‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ Star Rashida Jones: From Best Friend to Leading Lady 

ALTAfter watching Celeste and Jesse Forever — a romantic dramedy which, at its core, is about hardships of friendship, love, and heartbreak — there’s a good chance you’ll be left with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to connect (or reconnect) with the people you love most in your life. In one of the many lessons you take away from the film, which chronicles the the ups and downs of a separation of the titular best friends Celeste and Jesse — played by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, respectfully — we learn that as we get older and the stakes get higher, relationships take a lot of nurturing if you want them to prevail. But by the end, you’ll mostly wish that Jones, the star and co-writer of Celeste and Jesse Forever, was your friend in real life so that you could lament about the intricacies of matters of the heart with her. 

“The best part of this whole thing has been the people,” says Jones, who is just as easygoing in person as you’d imagined. “Even though [the story] is fictional … people are going through it and they feel like they can come up to us and talk about it. People get in deep with me, man. They talk about their divorces. There’s been some tears, I’ve shared some tears with people. It’s kinda great, though.” 

It’s a feeling that fans of Jones have become familiar with over the past few years of her ever-evolving career. The actress —  best known for her work on NBC’s Parks and Recreation and on the big screen in supporting roles in Our Idiot Brother, The Muppets, and I Love You, Man —  is strikingly beautiful, Harvard-educated, politically minded, and immensely talented. (C’mon, anyone that can keep keep it together during Paul Rudd‘s “slappin da bass” routine in I Love You, Man is game for just about anything.) On paper, she has all the makings of someone who should be intimidating. But, Jones, the veritable poster child of what it looks like to be a humble, hardworking product of Hollywood icons (the 36-year-old is the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton), is anything but. 

Though her character Celeste, a successful rough-around-the-edges woman, can be hard to love at times — especially in scenes where her flippancy all but breaks the heart of her sweet, but unmotivated, better half, Jesse (played to a tee by a particularly hangdog Samberg). Luckily, Jones approachable nature (how many people would put their embarrassing elementary school pictures on Twitter?) and her infinitely relatable movie for anyone that’s endured heartache still makes her the Ann Perkins to your Leslie Knope. 

While Celeste and Jesse Forever finally puts her in leading lady territory, the actress is perfectly content with still being seen as a best friend figure with fans. It’s fitting, considering Jones co-wrote the film with her real-life best friend Will McCormack (who takes on a supporting role in the movie as Jesse’s toker pal Skillz) and her longtime close friend with Samberg, who impressively takes his first dramatic turn, plays her on-screen love Jesse. (“We got to watch him grow on set, it was the craziest thing ever. He’s never done anything like this before,” Jones says of his transformation.)

Jones’ and McCormack’s tale of friends going through a divorce in their 30s may be fictitious (as she explained to Jon Stewart during a recent visit to The Daily Show, she and McCormack only dated briefly for a boozy, whirlwind three weeks in the ’90s), but their shared experiences resonate on screen. Traces of Jones and McCormack’s real-life bond can be found throughout the film. Even some of their inside jokes make the cut. In the film, Celeste and Jesse enjoy bits in which they speak in funny accents and, memorably, simulate jerking off via tiny vegetables or tubes of chapstick. “Will and I, as friends, have a lot of annoying little friendship things. We definitely do [the vegetable bit]. It’s so immature. Those are the little things that bond you,” Jones says, further noting, “But we tend to go for a bigger vegetable and just go for the tip.” 

Like When Harry Met Sallythe gold standard of romantic comedies that paved the way for all those that followed, Celeste and Jesse Forever will inevitably have people re-asking the question: “Can men and women be friends?” Especially as you approach the big 3-0… and especially when dating your best friend comes with consequences larger than an awkward morning-after chat. As Jones puts it, “In your 20s you date a lot of people who you would never be friends with because they’re horrible people and then you learn. It’s very tricky, it’s murky, and there’s no real answer is the problem. And we don’t really answer it in the movie.”

One matter of the heart that Celeste and Jesse does, however, acutely pinpoint is that no one, not even the best of friends, are impervious to the pain and complications that stem from heartbreak. When we meet Celeste and Jesse, they — much to the confusion of their friends — are mid-separation and carrying on as though nothing is wrong. (Jones and McCormack opted to skip out on the traditional rom-com meet-cute and instead, as Jones put it, “get into the nitty-gritty of the relationship.”)


It’s a naivety that eventually catches up to both of them. “It’s your friend and you don’t want to really fight with your friend,” she says. “They do this thing where they try to bury the inevitable pain that comes with a divorce or separation. You can’t outsmart the pain of a breakup, you have to go through it. They’ve had this certain level of respect for each other as friends, which is great but it does this thing where it disables you from really being able to speak your mind.”

In what is perhaps the film’s most revelatory, albeit tear-jerking moment, Jones’ Celeste makes a speech at a mutual friends’ wedding that speaks to that very sentiment. The emotionally draining moment proved to be a profound one for Jones off-camera as well. “I absolutely got to make peace with people in my own life in that speech,” Jones confesses. “It was so funny — when we were shooting that wedding scene, we were in Rhode Island at the director [Lee Toland Krieger]’s parents house. It was so beautiful. All my friends were there. But weirdly I felt like Celeste. I felt totally isolated. You can create this thing and make a movie with your best friend and your friends come and then, at the end of the day, not to be too depressing, you’re by yourself. You come in this world alone, you leave this world alone. And there’s something about that condition you almost have to accept if you’re going to have any relationship with anybody in this world and I really strongly felt that during that speech and standing outside the wedding tent looking in on this thing that I helped create, but I couldn’t be a part of it. It was a really bittersweet moment for me.”

Celeste and Jesse Forever may make you want to cry on Jones’ shoulder (or vice versa) but there’s still something to smile about: The actress and her Parks and Rec cast and crew-mates will be reuniting next week to begin filming Season 5. “I’m so excited [to get back],” Jones says. “Every time we go on hiatus we feel like it’s Rumspringa and we go and f**k up and s**tty things happen and we get back together to just like, get back into work mode. We need the structure and the love and the family of each other to straighten back. I cannot wait to be back in trailer land with my homies. I seriously need my girls so badly right now.” 

And in true best girlfriend fashion, Jones gave kudos to her Emmy-nominated Parks and Rec leading lady Amy Poehler, putting it quite simply, “She’s the jam.” Our sentiments about Jones exactly. 

Celeste and Jesse Forever opens in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday, August 3. 

[Photo credit: David Lazenberg/Sony Pictures Classic] 

Follow Aly on Twitter @AlySemigran


Celeste and Jesse Forever Review

Parks and Rec Star Rashida Jones’ Geeky Yearbook Picture

Sundance 2012: Rashida Jones Brings Rom-Com Reality to Celeste and Jesse Forever