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Interview: Jim Rash and Gillian Jacobs of “Community”

May 17th, 2012 by Naivasha D Associate Producer

Community” is moving to Fridays, but stars Jim Rash (Dean Pelton) and Gillian Jacobs (Britta Perry) are confident that their fans will follow. Really, that’s no revelation — “Community” fans have a reputation for being uncomfortably fanatical. They’re the Internet equivalent of football hooligans. When it was announced that the show was renewed for a fourth season, we boarded up our windows.

The shift its unlikely to daunt any of the show’s fans/cult members, but the news that two key producers are leaving, along with the uncertainty around show creator Dan Harmon’s future involvement, has some followers biting their lips, Kristen Stewart–style, in concern. In anticipation of tonight’s three-episode finale blowout, we thought we’d better get some answers.

We talked to Jim and Gillian on the phone, and in addition to ending up with crushes on both of them, hung up feeling a little better about “Community’s” fourth season and beyond. We talked about other stuff too: How does it feel to see a clay figurine of yourself in stop-motion? When can we expect to see George Clooney as a guest star? And how great a hugger is Donald Glover?

On what to expect from the show, given the aforementioned staff changes:

Jim: Who knows? We love Neil [Goldman] and Garrett [Donovan] and spent three great years with them, and in the natural evolution of these things people move on to the next chapter. But I think that it’s wonderful that “Community” has always had its voice and its vision from the very beginning. Everyone comes in and understands that, and that’s how a show is evolved.

Gillian: Nothing has ultimately been decided at this point, and I think we’re all just very hopeful. And we’re really grateful for everyone that’s worked on the show, and we’ve been blessed with incredible writers and producers and such insanely talented people.

On the show moving from Thursday nights to Fridays:

Jim: First and foremost, we have to celebrate. It’s been a hopeful journey to get to a Season 4, and with the help of the fans we’ll start there and be grateful for the fact that we get to say “We’re having a Season 4.” And there’s always something exciting about small changes. Obviously, we’ve survived little changes and moves and our fans seem to follow us, so we’re just hoping that they find us again. I’m sure they will. They’re a very tenacious group.

Gillian: We have to be so grateful for all the hard work that they did to make sure that we got back from hiatus and got this fourth season. We’re just excited that we get to tell 13 more stories, and hopefully more in the future. We’re the little show that could. You can’t every really count us out, so God only know what will happen.

On the blossoming Troy/Britta relationship, and working with Donald Glover:

Gillian: I love it. We have the sweetest hugs on TV. We’ve really cornered the market on longing looks and sweet hugs. He’s an incredible performer, and we’ve so enjoyed getting to have these scenes together.

Jim: Yes, and they often rehearse their hugs between takes.

Gillian: I mean, come on.

Jim: More often than not.

On the Dean’s best costume ever:

Jim: That’s tough, but if I were to go all the way back, probably the Gaga outfit from Halloween. Fantastic and hard to top, because of that jacket they made for it.

Britta: Your Tina Turner was also pretty spectacular.

Jim: Yes, Tina Turner was good as well. That skirt was just one squat away from revealing everything. It was very short. I can’t complain — all of the costumes were enjoyable to put on.

On Britta being the new “worst” member of the study group this season:

Gillian: Well, you know every group needs a worst, and I’m happy to provide that service. It’s like that family dynamic where everybody picks on one member of the family, but at the end of the day they’re essential and everybody does love them deep down. Britta is a loud mouth a lot of the time, so she draws attention to herself. But she’s very stubborn and she has a surprisingly thick skin, so you know she may get hurt, but she doesn’t really seem to be deterred by their scorn.

I kind of admire that about her. I’m far more sensitive.

On Britta’s evolution from a typical Season 1 love interest to a nuanced character:

Gillian: I feel blessed with some really great Season 3 material that allowed Britta to further develop and for me to unleash my awkward dancing on the world. The show is not conventional by any stretch of the imagination, and therefore the role of traditional love interest really has no place. So we’ve subverted it and changed it, and she has to be awkward and silly and strident at times, and deeply flawed. It’s great to play a multi-dimensional character with shortcomings and strengths, and I’m grateful that I don’t just pine after Jeff Winger.

On their notoriously “rabid” fan base:

Jim: In that time that we were off the air for a while, that outpouring of fans to almost protest for a comeback was incomparable. From the flash mobs, to the goatee thing…all that stuff. It showed that their voice was heard.

Gillian: I feel like we’re almost at the sci-fi show level of devotion. It’s been really remarkable to see it develop because I don’t know how many actors on sitcoms get to experience this.

And I highly recommend it! All you actors out there, get on a show with a rabid fan base. That’s my recommendation.

Jim: Yes, seriously.

On what it’s like to see yourself as a cartoon character:

Jim: There are different levels. There was a fan artist who did us as X-Men and I looked pretty bad ass. Then we had the webisodes where I had more of a flatter ass.

Gillian: He judged it by how much of a bubble butt he had!

Jim: Exactly.

Gillian: Some of us went to the studios where they were animating the stop-motion Christmas episode, and that was a pretty surreal moment. I’d never seen the process of making a stop-motion episode and it was incredible. It was a realization of a childhood dream that I hadn’t even dared to have.

And seeing fan art is a whole different kind of shock and delight, because they’re not being paid to do that and they’ve haven’t been asked by NBC or Sony or the writers. They’re just doing it out of their love of the show.

On their most memorable moments on the show:

Gillian: My appearance in the Christmas pageant definitely comes to mind when I think of this season. Dancing around in a skin-tight brown unitard — I felt like Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. The combination of embarrassment and adrenaline made it pretty memorable.

Jim: This is memorable because we did it over and over again, maybe because they had to or maybe because they were sort of punishing me — I guess I’m going to call it Dean’s spastic orgasm scene when Jeffrey comes back from break, wearing aviators. We did that over and over again and it really wasn’t even different coverage — it just seemed like I was being asked to keep going and basically have my full release moment on the floor.

On Jim winning an Oscar (for his work on The Descendants screenplay):

Jim: It’s a cliché, but it’s very surreal, and in the moment incomprehensible. Everything’s going into this weird vacuum of silence as you’re walking towards the stage and seeing so many friends that you just happen to be on this weird journey with at a similar time. It’s hard to say that it was anything less than incredible.

Gillian: It was such a pleasurable experience. I can’t tell you — I started crying so hard that the people around me thought that I had emotional problems.

Jim on the possibility of convincing The Descendants star George Clooney to appear in “Community”:

Jim: You know, that’s going to be such an easy phone call. I imagine he will sense as I dial that I’m going to ask him that, and I’m sure he’ll pick up instantly. And I’m not surprised if the whole Ocean’s Eleven gang has to be on it, and I’m not surprised if I’m not in Italy right after we wrap. All those things are possible.

On what Dean Pelton would have worn to the Oscars:

Jim: Oh wow. Maybe he should just paint himself in gold, like a gown of gold and gold gloves, just really celebrate an on-the-nose interpretation of the statue.

On the potential of working on outside projects with “Community” cast members:

Gillian: I see us sort of in the same vein as “Arrested Development” or “Freaks and Geeks,” where you see a group of people continue to work together long after the TV show that brought them together ends. So many genres and plots and styles have been thrown at us over the last three years, and everybody rises to the occasion. You just get more glimpses of what people can do.

Jim: I would hope that our paths continue to cross in every capacity, not just as friends, but in work. These are people I trust and admire.

On mentally preparing for the possibility that the fourth season is the last:

Gillian: Nothing about this journey has been average or predictable. So you have to maintain this balance between optimism and realism. But it’s already so far exceeded my expectations that who am I to predict what will happen this fall and beyond? But I’m just really grateful that I’ve gotten to work with the writers, directors and other actors that are part of the show. I feel like I’ve come out the end a stronger performer, like I went to graduate school for comedy.

Jim: Yes.

Gillian: Jim didn’t need to learn anything. Jim came in a comedic genius.

Jim: I refuse to learn.

Don’t miss the triple-header season finale of “Community” tonight on NBC, or catch them tomorrow on Hulu. Want to watch the full series? Sign up for Hulu Plus.