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[The following interview contains spoilers for Fear Street Part 1: 1994 and Fear Street Part 2: 1978]
Growing up, Gillian Jacobs gravitated more towards R.L. Stine‘s Fear Street book series despite Stine’s other horror fiction series, Goosebumps, being significantly more popular. So when the opportunity came along to film a Fear Street movie trilogy all at once, Jacobs couldn’t resist, especially since her mysterious character, “C. Berman,” presented its own unique challenges. Teased throughout Fear Street Part 1: 1994, C. Berman’s voice is only heard on the other end of a phone call until Jacobs appears as the character in the bookends of Fear Street Part 2: 1978. Since her character becomes most prominent in Fear Street Part 3: 1666, Jacobs relied heavily on the 1978 rendition of her character (played by Sadie Sink) to inform her choices in the present.
“Everything that happens in the ’70s timeline has shaped who she is in the ’90s, so I absolutely focused on 1978,” Jacobs tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And it was great that I was able to read that script, so I knew what happened. Sadly, I wasn’t able to meet Sadie [Sink]. I only just met her at the premiere, actually. But she’s a tremendous actress, and I knew she was going to do an incredible job in the ’70s timeline of the character.”
Because 1978 introduced Sink as “Ziggy,” viewers immediately surmised that Emily Rudd’s Cindy Berman was Jacobs’ C. Berman in the present, but filmmaker Leigh Janiak utilized a bit of trickery as 1978‘s ending revealed that Ziggy’s real name is Christine Berman (aka 1994‘s C. Berman). Fortunately for Jacobs, the surprise wasn’t spoiled for her as she was able to learn which Berman sister she was playing from the script itself.
Jacobs is also reflecting on Love‘s Mickey Dobbs, which immediately followed her breakout role as Britta on Dan Harmon’s Community. While no discussions have taken place, the character means so much to Jacobs that she would return to Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust’s Netflix dramedy without a second’s hesitation.
“I would love to get a chance to play Mickey again, whether it be a movie or whatever,” Jacobs shares. “It’s not up to me, but I will say that I miss playing Mickey. I haven’t gotten that call yet, but it’s one I would love to get. That show was a profound experience in a lot of ways, and… it was very meaningful to me when we were making it.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Jacobs also discusses filming her latest role as Pat Riley’s wife, Chris Rodstrom, on Adam McKay’s still-untitled Los Angeles Lakers show for HBO. She also shares a story about John Malkovich and how generous he was to her at the start of her career.
So I know you had precocious taste pretty early on, but were you a Goosebumps kid or a Fear Street kid?
I was more of a Fear Street kid than Goosebumps kid.
Wow, I wasn’t expecting to hear that.
(Laughs.) Yeah, I loved Fear Street. So when I heard about this trilogy, I was really excited because I’d read a lot of the books as a kid.
When you were growing up in Pennsylvania, was it a foregone conclusion that you’d go to Carnegie Mellon until that Juilliard place became an option?
(Laughs.) Yes, to the point that my mom actually got a job at Carnegie Mellon. If you worked there for a certain amount of time, you got a reduction in tuition for your kid. So, yes, it was that foregone of a conclusion. And then I really switched things up for my mother by going to Juilliard. (Laughs.)
So how was the Fear Street trilogy presented to you? Did they show you all three scripts?
I think they gave me all three scripts, but this was way back in 2019, so it’s not entirely clear in my memory. (Laughs.) But I think I was given at least one script, maybe all three.
Since one informs the other, did you focus on Ziggy’s (Sadie Sink) 1978 material just as much as C. Berman’s?
Yeah, everything that happens in the ’70s timeline has shaped who she is in the ’90s, so I absolutely focused on 1978. And it was great that I was able to read that script, so I knew what happened. Sadly, I wasn’t able to meet Sadie. I only just met her at the premiere, actually. But she’s a tremendous actress, and I knew she was going to do an incredible job in the ’70s timeline of the character.
Did they tell you which Berman sister you were playing ahead of time? Or did they save the surprise for the script?
I think they saved the surprise for the script. That is my recollection right now, although I might not be remembering that accurately. But I think they let it be a reveal for me as I read the scripts.
Whether it’s the nightly broadcast of Jeopardy or locking up her house, C. Berman has numerous alarm clocks set up around the house in order to lead a very routine and cautious life. Hypothetically, if you had alarm clocks set up at your house, what rituals would you perform on a daily basis?
(Laughs.) Lately, I’ve been doing the spelling bee on the New York Times website where you are given a certain number of letters and you have to try and make as many words as possible. That has become a ritual for me in the morning besides making coffee and watering plants. So not very exciting. (Laughs.)
C. Berman ate lots of Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese; she rented lots of movies; and she mostly hung out with her dog. There are much worse ways to live, right?
(Laughs.) I have definitely eaten a lot of mac and cheese over the course of my lifetime. And I definitely remember renting lots of movies.
You and Netflix clearly like each other. Has there been a common denominator in all your Netflix projects, be it a casting director or producer? Or is it more random than one might think?
(Laughs.) I think it’s a bit more random than that, yes. I think this is my third major project with Netflix, and it’s been different every single time. With Love, I was attached to that before it sold to Netflix. With Ibiza, I knew that was for Netflix. And then the whole journey of this movie is that it was actually a Fox movie when we filmed it. So Netflix came in later.
The Fear Street trilogy reminds me so much of the Back to the Future trilogy since both chronicle the history of a town across different generations. Plus, both have the same families playing a part in all of it, and some of the actors are even playing their ancestors like Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson once did. The hanging tree is basically the clock tower, too.
I’ve only seen the first Back to the Future movie. (Laughs.)
What!? And I thought I was going to impress you with that comparison.
(Laughs.) I’m sadly remiss. I have some viewing to do when we get off the phone.
Fear Street Part 3: 1666 was my favorite of the three, and while you’re in it, it’s very hard to tease for reasons that will soon become apparent to everyone.
It’s hard without giving too much away, right? I’ll just say I had so much fun filming the third movie.
Well, I have to tell you how much I adored your show Love. It’s basically my Community since I haven’t seen the latter. While it ended in a great place, would you have kept going if it was up to you? What about now?
Aww, I really do miss playing that character. So I would love to get a chance to play Mickey again, whether it be a movie or whatever. It’s not up to me, but I will say that I miss playing Mickey.
During the height of the pandemic, Paul Rust and Lesley Arfin never called you to test the waters, so to speak?
(Laughs.) I haven’t gotten that call yet, but it’s one I would love to get.
Despite leading a very healthy lifestyle, you’re quite skilled at playing people with certain addictions and vices. What do you chalk that up to?
I am very open in asking for help from my co-stars, people on the set, the writers, directors. I’ll say, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Please tell me where I’m going wrong.” So everyone collectively helps me along the way. (Laughs.) I’m grateful for people’s generosity.
So are you playing Chris Rodstrom (Riley) right now on Adam McKay’s L.A. Lakers show?
Yes, I’m not shooting this week, but the first season is shooting.
What’s it been like so far? If The Last Dance was any indication, then that series is going to be huge.
Absolutely. I’ve only gotten to work very little on the show. So I’m looking forward to going and getting to work more. But I feel so lucky to be a part of a project with such an unbelievable cast. It’s kind of extraordinary.
And you made a Chris Pine movie right before the world ended, right? Violence of Action?
Yeah, we shot that one in the fall of 2019, I think. I’m a very lucky person when I think about all of the actors that I’ve gotten a chance to work with, and Chris Pine is right up there. I think he’s amazing. So that was just such a great experience working with him, and I loved that experience. I wish I could’ve had more scenes with him. (Laughs.) But I was very lucky.
Since I watched you hold a gun recently, I’d love to see you do more action, but what genre or type of role are you still dreaming about playing someday?
Well, if you ever do watch Community, the paintball episodes were little mini action movies. So I got a week-long taste of being in an action movie directed by Justin Lin, which was a pretty cool experience. But I don’t know. What’s been fun about being in all different sorts of genres of movies and TV shows is that it stretches me as an actor. So I kind of want to do whatever I haven’t done recently. (Laughs.) That’s sort of my answer always. Something that feels new or different. I did this movie [Don’t Think Twice] with Mike Birbiglia a few years ago where I was part of an improv troupe. I had never really studied improv, and that movie required me to study improv and improvise and really be a part of an improv troupe, which was very intimidating to me. But I ultimately found it really exciting and fulfilling to challenge myself in that way. So those roles that really push you in a new direction as a performer can be unexpected, and I’m pretty open to whatever that might be next.
What constitutes a good day at work for you? Is it more than just feeling confident in your performance?
Oh, that is a great question. I think surprising myself constitutes a good day at work. In a scene, it’s whenever you can feel like you gave a performance that you didn’t anticipate, but feels right for the scene, the character, the story and everything. It’s those moments where you just feel so in the moment with your co-star, and you feel so in alignment with the character, the director and the writer, and you can surprise yourself. I think that’s really exhilarating.
Are you in any hurry to join another potentially long-term series?
I’m very open. I’ve had great luck with TV shows, as I’ve gotten to play amazing characters on shows that really seem to resonate with people. So if something comes along that feels like that, I’d love to do it.
There’s an emerging trend in Hollywood as narrative features are being made about the making of movies such as Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Chinatown, etc. So in terms of on-set and off-set intrigue, which project of yours would make for the most interesting making-of movie?
Ooh, I have never thought about that. Hmm, I don’t have a good answer for you off the bat on that one. But have you ever seen the documentary American Movie?
That, to me, is one of my favorite documentaries about the making of something. So I have to think of an answer. Can we come back to this question?
Sure thing. Anyway, since you’re a fan of Ingmar Bergman and the aforementioned Juilliard, have you seen the new Scenes from a Marriage trailer?
You’ve done your research! (Laughs.) Yes, I do love Bergman, and I was at school with [Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain]. I’m stating the obvious, but they’re both such incredible actors. So I can’t wait to watch that.
I was also really impressed by your work in Kris Rey’s I Used to Go Here.
Oh, thank you. That felt like another great character who was in alignment with what you were talking about with Mickey Dobbs. She was a person who felt outside of me, but I also felt connected to her in lots of other ways. And Kris was just amazing to work with, and the cast she assembled was amazing. Hannah Marks, who acted in that movie, is also a writer and director, and I’m in one scene of her upcoming movie [Mark, Mary & Some Other People]. So these continued friendships with the amazing people in it are an amazing takeaway from that. The compliment of Hannah asking me to be in a scene of her movie meant a lot to me.
Did your work with Brett Gelman on Love lead to Janicza Bravo’s Lemon?
(Laughs.) I don’t know if it directly led to that because I actually had met Janicza before I ever met Brett. We had friends in common from back when we all lived in New York. So I think I met Brett through Janicza, but I ended up working with him first. Once again, I was so honored to be asked to be a part of her film. I have not seen Zola yet, but I am so excited to see it. I just think she’s an extraordinary and incredible talent. I know I’m repeating myself, but it really felt like an honor to be asked to be in Lemon.
What typically happens when you’re paired with a scene partner that has a completely different technique than you? Do the two of you compromise, or does one person usually adapt to the other?
It might be non-verbal adaptation that people do to people’s styles, and maybe sometimes it’s verbalized. But a lot of times, you’re just getting a sense for the other person as you’re working together, and you’re figuring out how they work versus how you work. I don’t know how many times I’ve had an actual conversation about it on set, but I’ve also learned so many things from people I’ve been in scenes with that I then try and take with me to future things. There have been real moments of generosity from other actors. I remember doing this movie very early on [Gardens of the Night], and I had a scene with John Malkovich, where my character was supposed to really break down and have a very emotional moment. But I just wasn’t there as a performer, emotionally; it just was not happening performance-wise. And without even saying anything, John Malkovich — who was off-camera because the camera was on me — basically just started improvising everything that had happened to my character, the given circumstances and everything that she’d gone through. So he really brought me to that place, emotionally, and then I was able to do the scene. So I thought that that was one of the most generous things I had ever seen, and it really amazed me because that’s not the sort of thing you’re really taught in acting school. So you learn it by working with great, generous actors. I don’t know if that’s adjusting performance style or just a real moment of generosity and kindness from one actor to another, but I’ve learned so many things like that from being on set and working with great actors.
What’s the most therapeutic job you’ve ever had? What job helped you through something that you were also dealing with at the time?
Well, Love had a lot of moments like that. I think I’ve said this before, but they kind of wrote a father character on Love that unknowingly had some parallels to my own relationship with my dad, who passed away. So that wound up being very emotional, and it wasn’t intentional by the writers at all. They were surprised when I told them that there was overlap for me. So that show was a profound experience in a lot of ways, and it makes me so happy to hear that you loved the show. It was very meaningful to me when we were making it.
Do you want to take another crack at the making-of movie question?
(Laughs.) Making indie movies can be a real challenge. So I have a swirl of various indie movie-making experiences in my brain right now, and if I could fictionalize it slightly and take bits and pieces from lots of different experiences and put them all together, it would make a very fascinating movie. (Laughs.)
Yeah, I would do a composite style or approach.
Lots of permitless shooting?
I’ve definitely had those experiences, yes. I’ve definitely shot in the subways in New York without permits. (Laughs.) Definitely that. There have been movies where the locations fell through on the day, and we had to drive around to find a new place to shoot the scene. Or the truck with all the equipment breaks down. I mean, just so many things happen. (Laughs.) It really does give you an appreciation for all the movies and TV shows that are able to get made.
So Invincible caught on rather quickly. Does voiceover fulfill you in a way that’s unique from live-action?
Well, I know I love doing it, but I haven’t really asked myself why. But I think there’s a slight challenge to it. They eventually animate it, so there is a visual performance that the animators bring to the show, but initially, you are doing so much with just your voice, which is an interesting challenge as an actor. I just like animated shows, which is part of it, and I like being a part of them. It feels fun for me. (Laughs.) I guess it’s similar to what I was saying about being open to different genres of movies and TV shows. I’ve also done a scripted podcast. So it’s fun to do new things as a performer.
But what I really admire about Invincible — in addition to the amazing writing and incredible animation — is that everybody’s performances are pretty grounded and naturalistic even though the circumstances are so heightened. We’re playing superheroes, so extraordinary things are always happening. So, watching the show, as a fan, I was really impressed by the entire cast. That was another one where I’m like, “I get to be a part of this with all of these people?” They were really great about trying to stay true to the characters, and even though the circumstances are heightened, they play the scenes like you would in a movie or a TV show.
Since you’ve directed a few things, do you want to do even more work behind the camera? How far do you want to take it?
(Laughs.) I would love to keep directing. Once again, it’s challenging me to develop new skills and learn different aspects of set. You learn a lot by being an actor, and you get to observe a lot of people doing a lot of different jobs. But directing has given me a whole new appreciation for everything that it takes. Again, you’re just in awe that anything gets made. (Laughs.) When I get to direct something, it just gives me such a new appreciation for everyone and their craft. So I would love to keep going. Hannah Marks is a lot younger than me, but I’m inspired by her. So I’d like to keep going.
Lastly, can you tell me a bit about your podcast?
In addition to Fear Street, I also have an interview podcast called Periodic Talks. My co-host, Diona Reasonover, and I interview people who work in STEM, and we also try to highlight people from history who worked in those fields. So season one is out on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get podcasts, and season two will be coming soon. So I would love for people to take a listen to Periodic Talks if they have the time.
You’re my competition!
(Laughs.) Well, it’s only in STEM. It’s only people who work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I mean, we have had some actors, but it’s a different lane. So if you can think of any people who work in the world of STEM that we should interview, I’d love to hear it. (Laughs.) But I am very new to the interviewing world, and I’m learning as I go.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 and Fear Street Part 2: 1978 are now streaming on Netflix. Fear Street Part 3: 1666 premieres Friday.
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