Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg Mine Their Bad Breakups in Celeste and Jesse Forever
"Whenever you experience writer’s block, it really works to masturbate small objects." -Will McCormack
Some of the brightest young inhabitants of Hollywood’s thriving comedy community were on hand for the world premiere of Celeste and Jesse Forever at the Eccles Theater on Friday night, from film’s top-flight cast to supporters Seth Rogen and Aziz Ansari. Directed by Sundance veteran Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind), and written and starring Rashida Jones (The Social Network, NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”) and Will McCormack, the film chronicles the long, strange breakup of the titular married couple, played by Jones and Andy Samberg (“Saturday Night Live”).
Shifting between broad comedy and insightful drama, sweetness and bitterness, the film proves to be a great showcase for the two leads as well as for an ensemble that includes Emma Roberts, Elijah Wood, Chris Messina, Eric Christian Olsen, and Ari Graynor. All were on hand for an entertaining post-screening Q&A, which is excerpted below.
Q: Did any aspect of the story come from personal experience?
Will McCormack: The heartbreak part is sort of a version of several breakups that we’ve all had. So yeah, a lot of it did come from personal experience.
Q: Do you believe the two characters ended up happy in the end?
Rashida: I think, if nothing else, their definition of happiness was changed. For her, for so long, she was so interested in being right. By the end she had grown to try to be happy in a different way, which had nothing to do with being right—it’s actually the opposite of being right. The characters probably go on to search for their happiness. But (to the audience) who’s happy?
Q: I loved the chemistry between Andy and Rashida. How much of that was scripted?
Andy Samberg: You guys, thanks for coming out. (Audience laughs) What was the question?
Lee Toland Krieger: Chemistry – how much was scripted and how much was real?
Andy Samberg: The chemistry was mad real. Because we’re friends. When I first read the script I recognized the tone of it as Rashida’s and Will’s, and I’m friends with them because I appreciate that tone—we share it in our social lives as well. So it was kind of an easy transition to doing those scenes. (Shifting to a jokey tone) And there was some improv, right, Lee?
Lee Toland Krieger: Little bit, little bit.
Andy Samberg: Looking pretty good over there, Lee.
Lee Toland Krieger: Thanks, Andy, you too, bud.
Andy Samberg: Yeah, I missed ya!
Elijah Wood: (Taking a photo of Krieger, who looks relaxed behind the podium): That’s a nice lean.
Q: When did you decide how the story would end?
Will McCormack: We knew that from the beginning.
Rashida Jones: That’s the only thing we knew.
Will McCormack: Yeah, we wrote the ending first. Some people tried to change it but we stuck with it. We wanted it to be like real life. You don’t always get what you want, but you do find another way. You endure and go on. It’s really a story about heartbreak and finding a way to survive it.
Q: (Referring to a running joke in the film) Were there any other things in the script that you were going to masturbate other than baby corn and lip balm?
Rashida Jones: That’s a very good question.
Will McCormack: That was a second draft.
Rashida Jones: Yeah, yeah.
Will McCormack: Whenever you experience writer’s block, it really works to masturbate small objects.
Q: For the cast, did you already know who you had in mind or did you audition a lot of people?
Will McCormack: We kind of just called our friends. It was so nice to not get any responses like, “oh, my agent wants me to do other things right now,” or “I’m going to be in Prague all summer.” We emailed, texted, called our friends and they all said yes.
Q: How long did you shoot for, and what was your budget?
Lee Toland Krieger: The budget was just shy of $100 million I think? Just shy? Like $95 million? (Audience laughs) We shot for 22 days in Los Angeles, and then a little splinter cell day in San Francisco.
Q: What was the most challenging part of the process?
Lee Toland Krieger: Time, for me was probably the biggest problem. This movie was set up like 12 different times, at normal budget thresholds and slowly went down and down and down. So from a filmmaker’s perspective, making a movie in 22 days is tough. Especially in LA, which is ironically the least film-friendly city on the planet. It’s remarkable how mean they are there.
Rashida Jones: Once the movie started filming it was not challenging for me, it was really great. For me it was really just the 2½ years leading up to that that were really difficult, just trying to figure out where this movie lived, how it could be made. But once we started it was, for me, euphoric.