Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
August 7, 2012
Women break down in romantic comedies all the time. They just rarely do so to the point of looking unattractive, says Rashida Jones.
“She always looks good, her hair looks good and her apartment’s pretty. It’s like, there’s things strewn on her couch and she’s sniffling a little bit,” says the 36-year-old star and co-writer of the breakup tale “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” “We wanted to go way past that. The un-showered, un-tethered, stoner drunk mess that I have been at times in my life, and I think other women have been.”
In the film opening Aug. 10, Celeste (Jones) has exactly that sort of breakdown as she copes with her divorce from Jesse (Andy Samberg), who moves on to another woman faster than Celeste expected. The movie offers a welcome opportunity to spend more time with the immensely likable “Parks and Recreation” actress, who so far has spent most of her big-screen appearances in supporting parts in films like “I Love You, Man,” “Our Idiot Brother” and “The Social Network.”
At the Peninsula Hotel, Jones (daughter of Quincy, a Chicago native) talked music, what couples should discuss more frequently and her incredibly eventful life that has included having LL Cool J perform at her Sweet 16 and receiving Cabbage Patch Kids as a gift when she went to the mall. With Michael Jackson.
“I think that was probably the first time I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, my life is not like other people’s lives,’” she says with a laugh. “I’m at the mall with Michael Jackson.”
If you could hear one song for the rest of your life, “Call Me Maybe” or “What Makes You Beautiful,” which would you choose?
“What Makes You Beautiful”?
That One Direction song.
[Gasps.] [Sings and snaps.] “That’s what makes you beautiful!” Oh my God, that’s so funny. I was just in Italy with a friend of mine and we sang that the entire time. I love One Direction! Oh, but probably “Call Me Maybe” is a better song as a construction, as a masterpiece. It’s more interesting. But then I wouldn’t get to see those cute boys. Oh, no, I’m not watching the video, I’m just listening to the song? “Call Me Maybe.”
That was a good back and forth.
With myself. [Laughs.]
In “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” there’s a sense that the characters’ relationship went on too long, or some things went unexamined. What’s something couples don’t discuss as much as they should?
Oh, interesting. I guess probably in the modern age probably monogamy. Because I feel like it’s this thing that we just assume we’re going to do and that’s what you commit to when you commit to a relationship, but there are parts of it that are unnatural and tested every day because there’s so much choice now. And you don’t get married to your high school sweetheart; you don’t stay in your hometown. You have access to the entire world. So I feel like it would be good for couples to discuss the fact that the monogamy they give to each other is a gift and it’s something to be respected and to feel grateful for as opposed to just taking it for granted.
What are the chances that becomes something a lot of people do? Do you read Savage Love, Dan Savage’s sex column? The issue comes up in there all the time.
And it feels like something that is—
Buried. I feel like we still live in a weirdly puritanical country that believes in this institution of marriage that we’re basically blowing it. Half the time we’re not even making it through the marriage, so I feel like the sooner we can get to talking about it the more likely we’ll be to evolve into whatever next phase there is of modern love.
Although if half the time we’re not making it then half the time we are. Why when people talk about this do they focus on the half that don’t work out?
Well, if you’re a mathematician or you work in the stock market, if something doesn’t work out a majority of the time, that’s the thing you’re going to be focused on. Unfortunately, people don’t focus on the success of anything; they focus on the failure of it and how they can fix the failures of it.
Speaking of failures, there’s definitely some awkward dates in this movie.
[Laughs.] Many fails.
I believe you say, “Do you like bread” at one point.
Yeah, perfect conversation starter.
Great conversation starter. What’s the worst thing someone’s said to you on a date or something you said that as soon as it was out of your mouth you were like, “Whoops”?
[Laughs.] So many bad moments. But I remember going on a date with a guy and we did not know each other at all, and he tried to feed me lobster. And that was really awkward.
Pieces of lobster or a whole—
On a fork. And I was like, “Oh …” (demonstrates trying to lean in and eat it), “… thanks.” It was just awkward. I think he had an ‘80s image of a romantic date in his head, and it was really awkward.
Was there a different dish that would have been more appropriate than lobster?
No, don’t try to feed me. I’m not your child. I’m not your pet.
I’m having this “American Psycho” vision.
[Laughs.] It wasn’t that bad.
It’s interesting to think about the portrayal of men and women on screen, and usually it’s the guys who need to shape up and lack ambition. Do you feel like that’s usually the case, and if so, is that because that’s how it is in real life?
I think we see that now in modern movies. I feel like Judd Apatow really broke that open. That’s the kind of guy that exists now, this Peter Pan-syndrome, man-child, video game-playing, hoodie-wearing guy who refuses to grow up. I think, not to be too psychoanalytical about it, but I think it’s a result of having a really powerful feminist movement. We had a movement that moved us forward that said, “You don’t have to just be a mom. You don’t have to just be a wife. You can be a CEO. Even though you’re still not going to get paid as much, you can go do other things.” And it empowered us. Guys haven’t had anything to be empowered by since the industrial revolution. They don’t have anything saying, “Go feel your feelings, go take care of your kid, it’s all good. Write poetry or be sensitive.” We didn’t give guys the same opportunity to develop that side of themselves, so I think in response, in rebellion, they have firmly planted their feet in childhood.
What would be a push in that direction for guys?
I think women actually need to help them evolve a little bit. I think they need to stop coddling them. It’s like Celeste says to Jesse in the movie, “Go get a job, go get a job.” Maybe just support him more and let him go be a man somehow or let him go. Be like, “I’m not paying for anything else unless we pay for it together.”
Celeste has great cultural commentary in the movie. Do you feel like people’s appetite for garbage is larger than ever now, and why?
Yeah, garbage feeds garbage. I think it’s an amalgam of a lot of issues, one being our lack of connection with our food. There’s so much processed food. People eat fast food. It’s not real food; it doesn’t grow from the earth, it doesn’t have any nutrients. And then there’s garbage and violence on TV and video games. There’s no cultural demand for people to be interested in things that are not lazy. It’s gotten a little bit lazy … You see businessmen on planes reading tabloids. I remember growing up as a kid—I remember like my mom picking up an Enquirer and being like, “Mom, don’t do that. Don’t do that in front of other people!”
I used to get freaked out by the Enquirer at the grocery store.
Yeah! And now everybody reads that. It’s the same magazine, it’s just our appetite has changed. And I don’t know what the answer is. How do you shift a cultural appetite? I don’t really know what the answer is. Maybe you have to burn out, get bored of the other thing. Hopefully we’ll get back to a place where we reward people with talents and we want to see people with talents and not people who are just in sex tapes. Reality shows and sex tapes.
Something pretty uncomfortable happens with Celeste and her work with Emma Roberts’ pop star character. What’s the biggest on-the-job snafu you’ve had?
I do it all the time. I send the wrong email to the wrong person. Especially now—I don’t know if you have a Mac.
My wife does.
They changed the mail for this operating system so they group all the emails together on one side. It’s the worst. Sorry, I love you Apple, but work that out. So sometimes you reply to the wrong person. It’s so easy to do, and I’ve done that recently. Where I was complaining about somebody else work-wise and I sent it to the person I was emailing about.
How did they respond?
It kind of was good. Those things happen and you’re saying what you really want to say to that person and it forces you to have a conversation. They kind of backed off a little bit and saw that I was serious and I just pretended like I didn’t even mean—I pretended it wasn’t a mistake. I just went with it.
I’m a big fan of “Parks and Recreation” and am so glad you’re coming back next season.
Me too, thank you.
We had a major occurrence in the lives of Ann and Tom (Aziz Ansari) at the end of last season. What are their chances as a couple?
I think Ann maybe needs to stop defining herself by men. [Laughs.] That’s been her journey for the past couple seasons. I think really the creators, their idea was, “They’re two young people. They live in this small town. Of course they’re going to date each other. That’s how it goes.” But I don’t think the chances are very good, personally.
Do you think ahead as far as how much longer you think the show can go?
I do. It’s hard not to. We’ve always been on the bubble. NBC’s never really let us relax into being on that network, and there’s something good about that because as a cast we really have bonded. Every single moment that we work together we appreciate, and it’s the loveliest atmosphere I’ve ever worked in and we kind of don’t think about it anymore because the reality—it just always feels like we’re about to not be on the air. [Laughs.] So we just appreciate the moments.
You’ve had so many incredibly unique things happen in your life. Correct me if I’m wrong about any of this: LL Cool J performed at your Sweet 16, you sang backup on a Maroon 5 album, you would have been Tupac’s sister-in-law. Do you have a sense of having a different, interesting life or is it more that this has always been normal to you and don’t think anything of it?
I mean, in some regard yeah, I don’t know anything different but I’ve always had this pull toward normalcy because I’ve felt a little weird and different, and there’s sometimes where I stop and I’m like, “My life is really cool.” It’s great, and sometimes it would be so cool to one day just be from a small town and be kind of normal. I struggle with it a little bit. Now as I get older I accept that this is just the way my life is and will always be like that and I search for normalcy and consistency as much as I can. I’m aware that it’s different from other people’s lives. I definitely am aware of that.
Can you think of a time when you were a kid that felt like the first time you looked around and said—
“I’m not like everybody else?” I was just saying we used to go to the mall with Michael Jackson when we were kids. He’d be like, “Let’s go buy toys” to us and his nieces and nephews and stuff. I was always a little bit uncomfortable with how famous he was and it was like embarrassing, so I would walk a little bit ahead of him because I didn’t want anybody to think that maybe I knew somebody that famous.
Why wouldn’t you want them to?
It’s embarrassing because everybody’s looking. Everybody’s looking at you and everybody’s looking at him and indirectly at us. I just felt a little bit like, “Don’t look at me.”
Do you remember something he bought you?
Cabbage Patch Kid. That’s all I wanted. Ever. Was Cabbage Patch Kids.
How can we ever trust the Oscars again after “The Social Network” and David Fincher lost to “The King’s Speech” and Tom Hooper?
Can I tell you something? I don’t know. I don’t know. I asked myself this question about the Emmys too this year and also last year when they didn’t give Steve Carell the Emmy. I don’t know how you can trust any awards shows.
I used to love awards shows.
Yeah. It’s hard to. That to me, “King’s Speech” is a great movie; “Social Network” is a classic. I mean, it’s one of the best films I think that’s ever been made. And it was so relevant and I felt like the fact that people didn’t vote for it meant like, “Oh, we’re just kind of missing the mark a little bit.” I don’t know. We’re all going to watch anyway, aren’t we? The Oscars. We’re sitting here complaining, and it’s futile.
What’s something you haven’t gotten to do on the big screen yet that you still want to do?
I think I need to play maybe like a killer or a drug addict. [Laughs.] Or I have to play somebody who’s a marginal, sociopathic member of society.
Because I haven’t done it and I wonder if I could do it. Or a misanthrope. Just somebody who’s a little bit left of center.
“Freaks and Geeks” was probably the last time you were a huge badass, right?
Yes! And by the way I remember very clearly the director being like, “I need you to be more mean.” “But I just, I’m being so mean.” She’s like, “More mean.” She just kept pushing me and pushing me and it felt really uncomfortable, so I wonder if I could. I might blow it, but I’d love the chance.
If you could have a dinner party with any three people in the world, who would you want there?
Or not. That you’ve never met before.
That’s so tough. Bill Gates. Oh man that’s so tough. That I’ve never met before? [Groans.] Really?
Or whoever you want. I hate to stress you out.
I’m so stressed out about it. I’m going to go with Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and maybe Dorothy Parker. That sounds like a good dinner party, right?
And if I let you have five more, the One Direction guys can come.
Oh, yes! That’s a great idea! [Laughs.]
On her brief relationship with co-star/co-writer Will McCormack: “At the time he kind of destroyed me. It took a while before we actually became friends. We dated for a couple weeks. I would have continued dating him. He wasn’t over his last girlfriend. So at the time I was not that psyched with him. And then we made up; he apologized for his behavior. We got really lucky to know that we would be better off as friends than we would trying to date each other and hurting each other and resenting each other and never talking again.”
On Chicago: “The first time I came here was with my choir in high school. We went to a White Sox game. We went to the Sears Tower, and I really liked it. I haven’t been to Chicago that many times. Every time I come I really like it and I want to spend more time here. There’s a lot of good food here.”
If she came here with her dad Quincy Jones, with whom she’s never visited his hometown: “What would we do together? I would like us to have a really delicious dinner, go to a new restaurant. Or two. And then maybe go and check out some music. I went to Lollapalooza here one year and saw Kanye and it was amazing [Note: She pronounces this “Lola-palooza.”] … My friend Billy Dec, who clearly runs Chicago a little bit, every time I’m here he takes me somewhere new. To Rockit to eat, took us to Sunda last night which was amazing. He took me to Lollapalooza. My friends have a theater company here so probably go see a play at Lookingglass. There’s a lot of good stuff in Chicago.”
On reality TV she watches: “I do [watch some]! I definitely do. It’s hard, right. You’re inundated … I used to be really into the ‘Real Housewives.’ … I just burnt out. Everybody was too mean to each other, and I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can do it anymore.’”
Guilty pleasure movie: “Step Up.” “First one. Classic. It’s just good. The dancing’s good. Channing Tatum’s so good. I was just in it. I’m just in. It.”
What she’d say if Mark Zuckerberg walked in: “’What up? I graduated Harvard, haha.’ [Laughs.] No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know; he probably wouldn’t like me very much, right? Well, actually I was part of the human portrayal of him. I would just say what’s up, it’s nice to meet you. You’re cool."
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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