Rashida Jones (“The Muppets,” “The Social Network” & “The Office”) and Will McCormack (“Brothers & Sisters,” & “In Plain Sight”) aren’t your typical duo of writers. After only three weeks of dating in the late ’90s, Jones and McCormack quickly realized they were much better suited as friends and eventually as writing partners.
When Jones had an idea for a story of a couple going through a separation but were struggling to remain friends, she turned to McCormack and the two started writing up a screenplay that eventually became “Celeste and Jesse Forever.”
Jones and McCormack were recently listed on Variety’s “Screenwriters to Watch.” The two are currently writing “Frenemy of the State” for Universal Pictures and a pilot for Showtime titled “We Are Puppets.”
It’s 3:00 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown and its Jones and McCormack’s last interview of the day. McCormack greets me as I enter the room, with a smile and firm handshake. Jones is sitting on the couch with phone in hand, but eagerly greets me as I walk in to take my seat. Looking more gorgeous than ever, the actress smiles while shaking my hand and says, “I’m Rashida…cute dress!” I’m instantly flattered and taken aback by her energy and wit after a long press day in D.C.
DC Film Girl: Congratulations on the movie!
Jones & McCormack: (in unison) Thank you!
DC Film Girl: I love the scene in the movie where Celeste moves her book to the center of the bookstore, and I know this is a little but of a goofy question, but have you ever moved a DVD of yours or ended up buying a movie of yours?
Jones: Oh 100%. Totally! Just yesterday actually I took the train from New York, and this is the opposite, and I’m on the cover of the Amtrak magazine.
McCormack: Oh…(in a french accent) Arrive?? It’s French!
Jones: It’s “Arrive.” (Laughs) And I actually just turned them over because I was sitting next to them and it was just too much. But I’ve definitely moved DVDs to the front.
DC Film Girl: Obviously in the movie Celeste and Jesse have a really hard time letting each other go and I was wondering if there was a certain project or a certain character that’s been especially hard of letting go.
Jones: We have a thing called “Character Island”, where the characters who used to be in our scripts get sent. There were some characters in “Celeste and Jesse” that are gone, but (turns to McCormack, jokingly) we were totally fine in cutting them, right?
McCormack: Oh yeah! (To me) Do you mean characters we’ve played or written?
DC Film Girl: Either, but when you’ve played a certain character were you ever sad to see them go?
McCormack: Oh no! I’m usually just done.
Jones: Me too! (Laughs)
McCormack: I’m glad that I don’t have to come back tomorrow! I’m like that with writing and acting, I’m like “Good, moving on, great!”
Jones: It’s fine generally. In comedy you don’t have to get in deep in a way or let go of this big thing as much. But after finishing my one episode of “Freaks and Geeks,” I cried so hard.
McCormack: Did you??
Jones: I was like, “I’m never going to see these people again! I’m never going to work on that set!” It was so bad.
McCormack: I wish I had more time with Skillz stuff [McCormack’s character in the movie] because it was so fun to act with you [Rashida]. But it was fun to watch Rashida because she was so locked in the part. And for me, I’m biased, but it was watching a really good part and a great actress intersect and it was exciting to watch. But it was also emotional, because with that part you [Rashida] have to do a lot and when you’re done you were exhausted.
Jones: Yea, I went to Asia. I was like I’m outta here! (Laughs) I went to Asia, sat in white pajamas, it was like I went to a retreat by myself. I was in southern Thailand and just sat there for like a week.
DC Film Girl: I love the goofy couple talk in the movie and there is a lot of it. I want to know, what is the silliest thing you’ve ever seen or heard a couple do?
McCormack: Hmm, I don’t know. I was on vacation with some friends one time and I heard a conversation that went like this, “You’re so tan…No, you’re so tan. You’re so hot…No, you’re so hot.” And that was the whole conversation.
Jones: (Laughs hard)
McCormack: I was wondering if these people should be my friends. (Laughs)
Jones: I don’t have something specific, but I have friends where you catch them and they’re like (talks in a baby voice) just like speaking like a little bit higher. I’m like don’t do that in public! Even though everyone does that.
DC Film Girl: There’s a great line in the movie, “You have to crawl before you walk,” and as actors and writers you’re always growing with each experience but was there one movie or one project you two have done that felt like that big transition?
McCormack: This for sure. This was the biggest growth spurt of my life.
Jones: Me too. As an actress, as a producer and a writer.
McCormack: This was professionally and personally the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s really intense to write and make a movie and produce it and put it out in the world. It’s a very vulnerable thing and we tried to write a comedy about heartbreak to the best of our ability. We weren’t trying to by cynical or satirical. As an actor I really haven’t had a lot of fear, but as a writer, I had a ton of fear of exposing myself. But I would do it again.
Jones: As an actress, I’ve never had to carry anything before and we wrote this part that was challenging. I was feeling every emotion of Celeste’s in a way where I don’t like to feel that emotion because its scary! It was challenging, but great.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” opens exclusively at Landmark’s E-Street Cinema in D.C. August 10, 2012.