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RASHIDA JONES
INTERVIEWED BY JACK BLACK
PHOTOGRAPHY BY FRANK W. OCKENFELS 3
STYLING BY JENNY RICKER AT THE WALL GROUP
HAIR BY AMBER KERNS AT SOLO ARTIST
MAKEUP BY SAMMY MOURABIT AT MC2
 

Jack Black is nervous. Sitting across from the Tenacious D warbler, who gave Hendrix a run for his money in School of Rock, captured a giant gorilla in King Kong and kicked some serious Kung Fu rump as an animated panda, is the incandescent Rashida Jones. Daughter of Hollywood royals Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton, Rashida has been fine-tuning her comedy chops on shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation while proving her big-screen appeal with supporting roles in Cop Out and I Love You, Man; she went to Harvard, she’s in David Fincher’s highly anticipated Facebook movie, she’s a goddess. Yes, Jack, you should be nervous. On a break from filming their feathery new chuckle-fest, The Big Year – it’s about a 365-day bird-watching contest – which also stars Steve Martin and Owen Wilson, the two funny people sat down for a catch-up. Nerves aside, Jack was ready to go all Woodward and Bernstein on Rashida with hard-hitting questions to unearth her geeky past, determine the quality of Ivy League weed and to establish, once and for all, whether nerds really make the best lovers. Be afraid, Rashida, be very afraid…

JACK BLACK—How are you?

RASHIDA JONES—I’m good, Jack. You?

JB—I’ve had a strange tightness in my left glute for weeks and I’m nervous, too, because I’m not a good interviewer. I have a little bit of the red light… what do you call that?

RJ—Red-light district?

JB—Red-light syndrome.

RJ—What’s that?

JB—It’s when you see a red light and you know the camera is rolling, so you… clench up.

RJ—Right. Your left glute tightens up.

JB—Your butt hole gets tight… Um… But, how’s it going?

RJ—It’s going pretty good. How’s it going with you?

JB—Good. Today’s a good day. Just looking at birds, and looking at Owen [Wilson], and looking at an ‘X’ that’s supposed to be you.

RJ—I know. I was looking at a camera that was supposed to be you. It’s like they’re trying to keep us apart.

JB—The thing is, they are shooting under a tight, tight schedule, otherwise I totally would’ve been there for you. You did some theater before film, yeah?

RJ—In college.

JB—Yeah. In the olden days. Where did you go to college again?

RJ—I went to Harvard.

JB—Yeah! Smar-tay pants! I couldn’t get in there. What plays did you do in college?

RJ—I did some bad plays. I did some good plays. I did For Colored Girls Considering Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. Do you know that play? It’s like a bunch of monologues for black women talking about black women stuff.

JB—Wow. So it was just a monologue and then you were done for the night?

RJ—Yeah. But it was like a five-page monologue, to the audience, looking at the audience.

JB—Did you get laughs or was it pretty serious?

RJ—There were a couple of laugh moments, but it was pretty serious. I can’t remember what it was about but it was definitely a serious subject matter. 

JB—So your goal was probably to give people goose bumps. A couple of titters…

RJ—I had to cry.

JB—Oh man. So you were getting heavy right out of the gate?

RJ—I was trying. I tried to keep it heavy. But then I did comedies. I was in the Gilbert & Sullivan Players. We did H.M.S. Pinafore.

JB—So you’ve been mostly flexing your comedy muscles since college. Am I right?

RJ—Yeah. Probably… mostly. It’s a little bit more mixed.

JB—Does it frustrate you? Do you miss going for the heavier stuff?

RJ—I like it. I have to say… back me up if you feel the same way. It’s kind of fun that we get to do comedy ’cause then your main goal is to make people around you laugh, which is just, by nature, fun.

JB—It’s fun.

RJ—When I do drama, it’s intense. I have a lot of respect for my friends who are dramatic actors, because if you’re going to do it right, you’re burnt out by the end of the day.

JB—You have friends who are dramatic actors?

RJ—You don’t?

JB— I don’t mix with their kind. Those award-winners…

RJ—I know. Damn them. But you know what, that’s the nice thing, too. Everybody likes comedy. Everybody. Nobody’s too serious to enjoy comedy. Everybody needs the relief. It’s nice that we provide relief.

JB—Was there any good weed at Harvard?

RJ—Think about it. Harvard is the best at everything. They’re not going to leave out drugs.

JB—Right. They were down in the laboratory making the best pot man had ever tasted.

RJ—Yes. Exactly. It was good.

JB—Is there any similarity between the cultures of Harvard and Hollywood?

RJ—I would say there’s a lot of sub-culturing going on at Harvard, where you have to choose who you are and you have to stick with it and you have to be voraciously that thing, which I wasn’t that into because I like to spread out my identity. I like to do a lot of different things; I like to know a lot of different people, so I didn’t like the fact I had to choose something. That’s kind of Hollywood to me a little bit.

JB—Were you a theater major?

RJ—I was a religion major.

JB—Yeah… Wow. All the religions of the world?

RJ—You have to focus on one or two. But you do a broad overview and then you lock in on one.

JB—Did you read any Joseph Campbell? The Hero with a Thousand Faces?

RJ—I love Joseph Campbell. Yes. They’re doing a documentary about him and I just did an interview for it.

JB—Oh, really? He invented the Force.

RJ—He did invent the Force. He is Star Wars. There is no Star Wars without Joseph Campbell. 

JB—You’re so smart, which is rare in an actor. Let’s face it. Most actors are dumb as a mud fence, myself included. Do you think there’s a reason for that? Do you think that there’s some correlation between dumbness and good acting? I mean, you’re the exception to the rule. You’re a very good actress.

RJ—Thanks.

JB—But it seems like sometimes, smarts get in the way of good acting.

RJ—Sometimes my brain gets in the way of making decisions from the heart. Acting is all about heart and emotion and if you don’t have all these logical ideas, explanations, and ties, you’re more likely to take more risks with the way you make things up, the way you imagine a character. You’re less concerned about how people are going to see you and what that means in the grander scheme. You’re not strategizing so you can be in the moment.

JB—Like, how they say big, dumb jocks are better at having sex because their brains don’t get in the way, they’re just like, “Raaarrrr!! Monkey!! Raaarrrr!”

RJ—Wait. I’m going to take issue with the fact you’re saying big, dumb jocks are better at having sex. They’re not better at having sex. I thought nerds were supposed to be better at having sex.

JB—Because they’re so desperate for physical contact, they go the extra mile?

RJ—Yeah. I think less popular people are probably better at sex because they’re savoring every moment. They want to make it good. They have every reason to make it good.

JB—The perfect man is a dumb, jock, nerd…

RJ—Yes.

JB—That doesn’t exist in nature.

RJ—Does it not?

JB—Nerds are almost automatically all super intelligent in some way, or else that’s a real bummer for that nerd. If you’re not a smart nerd, that’s the nerd you don’t wanna be.

RJ—That would be a bummer. I feel like now it’s kind of cool to be
a nerd. I was a Nerrrrd.

JB—Really?

RJ—Yeah. I had a computer before it was cool to have a computer. Do you remember when it wasn’t cool to have a computer?

JB—Yeah.

RJ—Now it’s like you have to have a computer.

JB—Are you a little embarrassed to admit your nerdy side?

RJ—Well, that’s what I was going to say. Now it’s kind of cool to be a nerd, so no, I’m not. But I will say the reason I am who I am now is because I was kind of a nerd, because I wasn’t like eighties popular. I didn’t have eighties hair; guys were not trying to kick it to me all the time.

JB—I find that hard to believe.

RJ—I swear to god. I swear.

JB—And in the nineties were you a closet nerd? Did you have to hide your roots?

RJ—Yeah, a little bit. I was a cheerleader so I tried to cover it up with that.

JB—Now you can bring out those old photos with pride. So when you did some acting in Harvard was there a light bulb that went off that you were like, “Fuck religion. What have I been majoring in all these years? I’m going to be an actor. This is clearly my calling.”

RJ—Yeah, kind of. I was really depressed sophomore year. I think everybody is at 18. And I was barely going to class. I’d scheduled all my classes for after 2pm and I didn’t manage to make any of them, and the only thing I wanted to do was make it to play rehearsal. For so long I thought that my extra-curricular was my reward for performing well academically. I had a friend who’d dropped out of school to direct, produce and write films, and she made an independent film – you know when it was so cool to make indies in New York in the nineties? She made a film in the summer of my junior year and I did it and I was hooked. 

JB—But how did you get past the moment when you realized, “OK, I’m called to a profession that millions of people think they’re called to, and the competition for any role is insane?”

RJ—It is insane. I think I didn’t realize that at first, because my best friend cast me in a movie so it seemed so easy. Then I moved to New York and I realized it wasn’t that easy. And my parents were like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” My dad said, “Why would you go to Harvard to wait in line with 80,000 other people for a job?” He was right. I also don’t like to lose. I’m not ultra competitive, but I like to do well.

JB—Come on. You have to be a bit competitive to make it in the biz. You won’t step on skulls to get to the top?

RJ—No. Or live heads. I won’t step on anything. I want to do it my own way, but I like to not fail for myself. So once I was in I was like, “Oh I’m going to make this happen.” And it took a while before I got roles. A misconception about growing up in Hollywood and growing up with parents in Hollywood is that people think things are given to you and I swear to God, I would’ve taken them. If they were given to me, I would’ve been very happy to take some favors. It just didn’t happen.

JB—No. You do have to carve your own way. Because when you’re just handed something, it usually leads to nothing. There’s something to the struggle. It gets you ready for the thing. Do you have any advice for other bad-ass girls who are looking to carve their way up the mountain?

RJ—I say, keep your eye on the prize, work hard, and be good at more than just one thing. My dad told me that, and that was the best advice he ever gave me. Don’t focus on one thing. Be good at at least two things. I think everybody on my show [Parks and Recreation] writes, directs, or produces in some capacity… being good at more than one thing guarantees your success in some way. You increase your odds of survival.

JB—Do you love acting still?

RJ—I do. I love it. But I also feel lucky because, we were talking about this earlier, I’m surrounded by friends, or people I want to be friends with and I like immediately, and we make each other laugh and it’s fun.

JB—Do you love it the same way you loved it when you were in school?

RJ—I love it more because I’m proud that I can support myself doing this thing and also I’m so grateful for what my job looks like on a day-to-day basis. I do not ever take that for granted.

JB—Did you have good acting teachers? Who’s your fave?

RJ—My favorite is Greta Seacat. She is incredible. She does a lot of dream work…

JB—Dream work? Really? So, you meditate on a character and when you go to sleep you dream about it… That sounds intense.

RJ—It’s super intense and awesome. You do a dream assignment, so you write down, before you go to bed, what you’re looking for and when you wake up you write down everything that’s happened and you act it out. 

JB—Could you tell yourself what kind of dream you wanted to have?

RJ—No. I wish. If I could control my dreams I would be a super hero. Awesome. But no.

JB—And doing it a lot probably. Flying straight to a bed in the sky. That’s a good acting class.

RJ—I would love to do that. If I could control my dreams I’d never be awake, ever. Fuck acting class. I’d just be asleep all the time.

JB—What blows your mind?

RJ—Molten chocolate cake… and good dancers. Really good dancers blow my mind. When somebody can move their body in a way that can move you emotionally…

JB—Have you ever taken any classes?

RJ—I have. I’m a terrible dancer. But I’ve built myself a dance studio in my house. With a mirror and a barre, and I had a hip-hop class in there with some friends.

JB—For the people who are reading it’s one of these barres [motions his hands horizontally], not one of these bars [motioning his hand vertically]. It’s not a stripper pole.

RJ—[Laughs] I love dancing. I’m not great at it but it blows my mind when people are good.

JB—Who’s your favorite band?

RJ—Ever? Ever or now?

JB—Ever.

RJ—Ever?

JB—Now.

RJ—Fuck. Can I say what I’m listening to now?

JB—Yes.

RJ—OK, I’m listening to… The new Erykah Badu album.

JB—Oh yeah.

RJ—So good. I like her because whatever she is, she is just that thing. She hasn’t bent or changed for anybody. She’s like a true artist to me, and really good I think.

JB—What about The Roots?

RJ—I love The Roots. I love anything that The Roots is involved with. They’re on that album.

JB—Who’s your favorite Root?

RJ—Questlove. That’s my homie.

JB—He is the smoothest.

RJ—He is. And if you want to know anything about comedy or music, nobody knows more.

JB—So, are you going to make babies?

RJ—Ummm… [Laughs] I have to have somebody to make babies with first.

JB—I’m going to say you should make babies because you’re awesome, and that’s the end of the interview!