Who Is She?
Louisa Jacobson’s Got Tips for New New Yorkers
Jeremy O. Harris gets to know one of the stars of HBO’s ostentatious new costume drama, The Gilded Age.
JEREMY O. HARRIS: Sorry I’m late. There’s a whole rigmarole down in Barbados.
LOUISA JACOBSON: You’re in Barbados?
JACOBSON: I’m jealous.
HARRIS: It’s really fucking pretty.
JACOBSON: What are you doing there?
HARRIS: My friend has a home here, so we all came down to celebrate Christmas. My mom and my nieces and nephew are here. It’s very cute. What are you doing for the holidays?
JACOBSON: I’m in the Berkshires. The house is packed with little kids. It’s fun.
HARRIS: From what I’ve seen of The Gilded Age, it seems like there are a lot of secrets being spread over tea. Am I correct in that assumption?
JACOBSON: Yeah, there’s lots of gossiping. There’s controversial ladies out there not to be associated with. What have you seen?
HARRIS: I’ve only seen the trailers. When was the last time you had some great gossip and what did you do with it?
JACOBSON: I probably just kept it to myself like the boring, good person that I am. Just like Marian. She’s even nicer than me. At first, I was like, “Girl, there’s something wrong with you. You’re too nice.”
HARRIS: What do you like about being really nice?
JACOBSON: I don’t know, but it was fun to play a character who was a true ingenue. I used to think that was boring, but I actually think there’s value in that.
HARRIS: What are the things you disliked the most about ingenues in the past?
JACOBSON: A lot of them were written by men. Through history, they’ve been this perfect idea of a young woman, which pissed me off. It didn’t feel realistic. Young women have anxieties and negative qualities. There was no space for a young woman to be opinionated or angry or pissy. They had to be naive, beautiful, and usually white.
HARRIS: What are your biggest conversation starters and stoppers? What are things you say that can both spark a conversation and kill it in the same moment?
JACOBSON: That’s such a good question. Right now it has to do with the pandemic.
HARRIS: I feel like I go dead in so many conversations about the pandemic because I’m like, “Guys, none of us are scientists. We’re literally all looking stupid right now.” What have you been watching recently?
JACOBSON: I watched Y: The Last Man, which I really love because Juliana [Canfield] is in it. I watched Nine Perfect Strangers, which was a wild ride. I watched The Underground Railroad, Succession, and the first five episodes of this show called The Gilded Age.
HARRIS: Who were you most intimidated by on set?
JACOBSON: Christine Baranski.
HARRIS: For real?
JACOBSON: Yeah. Pretty soon I was able to hang, in part because I felt like I was surrounded by moms. There’s Kelli O’Hara, Linda Emond, Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, and Kristine Nielsen. Everyone was very warm and very maternal.
HARRIS: I love that. You went to the Yale School of Drama. We were there at the same time, and I know that being a theater-maker is very different from being a film- or TV-maker. What advice would you give young Louisa, stepping out of drama school and thinking she could do film and TV?
JACOBSON: To give yourself the grace to learn. You can’t be good at it immediately. And also trust your instincts. I was trying to control so many aspects of my performance. It requires letting go of a lot of control, and I have issues with that.
HARRIS: You have issues with control?
HARRIS: Because you’re a real New Yorker.
JACOBSON: Unlike Marian, who’s from Pennsylvania.
HARRIS: Do you think New Yorkers have a specific type of anxiety that makes them need to control the world around them?
JACOBSON: New Yorkers have crazy antennae. A lot of women are like this as well. They are multitasking to a crazy extent. There’s five million things going on in their brains at once, in terms of planning and monitoring things and getting to places on time and having ideas for something to do next. Yeah, I think all New Yorkers have a deep issue with control.
HARRIS: What are some tips for new New Yorkers?
JACOBSON: Never trust the subway. Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Don’t expect people to be nice to you, but expect them to be there for you. If they see that you’re struggling, they’re going to be like, “Are you okay? Can I get you a cab?” But they’re not going to be like, “Hi, how are you?” People have your back in a collective way, but they’re not going to be fake nice like in L.A. Don’t take it personally.
HARRIS: Was there any advice that your sisters or your mom gave you before you stepped into doing the show?
JACOBSON: Yes. I have a whole notebook full of it.
HARRIS: Did you get to be a student at home because you’re the last of the flock to decide to join this weird business?
JACOBSON: Not in terms of work, because it was always very separate. My family wanted me to stay as far away from that as possible. But with the show, I was like, “Oh, wait. My sisters and my mom3 are actually great resources—I should ask them about things.” That was a lovely discovery. I also forged a beautiful connection with my mom through doing this show and felt her presence on set in a way I wasn’t expecting to. I was really struggling at one point. I’m in this corset, I’m in my own head, starting to freak out about my performance, and she said, “Don’t forget to touch and smell the room, to be in this space. Acting is like a great, deep belief and almost religious faith in what you’re doing.” It’s easy to judge something, because you’re like, “That didn’t sound real. I’m faking it. I’m not telling the truth.” You have to throw that away and literally believe what is right in front of you. Believe it.
Hair: Shin Arima Using Oribe At Home Agency
Makeup: Ayaka Nihei Using Ilia Beauty
Production: Perris Cavalier At The Morrison Group
Fashion Assistant: Nia Shambourger
Lighting Assistant: Kristina Di