We caught up with the actress at Toronto’s AGO museum
After a three-season run playing the well-intentioned but self-destructive Mickey Dobbs on Netflix’s Love, Gillian Jacobs is free—to travel, explore new projects, take some chances. Problem is, that kind of terrifies her. (But she’s working on it.) We caught up with Jacobs on her 24-hour visit to Toronto, where the Diet Coke ambassador is celebrating the launch of their four new flavours with an event at the sold-out ‘Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In a cheery ’60s-style striped mini dress, Jacobs is effervescent, talking frequently in exclamation points (you’ll see) about her passion for highlighting the achievements of women in science and the arts, saying goodbye to Mickey, and what the #MeToo movement has meant for her.
Welcome to Toronto! Have you been here before?
I was a real Canadian theatre nerd as a child. I used to go to the George Bernard Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake every year for five years when I was a kid and I remember going to Stratford and coming to Toronto as well. It’s a beautiful city.
It sure is. Lets talk a bit about your Diet Coke campaign, and a line you say in the new commercial: “Just do you, whatever that is.” What are some of the things that exemplify you doing you, and being you at your purest?
Well, probably going to the Shaw Festival five years in a row as a high school student, when noone else in my world was interested in Shaw plays! (laughs) But I loved it, it made me happy. I would see three Shaw plays a day and that was my idea of fun. So I guess it’s things like that—I loved Shakespeare as a kid and I like history and going to art museums. My idea of fun is going to two museums in two days so I guess just doing the things that make you happy regardless of whether or not they’re popular. That’s my version of it.
The tag line for the campaign is ‘Life is short, drink Diet Coke.’ What are some of the things that you’d love to try or chances you’d like to take considering life is short?
I need to work on this! I’m a very cautious person. I don’t really go on trips, I don’t travel except for work. My goal for myself is to try and do more things, and not just keep putting them off and waiting and deferring. I would like to go on a trip that isn’t work-related. That’s my goal for 2018.
If you had to finish that sentence in a different way, how would you do it? Life is short, fill in the blank.
Life is short… and that’s what gives it meaning? I don’t know. (laughs) I was thinking of things that are finite, and that’s what makes them special, right? I just did a play for the first time in ten years and as the run ended, people were getting so sad and I was getting so sad too but then I was like, the fact that this is a short run makes it all the more special.
And your show Love as well. You knew it would be a finite series right from the beginning.
Yes! I know! I’m dealing with a lot of finite things in my life right now! I’m getting better with things ending. Because my first show, Community, went for six years and every year when I thought it was over I’d be hysterically crying and so upset and now I think I’ve gotten better about understanding that things end and that’s okay and it creates the opportunity for something new and something different.
So how does it feel to say goodbye to Mickey?
It feels weird! I’ve been in New York these last couple of months so I haven’t been able to see Paul, who played Gus, or Claudia [who played her roommate Bertie] or anybody from the show, so I’ve also felt so separate from everybody. I don’t know that it’s really going to hit me until I get back to LA, that it’s actually over. The nice thing is that it seems like people are really enjoying this season, people have come up to me and said very nice things, so that makes me feel proud. I feel like we made a show that really resonated with people. But yeah, it’s weird! Like, around this time I would be going back to shoot Love again, so I think it’ll all hit me in a couple of weeks when it’s like, ‘it’s really over.’ But it was such a great part, I was lucky to be able to play it for three years.
In what ways do you feel like you’re similar to or different from Mickey?
Well in a lot of the surface ways I’m very different from Mickey. I’m much more like Gus on the surface—I like to follow rules, I like authority figures to like me, I’m not really rash. I could be more impulsive. But I wish I was more like Mickey in some ways because she takes more chances than I do. She’s more vulnerable with people than I am and because she puts it all out there, that sort of inspires other people around her to really connect to her. I’ve seen what that character means to people and how deeply they feel connected to her and that’s because she’s vulnerable. I could probably be a bit more like Mickey.
Another thing people love about her is her style. Any similarities there?
That’s one area where I can say yes! Two things in specific: one, the overalls that she wears are my overalls. I wore them today! They’re my favourite airport wear. And now Chris Pine wore them! Chris Pine’s ripping off Mickey. (laughs) They’re great in the airport. He’s a smart man. And in the first season, or maybe she wore it later, she wore a little camo jacket with short sleeves. That was based on an article of clothing of mine that was a children’s jacket that I got at a thrift store. So they remade that. But Mickey’s also a lot cooler than me in her clothing. We had these really long fittings with Jennifer Eve, who designed all the costumes for the show, and I would just watch her put things together in ways that I never would. So that was really inspiring to me.
Maybe we could talk a bit about your non-acting work. You directed a short documentary a few years ago, and more recently, interviewed pioneers in different STEM fields for stories. How did you get involved with those projects?
I sort of got assigned a passion for women in STEM. I was asked to make this doc about Grace Hopper, who’s a computer scientist. I knew nothing about her, I knew nothing about computing, nothing about STEM. But the thing that really got me excited was when I noticed that she wasn’t the only woman in that field, there was a whole group of women who were working in computing during World War II and then also in the ’50s. I wanted to try and celebrate other women who were closer to her age so I met this woman Jean Sammet whom I’d read about and I got the opportunity to interview her for Glamour. She passed away shortly after the interview came out but it was really important to me to try and celebrate her while she was still alive. That was really gratifying. And because of that I’ve gotten other opportunities—I got to interview Peggy Whitson, who’s an astronaut with NASA. I just get excited about celebrating women in STEM, both historical women and women that are still alive today, even though I know nothing about what they do and when they talk about it in any detail, it’s totally over my head. But it’s really exciting because you see the impact that it has on young people—I sound like my grandparents—but I do think that when you’re able to celebrate these stories and bring them to light, then people realize it’s a possible career for so many different types of people, not just the stereotype that people have about who does STEM.
And when you say you got assigned that first doc, how did that come about?
I had met this man named Dan Silver who worked at ESPN because two of my cast mates on Community had directed 30 For 30 shorts but they were both about sports. And so I was like well can I direct one, if they got to and they’ve never directed anything before? And I think Dan quickly realized I didn’t know anything about sports because my ideas were really weird and he very kindly said no. But I think he appreciated my interest and so then a couple of months later when ESPN acquired Fivethirtyeight.com I got a call very much out of the blue asking if I’d want to make a documentary about Grace Hopper, and it all kind of went from there.
But it’s not just women in STEM you’re trying to highlight, because on your Instagram you’re also doing #femalefilmmakerfridays which is great because all the young women and girls following your account will see these incredible examples of strong women in the film industry.
Yes! My other passion is women of early Hollywood. There were actually a fair number of women working as writers, directors, producers in the silent film era of Hollywood and into the early studio era that people don’t really know about or talk about. I put Dorothy Arzner on my Instagram, who still holds the record for most studio films directed by a woman and she stopped directing in the ’40s! She taught Francis Ford Coppola, they just named a building at Paramount after her… I really want to celebrate these women because now, as we’re trying to actively increase the number of women behind the camera, I think it’s important to know that there were women doing these jobs in the very earliest days of Hollywood.
Dorothy Arzner still holds the record for most studio films directed by a woman. She is credited with inventing the boom mic, was the first woman to direct a sound picture and is an important part of LGBTQIA+ film history. Dorothy’s credits include “The Wild Party” starring Clara Bow and “Christopher Strong” starring Katharine Hepburn. Just yesterday, Paramount dedicated a building on the studio lot to her. #femalefilmmakerfriday Go to https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/pioneer/ccp-dorothy-arzner/ to read more about this film pioneer.
What’s incredible about that is that it highlights not just these trailblazing women but also how far we still have to go if they’re still the ones who hold the records for all of these things.
I know! That’s really sad! She stopped directing movies decades ago. I think it’s important to celebrate the women who came before us, who kind of paved the path, and yes you’re right, there are sadly too many parallels between their era and ours.
Last question. I actually wanted to bring up this piece you wrote for Lenny Letter back in 2016 and I’m just going to read out a little bit from that. “When I bottle my feelings up inside, they grow louder in the echo chamber of my mind, but when I force myself to say, ‘I’m afraid,’ they dissipate as others say, ‘Me too.’” Those two words are resonating around the world right now, and we’re seeing that there’s so much power and comfort in shared experiences. Could you talk a bit about your thoughts on the movement?
Oh wow. I’d never even thought about that. I hadn’t read that essay in so long. As I was saying to you earlier about trying to be more vulnerable like Mickey, I felt like I’d developed some defense mechanisms over the years of not talking about painful experiences, not talking about the difficult things, and just feeling like I had to shoulder this burden alone. And I think what’s so incredible about the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up is that it shows that there is power in sharing these things even if it’s really scary to talk about publicly and you’re unsure about how it’s going to be received. I’ve drawn such inspiration from these women and I know they’ve made such a powerful impact, so many women in so many different fields so yes, I have to push myself to get past my natural inclination which is to be kind of reserved and I’m a little shy and kind of a loner so I have to push past that because I’ve seen what an incredible impact these women have had, and it’s an inspiration to me to continue to try to share and connect.
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