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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Q&A: Rashida Jones and Will McCormack from Celeste and Jesse Forever

Posted By on Tue, Aug 7, 2012 at 12:30 PM

  • Photo by David Lanzenberg, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
  • Rashida Jones as Celeste

In Celeste and Jesse Forever, Rashida Jones plays Celeste, a hard-working trend forecaster running her own media company. Her ex is Jesse, an underemployed graphic artist. Driven career woman and irresponsible man -- we've definitely seen that formula before. But Celeste and Jesse Forever, written by Jones and her good friend, actor Will McCormack, aims to subvert the typical romantic comedy rather than hit all the clichés. Celeste and Jesse continue to be best friends, hanging out every day, sharing inside jokes and goofy voices. When Jesse gets into another relationship, thankfully, Celeste doesn't end up on the couch with a tub of ice cream. She doesn't have to lose her job and become ridiculous -- the fate of many smart women in rom-coms. Instead, McCormack and Jones wrote Celeste as someone who thinks she can outsmart heartbreak.

click to enlarge celeste_jesse.jpg

Jones who stars on Parks and Recreation, and has been in a whole host of movies, including The Muppets and I Love You, Man, had the idea to write something exploring friendship and whether it's possible to keep the good parts of a relationship after a breakup. She and McCormack, who dated briefly years ago before deciding they were better off as friends, are now writing a screenplay of Jones' comic book, Frenemy of the State. They wrote Celeste and Jesse Forever in Jones' backyard, passing the laptop back and forth. They sat down with SF Weekly to talk about shifting the convention of romantic comedies, emotional greed, and how you can't be right and be happy.

SFW: You say you wanted to flip the archetype of the romantic comedy. What's an example of doing that?

Jones: Starting with Celeste, she's this together businesswoman who's got it all made and in this seemingly perfect relationship. She doesn't just deal with a breakup or this little skip in her romantic life -- she's bombarded by life forcing her to change. She gets knocked down really, really far. I haven't seen a romantic comedy where you get to see a woman dissolve. So it starts off as this archetype, and then it moves. And the archetype of Celeste and Jesse seeming like this happy perfect couple and you're like, "Oh, that's so annoying. I know that couple and they're annoying. Oh wait, they're not together."

McCormack: And with Celeste we wanted her descent to be ugly. A lot of times in romantic comedies they're losing their minds, but they're still really adorable. You know, heartache is ugly and we wanted to be honest about that, so starting with that, that seemed like some sort of convention shift.

SFW: The tone of the movie seems tricky, going back and forth between funny and heartbreaking. Was that something you were trying for or just how it worked out?

McCormack: That was really important to us. While we wanted the movie to be funny, we wanted to be as real as possible. That is fully informed by our love of Woody Allen and Cameron Crowe and Jim Brooks and the movies we grew up on. I felt like those people have continued to make movies that have both. That's just really the way it came out. It wasn't so much that we were like, "We're going to make this kind of movie," as that's the story we wrote, and we didn't know how to be ironic or satirical about it. It's just like heartbreak is heartbreaking and let's try to keep it as real as possible but also make it funny. It's sort of just how it happened. SFW: Could you talk some about creating Celeste's character? She is a successful, hardworking woman, and she doesn't get made fun of for being competent.

Jones: Celeste is definitely unapologetic in what she wants in life. She does not lack in confidence. I'm like that -- hopefully I'm not as myopic as Celeste, but I'm 36, I've lived the life I've lived, I have the opinions I have, and I don't really back down from that. I think we wanted a character who felt very comfortable with her standing in life because it helps our plot because we take her down so far (laughs), and the way to do this is to have somebody who has figured out a life that works for them. I feel like I know a lot of women like this who have prioritized their jobs, whether it's because they're ambitious and driven or because of survival, because their relationship is not working for them or in response to their mother not being that way or whatever it is. It was important to us for her to be strong-minded and also not be the butt of a joke. It's not there to be criticized. Her internal journey is she wants to be right about everything, and you can't be right and be happy -- the Paul character says that to her, but it's not a criticism about what she's chosen to do with her life or how she lives her life.

McCormack: One's love life you have no control over. In my personal opinion, I don't think we have control over anything. But this is a woman who's self made, she's so successful, she's driven, and I think with love it revolves around a lot of factors we have nothing to do with, like timing and growing and missed opportunities, and I think that's frustrating for her. I think the way Rashida played it, it was fun to watch her grapple with that. It's hard to have a successful career and a successful love life (hysterical laughter). It's a lot to do in one lifetime.

SFW: The friend in the movie who gets so upset about Celeste and Jesse's relationship -- was that based on anything?

McCormack: I was definitely in a dysfunctional relationship with an ex, and I had a friend who was like, "What are you guys doing? Why do you go on vacation together?" I dated a girl forever, and I definitely had this moment of a friend saying, "I know you guys think this situation is cool but no one else does, and everyone thinks it's weird. So keep pretending, but one day it's going to come to a screeching halt." And it did. I was leaning on the person emotionally, and I called her when I had a problem, and she said, "Why do you keep calling me when you have problems?" and I said, "Well, because I love you," and she said, "If you really loved me, you'll stop calling me for a little bit." And I was like, oh, right, I'm young and selfish, and I'm a dick. You can't rely on someone that heavily emotionally if you're not going to provide everything else -- stability, loyalty, friendship, and compassion. I was young, immature, and emotionally greedy.

Celeste and Jesse Forever opens August 10 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas 1881 Post (at Fillmore).

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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