Eye on Emmy: Community's Gillian Jacobs Schools Us on 'Complex, Hypocritical' Britta
Britta Perry can be a stick in the mud, for sure. And lord knows she’s just as likely to spoil an indie movie as she is to out a genocide-friendly transfer student. But that Gillian Jacobs can do “righteous” so very right while keeping her Community co-ed comely is testament to her knack for walking that fine line. As Emmy buzz begins to swirl around the sophomore crowd-pleaser, TVLine spoke with Jacobs about being Britta.
TVLINE | I have to say, I almost scrapped this interview when I saw in our Meg Masters’ set video that you never watched Lost.
I haven’t ever seen Lost… I’m sorry. That’s a huge offense, isn’t it?
TVLINE | I trust that doing the season finale alongside Josh Holloway’s calculated stubble showed you the error of your ways?
His chin alone has made see the error of my ways.
TVLINE | How are you feeling about Britta these days, two seasons in?
I feel good! If you look at where we started to where we are now, she’s become a much more complex, silly, childish, immature, hypocritical person, and that’s a lot of fun. I really loved the last couple episodes of this season – with Shirley giving birth and stuff. There’s been some great physical comedy, and it definitely feels like I’ve gotten to flesh out different dynamics. There’s her with Troy and Abed, which you hadn’t seen in a long time, or the acting class where I smooched Donald [Glover]…. And you learn more and more about her terrible dating history, like how she was once given a gym bag full of nickels, or she had a boyfriend who was stealing church relics. I really enjoy all of her foibles.
TVLINE | Is it safe to say Gillian Jacobs has more success with men than Britta?
I think anyone has had more success with men than Britta. [Laughs] Thankfully I don’t have a history of dating criminals, so I’m ahead of the game.
TVLINE | Is there anything you’re particularly conscious of when playing her, like not to make too frosty, too righteous…?
That’s a hard line to walk, because sometimes it’s funnier the more righteous she is — but it can also be off-putting if she’s too frosty. You have to see that she’s a person who wants people to like her. She wants Troy and Abed to think that she’s cool, but she also has pride, and those things can collide. But yeah, it is hard when you’re the stick in the mud. And I got a lot of angry tweets about ruining Catfish [in the episode "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy"]. I would like to say here and now that it’s the writers of our show who ruined Catfish! So stop sending me angry tweets.
TVLINE | You mentioned Britta as being a bit immature, and yet there are moments where you can see her and Jeff trying to navigate an adult relationship — pitfalls and all.
Here are two people who at the end of the day I don’t think have ever successfully been in a long-term relationship. We’ve learned that Jeff has a long phone directory of easy hookups, and Britta has a history of choosing unstable men that make her feel better about herself. They have a lot of growing up to do to make a go of it as an adult relationship, and they both have egos that are easily wounded, which makes them reject each other continuously. Maybe if [Community] goes on long enough, you’ll see Jeff and Britta mature. But maybe not!
TVLINE | Was there a specific moment early on in the show’s run that made you sense Community was special, that it would become a beloved comedy?
The first time I really got a hint of that was our Halloween episode from the first season. It was such a tremendous amount of work for us, and I started to see the effort people were willing to put into the show –- and that starts with [series creator] Dan [Harmon] and our writers. It’s not just set-up, set-up, set-up, joke. They cram these episodes full of characters and jokes, pop culture, all of it. And then there’s our crew, the prop department with the posters that have hilarious material that no one will ever see…. Looking around and seeing Danny [Pudi] dressed as Batman and Donald in that red leather Eddie Murphy outfit, I was a squirrel, Chevy [Chase] dressed as Beastmaster, off in a corner talking to his owl in between takes…. Thinking about it, I never get to see the [end-of-show] tags, so watching that first “La Bibliotheca” rap was so hilarious and amazing. That’s something unique to our show.
TVLINE | Are you confident that Dan has a third season of brilliance in him? Have you gotten wind of any of plans for the fall?
I have not heard a single plan. I want Dan to just marinate in his brain for the hiatus. Inspiration strikes at very funny times. I’m sure Dan had a wish list for Seasons 1 and 2, and he’s smart enough and our writers are talented enough that I’m sure they’ll be able to surprise even themselves. Because they sure surprise us every week. Like, the clip show? Oh my lord. We had one day on the Universal backlot to shoot basically everything you saw, from the Old West town to the fishing village to the haunted mansion to the hotel… That was all one day, until sundown. It was a manic rush, and we did it. At that table read, we gave the script a standing ovation at the end because the ambition, originality and creativity of it was so impressive. That whole montage of Jim Rash [as Dean Pelton, in a parade of get-ups]? When he did it at the table read, I felt a pain inside from laughing so hard.
TVLINE | Could you be friends with Britta?
I think so. I think that I understand her. I can be a little rigid, though in a different way. Like, I’m hyper-conscious about going to bed on time, and doing my seven-step skin care routine at night. She’s not responsible in the same way that I am, but I understand someone who cares about things like justice and world peace and equality…. I was the kid who was listening to Supreme Court cases when I was in high school, and wanting to call the ACLU. I was mocked a lot in high school for listening to NPR, and having strong opinions about things. I wrote a paper in sixth grade about equal pay for women. Everyone else was writing about, “Why you should be allowed to wear hats in school” or chew gum….. So I’ve been there!