Interview: Abbi Jacobson Talks Tackling Drama For The First Time In ‘6 Balloons’ And What’s Ahead For ‘Broad City’

Heroin depictions in cinema can be very harrowing. The premise of  Marja-Lewis Ryan’s SXSW feature-length directorial debut  “6 Balloons,” a sobering, no-frills indie drama featuring two actors mostly known for their comedy work, is uncompromising and damn-near grim. Premiering today on Netflix “6 Balloons” features a sister (Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City”) desperate to try and help her self-destructive heroin-addicted brother (Dave Franco). She wants him to enter rehab and clean himself up for good.
The no-bull, minimalist approach from Ryan makes for an unrelenting film, even at just a scant 74 minutes. but it’s the actors that steal the show, Franco lost a significant 20 pounds to portray the addict and his performance here resonates in a dramatically surprising way, we have never seen anything like this before in the actor’s career. Ditto Jacobson, who is way outside her comfort zone here, nailing her role by bringing all the emotional hardship of her character and admirably internalizing the grief within her own self. The fact that the actress keeps everything bottled makes for a performance filled with skillful body language. The role proves that she’s got far more depth beyond her Comedy Central show. We spoke to Jacobson about tackling drama, addiction, and the future of “Broad City.”
This is grim, unrelenting stuff. Your performance is impressive. A lot of people will be seeing this because of Netflix.
Yeah, I know, it’s really cool. I didn’t even know that Netflix releases it internationally as well, but I believe that it goes to all of the Netflixes. Also, talking to the other producers of the movie they found it to be a very creative venture, with tons of freedom.
It also makes little indies such as “6 Balloons” seen on a mainstream level that it otherwise wouldn’t have with a theatrical release.
Yeah, this kind of movie doesn’t get wide distribution theatrically, so now so many people are going to see it.
So let’s talk about your performance. We know your character’s story isn’t as common as we want it to be.
I feel like most of the films and stories being told about addiction are usually focused on the point of view of the addict. I really loved the script, because I basically play the enabler and it shines a light on what a family must go through to deal with it internally. There’s also the cyclical nature of it, the continuous relapsing over a number of years.
This is also based on producer Sam Houseman’s life.
I was very lucky because Sam was there on-set. Marja teamed up with Sam to tell her life. Sam was on-set every day and I had the chance to ask her anything I wanted, I had a chance to check in with her. I’d ask, “Does this feel right? Is this how you felt?” We also kind of look alike, we have the same vibe, like, when I met her I told Marja, “Oh I see why you thought of me to play her.” I felt so lucky to have her there. I mean, they definitely wanted me to find my own version of her, but just in terms of what that night felt like and what those years felt like. The mixture of emotions that must have been swirling in her head. I was so happy to have Sam there.
What was your main focus for this role? There are so many emotions in your character’s head, just swirling all over the place.
My focus was the fact that my character internalizes so much. She’s planning her boyfriend’s surprise party on the same night that she finds her brother relapsed again. So she’s planning this surprise party and at the same time trying to bring her brother to detox and also trying to keep his daughter in tow. So, it’s just this frantic night and she’s internalizing everything, but she presents herself in a way that everything is okay. The story would be very different if this was the first time she experienced this with her brother, but it isn’t, in the movie he’s relapsing for the sixth time and so it’s been going on for years. That felt very different to me, and that was kind of what I was trying to manage because there’s so much anger there. She’s been doing this for years now in her life so it’s a mix of frustration, anger but mixed with a sadness because she loves him so much and Dave [Franco] is just incredible. There are moments where you see why she loves him so much because he is just a great dad.
Heroin addiction isn’t easy to depict onscreen either.
I read a lot about heroin addiction and what that must be like and what that feels like. Also, the area where I grew up the opioid epidemic is rampant there. My high school experience, unfortunately, I know a lot of people that overdosed and when I first received the script that’s sort of what made me want to do it because of those people. The people that I knew and grew up with. So I felt very connected.
Going from “Broad City” to “6 Balloons” is quite the jump.
Usually, we don’t have hiatuses in “Broad City” but we really wanted Season 4 to be in the winter and so we pushed production to shoot over the winter. And so, we had this break, we’d never had a break before. I had just finished writing season 4 and then went into “6 Balloons.” So I was in writer’s mode.
I don’t think you’ve ever tackled such dramatic role before in your career.
Yeah, it was very scary. I’m trying to do things that scare me now, which I really want to do. I need to be challenged and I was very scared of this part.
Dave had to challenge himself as well. He lost 20 pounds for this and he was already a slim dude.
Yeah, Dave’s not a meaty guy. I also felt so comfortable because Marja thought of both of us and this is our first forays into drama. We were both in it together. So that made me very trusting of Marja.
I read that Dave had some health problems because of his dramatic weight loss. How was it working with an actor that seemed to be so invested in a role like that?
It was really difficult for him and he lost the weight really quickly too. But as far as our friendship goes, we went to dinner at rehearsals and really hit it off and instantly became friends, but when we were shooting there was an unspoken professionalism. It was a very unsocial set for me. I ate alone, I also wanted to be alone because I needed to just stay in that mode and so did he. I think he really had to serve himself with this and he was just really hungry with nailing this performance down pat, and we’re better friends now.
What can you tell us about the upcoming season of “Broad City?”
Last season we leaned into it becoming more serialized. I feel like in the first three seasons you could watch them not in order, but 4 we were trying to have more of a storyline and some kind of character arc and in 5 we’ve expanded on that, which is exciting for us to do. We’re going to go back to summer, which is exciting to do because winter wasn’t the most fun temperature-wise. I can’t give away much because there are still rewrites to be done but we have a bunch of guest stars in mind.
Will it premiere this year?
We’re still waiting on that. I am not sure.
Hopefully, some of the risk-taking of Season 4 will be there, especially the mushroom episode.
Thank you, there’s definitely an episode, which we just wrote, that is very stylized and that is as challenging as that episode you mentioned. [laughs]
“6 Balloons” is now streaming on Netflix worldwide.