Got a chance to meet the whip smart star of Parks and Recreation on TV (do you watch that show?) and the co-writer and star of the very good Celeste and Jesse Forever. Here’s our conversation. The film opens Friday, August 3rd in limited release.
Women and Hollywood: I was so excited when your film was announced and wanted you to comment on a quote that you said about why you wrote the film.
“It’s hard to find female leads that are flawed and interesting and dynamic. We wanted to write something that was in the vein of Judd Apatow — you talk like you actually talk with your friends — but with ladies..I want to do that and not just be someone’s girlfriend or wife. I want to be the one to go on the journey.”
WaH: Why has it been so hard for women to go on the journey?
Rashida Jones: Not be reductive but isn’t everything harder for women? Isn’t it just harder to be alive and be a woman? We carry this tacit burden of being more empathetic — again reductive — of keeping the peace, getting paid less, getting less acknowledgment. And being nurturing as well as being powerful. It’s a high responsibility and I do think that I am very grateful for the feminist movement and it’s really put us ahead and has empowered us in a way that is daunting for men. They don’t know how to fit in, they don’t know how to deal with it and I think that to publicly still be the “big guys” makes them feel better. That is the one thing they still have control over. They can still feel like they are balancing it by being in charge.
WaH: Movieland seems to be even harder.
RJ: Anything public, entertainment especially, is always a little bit behind. And now there is this trend towards women. I think when I said that, Bridesmaids hadn’t yet come out. Movieland is harder for everything. You can’t be an openly gay moviestar. You can’t be an openly gay pop star really- minus Ricky Martin. I am happy to take whatever this new trend is for women and claim it and make it ours. I hate calling it a trend because it is a reality. The trend is that it is now being reflected in Hollywood.
WaH: I was thinking about it this today because I saw Ruby Sparks, your movie and coming up is Bachelorette and For a Good Time Call. All the movies were being made when Bridesmaids came out so what is happening clearly happened before Bridesmaids, but they are building on the success.
RJ: I think the reason why it is now is because Hollywood is unfortunately about money. So if they can seize something financially viable in a trend they are going to support it. That’s fine. I am happy to use it. Will and I are writing partners — Will has a lot of feminine qualities and I have have a lot of masculine qualities. We write both. It’s not like I write all the female voices and he writes all the male voices. He has a really strong female voice too. I feel this way about multiculturalism too, the more of the spectrum you can represent, the better it is. “Women who are domineering and horrible, women who are volunteering subjugating themselves. Women who are confused, women who are sluts. Women who have chosen to not lose their virginity.” The more you have the less you can stick someone into one category and I know for me personally as an actress I have played these nice dependable pragmatic characters for a long time which is great because it is an aspect of my personality. But I also have a little bit of an edge as a person and I wanted to show a version of that as well. Celeste is a woman who is maybe more common now than before – she is on top of her game, built this whole life on an identity on how she sees the world. She is very opinionated, very outspoken and maybe its crumbling because she can’t control everything and that’s different for her and she has to learn a new way to deal with life.
WaH: I’m excited to see all different kinds of women. The multidimensional women. We see them on TV but not in the movies.
RJ: It’s true and that used to be the opposite. And it’s nice that it is happening in a way. One of the things that I am most proud in being a part of on Parks and Recreation is my relationship with Amy’s (Poehler) character. It’s how women are actually friends. We support each other. We get mad at each other and then we talk it out. Guys come between us. Work comes between us but ultimately we work it out. We are totally unconditionally supportive of each other which is how my friends are.
WaH: Parks and Recreation is one of the most radical shows on TV.
RJ: I know isn’t it crazy?
WaH: Amy ran for office on TV and won the election and was very ambitious. And that’s what’s so interesting about your character in the movie is that she is ambitious and we don’t let women be very ambitious.
RJ: And when they are they get punished for it. We consciously made a decision to not have her be pummeled at work. At some point we did discuss her getting fired but we decided that it was about making mistakes and growing and getting better. We made a decision that she has an upward turn based on her emotional journey. We wanted her to get pummeled emotionally, but we didn’t want it to be some sort of punitive statement about her being successful. She is so focused on success. That’s how she sees her life and that’s why it crumbles, not because she is successful.
WaH: Talk a little bit about the writing process with Will?
RJ: Because this was our maiden voyage we were side by side every day until we finished. We had one computer that we passed back and forth. I’m a better typer and that’s just because I took typing in 6th grade. But we had a huge board and we mapped out the movie for two months and then we started writing dialogue together. And because we are both actors we acted out every scene, blocked it, did voices and we pretty much did it together the whole way. It was a really great process. We are like brother and sister and we support each other so much and we got to hold each others hands through everything – the good stuff and the bad.
We wrote it four years ago now. It took a really long time to get it made and part of it is the industry is polarized into franchise movies and indie movies and there is no middle class like the rest of the country. And part of it is because the material is not a straight up and down romantic comedy. They are some twists and turns. We tried to be honest about what it feels like to really have heartache and heartbreak and how shitty and messy that can be and that wasn’t necessarily a formula that people felt they could spend a lot of money on.
WaH: It doesn’t seem like it has to be a very expensive movie.
RJ: We shot it for under a million dollars but weirdly we had 65 locations which we didn’t realize because we were novices and we had to consolidate stuff.
WaH: But you made it for as they say “a price.”
RJ: Trust me there was a lot of begging, borrowing and stealing. We used my car, we used my house. Will was in the bear costume hugging me on the Venice Boardwalk. It was super home grown. It would be nice to have a little bit more money — not a lot.
WaH: Talk about the difference between acting on TV and film.
RJ: I think character wise with TV you have all these episodes to figure out who a character is and in movies we had 22 days. But this had also been brewing inside of me for a long time so in a way it was easier because I just came into it in a mode. In TV you go away for months and then you come back and I actually think that I have to get back into that frame of mind — not like I am some method actress. I think the difference is hitting the jokes. There is a rhythm and formula and we are a team and we have to make the funniest final product. Best idea wins and comedy is just a straight up collaboration so that part of it is very different and challenging in a completely different way. I’m sure the first week I’m back I know I’m going to feel unfunny because I am way out of practice. So it’s going to take some time and we will warm up and then by week 3 we’ll be like ok maybe there is some stuff there.
WaH: Do you ever feel the urge to do more drama?
RJ: I do. At this point too in my career if I was thinking omnisciently I should probably go and play like a drug addict or something. I feel I should probably mix it up a little bit and see what I can do and continue to challenge myself. I am so psyched to be doing well but now I have to find my way to crawl out of the box.
WaH: The industry is so much harder than women- last week that whole craziness with Kristen Stewart. You’ve been in this business for a long time – why are people so horrible to women?
RJ: It seems really unfair doesn’t it? It’s not our business really. I think it stems from a total sick obsession with celebrity and it all comes back to that virgin/whore thing. We prop up both and we do it in a way where we have these idols and we prop up these reality stars and these sex tape stars and we make them the centerpiece of our lives because we want to follow their private world and we have seen their vaginas and we can feel intimately involved with them and then we want to break them down. And that’s kind of gross and I think that women are subjected to it more than men.
WaH: But women are so horrible to each other
RJ: They are so hard on women. I feel the only way to deal with it is to keep creating a multifaceted perspective of women. To keep showing that we have all different levels.
WaH: What did you learn about yourself from this experience?
RJ: From the moviemaking process learned that I am stronger than I think I am. I learned that things can get really hard and that nobody is going to pick up your slack. If you want something done you just gotta do it. It doesn’t matter how many people have said they love your script and they want to help you, you have to have individual tenacity to get anything done. I also learned that I have to kind of let go of the outcome of things and I know those sound hypocritical but at some point you have no control and remember that nobody is out intending to hurt you but shit happens and you have to let it go. If you are going to move forward and be an adult you have to let it go.
What advice could you offer people?
RJ: Be relentless. I don’t mean like haranguing people. Do it on your own. If someone says no find someone who will say yes. Get your own camera, ask for favor. If you believe in your material find other people who believe in it and keep moving forward. I know people who have been working on scripts for 10 years and that’s just how the business is. You just have to believe in yourself.