Rashida Jones & Will McCormack :: Making a Hit Comedy Their Own Way
They say if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
That’s the lesson actors Rashida Jones ("Parks and Recreation", "I Love You Man") and Will McCormack learned making their screenwriting debut with the risk-taking rom-com "Celeste and Jesse Forever." Looking for the types of roles they felt they weren’t being offered, the pair simply sat down ("side-by-side") to write good parts themselves. The result is this startling drama, which shifts from whimsical sex comedy towards studies of aging angst and romantic devastation on a dime.
Jones and McCormick sat down to talk with us about getting the film made, the struggles of messing around with such a rigid genre formula, and the incredible Emma Roberts performance they facilitated. And be sure to read to the bottom for an interesting interpretation of Rashida’s work with the Muppets.
EDGE: So I get the feeling you guys aren’t totally into regular rom-com formulas.
Rashida Jones: I don’t think I’d say like, I just think it’s been done and it’s been done so well so many times that we might as well change it... a little bit.
Will McCormick: We’ve read so many, and they’re hard to write. It’s a familiar genre you know? You fall in love, you fall out of love, you fall in love again. So we were trying to just freshen it in any way we could.
EDGE: Well you guys acknowledge that people actually change.
Rashida Jones: Right. Well in the movies they do, it’s just at the end and in one scene and they all become saints and perfect for each other.
Big at Sundance
EDGE: So was Andy Samberg always the man in your mind for Jesse?
Rashida Jones: Andy and I had been friends for years and this movie has had a lot of incarnations. I sent him the script, just to read as a friend, and he’d say he liked it, but never ’as Jesse.’ Also I didn’t know if this was something Andy wanted to do, it’s just so different from the stuff that he does. But he finally did express interest and say "I can do this".
Will McCormick: He did right? He said ’so what’s up with that Jesse part...?’
Rashida Jones: He did, but it was so shrouded in indirectness that I didn’t really know. [laughs]
EDGE: You guys went over huge at Sundance, right?
Will McCormick: It was intense. We didn’t realize how big it was, or is.
Rashida Jones: We had a mutual panic attack.
EDGE: And how did you come to Lee Toland-Kreuger, your director?
Rashida Jones: We had seen ’The Vicious Kind,’ his last film, which is so good, and the performances are great, and it looked beautiful, and then we sat down and he’s so smart, and young, and he got it. Even though that movie’s totally different because it’s super dark and Adam Scott is a misanthrope... our movie needed to have a little more levity. We thought he would do a great job in mining the emotional landscape of the relationship and that was really important to us. We felt like the comedy really wouldn’t survive unless it had that.
EDGE: Emma Roberts is really amazing as this teenaged-Ke$ha type pop star. How much did she bring to that role?
Rashida Jones: Emma brought a lot of flavor to that part. She’s hilarious, and incredibly smart, and some of my favorite lines in the movie are things she just came up with on the spot. Like ’I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life... like you,’ or ’you’re kind of pretty.’
Will McCormick: She really has the only ad-libs in the movie. She’s so clever.
Rashida Jones: She’s got moxie.
Will McCormick: We recorded a song, called ’Do it on My Face’...
Rashida Jones: Her single.
Will McCormick: She was dying to do it. She wants to be a pop star in some kind of alternate universe.
The custody battle
EDGE: Considering the direction pop music is moving in, I think that song would work in this universe.
Rashida Jones: It’s pretty good!
EDGE: So, Will, I know the drug dealer you play must have been based on some real people.
Will McCormick: Skillz was a composite... of a lot of ridiculous dudes that we know in LA. It was sort of a grab bag from 4 or 5 guys that I know - and love - in LA. But it’s a fun part to play, because it’s this guy whose an idiot, and then you’re like ’is he an idiot or a genius? I’m not sure.... Oh he’s an idiot. I was right.’ [laughs]
The character in the script was a nice link between Jesse and Celeste, because there wasn’t really a bridge between the two characters.
EDGE: It’s important to see who gets custody in the divorce.
Rashida Jones: There could be a whole other movie about us trying to win Skillz friendship.
EDGE: And the breakup clearly helped his pot business. Everyone starts smoking.
Rashida Jones: Guess what? Nobody cares about drug dealers in LA. Because it’s everywhere! You go to parties, and people don’t bring bottles of wine, they bring these little [medicinal canisters] of weed!
Coffee and Nicorette
EDGE: So what’s your writing process like?
Rashida Jones: Now we’re busy, so we delegate.
Will McCormick: We work separately now. But ’Celeste and Jesse’ we wrote side-by-side on one computer in her backyard - the whole thing. Just trading back and forth. The last movie we wrote together was not fun.
Rashida Jones: I was dark.
Will McCormick: I was happy.
Rashida Jones: You were working, and happy, and I was dark. I definitely said to you at one point, ’What’s the point?’ Like, of waking up in the morning!
Will McCormick: Now I’m like ’what’s the point?’
Rashida Jones: Coffee is the point.
Will McCormick: And Nicorette. [Will proceeds to take out some Nicorette for himself and Rashida.] You want any Nicorette? [I decline.]
Outing the Muppets
slug>EDGE: Well the great thing now is you guys can write yourselves the part you wish you were cast in.
Rashida Jones: Right - and write yourself the type of part no one would ever think of you for. I mean, would you get cast as Skillz? [if they hadn’t wrote the film]
Will McCormick: I would audition, kill it, call you, then not get the part.
Rashida Jones: I would definitely not get Celeste.
Will McCormick: And then see the movie and be like... ’that guy’s pretty good.’
EDGE: So this dark stage in your life... this was before you worked with the Muppets, right?
Rashida Jones: Totally. I actually think they erased any type of depression. I can’t ever say ’What’s the point?’ again. Because I know the point. The point is Kermit. It all comes back to the Muppets, really. They were just saying today that the Muppets are boycotting Chick-fil-A. So cool, that they would take a stand like that. And [James Bobin’s] ’The Muppets,’ it’s like the best version of that movie that could come out right now.
Will McCormick: Also, it sort of felt to me - this was my reading of it - it felt to me like a parable for a gay man.
Rashida Jones: Like ’Am I a Muppet or a Man?’ as ’Am I Gay or Am I Not?’
Will McCormick: Yes! Like didn’t that journey feel a little bit like coming out, or... that was my read.
Rashida Jones: For Walter? Totally.
Will McCormick: Yes, Walter was gay.
EDGE: So does that make Jason Segel the ultimate symbol of heterosexuality?
Will McCormick: [laughs] Not anywhere else.
EDGE: So you outed the Muppets.
Rashida Jones: Breaking news!
Celeste and Celeste and Jesse Forever is currently playing in selected cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. It will be rolled out to other markets in upcoming weeks. To find out when and where, visit the film’s website.
Watch the trailer to "Celeste and Jesse Forever":