Interview: Rashida Jones and Will McCormack talk ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ and the Island of Misfit Characters

In the new romantic drama Celeste and Jesse Forever, a young couple face life after their short marriage falls apart. But instead of the two going their separate ways, Celeste and Jesse decide to remain best friends. Played by Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones, the couple still spends most of their time together and flirt incessantly. As they struggle with new romances and a life separated from each other, they face the difficulties of staying so close after the separation.

The film itself was written by Jones and Will McCormack, who plays one of Jesse’s best friends  in the film.  I recently sat down with the writing partners for a roundtable interview where we talked about Andy Samberg dramatic turn in the film, the characters that writers leave behind during the process and if a former couple can really be friends after a romance has ended.

I began by asking Jones and McCormack about Saturday Night Live‘s Samberg playing against type in this dramatic film.

Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones in Celeste and Jesse Forever

Can you talk about having Andy Sandberg in this movie because he’s usually known for more comedic roles?

Jones: Yeah, you know. I think Andy’s kind of had this inside him for a while.
McCormack: We sent him the script and we were like ‘can you do this?’ and he was like ‘I got this…’ We went to New York and we read it with him and he was incredible.
Jones: Yeah, he crushed it. He crushed it.
McCormack: So it was fun to watch because you were watching an actor do this for the first time in his life and he’s not ever doing parts like this. It was amazing to watch.

In the movie, the two title characters have difficulty letting each other go. Have you ever struggled with letting one of you own characters go?

Jones: We have a thing called character island where all the characters that used to be in our movies or in our scripts get sent- exiled- to character island. There were some characters in Celeste and Jesse that are gone. There was a little girl.
McCormack: There was a little girl.
Jones: There was a sister and a little girl…We were both totally fine cutting her, right?
McCormack: Yeah, yeah.

What about characters that you yourself played? Have you struggled with leaving them?

McCormack: No. I’m usually so psyched I’m done…
Jones: It’s fine generally. Also, [in comedy] you don’t have to get in deep in a way where you have to let go of this big thing as much…

In many ways, the film can be compared to ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ a film that asked if men and women can simply be friends. What do you think about that? Can men and women be just friends? What do you think this film is trying to say about it?

Jones: Well, this is just a slightly different version because there’s the added complexity of the fact that they were married. So I feel like our version of it is ‘can exes be friends?’
McCormack: Yeah.
Jones: And I feel like my answer is-
McCormack: Depends.
Jones: It depends. A. Were you friends to begin with? I’ve dated people that I definitely shouldn’t have dated because I would never be friends with them. So why would you date somebody you wouldn’t be friends with? And then B. You need a little bit of time for healing, I think. I don’t think you can go right into being friends…
McCormack: I think they can. I’m friends with most of my exes because I’m sort of proud of my ex list. I’ve dated some really great girls. With time. I think the interesting thing about- hopefully- our movie is that they are hasty. They sort of try to be friends without doing the necessary emotional work that needs to be done. Or Celeste doesn’t even think she needs to do any…

How’d you get the idea for the film?

Jones: We had a lot of friends who were in a similar situation to this. And, y’know, stole from their lives like good friends do. And we both had unhealthy relationships with long-term exes. We just felt like it was something that we kept seeing. Like this kind of guy and this kind of girl. Like a guy who’s kind of chill and not really that interested in getting out there and pursuing his career and a girl who was kind of on top of it. That dynamic.

Have you ever done a project where you felt a big transition in your career like the characters go through a transition in the film?

McCormack: This for sure.
Jones: This was huge.
McCormack: This was the biggest growth spurt of my life.
Jones: Me too. As an actress, as a producer, as a writer, as everything.
McCormack: This was professionally and personally the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was the most gratifying too. It’s really intense to write and make a movie and produce it and have it come out in the world. It’s a very vulnerable thing. We tried to write a comedy about heartbreak to the best of our ability and we weren’t trying to be cynical or satirical at all in the emotional parts of the movie…As an actor, I’ve sort of not had a lot of fear but as a writer, I have a ton of fear about exposing myself. It was great to go through the process. I would do it again but it was hard…
Jones: As an actress too for me, I never had to carry anything before…[In playing the complex character] It was a challenge. I was in it so I was feeling every emotion in a way that I don’t like to feel emotion cause they’re scary. But yeah, it was challenging but great.

Celeste and Jesse Forever arrives in theaters nationwide today.


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