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On a frigid January morning at a quiet brunch spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Jake Lacy drops a Girls spoiler that even the most devoted fans of Lena Dunham’s HBO series never saw coming. Last season, Fran Parker emerged. He is the painfully sweet high school history teacher with whom Hannah Horvath shares a meet-cute in the faculty lounge and, it seems, her first healthy, well-adjusted relationship in years. But in Season 5 (premiering Feb. 25), Lacy promises that Fran’s true colors will be revealed.
He’s a serial killer.
“There’s this big Dexter crossover episode,” Lacy deadpans. “I’m actually Michael C. Hall’s character’s son. It’s called ‘Spawn of Hall.’ No! ‘Hall’s Spawn’! ‘Back From Hall’?”
He cackles at the absurdity of his fabricated mash-up, but he’s perfectly willing to explore the space if Dunham — or anyone else out there — ever requests a trip to the dark side.
For the 30-year-old Lacy, decked out to today in neighborhood- and weather-appropriate denim on denim, pristine Red Wing boots, and a chunky wool cardigan, portraying the nice guy is something of a calling card. His big break came in the ninth season of The Office, as Pete Miller, an affable customer-service rep who only kind of minds the onomatopoeic nickname ascribed to him on his first day. (That would be “Plop.”) In 2014, Lacy starred opposite Jenny Slate in the indie comedy Obvious Child, playing a preppie young MBA student who sticks around when a one-night stand leads to pregnancy. Toss in his turn on Girls and a supporting role in this month’s ensemble romantic comedy How to Be Single — in which he plays a big-hearted bro who falls for an older woman (Leslie Mann) — and the square-jawed actor with the frat-boy-next-door looks has the Standup Fella market cornered.
Lacy grew up in Pittsford, Vt., acting during high school and eventually heading south to attend the prestigious University of North Carolina School of the Arts. In 2007, he moved to New York City. Lean times followed; he struggled to find representation, land auditions, and make rent.
“I worked at a cycling studio, the precursor to SoulCycle,” recalls Lacy. “I wasn’t even a trainer — I was the receptionist. I wanted to go to the next level, but I was a smoker at the time. [laughs] It would have been like, ‘Uphill!’ [cough] ‘Uphill!’ [cough]”
The job also proved less financially viable than he first calculated, since the studio offered only two classes daily and paid him only for the time he was there.
“I would ride my bike over the Williamsburg Bridge into SoHo, do the 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. class, stay for an hour, punch out, then come back at 5:30 p.m. for the 6 o’clock class,” Lacy says. So I was getting paid $8 an hour for four hours, but my workday was like 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. At first I thought, This is great! I can audition during the day! Only I had no agent and no manager, so there were no auditions. It was a fail in a lot of ways.”
In 2008, Lacy landed the role of Demetrius in a Public Theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but ironically, as Lacy realizes now, it was his unfailing politeness that stifled his professional progress.
“I didn’t understand that it’s good business to reach out,” admits Lacy. “I’d meet with [managers], but I felt like they’d call if they wanted to see me again. But they’re meeting a lot of people; they’re not going to follow up.”
Finally, in August 2009, after contemplating a move to Hollywood, he reached out to manager Beth Rosner, admitting that he couldn’t drift any longer and was ready to work. Hard. “She wrote back and said, ‘I’ve been waiting on this email for six months,’” recalls Lacy.
In 2010, Lacy experienced his first network pilot season, starring in the short-lived ABC sitcom Better With You, about the pitfalls of modern relationships. Now he’s navigating his first awards season — for the director Todd Haynes’ 1950s-set relationship drama Carol, which was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture but snubbed by the Oscars for the equivalent award. Lacy’s portrayal of Richard, the dutiful suitor of a young shopgirl (Rooney Mara) who rejects him in favor of an elegant older woman (Cate Blanchett), is easily his most complex and nuanced performance to date, and Lacy doesn’t mince words when asked about Carol’s deserving of a Best Picture nod.
“Carol got shafted pretty hard by the academy. I don’t really have much to gain or lose by saying it, but it’s f*cked up,” he says. “I have no feeling of entitlement, but I do have unyielding love for Todd, the producers, and everyone involved. It breaks my heart and enrages me that the film wasn’t nominated, because I think he deserves that recognition.”
Speaking such truth to power is a sure sign that Lacy has cast aside some of the meekness he carried early in his career. His brunch order — a citrus salad with fennel and mint — provides the next clue.
“I would go full burger,” he says longingly. “But I’m in training for a movie called Miss Sloane. I should take a picture of the fried chicken sandwich and send it to my trainer! ‘What’s up, dude?! Cheat day!’” Everymen, it seems, can be doughy men, but director John Madden has something more physically imposing in mind for the buzzy drama about a firearms lobbyist, starring Jessica Chastain and Mark Strong, which begins shooting next month.
For Lacy, it’s all about flexing new muscles (and actual muscles when the opportunity presents itself), which he hints — seriously this time — made the new season of Girls so much fun to film.
“You see Fran and Hannah’s relationship become a little less cookie-cutter than it’s assumed to be, which I think is an awesome turn on that middle-of-the-road guy,” he says. “The nice qualities of these other characters start to crack a little in Fran.”
Lacy stabs an orange wheel with his fork and stares into space. Perhaps he has something sinister in store for good ol’ Fran after all?
“What if we called it ‘To Hall and Back’?”