Within the minimalist-chic Thompson Beverly Hills, we directed the comely comedic actress to divine the inspiration behind Catherine Deneuve’s Belle de Jour. Turns out, she’s had some practice. As Britta Perry on NBC’s ‘Community,’ Gillian Jacobs has proven herself to be more than crush-worthy.
One evening, when Gillian Jacobs was a high school student in Pittsburgh, her mother came home with a rented copy of the 1967 Luis Buñuel film, Belle de Jour. Notorious for its implied and very real eroticism, the movie follows a bored, bourgeois housewife as she taps into her lust for life through fleshy exploits at a Parisian brothel.
Belle de Jour caused a sensation, and its lead, the sultry French actress Catherine Deneuve, became a gold standard for male (and yes, female) fantasies. Jacobs wasn’t schooled in any of this when she sat down with her grandfather and pressed “play.”
“I had no idea that she was a prostitute on the side,” says the 29-year-old actress, “and I’m sitting there watching it with my grandpa. It was kind of weird. But it’s such a good movie that we just kept watching.”
With her honey-blonde locks, angled cheekbones, and seashell-white skin, Jacobs evokes a young Deneuve, and while audiences know her best as the abrasive reformed anarchist Britta Perry on TV’s oft-racy “Community,” the Julliard-trained actress has played her share of sexually charged characters.
In the 2007 indie film Blackbird, she mastered the art of the pole dance as a stripper; in the 2008 adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke, she was a chronic masturbator who disarmed Sam Rockwell’s disheveled sex addict; and in the jagged drama Gardens of the Night, Jacobs stalked the streets as a homeless teenage prostitute.
After that kind of heavy-duty roleplaying, Jacobs says the goofy antics of “Community” came as a flat-out relief. “Having done a lot of depressing, dark independent films and plays, I needed some comedy in my life. I desperately needed to stop playing rape victims and street prostitutes.”
Her wish may be granted. Opposite dead-serious Ryan O’Neal, she’s co-starring this year as an exchange student in Watching TV with the Red Chinese. And next year, she’s opposite Steve Carell in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. We think she’ll whip them both into shape.
STORY: BEN Barna, PHOTOGRAPHY: RANDALL SLAVIN, STYLIST: ROBERT BEHAR