The indie romantic comedy Life Partners highlights the co-dependent friendship of Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs), who spend more time hanging out with each other and watching reality TV than they do venturing out into the dating world. But when Paige meets Tim (Adam Brody), they start getting serious and Sasha starts to feel cast aside by her best friend.
At the film’s press day, actress Gillian Jacobs spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how good it feels to be in a female-driven comedy, what got her interested in comedy, in the first place, why she wanted to be a part of Life Partners, what drew her to her character, her natural chemistry with Leighton Meester, and how close the finished product is to the original script. She also talked about her directorial debut, a short documentary about computer programmer Grace Hopper, the crazy journey that her TV series Community has taken, to get to its sixth season now for Yahoo, signing on for the Judd Apatow comedy series Love for Netflix, and doing an arc on HBO’s Girls. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: There are quite a few more of them now, but not nearly enough, so what’s it like to be a part of a female-driven comedy and have so many women behind it?
GILLIAN JACOBS: It feels really good. I’m thankful that I do feel like there’s an upswing right now, so I don’t feel like we’re alone. But when you have something that’s written, directed and produced by women, starting two women, you feel pretty good going to work. It was nice. The dudes were totally outnumbered on this movie.
Have you always been interested in comedy? Is it something you’ve always felt drawn to and felt like you had a natural ability for?
JACOBS: I had an acting teacher as a kid who loved comedy and introduced us all to Monty Python and National Lampoon, and would play comedy albums for us. We would develop characters and improv things in character. He sparked my love of comedy. I love all of the films of Christopher Guest. I was obsessed with those movies, and I watched them over and over again. But, it wasn’t necessarily something that I thought that I would do professionally because I grew up doing very serious classical theater and did it in college. After a couple of years of that, you’re like, “I just want to laugh at work, once please.” So, I’m very lucky that my career has taken this right turn into comedy.
How did you come to be a part of Life Partners?
JACOBS: I got the script and read it. When I got the script, I thought, “I know those names, Joni [Lefkowitz] and Susanna [Fogel].” I looked them up and I realized that I had auditioned for a TV pilot that they had written, years previously, that never made it onto the air. I didn’t get the part, but I had remembered them, and I remembered their writing, which was really great. So, when I sat down with them, I was like, “I don’t know if you remember, but . . . ,” and they were like, “We didn’t know if you were gonna remember.” It was nice because I felt this instant familiarity with them. Even though we didn’t really know each other, we’d had this previous experience. They’re two women that I would be friends with, and I think that their writing is so smart. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and yet they manage to talk about things that I think are moving and relatable to me, in my life struggles, with friendships and parents and romantic relationships. They strike a really great balance in their writing.
The rough patches that these two friends go through really feels real and relatable in the film.
JACOBS: I feel like people don’t talk about how friendships can go through rough patches the same way that relationships can go through rough patches. You can develop an unhealthy relationship with a friend, and not just with a romantic partner. It’s really nice to see that given a whole film to discuss and think about, and we also got to poke fun at ourselves. I think they did a great job.
Was Paige always the character you wanted to play, or did you ever consider playing Sasha?
JACOBS: Yeah, I definitely was drawn to Paige. The more uptight aspects of my personality correlate with her nicely. But I’ve definitely felt professionally a mess, the way that Sasha is in the movie. I related to that feeling of, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I’m pursuing this passion, but it isn’t really going to work out.” So, I understand that, as well, but I wanted to play Paige.
So much of the success of this film relies on the chemistry between the actresses playing Paige and Sasha. Were you nervous about who you’d be playing opposite with, in this film?
JACOBS: Yeah. You can fake it, to some degree, but if you really don’t like each other, the viewer is going to feel that, on some level. It really did come very naturally to us. It was out of my hands, but they chose wisely, thank god. They maybe knew something about us that we didn’t even know. We just got along so well.
Was it ever awkward or did you just have a laugh about the fact that Adam Brody was playing your love interest?
JACOBS: There was another layer of awkwardness, in that I’ve known Adam for a long time. So, I was not only having to kiss Leighton’s boyfriend (and now husband), but also someone I knew, which is not a dynamic you have, ever. We were like, “Hello, friend. Let’s kiss each other in a room full of people.” But, it could have been worse. I’ve had more awkward on screen romances. They’re both two very laid-back people, so they did not torture me about it because I was probably already very nervous about it.
Did the finished product of this film stay pretty close to the original script that you read, or were there any major changes?
JACOBS: No, I think it’s very close. There might be some improved lines, but overall, the structure, the themes and what happens is what I read.
You’re also working on your directorial debut now?
JACOBS: I’m working on it. I actually have to make some notes calls after we finish talking. I’m directing a short documentary.
How did you come to this particular subject for your directorial debut?
JACOBS: I met Dan Silver, who’s a producer at ESPN 30 for 30 Films. We were on a panel together at the Tribeca Film Festival, when Life Partners premiered. So, I’ve been talking to Dan about various ideas that I had for more sports-related ones for 30 for 30, and those didn’t really work out. But he called me out of the blue and said, “We’ve partnered with this website FiveThirtyEight.com, would you be interested in making a documentary about this woman, Grace Hopper.” I’d never heard of her and I didn’t know anything about her, so he sent me a one page description of her life and career. I didn’t understand any of it because it was too technical for me to really understand. She’s the mother of COBOL, and she worked on the UNIVAC and Mark I, but I didn’t know what any of that meant. But I do love history, and it’s fun to educate myself about something.
I also feel like, given the amount of press there is right now about trying to get more women back into tech fields, it’s really cool to work on a project that highlights the accomplishments of a really remarkable woman who was there at the very early days of computing and who helped create a programming language that’s still in use today. And I discovered that she wasn’t the only woman in the field. There are actually a bunch of women who were some of our first computer coders and programmers. That’s been really exciting to learn about. I feel like, between Walter Isaacson’s new book and some other press that’s coming out and other documentaries, I feel like people are starting to know more about these women who were there, in the 1940s and 50s, really developing what we think of now as programming. The more we can make it fun and accessible, the more young girls and people of color we can get into the field. The numbers are really, really bad. Google and all these companies released their statistics and they’re pretty pathetic, so anything that you can do to make it seem like an exciting, fulfilling, achievable goal for people is worthwhile.
JACOBS: I know! Someone will write a book about Community, the TV show, and it will be like the SNL book.
Having been canceled by NBC and then picked up by Yahoo, did you ever actually think you’d really get to Season 6?
JACOBS: My optimistic little self thought there was no way that NBC was going to cancel us for the sixth season. It just felt like we’d come so far, and we didn’t really do that much worse than anything else on the network. And when they would put other shows in our timeslot, we would do better than them. So, it felt like, “We’ve come this far. Why cancel us now?” But on the other hand, to be on Yahoo, who has such excitement and enthusiasm for the show, and are really putting their money where their mouth is, in terms of promotion, it feels like the launch that Community always deserved but never got. We premiered the same year as that whole Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno debacle, and they put all of their promotional money into that, so we were never really launched as a show. Consequently, a lot of people have never even heard of us, even though we’ve been on for six years. So, maybe Yahoo will introduce us to a lot of people who have never heard of Community before, and give the fans the sixth season that they’ve been wanting.
When you found out that it was Yahoo, were you ever concerned that they’re not known for this kind of thing, so it would change the show?
JACOBS: No. I watched Burning Love, which was theirs, and I thought it was really great. And I did a web series for Yahoo, called Tiny Commando, with Ed Helms and Zach Levi. I think the best time to get in with someone like that is when they’re looking to launch themselves as a place for content because they’re open and enthusiastic. A place like Yahoo has money to spend, and I don’t think they would take on a show like Community, wanting to change it. It’s got such a strong identity that I think, if you want to produce Community, you want the Community that people love. More than broadcast networks, places like Yahoo and Hulu and Netflix want you to be distinct and original. Look at Amazon with Transparent. They want you to have a distinct voice ‘cause that’s what’s going to draw people to you. So, if anything, I think we’ll be more Community-esque on Yahoo. Maybe we’ll not be beholden to censors.
You’re also doing a Judd Apatow comedy series for Netflix, called Love. Was one TV show just not enough for you?
JACOBS: I actually started talking to them about Love while Community was cancelled. In those weeks and months that Community was cancelled, I agreed to do the show for Netflix. Thankfully, the schedules are going to work out that I’m going to do them back-to-back, and go straight from one into the other. It certainly feels like where all of my favorite people are headed is towards these different streaming platforms, so I’m happy to be a part of it. Previous seasons of Community are on Hulu, we’re on Yahoo, and my new show is going to be on Netflix. I’ve just gotta do a voice-over job for Amazon, and I’ll have them all covered.
What was it about Love that appealed to you?
JACOBS: Post-Community, my goal is to do something that feels more in the tone of Life Partners, where it’s more of a dramedy with the comedy and the more serious aspects. I want to feel like I’m doing the full range of that, as an actor, and it provided that. And I was looking to do something that was a smaller cast. It’s really just two leads, with me and Paul Rust. I think it will be fun to take on that dynamic, instead of being part of the study group ensemble of Community. I’m excited.
How was the experience of shooting an arc on Girls?
JACOBS: It felt more like it was harkening back to stuff I used to do before Community. I felt right at home there. It was really fun.
Life Partners opens in theaters on December 5th.