From co-writer/director/producer Ben Falcone, the comedy Life of the Party follows Deanna (co-writer/producer star Melissa McCarthy), a newly single mother who, upon having her life turned upside down, decides to re-enroll in college and finally earn her degree. Having dropped out to raise her daughter (Molly Gordon), she now finds herself fully immersed in the college experience alongside her, and while mother and daughter get to know each other on a whole new level, Deanna also goes on her own adventure, making new friends and just having some fun.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Gillian Jacobs talked about what drew her to the role of Helen, a college student who was in a coma for eight years and who’s now trying to make up for lost time, having the freedom to improvise, why this was one of the happiest work experiences she’s ever had, the vibe that Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone create on set, and how she ended up kidnapping Ben’s puppets. She also talked about why being a part of the TV series Love has meant so much to her, along with the fondest memories she has of her time on Community.
Collider: It’s always good to talk to you! I very much enjoyed this movie and loved how quirky and odd and fun your character is in this.
GILLIAN JACOBS: Good, I’m glad!
What was it about this character that made you want to play her? Did you know that you’d get to play somebody who’s just a little bit odd?
JACOBS: I don’t think I knew the full extent of it until really we started shooting. Primarily, it was the idea of getting to work with Melissa [McCarthy] and Ben [Falcone] that was so appealing. And then, once we got down there, they really give you a lot of freedom, as an actor, to create a character, so I got to be odd.
Getting the freedom to play doesn’t necessarily mean you get to create a character that’s as quirky as this one ultimately is.
JACOBS: I haven’t actually seen the movie, so I don’t know what of my performance made it in there. I don’t know exactly how odd I am, but probably pretty odd. I have a unique imagination
Her backstory is definitely an interesting one, for sure.
JACOBS: Well, that was not my doing. That was totally in the script, so that was Ben and Melissa. You can just get inspired by watching a performer like Melissa, and all the other girls in the movie were so great, too. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Were there any specific challenges with doing this role?
JACOBS: No, this was one of the easiest, happiest work experiences that I’ve had. I just feel like they assembled such a nice, talented group of people who genuinely got along. We just basically went to work and had fun every day.
Things are a bit awkward at first, when this mother shows up and wants to keep hanging out with her daughter. Her daughter’s friends seem to like having her around more than her own daughter does, at least at first. Why do you think your character, in particular, is so drawn to having this mother hanging around?
JACOBS: Well, her mom isn’t around, and when it’s not your mom, you’re always more down to hang. As my mother is lurking in the room over from me, I have to be very careful what I say about mothers and wanting them to hang out with your friends. Mom, can you hear me? She’s not listening. She’s not eavesdropping, so we’re safe. I just want to be cool on my own.
One of the things I loved about this is that the film is about a group of women who are friends, who support each other and who are loyal to each other, and there isn’t any jealousy or competition among them. Was that something that was important to you?
JACOBS: Absolutely! I’m lucky because I’ve had two movies very much like that, coming out in the same month. The movie Ibiza that I’m in has a dynamic that, again, is a celebration of female friendship. I’m really lucky that I have two of them, right now. In the grand scheme of things, that feels very rare. That’s what made us all so excited to work on this move and to feel so excited to go to work every day. You felt like you were getting to do something that you don’t often do. You don’t often get to work with a majority female cast, especially when you’re not competing over a love interest, or something like that.
Did you guys get to hang out together, at all, as a group, either beforehand or during the shoot?
JACOBS: Absolutely! Not really beforehand. The only person I met beforehand was Jessie Ennis because she was on Love, as well. We had only shot like one episode together, when we were cast in this movie, so I knew her enough to know that I liked her, but I didn’t know her much better than that. But, we all hung out a lot. We were all in Atlanta. When you’re all shooting somewhere that none of you live, people tend to hang out more. A bunch of us were staying in the same apartment complex, so we all would hang out there and go out to dinner together. We went to the drive-in movie theater, which I don’t think I’d ever done before. Melissa and Ben are also such great hosts, and they would have people over and do group events and really make sure it felt like this familial atmosphere.