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Rashida Jones On 'Celeste and Jesse Forever': 'I Wanted To Play Somebody ... Less Likeable'

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Rashida Jones,
Rashida Jones, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" star and co-writer, in Washington, D.C., April 2012.

What happens when a couple knows it's over but can't bear to part? That's the painful scenario at the heart of "Celeste and Jesse Forever," the new indie rom-com co-written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. When the movie begins, Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are deep in denial about what their decision to get divorced means for them and those around them. No, they're not having sex anymore -- not regularly, anyway -- but does that mean they can't keep going to dinner with friends and making schmoopy faces and reading the menu to each other in hilarious voices?

Eventually, alas, it does. And the result is an emotional roller coaster ride that's alternately hilarious and excruciating to behold. Actually, it's mostly both at the same time. Samberg gets first-timer points for playing a three-dimensional character who doesn't carry his genitals in a box, but it's Jones who delivers a truly revelatory performance. This isn't the goody-two-shoes we know from Pawnee. A trend forecaster who has pinned her hopes on the success of her first book (title: "Shitegeist"), Celeste is a domineering, dumpster-diving, wedding-wrecking force of nature. But she's also the kind of girl who understands why it's really, really funny to masturbate a tube of Chapstick to completion. It's obvious why Jesse doesn't want to let her go -- and why he probably needs to anyway.

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger ("The Vicious Kind"), "Celeste and Jesse Forever" premiered at Sundance and opens in limited release on Friday, August 3. Jones spoke to The Huffington Post about making her writing debut, improvising (or not) with Andy Samberg, and predicting what will be cool six months from now.

HuffPost Entertainment: Films that offer a twist on the classic romantic-comedy formula seem to be having a moment right now. We've had "Friends With Kids," "The Five-Year Engagement" and now "Celeste and Jesse Forever." How did you and your writing partner, Will McCormack, come up with the idea of a divorcing couple that can't bear to part?

Rashida Jones: You know, it was kind of a trend that Will and I saw among our friends. It was almost like a cultural phenomenon that we kept seeing. One was the Type A woman with the more laid-back, beta dude. And the other was people trying to stay friends. Because we wait so long to get married now. A lot of people we know would meet in college and fall in love, and you think this is the person they’re gonna be with forever. But then there are all these choices, and people change, but you don’t want to lose the person that you grew up with, because they’re almost like a family member. So you try to do this selfish, unrealistic thing of keeping them around without really dealing with the fact that the dynamic has changed.

So it wasn’t like you were casting around for a twist and discarded 12 options before you came up with this one.

No, we love romantic comedies and both grew up on them -- and we wanted to write one that somehow had a new twist. But this felt really natural because we knew a lot of people in this scenario.

Was it a hard script to write? I get the sense you two ended up mining a lot of pain for laughs here.

You know, yes. [Laughs.] We had to kind of dig deep, because we felt like that was the only way we were going to make it feel honest and real. Especially because Will and I have never written before. If we were gonna do something and people were gonna take notice, we had to say something that felt somewhat unique. That had to come from real experience.

How conscious were you of the need to avoid romantic-comedy clichés?

Very conscious. Every time we came up against a convention -- because, you know, everything’s been done before -- we tried to find some slight twist on it. People are cynical, you know. They can see things coming from a mile away.

Celeste is likeable, but she has some ... non-admirable qualities as well.

Yes. Is that you being nice? [Laughs.]

Was that important for you to show?

Yeah, it was -- as a writer and as an actress. I’ve been lucky enough to work a lot in the past couple of years, and the characters I play are very likeable. They’re kind of dependable and logical and, you know, couldn’t do anything bad if they tried. And I wanted to play somebody who was maybe a little bit less likeable, and whose character flaws were standing in her own way, you know? And as a writer, I think it’s always important to have a character who has somewhere to go. She doesn’t change that much. A lot happens to her, and she’s kind of forced to change. But even if she just doesn’t yell at somebody who cuts in line -- like, that’s literally all that happens to her over the course of the whole film -- she does change.

She finally lets go of her need to control situations.

Right. And I like stories about people who change a tiny bit, because that’s what happens in real life. You go through an entirely traumatic experience and then you change a tiny little bit.

This is a new kind of acting project for Andy Samberg. Did you two do a lot of improvising?

We didn’t, really. I mean, we would see how far we could take the jokes and see which ones worked the best, but when it came to most of the dialogue we really stuck to the script.

When the two of you spoke at the Sundance premiere, my sense was that he may have had some trepidations about the project. Did you have to convince him that he could do this?

You know what? No. Andy was really up to the task. We’ve been friends for years, and he read the script even before he had anything to do with it. And he was really nice about liking it, but also at a certain point was like, I think I can do this. He hasn’t done anything like this before, and I think he felt ready. Especially because the character is a lot like him, and I think there are things he related to. If he was gonna step out and do some drama, this would be the right time to do it, because it’s very much like him.

Am I correct that Emma Roberts is basically doing a Ke$ha impersonation?

It’s a composite. It’s like Ke$ha, Miley Cyrus, early Britney Spears, Taylor Swift. We tried to make it a composite, but also nobody. Emma really brought her own take to the character.

Will McCormack is also great as the surprisingly wise pot dealer. I'm hoping to meet one of those.

A sage and a pot dealer. I know, right?

They’ve got to be out there.

Well, stick around in L.A., because I’m sure there are tons of them. And they don’t have jobs anymore because of the [medical marijuana] dispensaries.

So do you two have another writing project lined up?

We are working on a script right now for Imagine and Universal. It’s based on a comic book I wrote, “Frenemy of the State,” so hopefully that will happen.

What's it like working with Chris Messina?

He’s so cool. You know, we worked together before on a small film called "Monogamy" a couple years ago. He’s just such a fantastic actor. He’s hilarious. Will and I are friends with him -- our producer, Jennifer Todd, is ostensibly married to him -- and we wrote this part for him because we thought it was the best way to highlight everything that’s hilarious about Chris and everything that’s so great about him as an actor. He absolutely killed that part.

He’s kind of cornering the market these days on the guy who comes off as a complete jerk and actually ends up being a desirable partner.

That’s true. Did we start that trend? He was kind of the pushover husband before, and I think now he’s the one that you find out is greater than you think he is.

I have a friend who is a trend forecaster and I thought she was the only one in the world. Did you do much research into that profession?

We did. We talked to this woman, Jane Buckingham, who does the same thing, and she has a company called Trendera. And the fact that Celeste wears black at the beginning of the movie was based on Jane. She’d research all these trends and just get completely confused style-wise, because she’d be researching trends that weren’t going to be popular for six months. The ones that were out now she was already so sick of, so she just ended up wearing black all the time. I’m fascinated by that occupation. I think it’s like the coolest job ever.

Can you tell us what’s going to be cool six months from now?

Oh, God no. I mean, hopefully this movie? I don’t know.

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