|Rashida Jones, star of the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” and her friend and writing collaborator, actor Will McCormack, came to Dallas recently to talk about their first feature “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” in which Jones stars as a driven career woman separated from her husband, struggling artist Jesse (Andy Samberg). But Celeste and Jesse are determined to remain best friends, and the question posed by the script is whether they’ll get back together even as they date others.|
Asked about toying with the cliches of romantic comedy, Jones said, “I think it’s a genre we respect a lot and grew up, but it’s hard to tell that story in a different way because it’s been told so well so many times. I feel that we approached it with caution, knowing that if we were to do one, we’d have to do something a little bit different and maybe make it relevant for now—maybe invert some of the conventions, maybe push things a little bit further than they’ve been pushed.”
McCormack added, “Yeah, it’s such a familiar genre there’s not much to do with it—you fall in love, you fall out of love until you fall in love again or you don’t. There aren’t that many things to do. So we tried to freshen it and update it in ways that felt interesting to us. But more that anything, I felt that at the end of the day we just tried to be very honest about this relationship and not try to sugarcoat it. The movie isn’t black-and-white, I don’t think, and it is complicated. And so we just tried to be honest, not ironic or satirical about the painful parts of it—honest about what heartbreak has been like for us and the people around us.
“Ultimately, I think it’s also about acceptance,” he added. “You think your life is going to go one way, and you reach a certain age and it’s so disappointing to realize it’s not. But you realize life goes on in a different way, and it’s just as acceptable, if not more so, because you’ve gone through that painful experience and hopefully grew a little bit.”
Buzz about the movie has made much of the fact that Rashida and Will had a brief romantic involvement and that the course of their relationship mirrors that of Celeste and Jesse. But Jones said, “There wasn’t a moment where we said, ‘We should just be friends.’”
McCormack continued, “It just sort of evolved that way. Our relationship is a lot like Rashida and Andy’s, Celeste and Jesse’s in the film, where we are best friends. We don’t ever have to get divorced, and we drew from our own friendship, but really the story came from a lot of friends that we’ve had, who’ve been in dysfunctional relationships with ex-es, that they were unwilling to approach honestly in an adult way. That was sort of the provenance for the film. Rashida came to me with the idea and then we just sort of volleyed it back and forth and wrote it really quickly in four months.”
The pair actually composed the script together, working on a single computer. “We speak the same language, so it’s easy to write dialogue together,” Jones said. “And we’re actors, so we act out all the scenes. So if they sound wrong we know, and can fix it.”
McCormack added, “We have our own computers now, and write separately. But [on this] we wrote the whole thing on one computer in her back yard. Now we write separately a lot, but also together. I think we get more done alone, but have more fun writing together.”
When asked whether he originally intended to play Jesse, McCormack—who instead took a supporting part as one of Jesse’s pals, admitted, “Initially—maybe a millisecond, but not much longer. When we got to a certain place I was very happy not to think of myself as Jesse. I'm a character actor, I always have been and that’s what I always want to be, I’ve never really been a lead. Rashida and Andy have known each other for a long time, and I was really happy to see Andy do this for the first time in his life, as I think everyone is, and I think he did a fantastic job.”
As the conversation drew to a close, the duo was asked what’s next on their writing agenda. “I think we’re done with romantic comedy,” Jones said.
“But we’re probably not done talking about relationships.”