When Melissa McCarthy goes back to college and becomes the Life of the Party, she meets a sorority full of wacky characters along with her own daughter (Molly Gordon). Gillian Jacobs plays Helen, an older student who’s still a sophomore because she was in a coma for eight years.
Jacobs spoke with Monsters and Critics by phone about her role in Life of the Party and the upcoming Netflix movie Ibiza. Life of the Party is in theaters this weekend and Ibiza hits Netflix May 25. Read our review here.
Monsters and Critics: Do you hope Life of the Party can be the college movie for a generation of girls to show them how much fun college can be?
Gillian Jacobs: I had not thought of that but maybe. Yeah, my college was nothing like this college. I wish I had had as much fun in college as the characters in the movie do. My college had zero parties so I think there’s probably a healthy medium that most people experience.
M&C: Where did you go?
GJ: I went to Juilliard which is a very serious performing arts college where everyone is studying very hard and taking themselves and their art very seriously and there is basically no campus or social life.
M&C: I never knew that about Juilliard. Actors don’t want to blow off steam on the weekends?
GJ: Maybe a little but not a lot. We were in rehearsal all the time. You could not be late or miss class or you’d get suspended or kicked out of the school. So it was not a normal class where you could slink in halfway through class in the back, like a big lecture class and no one would notice.
There were maybe six of you in a class and if you were a minute late, they’re going to send you straight up to the office. So it was not a normal college experience.
M&C: Since Helen was in a coma, did you get to play the 20-year-old naivety that she still has a college sophomore even though she’s 28 now?
GJ: I guess so. It was a funny experience for me because I used to always be the youngest person in every cast. Growing up, I was always “the kid” in a cast full of adults. So for me, it was sort of like a shift, being one of the older people in the cast with all these actresses who are 10 years younger than me.
So I think I was more aware of that than Helen was but I just really enjoyed getting to meet all these actresses and hang out with them and work with them, because sometimes you don ‘t really feel like you get to work with this many actresses at once.
M&C: Were there other explanations for her coma than skydiving that they tried?
GJ: I can’t remember. We shot this film a while ago, so my memory is really not the sharpest. I would ask Ben [Falcone] and Melissa that question because I honestly can’t remember.
M&C: Was a lot of your job reacting to Melissa’s physical comedy?
GJ: I mean, just being in awe of it and trying not to ruin takes by laughing. That’s mainly the job when you’re working with Melissa McCarthy. Don’t ruin her coverage by laughing.
M&C: Where did you or the costumers find that Alcohol You Later shirt?
GJ: I have no idea, but I had a lot of people on set at the time asking me if they could have it.
M&C: Was dancing with the bear improvised?
GJ: That was all improvised. Obviously they did a great job decorating that set so the bear and I really had a special connection.
M&C: It’s a quick shot in the movie but did you dance to a full song with him?
GJ: Oh, I think I did, yes. Oh yes, they probably had me dance for a solid five minutes with that bear.
M&C: For the ‘80s party scene, did it take longer to get glammed up for it than shooting the scene?
GJ: Oh my gosh, thankfully I got to wear an incredible wig. So the hair portion for me was pretty brief. So yes, probably shooting the sequence was longer for me but that was all of Jessie [Ennis]’s hair.
Curtis Foreman who did my hair and Jessie’s hair in the film is a true artist and does a lot of wigs for drag queens that I admire, so we were very, very lucky to have him, especially for that sequence.
M&C: Did you ever want to dress that ‘80s in the ‘80s when you were a kid?
GJ: Well, my mom did not want me to dress like that and I probably was trying to convince her to buy me frillier, poofier [clothes]. I remember one time my class went to the ballet, me and my elementary school class, and I convinced her that she had to buy me basically a party dress like the one you see in the film.
And she kept telling me I don’t think anyone else is going to dress up like that, you really don’t need that. I insisted that I absolutely had to have an enormous, metallic, party dress with big puffy sleeves and a big bow.
So I showed up very proudly to school to get on the bus to go to ballet and of course everybody else was wearing sweaters and jeans. I was humiliated but at the time I was absolutely convinced that the go to the ballet you must wear a dress like that .
M&C: Awww. What was it like dancing backup with Christina Aguilera?
GJ: Oh my gosh, I was so intimidated that I basically tried to hide in all the shots. But how great is Heidi Gardner, who is now on SNL?
Obviously we shot this film before she got on SNL and she was so funny that I feel like they just kept adding more and more things for her character. So what a nice cool thing to meet Heidi on the film and now have her be on SNL.
M&C: What do you think Helen’s junior year is going to be like?
GJ: Oh my gosh, I hope it’s not a big letdown after everything that went on that year. Probably she’s going to become a very serious student and start studying all the time.
I don’t know, probably more of the same. Maybe that should be the sequel, Helen with a new class of sorority sisters. Warner Brothers, are you listening?
M&C: What are we going to get to see you do in Ibiza?
GJ: I have two female driven comedies opening in one month so I feel very lucky. Ibiza is myself, Vanessa Bayer and Phoebe Robinson. We play three friends who end up taking a trip to Spain.
My character is going there for work and my two friends insist on coming along with me. I am so excited about this film. I think it’s so great. Richard Madden plays this DJ that I see in a club and become immediately infatuated with.
M&C: What do you get to do as the character who’s maybe all business?
GJ: It’s really fun because it sort of mirrors me in real life. I don’t let myself have fun or do a lot of wild things so the two friends in the movie sort of force her to have a good time, be adventurous and take risks.
Somewhere along the way, she decides to start living her life differently so I’m trying to take it as inspiration for myself.
M&C: Is it funny to you to play a party animal like Helen?
GJ: Yes, I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m very open about that. I’ve never been drunk, never been hungover, never been high so I just basically crowdsource my performance on set and ask people to tell me if it looks realistic and give me notes. I have no shame about that, about loudly declaring I don’t know what I’m doing.