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by ben lyons / photographs by sheryl nields/copious managment | March 24, 2011 | People
On an unusually windy and rainy day in Los Angeles, the type of day when palm trees fall from the sky and the natives hibernate, Rashida Jones arrives on time for lunch in West Hollywood. Unfazed by the storm in the streets, she joins me at a table in the back of the restaurant and eagerly begins to answer my innocuous questions regarding her blossoming career. But I’m stuck. Frozen. This never happens to me.
I’m flustered not by the fact that I’m about to have lunch with a beautiful and charismatic Harvard grad on the cusp of the coveted and so-called “next level,” but because I don’t know where to begin. With multiple movies on the horizon for 2011, a supporting role in one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2010 and the popular Parks and Recreation returning to NBC for another season, there’s so much going on with Jones that I truly do not know what to talk about first.
After ordering a tuna and hummus openfaced sandwich (which she muscles her way into sharing with me), I compose myself and we begin with how it nearly didn’t happen for her. Jones almost walked away from acting just as her career was about to take off. “For someone who was going to quit acting five years ago, this is all so unexpected,” she says. “I was probably going to go back to school, maybe get a degree in public policy or law.”
Good thing she didn’t. We wouldn’t have gotten to see her quick wit on full display on The Office, or see her big-screen presence as a romantic lead in the comedy I Love You, Man. Had she listened to herself and given it all up, then who would have had those pivotal scenes in The Social Network opposite Jesse Eisenberg? “Actors really have so much less choice than people think they have,” says Jones. “I never thought I’d have a traditional career. There was nobody I looked at and thought, ‘I want that career,’ because I never thought it was a possibility for me because of the way I look, and the way I was brought up, and the way I came into the business. There was no precedent for me.”
Yet even without a Hollywood role model, you won’t hear stories about Jones’ late-night club hopping or whispers that she’s “famous just for being famous.” You won’t find her on a reality show either. “In a weird
way, I have a fantasy about moving to LA from somewhere else and starting my career with nothing,” says Jones, the daughter of music icon Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton (The Mod Squad). “Because no matter what I do with my life, everyone will always think I don’t deserve it and I got help getting there, so I have a fantasy of being fresh off the bus and coming here and just fucking ripping it up!”
Comedy vs. Drama
Someone resting on her parents’ accomplishments this is not. Slowly but surely, without a lot of hoopla, and without the help of her family’s powerful and connected friends, Rashida Jones has “ripped it up” and established herself as an actress and a writer with a solid foundation of work to her credit. “When I see my parents’ friends and they are so happy for me, it seems they’re almost too happy now, because I didn’t call them for favors. They didn’t have to try and help me because I did it on my own.”
As a result, she’s able to naturally take on projects that you might not immediately expect. As Ann Perkins she can make us laugh with Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari each week on Parks and Recreation. Then she can turn around and play the lead in this month’s ultra realistic relationship indie Monogamy, a more weighty and serious role than we’re accustomed to seeing from her. Jones plays the fiancée of a photographer whose passion for his work is threatening their relationship, and, as always, she brings more to the role than what is simply on the surface. However, she’s not looking to abandon her comedic roots for more dramatic work any time soon.
“Your body doesn’t know you’re acting,” she says. “I had a friend who was doing A Streetcar Named Desire in New York for eight months, and after a while, every day at 4 PM her stomach would start turning. She started having anxiety, and it’s like, Oh yeah, your body is preparing to be raped again for the 70th night in a row! My friends who do drama after drama after drama—I just don’t know how they do it or why they sign up for that.”
On the Horizon
Jones is signed up for several high-profile projects including Friends with Benefits, starring her fellow Social Network alum Justin Timberlake, and the Sundance hit My Idiot Brother opposite her I Love You, Man costar Paul Rudd. She also has a small role in the highly anticipated movie The Muppets; even though she’s “only along for the ride,” she’s quick to put the experience high on her list of career accomplishments. “I did a scene with all of the Muppets, and they’re sitting in my office and I cried. I cried! It was one of those moments where you say to yourself, ‘This is insane.’”
It’s safe to say there will be plenty more “insane” career moments in her future as she looks to focus more on creating her own material alongside her writing partner Will McCormack, who she orders takeout for as our lunch comes to an end. In an industry filled with people consumed by entitlement, it’s refreshing to see someone who seems to have it all at her fingertips, yet doesn’t take anything for granted. Except, of course, that I am paying the bill.
Styling by Jessica Paster for celestineagency.com. Marcus Francis at The Wall
Group. Products/celestineagency.com. Makeup by Molly R. Stern for NARS Cosmetics at starworksartists.com. Manicure by Beth Fricke using O.P.I.
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