Rashida Jones' Latest Recreation: Writing and Acting In ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever'

The actress adds screenwriter to her growing list of credits.

After years of bringing other people’s scripts to life, Rashida Jones is finally putting words in her own mouth.

36-year-old Jones - daughter of music giant Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton - has enjoyed a thriving acting career in the past five years, most prominently on television with a supporting stint on “The Office” and a starring role on “Parks and Recreation,” as well as a diverse array of film roles ranging from “I Love You, Man” to “The Social Network.” But now Jones the actress shares the spotlight with Jones the screenwriter.

Celeste and Jesse Forever” marks her first foray in co-writing a film – with longtime friend and fellow performer Will McCormack (“Brothers & Sisters”) – as well as starring in it. In the film Jones and Andy Samberg play a seemingly devoted, loving couple who have difficulty disconnecting from their otherwise failing marriage. The film features both an accomplished, thoughtful screenplay and a moving and funny central performance from Jones, who sat down with PopcornBiz to discuss branching out of her comfort zone and taking an increasingly creative hand in her burgeoning career.

How long have you been wanting to write a movie?

Kind of forever. I didn't realize that until I found this little thing that I wrote in the third grade where they said what do you want to do when you get older, and I said that I wanted to write movies for Hollywood. I must've buried that somewhere, but I guess for a long time.

Being a part of the creative community through your upbringing and having, probably, some doors open for you, was it more of a struggle to figure which of those potential roads you wanted to take?

Yeah. I do feel like the thing that allowed me potential was that I definitely had great schooling. I had incredibly loving parents. I wanted for nothing growing up, but in coming back to Hollywood, I wish that the doors were wide open, but they're really not. I mean, weirdly, Hollywood is a meritocracy – only because people get fired if money is not made or things aren't successful. So nobody gave me anything. Like, I WISH that I had gotten a couple of breaks! I didn't really ask for them anyway, but I pounded the pavement. I moved to New York after school and I ran around and auditioned and that didn't work out. I got one part in a year and I moved back to L.A. and I started doing commercials, and then finally got a TV show.

But making the choice was difficult, mainly because how can you make a decision about what the hell to do with your life at 21? It seems utterly ridiculous. But I did an independent film when I was 19 with a friend from school and it was really fun. It was really challenging, and I thought, 'Oh, I'm going to try this for a while,' before I realized that it was really hard to get an acting job.

Did you get a different kind of creative buzz from the writing portion than you get from acting?

They're both very fulfilling. I would say that acting is a great way to stay present, because you show up and you have a couple essential parts of the job. You have to hit your mark and you have to know your lines, and that's about it. Then everything else you just have to be present for. Writing, it's like work. There's no shortcut to writing. You just have to sit down and do it. Sometimes I don't prepare for acting, I'll be honest, and you show up and you have to just, as the English people say, blag it and hope that it's not a nightmare.

There's no such thing as that in writing. You can't just show up and fake it. You have to actually do the work, and every time you write a scene you're going to rewrite it. You just know that you are. It doesn't matter how long you spend on that scene, you're going to rewrite it. When someone reads a hundred pages that you wrote with somebody it's a very different feeling for them to tell you that they like it than them telling you, 'Oh, I saw you on that episode of whatever and I really liked it.' It's more meaningful.

In your writing partnership with Will, does one excel at one thing and the other another thing, or is it hard to tell who's done what?

No, no – Will is a poet, and he did this one thing in the movie where I have to read my journal and I have to read a love letter that Jesse writes to me. I end up keeping it for myself. I was like, 'Will, just go write the thing and bring it back so we can film the insert.' He brought it back and he made me start crying. He did it in, like, ten minutes and he wrote this beautiful love letter to Celeste and he's good at that. He's a poet. I'm maybe better at structure. I'm very organized. He's, in my assessment, funnier than I am. He's really good at pulling out observations, and his turn of phrase and his lingo is really unique, and I feel like defined our characters in the movie.

When you were performing in this did you look at the script like it was something given to you, or did you possess part of it still, in the acting?

Once on set I fully put myself into Lee's [Toland Krieger] hands, because I have immense respect for directing and feel like there is no movie if the actors don't give themselves over to the director. So, I tried to stay out of that as much as I could and just stay in the acting part of it.

Having artists as parents, what are the qualities that you think you've gotten from each of them that have shaped you professionally?

My dad is the most loving human being on the planet. He wakes up every day and is happy to be alive and he's a joy to be around, and everybody who ever meets him comes up to me and tells me how he just had such an impact on their lives. I aspire to be that. What I think I get from my dad probably is being social, liking people, connecting with people, having faith in humanity, being interested in humanity. I would say that most of the jobs that I've gotten, I'm capable and I have some skill, but I think I'm probably just nice to have around because I like working. It's fun and I like people. My mom is incredibly sensitive and empathetic. I hope that I emulate that part of her. Both my parents are really funny and they both curse a lot, and so do I.

How do you deal with the fame side of your career?

It's tough. It's definitely tough. I wish that there was a kind of better relationship with fame and the outside world, because I think there's a lot of it that's really destructive, obviously. Most of it is really destructive. It's tough, and for the most part it's nice and it enables me to keep doing what I'm doing, but sometimes you just want to wake up and go roam around town and watch people and be observed and not be observed and you just never have that option. That's tough, but I would never complain because I know everything that it's given me.

With this labor of love done now, how soon are you planning on doing the next one?

I don't know. Will and I wrote a movie for Universal. It's kind of up to them, whether or not they want to make it. Then we're just kind of trying to do the thing that's so hard to do, which is that we're actors and we're so used to just being, like, 'Yes!' Actors have to say yes to everything, because it's hard to get jobs, and so we're trying to just really get back into what inspires us and just forget about all the other stuff and start writing from scratch.

When do you go back to work at what may not become your day job?

Well, I'm doing a movie in London. It's called 'Cuban Fury.' It's a comedy about salsa dancing with Nick Frost and Chris O'Dowd and Ian McShane. It's going to be fun.

Do you get to dance in it?

Yeah. I've been training for six weeks. I have a little facility, but it doesn't matter. It's so hard. I'm getting better, but marginally. I'm terrible at being lifted – terrible! I don't know what it is, but there's something about throwing up all your body parts and letting someone else catch you that feels so unnatural. My turns are pretty good because now I know how to spot. So my turns look professional and I'm very happy about that.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" opens nationally August 3.


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