CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER
By Gary Murray
Rashida Jones and Will McCormack are a pair of writers/actors who have an uncommon bond in Hollywood. They are close friends, confidants and creative partners but not a couple. The two are in town promoting their first feature Celeste and Jesse Forever.
Rashida Jones is best known for her role on Parks and Recreation as Ann Perkins, the best friend of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). She has also been in the films I Love You, Man and The Social Network. Will McCormack has been seen in Must Love Dogs, American Outlaws and Elf. He also has done a handful of television shows, both dramas and comedies.
The two wrote and produced Celeste and Jesse Forever. The story is a romantic comedy told from the end. We don’t get the ‘cute meet’ and the ‘happily ever after’ but the ending of the relationship. Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are livelong friends who are getting a divorce but still seeing each other daily. He lives in the back of her house and both have yet to ‘move on’ in their relationships. The story is of how one of them has a life moment that changes the relationship forever.
Even though the romantic comedy has been a part of storytelling almost since the beginning of fiction, the two found a few different angles to take the story. Rashida said, “I think it is a genre we respect a lot and grew up on. I think it is hard to tell that story in a different way because it has been told so well so many times. I feel that we approached it with caution. We knew that if we were going to do one, we would have to try and do something a little different, making it relevant for now. Invert some of the conventions and maybe push things a little further than they have been pushed.”
Will added by saying, “It is such a familiar genre that there is not that much to do with it. You fall in love, you fall out of love, either you fall in love again or you don’t fall in love. There are not that many things to do so we tried to freshen it and update it. Invent it in ways that felt interesting to us. But, more than anything, I felt like at the end of the day, we just tried to be really honest about this relationship, not try and sugarcoat it. It is not black and white. The movie is complicated and we tried to be honest and not ironic or satirical about the painful parts. To be honest to what heartbreak has been like to us and the people around us. Wherever we could, we would freshen-up the conventions of it, but we tried to be honest about it.”
Rashida sees the story very simply. “They fell out of love and that is how the journey begins and ends,” she said. “It is all so mysterious.”
Will then said, “Ultimately, it is about acceptance. You think your life is going to go one way and you reach a certain age and it is so disappointing to realize that it is not. You realize that live goes on and it does go a different way and it is just as acceptable, if not bigger, because you have gone through that painful experience and that hopefully you grew a little bit. God is in charge of what happens to you but the devil is in charge of the timing. It is the right thing but the wrong time. It is hard to make those two things intersect.”
Rashida said of her part in Celeste and Jesse Forever, “When you first meet her she is successful and the things she has created her filter of life that works for her. Her job is to judge people and she’s right about it and she can be validated in being right about it by saying ‘see I forecasted those six months ago’. It puts her in this elevated position so when she falls, she falls so much harder.”
.Will and Rashida dated when they first met but after about three weeks, both realized that they would be better as friends. They very loosely based the character of Celeste and Jesse on their lives and the lives of their friends. Will explained, “Our relationship is a lot like Celeste and Jesse’s in the film where we are best friends. We hopefully (wish) we don’t have to get divorced. We definitely drew from our own friendship but really the story of the movie came from a lot of friends who have been in dysfunctional relationships with ex’s that they were unwilling to approach honestly and in an adult way. That was sort of the providence for the film. Rashida came to me with the idea and we volleyed it back and forth. We wrote it really quickly, in four months, and I can’t believe it is coming out.”
From the time they wrote it to the release date has been almost four years. “It is not that bad,” he said of the time. They sat side by side when writing the script. Quipped Rashida, “We do tend to share a brain sometimes.”
Then Rashida expanded on the thought. She said, “We speak the same language. We are both balanced and it is easy to write dialogue together. We are actors and we act out all the scenes and if they sound wrong, then we know that they are wrong and we can fix it. We get more done alone but have more fun writing together.”
Initially Will considered himself for the Jesse role but he said, “As it got to a real place, I was very happy not to think of myself as Jesse. I am a character actor that is what I have always been and that it what I always wanted to be, I have never been a lead. Rashida and Andy have known each other for a long time. I was really happy to see Andy do this for the first time in his life. I think he did a fantastic job.”
Since Rashida and Andy have known each other for years and there was this built in chemistry between the two. “You don’t have to rehearse with someone for four weeks,” she said of the process. “It was so weird. It was like we were living this entire relationship in two days.”
The film is directed by Lee Toland Krieger, the creative force behind The Vicious Kind and December Ends. “I have a deep reverence for great directors,” said Will, “and Lee is a great director. He had a very clear vision and he is great with actors. The film looks beautiful. He was the right person for the job.”
Since this is a film without a ‘happily ever after, I wanted to know where Rashida and Will saw Jesse and Celeste in twenty years. For a moment, both seemed stumped by the question. Then Rashida said, “I feel like probably Celeste is married with kids. She is controlling and opinionated but an ‘A plus’ mom. Jesse is probably a really good dad but probably with someone else.”
McCormack saw the characters in a slightly different future. He said, “They are definitely still friends. I feel that Jesse is married and successful but isn’t probably with the greatest love of his life, but that happens and Celeste had a baby with a gay friend.”
Rashida will start the new season of Parks and Recreation in the fall and Will has different projects in the works. He said, “I just want to work, I just want to write and maybe we want to direct a movie someday.” He said that the film will be a comedy. “All movies should be funny. There needs to be some levity.”
They have been kicking around ideas for their next project. Rashida sees them working on something about the middle of life. “Maybe,” she said, “writing about family and siblings and parents and mortality. Life’s meaning and how that changes from your thirties to your forties.” Will added to the thought by saying, “Getting older, families, what success means and what we think it means. We talk a lot about heartbreak and relationships. One of the themes for us was that heartbreak is hard for everyone. The moment that (I am) getting better is when I have been able to laugh about me and my situation. When you can laugh a little bit, you are on the road to recovery.”