Allison Jacobs sat dreamily poking at a fat piece of chocolate cake at the Greenwich Village restaurant Westville.
“I just want every little girl to know that the Upper East Side has magic. The park, it’s magical, right?” she said. “The brownstones, the embassies, the architecture, those buildings on the park?”
Ms. Jacobs was describing her upcoming film Uptown Girls , which will be released by MGM on Aug. 15. The movie is Ms. Jacobs’ story, more or less: The tale of a wifty social princess who becomes a nanny to a neurotic 8-year-old, the plot of Uptown Girls will be as familiar to viewers as Mary Poppins , if Mary’s umbrella had accidentally run aground at Brearley.
Ms. Jacobs is not the star of Uptown Girls , nor did she direct it. Brittany Murphy and Boaz Yakin took those roles. In fact, Ms. Jacobs didn’t even officially write the film; Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik and Lisa Davidowitz were the scribes.
But it’s her fairy tale-as old as It Should Happen to You or Breakfast at Tiffany’s , as old as New York, perhaps; but new to every girl who ever steps up to the taxi stand at La Guardia Airport or Penn Station and breathes in New York’s singular aura for the first time.
“As far as my life, if [the movie] was a strawberry pie, it was my strawberries and their recipe,” said Ms. Jacobs, effortlessly plucking the metaphor from her girlish image repertoire to describe the “story by” and producing credits she earned for the movie.
And here’s where it gets meta: While Ms. Jacobs’ two-week stint as an Upper East Side nanny provided the narrative device for the film, the triumph of her life (so far, at least) has been getting this movie made.
Courtney Wagner, Ms. Jacobs’ best friend from her L.A. days, called from the Four Seasons hotel where she and Ms. Jacobs were staying for the L.A. premiere of Uptown Girls .
Ms. Wagner, co-owner of Wagner & Ko jewelry design and the daughter of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, said that watching the film is “like watching a friend be able to put on an art show of her personal triumph.”
“If there had been anything annoying about the character, it would not have worked,” she said. “But Allie and Brittany both just encapsulate this total individuality. And there is nothing annoying about Molly, just like there’s nothing annoying about Allie. She is a true, honest person, also funky and great, but there’s no baloney.”
Dressed in faded vintage Levis and a cream button-down with pale pink embroidery, the 5-foot-2 Ms. Jacobs looked tiny and nearly transparent. Her translucent, freckled face resembles Katharine Hepburn’s, complete with defined cheekbones, a sloping nose and a mass of red hair that she pulls into a top knot.
During a dinner of Cobb salad and Budweiser with Ms. Jacobs, it’s clear that it’s her fast-talking passion for Gotham-as-playground that has brought the Molly Gunn character-spoiled but not entitled, ditzy but wise, pretty but not bitchy-to the screen. Both Ms. Jacobs and Molly treat New York, with its designer clothes, exclusive clubs and mad romps in teacups at Coney Island, like a frothy drink that is mixed exclusively for beautiful, privileged young women.
In 1992, at age 20, Ms. Jacobs landed in New York City after having dropped out of Marymount College in Los Angeles and spent three months studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
“I had the time of my life, living on the Upper East Side, the Upper West,” she said over dinner. “I had all these friends from L.A. Now most of them have moved back to L.A., but 10 years ago …. ” She trailed off, remembering a time in New York which she called “way, way, way P.H.” (for “pre-Hiltons”).
“We went to Café Tabac every night, where I had the opportunity to meet so many different people. And after Cafe Tabac, we’d go to Bowery Bar and Spy and whatever, Moomba …. Now, I don’t do any of that. Nothing. Never. I barely even drink anymore. I haven’t had a drink in two months,” she said, eyeing the bottle of Bud in front of her.
“I’m nostalgic about my past here,” Ms. Jacobs continued, her eyes squinching into happy half-moons, her shoulders hunched with the giddy memories.
“I used to go parties at museums and stuff-and not that I have anything against them, but I was just so different. I’m an outsider. I was born an outsider,” said Ms. Jacobs.
This ambivalence is worked out in Uptown Girls , as Molly’s friendships with some of the tighter-laced children of privilege are strained. According to the film, the stuffier of Manhattan’s socialites-the ones who have cookie-baking parties and at-home yoga instruction-are not ready for a free spirit with a pet pig.
Ms. Jacobs didn’t have a pet pig. That’s a Hollywood-exaggerated riff on her golden retriever puppy, who used to lock himself out of her apartment and terrorize her uptight, uptown neighbors, just like the movie’s pig, Moo.
The puppy was also there when she met director Gary Winick, then 34, at a Ralph Lauren Polo store, “Double RL” department.
Ms. Jacobs was trying on a coat and Mr. Winick approached her, offering to buy her the coat if it fit her. It was too big.
“You’ll grow into it,” Mr. Winick told her, according to Ms. Jacobs. She retorted that she was 23 and wasn’t growing anymore. So he asked her out-after he checked to make sure she wasn’t an actress.
In fact, she was more of an actress than anything else.
It was a dream that had begun during her childhood in suburban Bethesda, Md., the daughter of a real-estate developer and a flower designer.
“I always wanted to be an actress, always, and I did plays at the Kennedy Center-at the White House,” she said, at dizzying speed, about her days as a child actor.
Ms. Jacobs also started coming to New York several times a week for commercial and television auditions, firm in her belief that she was worth noticing.
“My mom was always, ‘You’re not the best dancer, you’re not the best singer, you’re not the best actress, but you’ve got something !” she said, perhaps channeling Baby June Havoc.
But something made her-right there, in the Double R L section, confronted by Mr. Winick-renounce her career.
“I was like, ‘No,’ because love is more important to me than work,” said Ms. Jacobs with a firm nod. “So I guess because of love, I dropped acting.”
Ms. Jacobs insisted over dinner that her choice to temporarily abandon her inner bug for a boy still makes sense to her.
“For me, love was everything in life …. And what I thought about love was that I can always do anything, but now I’m focusing on a relationship, [which] is equally hard work as a job-a good one, anyway,” she said.
“But he was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He didn’t get that. He thought I was a loser or something,” said Ms. Jacobs. So she admitted to the young director that she was a thespian, emphasizing that she’d had both S.A.G. and AFTRA cards since childhood. Then, in an effort to get Mr. Winick to take her more seriously, she began to look for jobs like nannying.
Uptown Girls focuses on this period, plot-wise, though it takes some liberties. For one thing, it diminished the part about Ms. Jacobs trying to impress her boyfriend. In the film, Molly is forced into the child-care services when her accountant runs off with all the money left to her by her dead rock-star parents.
Also, Ms. Jacobs’ first real-life stint as a nanny-to a “very, very precocious” little girl with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, who is the model for Uptown Girls ‘ Ray-lasted only two weeks.
But other jobs followed.
Ms. Jacobs stuffed envelopes at the theater company Naked Angels, and took classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse. She was a hostess at Jo-Jo, where she accidentally fell down the delivery chute. (She got the job because she ate there so much.) She was a telephone operator at the Mercer Hotel, had a brief stint at HSI management company and another gig at Network PR. She answered phones at Danny DeVito’s film company, Jersey ShoreFilms.
“I almost took a job at E.A.T., but they wanted me to drive a bread truck. Can you imagine? A bread truck!” she shrieked about the posh East Side eatery owned by Eli Zabar. Ms. Jacobs doesn’t drive.
It was around that time that Ms. Jacobs, through Mr. Winick, met Fisher Stevens, the actor, director, producer and former swain of Michelle Pfeiffer. She took him up on a job answering phones at GreeneStreet Films, the production company owned by Mr. Stevens and John Penotti, and during her tenure at the GreeneStreet switchboard, she paid attention.
“I saw Fisher hire this writer and tell him a story, and I saw Gary hire this writer and tell him a story, and I was like, ‘Oh, I can do that,'” said Ms. Jacobs. “As long as I don’t have to type it out! I have so many stories!”
“I would much rather sit and talk to a person than read a book to hear a story,” Ms. Jacobs said. “Unless it’s a book about Gilda Radner. Talk about a woman of positivity! That’s the only book I’ve ever read in my entire life word for word.”
Now, her first big story is hitting the screen-but much that made it possible has changed. She and Mr. Winick have parted ways; he’s in production on Thirteen Going On Thirty , starring Jennifer Garner.
“I thought that if I had the love, if I found my family first, I could work on everything later. But”-Ms. Jacobs took a reflective bite of cake-“it just didn’t happen that way, you know, so …. ”
But the message of the movie, Ms. Jacobs said, fits better with her present circumstances than with the period of her relationship with Mr. Winick. What she went through in their break-up, and her realization that putting her ersatz life on hold for a man was not going to produce the happy family she wanted, is part of what she hopes Uptown Girls conveys to audiences.
“Growing up and becoming a woman is so confusing,” she said. “For me, it was about when I realized that my light makes other people uncomfortable. By instilling a dimmer, I could make other people comfortable, but I was making myself miserable.”
In the movie, she said, Molly has to learn to live without her downer boyfriend Neal. “Neal is really an asshole to her. He can’t stand your bright light, and you’re happy and fun and all you want to do is give and give love, and he wants to be career-driven. Whatever. When you become an adult, it’s not going to be broken in you …. Never let anyone take that away from you, because I let someone almost take that away from me. And people said, ‘Allison, you used to be such a happy person.'”
She’s now at work with writers on two other screenplays she “created,” as well as on a one-hour television pilot for a show called Bounty Hunting Babes , about some coeds whose loans are threatened unless they attend an accredited program which teaches, yes, bounty hunting. One of her neighbors, a ” magna cum laude crazy-writer guy who has written so many screenplays,” is helping her to revise her pitch.
She also picked up a single delivery shift at Westville, where we’re eating. (It’s blocks from her apartment.) Ms. Jacobs has, in fact, eaten there almost every day since it opened, and our dinner is her second meal of the day there.
“My mom and dad support me and believe in me,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I can buy a brownstone. And it doesn’t mean you don’t want to succeed and do things.”
Ms. Jacobs smiled. “I always say I have a Birkin bag, but next week I’m going to be asking for pennies up in Harlem.”
She produced this season’s Louis Vuitton Murakami design purse and, from that, a Murakami wallet. She opened the wallet. Inside, it was naked: no credit card, no receipts, no Blockbuster membership.
“You can’t see what I have in my bag,” she said. “It’s a little love, a little luck and a whole lot of faith.” She grinned. “It’s my tool box.”