Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones Talk Sony Classics' "Celeste and Jesse Forever"
Celeste and Jesse are married and best friends, but their relationship has drifted apart since her career is on the rise and he’s unemployed and directionless. But as they head for divorce and try to transition to being just friends and date other people, Celeste begins to wonder if they are doing the right thing.
Rashida Jones (NBC’s “Parks and Recreation, “The Muppets”), co-wrote (with writing partner Will McCormack) and stars in “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” which was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival this year and opens in Los Angeles and New York Aug. 3. The writing couple, who dated for a short time in the late 1990s, are like brother and sister now.
“I love romantic comedies and there were conventions that we really wanted to adhere to and to respect,” said Jones, who is the daughter of music legend Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton. “We also wanted to take it a step further and hopefully present something that people related to or they could identify with the pain on the screen in a real way where it was raw and uncomfortable and in a place where it was reflecting their experience as opposed to the fluffy version of it.”
Andy Samberg (“Saturday Night Live”) added, “Keeping it funny and fun in conjunction with that was a constant act of discussion. This can’t be too much of a bummer or else we’re going to make everybody want to walk out of the theater.”
After believing divorce is the only option, Celeste has a difficult time letting go of Jesse even though she realizes their relationship was dysfunctional.
“I think probably when they first met they were so much more alike and that dynamic was appealing to him and her ... for me it’s not totally apparent that they shouldn’t be together,” said Jones, who called the film a “romantic dramady.” “My hope is when the movie starts you actually think they should be together and you slowly begin to realize they shouldn’t be together.”
Samberg added, “She built the character in such a way she relates to it and connects with it, but she is also is her own person enough that she has an outside perspective on the things this character needs to do in order to grow and learn and become more mature and learn how to let go a little bit. We’ve been joking that Celeste is the old Rashida and Rashida is the new Rashida.”
Making “Celeste and Jesse” was a long process with Jones and McCormack starting the script in 2008. At one point, they had offers to sell the script, but without Jones starring. But finally had were able to find the right cast with a budget of reportedly $1 million.
“We set it up several times and things just didn’t work out,” Jones said. “Then things not working out actually led us to what I believe is the optimum best version of the movie. But it was only trial and error and a lot of ‘no’ that led us to this place. I would love to take credit for staying true to the material, but the truth is we were forced to stay true to it. Luckily we didn’t have to compromise at all creativity. We got the cast we wanted. We got the director we wanted and made the movie we wanted to make and probably we’re better off for making it at a lesser budget.”
A key to the film was finding the right Jesse. Samberg, known for his comedic chops on “Saturday Night Live,” might not jump out in most people’s mind as a dramatic lead, but Jones felt he was right for the part.
“Andy’s likability factor, sorry to speak in such industry terms, was such a huge help to us going into the movie, because ... people love Andy,” she said. “He’s this likable, lovable, fun person that you want to be friends with ... you can drop into the middle of our story and you don’t have to do a lot of catch up so can actually just be invested moving forward when everything starts falling apart.”
Samberg said he was attracted to the “unique” script and he knew he could do the comedic elements of the film, but drama was another issue.
“I felt I had a take on it, but I knew it was a little bit of a crapshoot frankly and the reason I felt confident to try it was because it was with Rashida, whose my friend, and with Will and Lee (Toland Krieger, director), who I immediately connected with and liked and trusted. The fact that it was such a small production, they really kind of walked me through it. I felt very taken care of through the whole process and encouraged. For the first week or so, a lot of the scenes we’d shoot, afterwards I’d be like, ‘Was that good?’ I have no idea what it feels like to do a take of drama and know if it’s good or bad.”
Celeste and Jesse Forever Details:
Release date: Aug. 3
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast and crew for Celeste and Jesse Forever
Starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Chris Messina, Will McCormack, Ari Graynor and Emma Roberts
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack
Produced by Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd and Lee Nelson