Interview: Rashida Jones and Will McCormack Talk Love, Friendship, and CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER
[Thanks to James Wallace for this interview.]
Rashida Jones has become 'The "It" Girl' for fan favorite comedies, both on the small and big screen. But the star of I Love You, Man, The Office, and, of course, Parks and Rec has moved from in front of the camera to behind the keyboard, making her screenwriting debut with Celeste and Jesse Forever. (Don't worry, she also stars in it.)
The film co-stars Andy Samberg and centers around a separated couple trying to grasp onto both their fading relationship and their friendship. It's something many of us have seen in our own personal lives but haven't really seen on screen. Which just happens to be a big reason why Jones and longtime pal/costar Will McCormack wrote the unconventional rom-com! That, and to change the way we would look at Chapstick forever.
When we make art, we of course borrow from our own lives -- intentionally and unintentionally. So, with this being the first screenplay for you both, what personal place did this story come from?
WM: It came from a very personal place. We have both been through relationships like this that sort of felt dysfunctional, and we had to look at an adult way to approach them, so we borrowed from friend's lives and definitely our own*. And, of course, other art! Movies that we love.
What were some of those?
WM: Annie Hall, Broadcast News ...
RJ: When Harry Met Sally!
WM: Yeah, When Harry Met Sally, Husbands and Wives. Pretty much anything Cameron Crowe, Woody Allen, Jim Brooks, Nora Ephron.
I can definitely pick up on all of those influences in CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER. However, we haven't really seen a dramedy/romcom quite like this, at least in the sense where we're beginning the story at the end of a relationship and it's more about this idea of friendship. And you've both of course acted in your fair share of romantic comedies. Did you intentionally set out to tell a more modern love story we hadn't seen on-screen before or was that more of a natural progression?
RJ: Yeah, I think we did. We're both actors and we've read so many scripts and I think we knew the landscape. We had a good sense of what had been done and what hadn't been done. And I think we thought "What's the story we can contribute that maybe feels a little more fresh?" And for us it was very much the thought of "What if we took that thing that we love so much ... the romantic comedy ... but we told it to completion?" We'd drop in on this couple at a different place, which is the end of the relationship. And then we let it live out ... play the tape out a little bit.
Will, which Beastie Boy did you base your character off of?
WM: Um ... all of them! It's really an amalgamation of all the Beasties. God, that's a compliment. You know Skillz is just a guy that is a composite of a lot of fools thatI know and love. He's very LA. He's just a guy that we've all known and hung out with and ... done a lot of stuff with.
What was the process like finding the right director that you felt would be able to bring what you guys wrote on the page to the screen? I imagine with Lee Toland Krieger, it had a lot to do with his first major feature THE VICIOUS KIND [co-starring Jones' Parks & Rec costar Adam Scott].
RJ: That was it. When Will and I saw that film, we were like: "He is 28?" He just got it in that film.
WM: Yeah, when we saw The Vicious Kind, we immediately were trying to figure out how we could meet with him, and we eventually called his agent, sent him the script, he loved it, and then we had breakfast and then it was on. We wanted not a straight comedy director. We wanted more of a dramatic director who could handle comedy and he did a really brilliant job.
Rashida, you've obviously worked with Andy Samberg before but in a very different character relationship ...
RJ: Yeah, he was my future gay brother-in-law! (laughs)
Right! And this of course is as opposite as you can be from that. So, I'm interested to know if you wrote the part of Jesse for him?
RJ: We [Will & I] both wrote the relationship and it's very much the way that we relate to each other. Except that we're not separated and were never married! Andy and I, like Will and I, have been friends for a long time and Andy does speak the same language that we do, so it was a very natural fit.
WM: It wasn't written for him, per se, but once he read it, we all felt like it was. Obviously, we wrote the part of Celeste for Rashida, but at the time we didn't know who was going to play Jesse. And then Andy popped in our heads and we realized, "Oh, right! You guys are perfect together." Because they had known each other for so long and so much of that intimacy is built-in. You don't have to rehearse that.
I would imagine that would be the challenge. Not to find someone you can have on-screen romantic chemistry with but someone where being BFF's is a totally believable, organic thing.
RJ: Yeah! And that's way harder than you'd think.
It almost seems easier to fake that you love someone than fake that you're best friends with years of experience in learning every in and out of their personality.
RJ: That's so true!
And of course being able to sell that you can both spontaneously begin jerking off various phallic-shaped, liquid-filled household items like Chapstick.
RJ: Or vaseline...
WM: Or really any tube of cream or liquid for that matter.
Okay, we've gone there. So, we might as well talk about this since it's one of the funniest moments in the film. Typically, with a gag like this, it would seem like it just came out of your head and onto the page. But often we find that that's exactly the type of stuff you can't make up and someone had a weird friend that did that type of stuff.
RJ: Yeah, except we're the weird people who did that!
Oh, so that was actually a you and Will thing?!
WM: Yeah, we were just doing that...
RJ: A lot!
WM: Yeah, a lot.
RJ: To Farmer's Market vegetables. Basically anything we could get our hands on.
WM: It was stupid at the time but it seems to really work in the film.
RJ: It's different! You've never seen it before!
WM: Yeah, and in all seriousness, it's exactly that type of idiosyncratic thing you'll see a couple doing and it's just one of their things. Kind of a identifier that they've been together a LONG time! It's funny but it's also really annoying. It's that thing that people do that feels like an inside joke and for all their friends it goes from funny to annoying to funny again and by the end of it they're like "Oh my God, are you really still doing that?"
You're going to be at a restaurant after this film comes out and I guarantee you're going to see somebody doing it to the butter packet and you'll know that you've made it. You've broken through the pop culture ether.
WM: I hope so!
RJ: A butter packet, just for the record, is not the right shape.
WM: You could make it work.
Maybe like the mayonnaise bottle then?
RJ: Perfect. Now you've got it.
*According to the press notes, Will and Rashida actually dated themselves in the early 90s and wanted to remain friends, which was an obvious influence on the film's story. It was only for three weeks, though!
James Wallace has been a film writer for five years, beginning as the Managing Editor for Gordon and the Whale. He is now running IHeartCinema.net as well as contributing to The Dallas Observer and FirstShowing.net. Follow James on Twitter.
Celeste and Jesse Forever opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, August 3, before expanding in limited release throughout Canada and the U.S. in the coming weeks.