In “Don’t Think Twice,” Gillian Jacobs plays the seasoned member of a close-knit New York improv group. In real life, the “Community” alum, 33, has never done serious improv. In fact, she was terrified of it. You wouldn’t know it watching the film, Mike Birbiglia’s follow-up to “Sleepwalk with Me.”
Jacobs throws herself whole hog into the role of Samantha, whose troupe is famous for having members go onto a “Saturday Night Live”-esque sketch show. She has stayed behind and, as disappointments mount, wonders if she might never make it big.
You’re not an improv person, though you’ve been a fixture of the comedy world for years now. Why did you avoid it?
It was always something that really intimidated me. When you see an improv show it looks like magic. They all seem to be psychically communicating with each other. They can bring something that happened earlier in the show and tie it into a neat bow at the end. I found it wildly intimidating. Before I came to New York to start this movie, two of my “Community” castmates — Jim Rash and Danny Pudi — were doing an improv show in L.A. They said, “Why don’t you come onstage and perform?” I was too afraid. I came out at the beginning, then I hid on the side behind this pillar. They were like, “What’s wrong with you? You’re about to go to New York and do this for real! You’ve got to get over this!”
How long did it take you to get cool with it?
I either chose to forget or was never told that we were going to do shows before we started shooting. We had rehearsals, and then Mike said, “We’ve all got to go to [Uprights Citizen Brigade Theatre], we have a show in an hour!” I said, “For a paying audience?” He said, “Yep!” You’d have a terrible show, then we’d have one that went great. Or you’d have 15 minutes of bliss and then five minutes of disaster. You really learned to trust the other people in the cast. I felt more and more confident to make a big choice or take a big swing, because I know no matter what crazy pickle I’d get us into, they would rescue me.
Has that impacted your acting since?
You have to learn to silence the inner critic. This film just reaffirmed that. The less you hate yourself as you’re acting, the better you’ll be. [Laughs]