My Worst Parts: Rashida Jones on ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’

The star of 'Parks and Recreation' on the movie she scripted herself, the perils of sarcasm and the future of her popular TV series.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Rashida Jones has been in many different TV shows and movies as many different characters, so who is the real Rashida Jones? We may have some insight to that in the very first movie she wrote, Celeste and Jesse Forever, with Will McCormack. Jones stars as Celeste, a divorced woman who insists she can stay BFFs with her ex-husband Jesse (Andy Samberg). Celeste has a lot of opinions that get her into trouble, also in her job as a trend forecaster (one very modern gag leaves her cell phone running while she’s badmouthing a client).

We got to speak with Jones when the film played at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Celeste and Jesse Forever opens in theaters August 3.


CraveOnline: I just saw you on a bus on the way here.

Rashida Jones: Oh, for “Parks and Rec?” Somebody said that to me because I’ve been out of the country for like six weeks. They were like, “I saw you in my neighborhood.” I was like, “No you didn’t. I’m out of town.”


Is that a weird experience?

I haven’t seen it yet but yeah. Even today when I was sitting in the junket with the poster behind me. It definitely makes things real. 


Did you write Celeste because Hollywood won’t let women be potentially unlikeable or make mistakes?

I think that might be a tiny bit of a generalization. I would say personally I’m not sure I would’ve ever gotten a part where I get to be unlikeable and deeply flawed. I don’t know if it was hard to make this movie because of that character or just because it’s hard to make movies now or a combination of both, but I do feel like more now than ever, they’re letting women more and more and more be complex, dynamic.


You’re right, not to generalize but just some writers might not even think to go that way, so you have to generate it yourself.

That’s true. That’s true. I definitely think that if they do think that way, I don’t think I’d be at the top of the list so I had to put myself at the top of the list.


Did you ever hate Celeste for anything?

Yeah. Mainly Will and I took my worst parts and magnified them so it was hard to look at that every day when we were writing and then every day when we were shooting because they’re the things I don’t like about myself. I think watching the movie you’re like, “Just cut it out. Give everybody a break. Stop trying to make everybody fit into your world.” But she learns the hard way. She definitely gets forced into learning.


Looking at those qualities you may not like about yourself, is sarcasm a tricky form of humor?

Very tricky. It’s from the Greek root “to tear flesh,” “sarcasmos,” which gives you an indication but it is tricky. It’s funny, I went through a time in my 20s when there was an adult saying that to me and I was like, “Ugh, whatever. Get off it, they don’t understand.” Sometimes you’ve got to watch it. When you’re with friends that are super sarcastic it can get mean and vitriolic. Not all humor has to be that way. I feel like “Parks and Recreation” is a very good example of that. It’s very non-cynical and it’s not mean. It’s kind of a lot of heart.


Did you find when you were being more sarcastic that it was easy to dish it out, but if you were the subject of a sarcastic comment, you went, “Hey, what’s that?”

Absolutely. Yeah, sarcasm is not a conversation. It really isn’t. It’s like an ace. It’s like an ace serve. You can’t really return it.


That is a perfect way to describe it. It’s not a conversation. It’s so one-sided. Is that what Celeste finds?

Her problem also extends past sarcasm. She’s just decided what’s right and what’s wrong. I know a lot of people like this and I definitely have gone through periods like this in my life where their understanding of right and wrong is the ultimate and there’s no other way to look at things. It’s only black and white. It’s only the way I see it. It’s really easy to fall into that trap of thinking that what you see as right and wrong is the only right and wrong because you only see it from your perspective.


It cuts other people out of your life.

It does and also it makes you not empathetic to other people. 


Are her media opinions reflective of yours?

Maybe. Maybe a little bit. 


Is that a real job?

Yeah, it’s a real job. We met with a trend forecaster. It’s a cool job. The one we met with has a book out. We kind of meshed two jobs, PR like branding and marketing, and trend analysis. It’s a lot of different departments meshed together.


Is Celeste right when she says that simplicity is going to come back?

God, I hope so. It’s so funny because we wrote it four years ago so if it’s coming, it definitely hasn’t happened yet. It has to, right? Everything is cyclical.


Is there a chance with indie movies and movies coming out on VOD and downloads, that simpler entertainment can reach an audience?

Maybe. That was definitely one of the things she predicts right at the beginning of the movie, is Roku and Vudu, those things will be more likely. That’s definitely going to happen. I don’t know if that means that entertainment will have a simpler audience or whatever, but we’re definitely heading towards watching more stuff at home every day. I think there’s no substitute for a big screen but we’ll see. 


Is the cell phone not hanging up when you start talking about someone the new Face in the Crowd moment where someone gets caught on a live mic?

I think so, yeah. The other way that happens is when you send an e-mail and “reply all,” or you forward an e-mail to the wrong person. I think everybody’s done that at some point in their lives. 


I’ve never seen that in a movie before so I think you’ve coined it.

Not hanging up? It’s happened to me. 


If I ever start talking about someone, I always make sure my phone isn’t accidentally calling them at that moment.

Smart. I had a friend talking about a relative, terribly talking about a relative and she heard a noise and she looked down. The phone was on and it was her relative crying so loudly that she heard it from her back. It was so bad. 


What was your experience being in every scene of the movie?

That was new. That was totally new. You end up having this really intimate relationship with the crew because there are so many times when it’s just you and there are no other actors. I really liked it actually. I felt very safe. [Director] Lee Krieger is a very talented wonderful director. He always made me feel safe. It’s a very different kind of commitment. I’m so used to being in an ensemble and I like it. I’m from a big family and I like a family vibe and it’s not that. It’s definitely not that but I’m really glad that I did it. 


What is your process as a writer? Do you have a regimented schedule?

We did for a while. We’re taking a little break now, Will and I, because we’ve turned in some stuff but yeah, we basically wrote every day. We wrote every day for this movie and we’ve written a couple things since. We try to sit down every day. 


Does knowing that you are the actor change the way you write?

It does and I think for Will and I both, because we’re actors and we definitely want to write dialogue that feels like people would actually say it. So many times I get a script, it’s like nobody’s actually read it out loud because it’s not the way people actually speak to each other. You can fix a lot of things by trying to act out scenes and seeing what makes sense. 


Will the next projects be with the same team?

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe. We wrote something for Imagine and Universal. That’s the kind of thing that you just give it to them and let them do what they want with it. We’ll see. We’re taking a step back and letting the movie come out. We want whatever we write next to come organically.


What is coming up for Anne Perkins? 

I don’t know. The writers are working diligently right now talking about what’s happening next season.


Was it a bit of a relief to get to tell Tom to just stop his whole act?

Yeah. I’m sure everybody wants to tell him that but it was sweet. His response was sweet. It’s a defense mechanism for sure. 


Is that like sarcasm, people put on this bravado they learn somewhere and don’t realize they could actually connect with someone if they just stop?

Mm hmm. I think that’ll happen more and more. There are so many ways to create blocks now with technology, space and isolation. I don’t think that’s the end of that. That’s just the beginning of that. 


Well, it wouldn’t be funny if he learned how to behave.

Right, that’s true.


Do you have any more acting movies coming out?

I’m doing a movie now in London called Cuban Fury with Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd and Ian McShane. It’s a salsa dance movie so it’s another ensemble for me.


Are you in dance training for that?

I am. Full-blown dance training for six weeks. It is fun. It’s very challenging to learn something new as an adult. It’s great. It’s really cool.