning of DOMA and its current incarnation is more like a friendship coming-of-age … when that age is 30. Jacobs talked with DAME about what makes being in your 20s so sucky, her love of the Bechdel test, and her belief that films are getting more feminist. 

Was ‘Life Partners’ based on the friendship between Susanna and Joni?

I don’t think it’s strictly autobiographical. But I think that there are definitely a lot of aspects of the dynamics between the two characters that are inspired by them.

During the process of bringing ‘Life Partners’ to film, DOMA was overturned, so they kind of pulled back on the political aspect of the story, which is interesting. Now there’s never any moment where the characters’ sexual orientation is a ‘thing.’

Yeah, I really enjoy the film because it doesn’t feel like it’s an ISSUE movie, you know? It’s a story about a friendship. And I think a lot of people can relate to that, where you have a really intense best friendship with someone, and then as you start to get older, it starts to shift and your priorities change. How do you continue to be friends with people, even though you’re now splitting your time—whether it’s your work commitments or romantic relationships or whatever it is. I felt like it was a really well-drawn female friendship.

Do you have a lot of friends who are outside of “the industry”?

Yes. I have a lot of close visual-artist friends. I have friends who are interior designers. I have friends who are interested in science, and people who work in public radio.

Is that difficult?

No, it’s great. It’s really grounding, because it’s so important to remember that there are other things in this world. There are people who have interests and lives that have zero to do with film and television, and that’s so wonderful, to hear somebody talk about their day and their struggles and their achievements. It really makes you a much more well-rounded person. I really value those friendships, especially in L.A. New York is a much more diverse town, but you can kind of get stuck in L.A. only talking to people who work in film and TV. And there’s a lot of really cool stuff going on in L.A. that has nothing to do with that.

Right now feels like a particularly exciting time for women in indie film, and women on TV. I love that ‘Community’ has managed to sneak such a cool feminist like Britta onto prime time.

It’s really fun to watch—lot of people have mention the movie Frances Ha as we talk about Life Partners—and to watch people like Greta Gerwig, who writes and acts in her own projects, it’s an exciting time. Even comedies like The Heat, where it’s Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, I get really excited about projects like that, where you just get to see two women—it even passes the Bechdel test. There’s more and more of that going on these days. It’s in people’s awareness now, as opposed to before, when people weren’t even thinking about it. So that’s the first step, to at least pass that test. Which so few films do.

In the film, Paige and Sasha debate the merits of their 20s. Which side of the spectrum do you fall on? Were your 20s more fun, or more of a nightmare?

A nightmare. I was dead broke. No good relationships. Very unsure of my career, very insecure. I fall on Paige’s side, that it was just difficult. I was never having wild, crazy nights. I’ve always kind of been a grandma. So I don’t miss that, because I never really did it. But for me, I feel much more centered, secure, grounded, confident than I did ten years ago.

And it’s much nicer to feel okay about going home on a Friday night and putting on our jammies and watching ‘Veep,’ right?

Completely. Oh, please. I was like in bed and asleep by 11:00 p.m. last night. Sleeping is great.


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