Gillian Jacobs on Returning to Theatre and Why Juilliard Wasn’t For Her

Actress Gillian Jacobs

“I wanted to challenge myself again. I wanted the rigor of having to be word perfect, of not being able to pull the panic button and say ‘Cut!'” – Gillian Jacobs

Community and Love star Gillian Jacobs has done less theater than most of her fellow Juilliard graduates. In fact, until her recent return to the stage in The Public Theatre’s production of Sarah Burgess’s Kings, Jacobs hadn’t performed on stage in a decade. In an interview with the New York Times, Jacobs reveals why she was “trepidatious” about returning to theater and what she feels Juilliard didn’t teach her about acting.

In 2008, Jacobs starred in The Public Theater’s production of The Little Flower of East Orange, which was directed by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and also featured Ellen Burstyn and Michael Shannon. With that kind of talent involved, Jacobs felt that another New York production wouldn’t be able to top it. She reveals, “I felt a little trepidatious to do another play because it had been such an important experience for me. But then enough time passed, and I got a little less precious.”

In what way does she feel that she got “less precious?” Jacobs admits that she felt up to the challenge again. She explains, “I wanted to challenge myself again. I wanted the rigor of having to be word perfect, of not being able to pull the panic button and say ‘Cut!’ When we did our first full run-though, something went wrong, and I instinctively looked over to Tommy [Kail], the director, like, ‘Make it stop!’ Then I realized there’s no stopping. So I’ve been cherishing both the sheer terror and the pleasure of letting it fly when you know so well what you’re doing.”

Curiously, Jacobs seems like one of the few graduates of Juilliard that doesn’t heap praise on her experience at the acclaimed school — mostly because she felt the school didn’t prepare her for the variety of acting projects should would work on. She says, “I left Juilliard feeling like I didn’t know how to act onstage anymore. I felt so criticized and wasn’t sure that I could do it. But they didn’t teach us on-camera acting, so I didn’t feel like they had told me I couldn’t act on camera, and I gravitated toward movies and TV. I think I had to go away, find my confidence again as an actor, and then be able to come back.”

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