In her new Netflix series Love, Gillian Jacobs stars in a very atypical romantic comedy. The show, which comes out Friday, Feb. 19, chronicles the unlikely attraction between opposites Mickey (Jacobs) and Gus (played by Paul Rust, who co-created the show with his wife, Lesley Arfin).
When Jacobs, 33, met to discuss the show — executive produced by Judd Apatow — for the first time, she was drawn to “their desire to do a grounded, real look at a relationship and the missteps and obstacles getting in the way of the characters.” Mickey and Gus are drawn to each other even though they seem different on the surface: he is a slightly nerdy, very responsible tutor on a CW-style show about a family of witches, while she is a producer on a radio call-in advice show who struggles with sobriety and all-around impulsive behavior.
Jacobs is known for the complicated women she’s portrayed — the not exactly grounded character Britta on Community or Mimi Rose, the overly earnest romantic rival on Girls — but Mickey is in a class of her own. “Getting to play a complex, flawed, imperfect woman is exciting,” says Jacobs. “She’s not easily categorizable. She hurts people’s feelings but has a big heart, which is an interesting duality to have.”
In the very first episode, Mickey shows up to a church service to see a no-good ex-boyfriend after taking more than one sleeping pill. She’s wearing a red one-piece bathing suit under a pair of Levi’s. “The idea was, she’s high on Ambien and trying to look cute, but it’s off. So it was about striking the right chord between cute but strange. I can’t even say how many hours we spent figuring out the perfect outfit.”
The show is set in the hipster enclaves of L.A.’s east side, where Jacobs lives. She even got to incorporate some of her own clothes into Mickey’s wardrobe. (Look for the Carhartt overalls.)
But that’s where the similarities end. “My dating life is not nearly as volatile as the character’s,” she says with a laugh, although won’t comment further on her longtime boyfriend.
She also doesn’t drink, she says, but “getting in your own way is universal. She’s her own worse enemy, but is reaching a point where she wants to confront that and deal with it. We see it going from being an internal struggle to her opening up about it.” Mickey falls off the wagon and lies about how long she’s been sober, but it’s treated with sensitivity and honesty rather than melodrama, like in an ABC After School Special.
“I think I’m more like Gus, probably. I’m a little more tightly wound, and Mickey is able to let it all hang out. She is more likely to say how she feels, and Gus has a hard time expressing negative emotions.” So is she in therapy in real life? “Totally,” she laughs.
Even though Jacobs has become famous for comedy, she was trained as classically as it comes. She grew up in Pittsburgh and trained in theatre at Carnegie Mellon and then studied at Juilliard. “It’s both surreal and mundane at the same time. I got great training, but I didn’t have the easiest time there. It was very rigorous.”
Afterward, she acted in independent films and would go to L.A. for pilot season, which was an exercise in perseverance. “Talent isn’t enough, you have to have resilience,” she says. “You hear so many noes, or once the pilot was picked up and they recast me. I think I have thick skin. If I don’t get a job I want, I get sad, but you have to develop an ability to move on.”
Her big break was Community, the last season of which was streamed on Yahoo. It was a zany, often meta-leaning sitcom with a tirelessly devoted following. “For how silly it was, it was a show that meant a lot to people in an emotional way. The dynamics of the characters and their friendship always comes up — fans will say it felt like it helped them through a hard time in their lives.” She even attended the fan convention CommuniCon, where people flew in from around the country to meet her and participate in costume contests. “It was such a sweet thing. Not too often you’re a part of something that spurs that kind of devotion.”
It’s unclear whether there will be another chapter of Community. “It’s always possible to return. What’s most likely is the movie. I know everyone would be down. We’re all still in touch, and I think we all miss working together,” said Jacobs.
Besides working on the upcoming second season of Love, she’s involved with activism in support of girls and technology and worked on a documentary about Grace Hopper, one of the original female coders. “I had no idea who she was,” she says. “I had to start from the ground up. I’m not at all a coder. I just went to the White House for Champions of Change for computer science and was panicking on the flight there, looking for stats so I wouldn’t look like an idiot!” Her role right now is a cheerleader for women in tech, but this year she has set a personal challenge to learn to code.
She sees a gender imbalance in Hollywood as well. “On a numbers basis, there are, on a basic level, fewer parts for women than men in any given script. When I was at Juilliard, half the number of parts were for women.” This is why she’s particularly excited about women creating their own material, like Amy Schumer, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of Broad City, and Lena Dunham.
Even though her Girls character, Mimi Rose, has broken up with Adam by the end of last season, she would love to work on the Girls set again. “Maybe a dream sequence,” she says. “I said I would be an extra in a party scene, just standing in the background.”