Skip to main content

Interview: Community's Gillian Jacobs

When we last left Britta Perry, played by Gillian Jacobs, in the season finale of Community, she had gotten into a battle with Professor Slater (Lauren Stamile), admitted to Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) that she had slept with Jeff (Joel McHale) and confessed her true feelings about the leader of the study group. To say that she should have an interesting season two is a severe understatement.

With Sophomore year set to kick off tonight at 8:00pm on NBC (be sure to watch!), I’m happy to post my interview with Greendale’s most entertaining fun vampire. Speaking with her on the set of the much-anticipated Apollo 13 episode in a small roundtable, we discussed Britta’s opinion of the Jeff-Annie relationship, how a totally bogus Emmy snub can work as motivation and the origin behind the phrase “streets ahead.”

For more with the cast of Community, you can see my interviews with Yvette Nicole Brown and Alison Brie here and stay tuned in a couple weeks when I post my video interviews with Donald Glover, Joel McHale and Danny Pudi!

Where do we pick up with your character in season two?

Well, you know, we pick up where we ended at the end of season one where [Britta’s] thrown her hat into the ring with what she thinks is only a love triangle, she doesn’t know it’s a quadrangle. I think that Britta’s ego got the best of her in that whole scenario with the “Tranny Dance” and maybe she’s having some regrets about how she behaved, because that often happens, and maybe feeling a little morning-after regret and remorse at how everything went down. But she’s a prideful person so I think that sometimes prevents her from admitting fault when it would probably be helpful for her to just say, “I messed up.” She’s created a mess. She’s created a big ol’ mess.

A lot of fans are wondering how you are going to deal with the Annie-Jeff age issue – I’m thinking Britta will have some comments about that.

Britta most likely has an opinion about that, yeah. We’ve seen Britta be sort of protective of Annie in that way, maybe even wanting to control her by keeping her a teenager, and you see Annie sort of fighting against that over the course of season one, about wanting to be an adult and wanting to be thought of as mature, and Britta going like, “No, you should just be with Troy. That’s appropriate, that’s what you want.” I think we’ve already seen that Britta has some mixed feelings about Annie becoming more of a lady.

Are we going to see any surprises come out about Britta that we didn’t see in season one?

Every week’s a surprise to me. I didn’t know I said “Bag-el,” I didn’t know I had a cat, I didn’t know I had a one-eyed cat. I’m trying to think. I think that’s the really great thing about this show is that we’re so enriching the back-story of these people, so hopefully/maybe this year we’re going to delve a little bit more into their lives outside of Greendale. I don’t know, maybe we’ll learn more about her family, her life, or how she pays for community college – I have a lot of questions that are unanswered thus far. [laughs] I’ve been so thrilled, you know, with the character development that I had over the course of season one with flushing her out as a person with flaws and insecurities and hang-ups. So I can only imagine she has a lot more issues that I have yet to discover.

Going back to the finale, one of the more interesting things is how the Jeff and Annie thing happened outside and the Britta and Jeff thing happened inside, so they really don’t know about the other. Is it going to be awkward for the group?

Well you also have to add the layer of what happened between Jeff and Britta during paintball which no one knows about but Shirley at this point. So that’s an added layer that I think would affect the group as a whole. So you have some secrets going on, Jeff Winger is being a bit of a dog, I would say in defense of Britta. I think there’s a lot of messiness right there that was created. People were ping-ponging around in the season finale and the thing that I like about our show is that you then have to deal with all that. It’s not like you get to press the restart button and have it be as though it didn’t happen. All of that is going to be in the mix.

What do you have to say about Betty White’s character and her dynamic with you guys?

She’s a madwoman, I can say. She’s a fierce madwoman who can speak, I think, Swahili. I don’t know. She was such a delight and I really think that she got the world of our show, she seemed to really like the tone of the show and just dive right in there and was game to do whatever they sort of threw at her. We tend to do a lot of things last minute on this show, sometimes you’ll get new pages in the middle of shooting a scene and she was incredibly game. I think Dan Harmon, everyone was just so charmed by her. We’re so lucky. And didn’t she just win an Emmy? She’s our only Emmy winner. Though Dan won an Emmy for the Oscar song-and-dance number that he did [Editor’s Note: Chevy Chase also won two Emmy’s for his work on Saturday Night Live and one for The Paul Simon Special in 1977].

How did you feel about the Emmy snub? It was so unfair.

You know, it would be lovely to have them, but I don’t ever expect or feel like I deserve anything in particular. I just feel lucky that I’m on a show that I really genuinely like and we are all fans of our show and I think that’s the most you can hope for. I really feel like we are building fan and critical momentum so hopefully next year it will be different, but maybe we’ll be the Susan Lucci of sitcoms. It just fuels our fire. We as characters are the underdogs, sometimes it’s hard to not have the best ratings in the world but I think it just fuels us because that’s who we are as characters at this college. And maybe that’s who we are as a community, as a show. Like Dan Harmon turns “streets ahead,” someone making fun of him on Twitter into a whole thing on the show. In a way maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.

What’s that story?

You don’t know the “Streets Ahead” story? So someone wrote on Twitter to Dan Harmon, I think they said something like “Modern Family and Glee are streets ahead of your meta-bullshit.” So Dan Harmon then started making videos on Twitter about “streets ahead,” he got really obsessed with it and started Tweeting it all the time. And then, like two weeks later, it was in the script, and now it’s circled back to people using it as a compliment for us. People will say that our show is “streets ahead.” I’m always amazed how he can turn…because I would either be offended by that or just try to ignore it, and he takes it and turns it into creative energy. I think that’s part of what makes our show so great, that Dan is always responding to everything that’s happening on-set, off-set, what people are saying, what people aren’t saying, and it feeds our show.

Do you find that the relationship between the characters in the study group is reflected on the relationship between the group of actors? Have you taken on any characteristics from Britta?

I don’t think we fight as much as the characters do, we don’t have brawls and nobody gives speeches too often in real life, but I think that we most often dissolve into silliness with Donald [Glover] doing some bit and all of us laughing. I feel bad for the people that run our set because it’s like herding cats because everyone’s ping-ponging off each other all the time. I don’t know if I’ve taken on anything from Britta, but I feel like Dan will sometimes start to write the characters to what we are in real life. I don’t know about that one with me in particular. I think that Donald Glover is a lot smarter than Troy, and Danny Pudi understands reality. We enjoy each other’s company immensely and I think you see that on screen and I think you see that in real life.

How do you like these movie parodies that have become such a big and beloved part of the show?

I enjoy it. I’m not always the most astute when it comes to the references, so sometimes I have to sort of quietly ask someone what we’re referring to, but I really enjoy it a lot and I think it’s the sort of thing that reaches out to the fans and they respond back in kind to us. It’s like a really nice feedback loop of love. I take comfort in the fact too that my mom doesn’t know anything about pop culture and she still enjoys every episode, and I think the thing that I really like is that people, like my friend, she watched paintball last night because it was a rerun, she was like, “Every time I watch your show I enjoy it the second time more than the first and I find that other jokes hit me,” and I really thing that it’s such a rich show. Sometimes it goes by just like that on the TV, I think that watching it more than once really helps you understand the subtly of some of the humor in addition to the more overt, physical stuff that’s going on. We’ve got layers of jokes going on.

Can you talk about the show’s snarky sensibility and how it balances with the more heartfelt moments?

It’s interesting. There’s this part of us, there’s like a cynical, snarky edge to some of the humor on the show, and then we will have genuine heartfelt moments between characters. I guess I just have to hand it to Dan to want to strike that balance. Sometimes people feel like you have to pick one or the other, either we’re the mushy, heartfelt show or we’re the cynical, snarky show. All the plot lines, no matter how crazy they seem, like going to the moon, Apollo 13, it has to be based in reality. There can’t be any magical elements to it and then it also has to impact the characters in some way and also push along the character development and the dynamics between them. So I think that no matter how snarky we get it then also has to have a moment of having an impact on the people You can’t just go so far down that one road. But, you know, I think it’s a very humanistic kind of show, where it’s people who care about people despite the fact that sometimes they get snippy or they get easily embroiled in petty arguments that all of us as characters care about each other. And I think that’s what grounds our show, that’s what allows us to have our sweet moments.

So with the second season and stiffer competition in your timeslot, do you think it will be those character moments or more for the movie parodies, like the Apollo 13 episode?

You have different fans who respond to different things. I can’t really speak for viewership as a whole, because I think that there are some people that really get attached to the characters and the love triangles, and that’s the thing that they’re really engaged in, and there are other people who are just in love with the pop culture references. So I can’t say what would make people tune in to our show specifically, but the thing that we have going for us is that you can never predict what we’re going to do next, because we’ve created a world where anything can happen. There’s not that sense of, “Oh, it’s the same setup-setup-joke.” I think that keeps people coming back, that’s what makes people tell all their friends to watch our show and have Community viewing parties. You know, say, “I won’t be your friend anymore if you don’t watch this show,” so I think that’s our strong suit. You can’t really predict what we’re going to do.

Do you think that Big Bang Theory will replace Glee as the target for all the barbs?

That might be a little too obvious, right? That might be a little too on the nose. I don’t know. I think Glee was a freshman comedy, and I think whenever it’s your debut season you get compared a lot to the other shows regardless if there’s any sort of overlap in content or tone or anything, just because you came out in the same year. Definitely the strongest ratings were Modern Family and Glee, those were the breakout shows, but I feel like we have legs. So we’ll see.

Community's second season premieres Thursday, Sep. 23 at 8 PM E/P on NBC.

Eric Eisenberg

NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.