The movie Jake Lacy has seen the most is “Ghostbusters.” He estimates he’s seen it hundreds of times.
“I watched it at least twice a week from the ages of five to 15,” the actor tells us.
It was probably inevitable that he’d wind up in comedies. He was customer service rep Pete Miller on the last season of “The Office.” He’s Max, the Republican-ish gentleman who knocks up Jenny Slate in “Obvious Child.” He’s Fran, Lena Dunham’s love interest on the fourth season of “Girls.”
But he only happened upon comedy by accident. He studied drama at school and has a background in Shakespeare. The roles he kept getting, as it turned out, were in comedies. Ideally he’d like to mix it up, do more films like “Carol,” Todd Haynes’ 1950s-set lesbian romance, in which he plays Richard, the young man Rooney Mara’s Therese leaves for Cate Blanchett’s elegant society dame.
“Carol” was only Lacy’s third film, and it meant getting used to a very particular director’s very particular methodology. Haynes had a book, Lacy recalls, that he would share with not only the production team but the actors as well. “It’s a visual look-book of images that he’s pulled together that create a sense of the look and the world we’re moving into,” he says. “He has this attention to detail and this creative curiosity that pulls from all these different sources to create a fleshed-out version of New York in 1952, 1953. It painted this sense of the world in our minds as opposed to this polished, plastic version of the period, which I think is immediately accessed in our minds when you hear ‘1950s.’”
In the novel — Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” originally published under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan” — Richard is angrier, a guy livid he’s being dumped for another woman. Haynes encouraged Lacy to see him as something more. “Richard is first generation-born-in-America,” he says. “There’s this certain excitement for the American dream and succeeding. For him, the dream would be to one day manage the department store they work at, to have kids, to possibly move to Jersey and commute in. That would be amazing for him. For Therese, she has a different dream. They don’t add up.”
Lacy was also very taken with how Haynes painted Richard and his friends. “He described them as young beasts, young puppies rolling around New York City and causing chaos in and out of bars,” Lacy explains. “It’s very exciting to be coming of age at that point in time. But you see Therese removed from that group. She feels it isn’t really the place for her.”
The idea of not feeling part of groups is something Lacy has felt throughout his life. Also on Lacy’s list of favorite films are “Being There” and “Goodfellas,” the latter which made a profound impact on him at 16, after he’d already read the book that inspired it, Nicholas Pileggi’s “Wiseguy.”
“I don’t know if I wanted to be Henry or I wanted to be Ray Liotta,” Lacy says, referring to the film’s anti-hero and the actor. “He had the whole thing of being half-Irish, half-Italian. He could never be a made man. That sort of outsider status in an outsider world, which was built on wanting to be on the inside — I felt that way as a kid. I wanted to be on the inside of an outsider culture.”
Since his career has taken off he’s found himself being the outsider on the inside — the nascent professional actor working with name stars, the clean-cut straight man with the drama school background clowning about with comedic stars. One of his first films was the comedy “Balls Out,” in which he played lead amongst “SNL” names like Kate McKinnon, Jay Pharoah and Beck Bennett.
“That was less intimidating and more like superfandom,” Lacy says of the experience, and experiences elsewhere with other “SNL” vets. “I was an ‘SNL’ nerd for a long time. As a kid it was my dream to be on ‘SNL.” Any new cast member I get to work with or meet, there’s a sense of borderline obsessive curiosity about how the show works, what Lorne [Michaels] is like, the writing process. Hopefully I just try to be friends with them and not a superfan.”
On “Carol” he didn’t get much time hobnobbing with stars who weren’t Rooney Mara, and didn’t even get to see scenes with Cate Blanchett and Kyle Chandler till seeing the film during screenings. he says. It was like seeing a film that just happened to have him in it every now and then. “It’s being aware of 15 percent of a film and then getting to see the other 85 percent completely new,” he says. “You’re like ‘Oh, that’s my scene.’”