BEVERLY HILLS — Wayne's Abbi Jacobson never expected to win the lead in Matt Groening's first new TV show in nearly 20 years.
The Broad City cocreator and star, who makes her debut Aug. 17 as the animated and antistereotypical Princess Bean in Groening's Netflix series Disenchantment, didn't even meet the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama before she was cast.
"It's pretty unbelievable. When I got an email to audition for this — you know, I'm not great at auditioning and I don't usually book stuff off of auditions, and so I recorded it on a voice memo … and forgot about it," Jacobson said in an interview during the Television Critics Association's recent summer meetings.
Groening, who'd seen the Conestoga High School graduate (Class of '02) in Comedy Central's Broad City, didn't forget about her.
In casting the parts of the princess and her two constant companions, an elf named Elfo (Nat Faxon) and a "personal demon" named Luci (Eric Andre), producers took recordings of their individual auditions and "just edited them together to see if it would work, and it was like, we have a show just based on those three voices," Groening told reporters.
"They would Skype me and they would record me on Saturdays because I was shooting Broad City," Jacobson said of the production process. "I would be in New York, and they would Skype with me [from Los Angeles], and it's Matt and Josh Weinstein, the showrunner. And they're so collaborative. They let me improvise. So it was like even better than I ever would have imagined it would be."
During a break from Broad City, she spent five months on the West Coast, "because they do these table reads that are incredible. All the voice actors on this show are like the cream-of-the-crop voice actors of all time," she said.
"These are performers who have their own careers," Groening said of Jacobson, Andre, and Faxon. "They've created their own projects. And they're writers and directors as well. And so you try to write funny words for them to say, and then that they can kick it to another level is just a real treat."
Plus, Groening said, "there's a real feminist component to Broad City. It's so strong and vivid in that show, and we tried to do that in Disenchantment. And as pro-women as Josh and I are, Abbi definitely kicked up the lines we wrote for her an extra notch and made them even better."
"I like that she's like not the stereotypical princess," Jacobson said of Bean, who, when we meet her, is resisting the attempts of her father, King Zog (John DiMaggio, Futurama's Bender) to marry her off to a not particularly charming prince.
"She has flaws. I like that she's really trying to figure herself out. And she's outspoken and questioning the world … and comments on the problems of the world she's living in."
Bean also seems unlikely to inspire a slew of princess-themed birthday parties.
"I have two nieces who live in Philly, and they are obsessed with Disney princesses. They're like 2½ and 4½, and I love like kind of balancing it out a little. Where this is a princess, but it's so different from the perfect picture of what princesses should be," Jacobson said.
An artist’s eye
This isn't her first voice role, but "I don't know any other creator of an animated show that would be more of a dream [to work with]. There isn't one," said Jacobson, who said she grew up watching The Simpsons with her brother. "It was a staple. … I would say, 'Don't have a cow.' "
The daughter of an artist mother and a graphic designer father, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, and an illustrator herself, Jacobson also appreciates Disenchantment from an artist's perspective.
"It was so exciting that there's more texture to it, so it's not so flat," she said. "Matt was actually talking about [this], that most animated shows exist on a flat frame, like a horizon line. And this show is like hilly. So the world is more like San Francisco. Everything exists in these peaks and valleys … there's just like more depth." (The resemblance of Dreamland to a certain cityscape in Game of Thrones does not seem coincidental.)
As she gets ready to begin shooting the fifth and final season of Broad City this month, Jacobson's come a long way from the Upright Citizens Brigade performer whose big break came when she and Ilana Glazer persuaded Amy Poehler to appear in the finale of their web series and to become an executive producer as they worked to turn their comedy about twenty-something female friendship into a TV show.
Jacobson's latest book, I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff, inspired by a cross-country road trip, will be published Oct 30. Her 2016 collection Carry This Book, in which she imagined, and drew, the contents of famous people's bags, became a New York Times best seller. She's also published two coloring books, one of New York City, another of San Francisco.
Beyond her work on Disenchantment and the final season of Broad City, she's an executive producer on A League of Their Own, an Amazon series in development that would expand upon the 1992 movie. She can also be seen opposite Dave Franco in the recent Netflix movie 6 Balloons, in which she plays the sister of Franco's heroin-addicted character.
And if that's not enough, Jacobson has also hosted a podcast, A Piece of Work, with New York's WNYC and the Museum of Modern Art. Billed as "everything you want to know about modern art but were afraid to ask," it features Jacobson talking about modern art with curators, artists, and friends. Among her guests: RuPaul, Hannibal Buress, and Philly's Questlove.
Wrapping up ‘Broad City’
Jacobson and Glazer cowrote only four of the final 10 episodes, "which is the least we've ever written. But we also write the whole thing [in terms of rewriting]. It was more like us realizing we wanted to give some other people an opportunity to write for the show, so we took less. Because our voices are all over it in the end, anyway, it was exciting to get some more new writers," Jacobson said.
"It was so interesting writing this season, because there's a finish line. … There's never been an end point, so we've never wrapped up seasons in a way like that. It was actually a little easier to write the last couple of episodes because this season's more serialized," she said.
The pair have been talking for some time about how to end the show.
"It's just bizarre to get to have that conversation [when] we never thought we'd get to make this, and now it's like, 'How should we end it?' " Jacobson said. And while she's feeling a little sad as the end nears, "I want to make it where it's still good and I feel like it's still good and I feel like Ilana and I are still in it and invested. It's our main priority. But I'm 34, and I play a 29-year-old."
Broad City "is about your 20s in New York. I think shows should not go as long as they sometimes do."
Disenchantment. Friday, Aug. 17, Netflix.