This story originally appeared in our June/July 2013 issue.
Welcome to profiles about pretty celebrities.
You might have noticed that this kind of profile typically follows a certain preordained style and pattern. Most often they are superficial, masturbatory puff pieces that say the same stuff: so and so, while being beautiful and talented, is also down to earth and interesting and smart.
And who are we to fight convention, especially when Other Men’s Magazine’s clearly can’t? What are we going to do, say something disparaging? No. It usually wouldn’t be true anyway. Usually, these women celebrities are beautiful, talented, down to earth, while being interesting and smart. What we can do, though, is let our subjects in on the behind-the-scenes sausage-making. We can make the article “meta” by having the article comment on the article! That’s what we did with Gillian Jacobs. She wrote this piece with us. It seemed like a good idea, since one of the reasons metafiction has gained in popularity among kids these days is because kids these days love the meta TV funhouse that is Community — the show in which Jacobs stars.
Meet Your Beautiful Co-Writer
JUST WANTED TO GET SOME FACTS out of the way because this is about to get very unreal, very fast.
Gillian (pronounced with a hard “G,” like Gilligan) Jacobs is probably best known for playing Britta Perry, the wannabe political activist and sometimes romantic foil to a couple of the male characters on the too-little-watched, too-often-talked-about Community. If your only experience with the show is through advertisements, she’s the blonde one. (Although, clearly, she’s not blonde right now.)
Some relevant information: she was raised in Pittsburgh. She studied theatre and grew up performing on the stage. As such, she mostly had dramatic roles. After four seasons on Community, one of the sharpest, most hilarious comedies on TV, she mostly does funny stuff.
What Happens Here: This not only sets the scene for the piece, but also the tone. It should highlight an aspect of the starlet that is both surprising and telling.
Sharp: We need to start off with you doing some fabulous thing.
Gillian Jacobs: How about parasailing in St. Tropez?
Sharp: That’s awesome! That’s where we meet. You’re parasailing.
Sharp: I don’t really know what parasailing is…
GJ: Nor do I, but it sounded good.
Sharp: Okay, parasailing! Is that when you’re behind the boat and you’re waterskiing with a parachute?
GJ: I think so, but you know, leave that to the readers to find out. Sharp: Is this something you do often or is this the first time?
GJ: I summer in St. Tropez, so this is an annual thing for me.
Sharp: Nice! Okay, you have family here! Royalty? Or No?
GJ: Oh, yes! Both!
Sharp: Oh, wow! So you have royal family and non-royal family in St. Tropez?
Sharp: Oh, that makes sense!
WE WERE SUPPOSED TO MEET here at this small cafe by the beach, but Gillian Jacobs is running late. I imagine she’s on her way, but I actually have no idea. I haven’t heard any word from her or her people. It’s only been 10 minutes, which in Celebrity Time is a handful of milliseconds. She’s hardly late. And besides, I can’t really complain. Ten minutes in St. Tropez — where I’m meeting Jacobs, who summers here to visit her family — is still pretty close to heaven, with or without a beautiful actress as your companion.
And, speaking of heaven: I suddenly see Gillian. She looks like an angel. Her wings are a bold iris of orange trailing behind her as she watches over a speedboat cutting across the water. She’s flying. Or, more specifically, she’s parasailing.
She’s also screaming. I can’t tell if it’s out of joy, or fear, or that hungry mixture of both. And I can’t help but think that it’s perfect. She’s taken off, she’s soaring, and it’s so much fun, and it’s terrifying. That’s how I’d feel if I had Gillian Jacobs’s life, too.
What Happens Here: This is where the main exchange takes place. Information is gained, anecdotes related, theme of the article fleshed out. What and how she’s eating/drinking/not eating/drinking are described in a way that reflects her personality and/or career. The main purpose here is to discover something relatable, likeable, winning and, again, surprising, about the celebrity in question.
GJ: Everyone’s got royal and non-royal family, right?
Sharp: It makes family gatherings awkward sometimes.
GJ: They don’t mix. We keep them separate. But I go between the two.
Sharp: As you would. I have to come up with a meaning, find metaphors hidden in everything you say. So, the fact that you go between your royal family and your non-royal family, you’re a bridge between people.
GJ: Completely. That’s what I see myself as. That’s why I started acting, to be a bridge between royal people and non-royal people.
Sharp: Oh, beautiful. A bridge for people — characters and non-characters, real life and fantasy.
GJ: A human bridge. A bridge made out of a person for other people to walk on.
SITTING ACROSS FROM ME at the cafe, Gillian Jacobs has changed out of her parasailing clothes, such as they were. Maybe it’s the exotic setting, or her dazzling headpiece (is that a turban?), or the fact that she has royal family living in the area, but she manages to embody old-school Hollywood grace while simply drinking coffee. She makes you feel underdressed in her presence, even though all she’s wearing is a bejeweled swimsuit cover.
I’m trying to reconcile all the people I’m talking to: the woman who takes her coffee black, who doesn’t drink alcohol because she was “just a stubborn kid, who made a decision and stuck to it; once you get through college not drinking, it sort of becomes less important,” with the woman whose main mode of transportation seems to be being dragged through the air via a boat and a parachute and who dresses like a golden-era Elizabeth Taylor, with the woman who started acting “because the school called my mom and said that I had no friends and that I was talking to myself on the playground and that I needed to find an extracurricular.” Not to mention, of course, all those with the person I see on my television—which, granted, is what people could call acting.
The point is, she’s a complicated person — she’s many destinations, and the road in between.
She’s telling me about her worst experience on the stage. “I did a play where, on the night the critics came, a fire alarm went off in the building and we all had to evacuate the theatre,” she says, “and we had to stand outside with the audience and the critics for 20 minutes, then go back and start the play where we had left off.”
“Did you stay in character the whole time?” I ask.
“No,” she laughs. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had, though. She exudes commitment. You see it on Community; this drama-kid willingness to do anything, for a laugh, for a moment.
“You know, it’s kind of a relief — I’ve played so many homeless, teenage prostitute, rape-victim drug addicts. You sort of need a break. Maybe in a couple years I’ll want to go back to that world, but right now I’m glad to be doing comedy,” she says. “They took a risk in hiring me for Community since I really didn’t have a strong background in it. But, I think I was right for the character, and so I kind of got to grow with the part.”
She’s game. That’s what makes her so attractive, I realize. It’s a character trait with a storied history: from Jane Fonda to Meg Ryan, from Cameron Diaz to Malin Akerman. There’s this spark of ambition mixed with equal parts confidence and humility. Some women are irresistible because they seem down to earth or real. But this is different: it’s as if she knows she’s above you, but she’s totally cool with kicking it at your level. It’s surprising, frankly. Surprising, and winning, and likeable.
One Last Thing
What Happens Here: In other, less effusive types of profiles, this would be where the writer would introduce a counterpoint to balance all the praise. But, that’s not how Profiles of Pretty Women work. Up until now, you’ve described personality. The closing bit is where it’s permissible to really drive home the point that is already being made by the accompanying photographs: she’s hot.
Sharp: I need to sort of end by rhapsodizing about how beautiful you are. So, I need like a scale about how creepy you want me to be. Give me some sort of idea.
GJ: Well, how creepy has our article been thus far? I guess it should be in keeping with the whole article. Have we been creepy? Maybe, be goofy-poetic? Like overblown kind of silly. And not creepy.
Sharp: Maybe not creepy…
GJ: Maybe not creepy. I don’t know what you want to say about me. Some people think I look like Michael Jackson. Someone had told me that I had a Jackson nose, years before Community. But, I really felt like it caught fire with Community and me wearing aviator sunglasses, which apparently makes me look a lot like Michael Jackson.
Sharp: You know, as far as celebrity lookalikes go, he’s very famous…
GJ: Very famous. About as famous as you can get.
“YOU COULD SAY THAT I’M HAUNTED by a dead, royal ancestor,” she says, out of the blue. Like she forgot that her internal monologue wasn’t broadcasting on all channels, like she interrupted herself. “All my dead royal ancestors, they speak to me at night, and I feel a great sense of obligation to them, and I hope to make them proud.”
And, while it’s distinctly possible that Gillian Jacobs is fucking with me — testing me, to see what I’ll put in this article — I’d be willing to bet that it’s a thought she’s actually thought. It’s not like I believe that a line of ghosts surrounds her in her bed every night, but I do think she’d be lying if she wasn’t concerned with her place in the world, the extent to which she’ll reach her potential; she worries about her legacy, in other words.
But, maybe that’s the wrong interpretation. Maybe she does have spooky dreams about dead viscounts and duchesses. The fact is, she could believe that and a whole lot worse, because when she’s talking it can be hard to listen. Not because she isn’t saying anything interesting. She is. But, she’s got these welcoming eyes, this incredible smile, this girl-next-door-became-suddenly-hot-over-the-summer casual sex appeal. And that can be really distracting.
So, I’ll admit, I don’t really remember a lot of what she says towards the end of the conversation. Something about a web series called Tiny Commandos with Ed Helms and Walk of Shame with Elizabeth Banks. Things are picking up. Up and up and up. She’s very busy.
So, she shakes my hand and walks — radiant and approachable — down to the water and waits for her boat to pick her up, so she can fly on out of here.