Directed by Lee Toland Kreiger
In theaters Aug. 31
In celeste and Jesse Forever , First-time screenwriters and longtime actors Rashida Jones and Will McCormack tell the story of a loving-yet-separated couple who can't quite figure out just how to split up. Jones spoke with us a bit about making the transition from actor to writer and how that challenged her expectations.
City Paper: You've been pretty attached to this concept from start to finish. Since film is so collaborative, though, was it ever difficult to let go of the way you envisioned it before shooting?
Rashida Jones: You know, that's my favorite part. I mean, I'm into people and I have a huge family and, for me, it's about that. It's about being in a community. Even just sharing this movie with other people and having people come up to me and tell me about their old personal relationships, feeling like they somehow have something in common with me. We can talk about this thing and they feel like a voice has been given to their experience. That has been so great and that started from when we wrote the script, and the people that got involved along the way felt like they connected to it and that was enough for me to want to-I mean, that, plus the fact that they were really talented-made me want to go on the journey with them. I don't like doing things alone anyway.
CP: What was the writing process like for you and Will McCormack?
RJ: We've been really tight friends for years. We met in 1999, and we spent our 20s in New York, drinking a ton of coffee and beer and talking about writing and never doing it. And then finally, we just got a little bit older. I think I became a little bit less fearful of what it meant to try to write a script. I had this idea and I passed it by him, and he had a ton to say about it and I had a lot to say about it and we just sat down and decided to write it until it was done. If it sucked, it would go in the garbage, and if it didn't, we would give it to people and get some feedback.
CP: Since you and Will McCormack are both actors, did you find yourselves physically stepping into scenes as you wrote them?
RJ: Oh yeah, full performances from us. Blocking, interpretations, we'd improv scenes, voices, characters. Yes.
CP: So being an actress has obviously influenced the way you write. With the years of experience you have in acting, how did that specifically go into writing the script?
RJ: Well, Will and I have read so many scripts that it was kind of ingrained [in us]. The structure and the things that we liked and the things we didn't like, and the times the dialogue worked and the times that it didn't. So as we became more confident in the writing process, it became clear that we instinctively kind of knew what we wanted to do and what we didn't want to do. Also, we wanted to make sure that all the parts felt meaty for all the actors, because I so often play supporting characters and I know [that] you want to be able to have a full arc as a character even if you're in three scenes. Often, that's not the case, like usually the character is just designed to get the main character somewhere a little further, you know, to get them down the road a little bit. So we wanted to make sure that we did the best we could to make sure that everybody felt like they had a little bit of a complete story.
CP: Was that encouraged on set too? Was there room for improvisation?
RJ: You know, unfortunately, we didn't have a ton of time because we shot in 22 days. So there wasn't a lot of improvising.
CP: So a lot of the creation of the characters was all planned out by you and Will beforehand.
RJ: Yeah, yeah.
CP: Had you always had the intention to be a screenwriter?
RJ: You know, I didn't think I did, and then recently I found something I wrote in the third grade about how I wanted to write movies and how I was gonna go about it, and the teacher wrote some snarky note that said, "Well, sounds like you got it all figured out! Good for you!" And I must have buried it, because I don't even remember wanting to do that and I just recently found it. I spent so much of my young life being intimidated by writers and feeling like I couldn't necessarily call myself a writer-which you can't until you do the thing. You have to just do the thing, you have to finish writing. I mean, that's what makes you a writer. Just sitting down and doing it.
CP: Was there any part of the writing process that surprised you?
RJ: I think the banality of it. I kind of always pictured myself sitting in a really beautiful bay window or something and drinking tea and [laughs] being inundated with inspiring thoughts. And the truth is, most of it is just the work, the grind of sitting down every day and grinding out pages. And maybe five-10 percent of the time if you're lucky-you have an inspiring thought that sets you off on a whole new path, incites a story or a new character or relationship or a dynamic for a scene. But most of it is just grinding it out.