If life followed the well-worn formula of romantic comedy, the recently ubiquitous actress Rashida Jones would be married to creative collaborator and character actor Will McCormack. After an auspicious introduction, the pair might have dodged enticing suitors, unraveled misunderstandings and endured a few mildly humiliating sight gags — a naked somersault down a staircase, maybe — just in time to enjoy a reunion that was teary, but not so hysterical that Jones’s mascara made a break for it.
Instead, Jones and McCormack dated for a few weeks in the late 1990s, shortly after Jones graduated from Harvard and moved to New York. It didn’t take long before the pair realized they were made for each other — as friends. So much for the prediction of McCormack’s sister, “In Plain Sight” star Mary McCormack, who introduced Jones (the daughter of musician Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton) to her brother, certain they were soul mates.
(Victoria Will/AP) - Actress Rashida Jones, left, and writer/producer Will McCormack, from “Celeste and Jesse Forever.”
Actress Rashida Jones talks to Gayle King about her new romantic comedy with Andy Samberg, "Celeste and Jesse Forever," which she also co-wrote. The Harvard alum is the daughter of music legend Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton.
“It turns out we are in a way, just not as romantic partners,” Will McCormack said. “But as writing partners and, you know, life partners.”
“Life partners!” Jones echoed in excited agreement.
It might not be a fairy-tale ending, but it served as partial inspiration for “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” The dramedy marks the first foray into screenwriting for both Jones and McCormack, two actors with long and diverse résumés, ranging from the small screen (Jones is a cast member of “Parks and Recreation,” McCormack did a guest stint on “Brothers and Sisters”) to indie films to bigger-budget movies, including “The Social Network” (Jones) and “Syriana” (McCormack).
Over the course of four months, the two met every day to work on the “Celeste and Jesse” screenplay. They sat side by side, writing every word together, taking anecdotes from their own relationships and the breakups of friends to create a twist on the romantic comedy template that they hope more accurately mimics modern life.
Celeste and Jesse are a married couple played by Jones and “Saturday Night Live” alum Andy Samberg. The movie begins at the relationship’s end, which at first appears to be on the best of terms, and follows along as the two attempt the tricky transition from domestic partnership to friendship. There are laughs aplenty, many thanks to McCormack’s character Skillz, a weed-smoking confidant of both husband and wife. But the movie doesn’t shy away from the crushing impact of heartbreak when each character begins to contemplate and embark on new relationships.
“I think what we wanted to do was pay our respects to the [romantic comedy] conventions that work, because they’re the conventions we grew up on and we loved,” said Jones, 36, who counts “When Harry Met Sally” and “Annie Hall” as favorite examples in the genre. “Then try our best to invert, subvert, convert those into something slightly fresher and maybe add a bit of a surprising element to the convention.”
Added McCormack: “They’re so familiar. You fall in love, you fall out of love and then you fall in love again, so they’re really hard to reinvent.”