The Reel Breakdown

Actress-Writer Rashida Jones breaks bad in rom-com ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’

Photo by Sony Pictures Classics

Know this: Rashida Jones is Hollywood royalty, the daughter of music mogul Quincy Jones and "Mod Squad" icon Peggy Lipton. She grew up on the inside: Check out her hand for the scar where Michael Jackson's pet chimp, Bubbles, nipped her at Neverland Ranch. Harvard grad. Dated Tobey Maguire and John Krasinski. Jewish but her first name is Arabic for righteous. "Parks and Recreation" co-star. Ensemble player — "Our Idiot Brother" -- with occasional leading actress forays: "I Love You, Man." And now the role she co-wrote for herself with co-star Will McCormack as a happily married alpha named Celeste who dumps her slacker husband Jesse, played by SNL's Andy Samberg. Suddenly single, the professional trend-spotter runs full-tilt into her personal limitations — and doesn't see it coming. Rave reviews. Industry applause. Humble gratitude. So, don't hate Jones, 36, because she's beautiful, well-spoken and takes herself with two grains of salt. Embrace the self-deprecating laughter.

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Thelma Adams: Tell me about your character Celeste.

Rashida Jones: Will and I wanted to write a strong female character that was layered and complex and not necessarily great and likeable, and not entirely bad and unlikeable. She has some unique flaws that drive her to be myopic, opinionated, judgmental, and imperious -- and those are the good things! [laughs] We wanted to create a character that was flawed so that it would be interesting to watch her change.

TA: Did you and Will ever disagree on how dark Celeste could go? How disagreeable she could be?

RJ: We got into a creative disagreement in the scene where I'm in the bathroom and meet Riley for the first time.

TA: Riley is Celeste's new big client, a teen singing sensation played by Emma Roberts that Celeste initially treats with outright condescension.

RJ: I wanted to softball it and be polite, and Will thought Celeste should be more spikey, more 'I know more than you, I want you to know who's boss.'

[Related: Rashida Jones' Awkward Childhood Photos]

TA: How did that turn out for you? I remember in the scene you immediately correct Riley's grammar — in a bathroom! And, when all is said and done, Celeste is supposed to be working for Riley.

RJ: It's such a bitchy thing to do, to correct somebody's grammar but that happens a lot…

TA: The small one-upmanship battles in daily life, the ego flames.

RJ: It's a tricky tone to set, to make sure the audience is still following her journey.

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TA: And doesn't want to yell "beeyatch." In an interview with "Newsday," my colleague Lewis Beale called your character "kind of a nasty career striver" but to me she just seemed real and relatable.

RJ: That's so pejorative. Celeste's a successful woman. Maybe there's a little like virgin/whore thing happening. It's still an issue for women to be brazenly ambitious and successful.
TA: Very "Devil Wears Prada."

RJ: The Celeste part was the more traditionally male role, someone who seemingly has it all and gets derailed by a girl.

TA: And then you have Andy as Jesse — er, the girl role — and he's so irresistibly likeable in every scene.

RJ: Andy and I have been friends for a long time. We met at an after-party for the MTV Movie Awards. We instantly liked each other. He read the script a couple of years ago in an early incarnation as a performer-writer, and a little later he directly said to me he was interested. He's such the right match for this character because in real life, everybody wants to be friends with Andy. He's fun, boyish, hilarious, and playful. And then, when you can watch the action between these two characters, the relationship for Celeste and Jesse was built in for us. We have a dynamic, an intimate friendship. That's a really hard thing to manufacture on set.

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TA: So how was it when the relationship gets rough and rocky and you throw-down on the sidewalk?

RJ: That was the hardest day. Emotionally, the scene when we get raw on the street. When we say all the things that we've been waiting to say all those years — it's rough. Andy and I are friends.

We had to go for it: Me yelling and crying, and him yelling back at me. That was a little tough, all in the name of exploiting the relationship for the movie.

TA: The movie shows the heartbreak of breaking up with your first great love — and still trying to stay best friends. It's a hard balancing act that doesn't always work. Do you personally believe in soul mates forever?

RJ: I think you probably have a whole collection of soul mates through the course of your life, and not all of them are romantic. Will and I are soul mates for friendship and work.

TA: Did you and Will watch a lot of other people's movies when you were writing "Celeste and Jess"?

RJ: We watched the same three movies over and over again and borrowed and stole from "Annie Hall," "Broadcast News," and "When Harry Met Sally." Oh, and "Husbands and Wives" — that's the Holy Grail.

See the trailer for 'Celeste and Jesse Forever':

'Celeste and Jesse Forever' Theatrical Trailer