Anything You Can Do, Rashida Jones Can Do Better
It was the end of July, and Rashida Jones had five days of summer vacation remaining before beginning work on season four of NBC’s Parks and Recreation. But instead of chilling on a beach or escaping to the mountains, Jones spent two of her final days of freedom doing a photo shoot and interview for ANTENNA.
Her dedication to work would seem to explain her exceptional output. Besides her regular gig as Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation, she’s co-starring in two movies out this fall and just wrapped another film, which she co-wrote. While we could easily commend Jones for her beauty, her smarts (she graduated from Harvard) or her comedic timing, her work ethic might be her most impressive attribute.
“I've never been interested in just being praised for doing nothing,” Jones says. “It’s just who I am as a person. It’s always been more interesting for me to work at something and get better at it, and never be satisfied with that.”
It’s a lesson many raised in Hollywood never seem to grasp. Yet as someone who grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of two stars (producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton), Jones seems to have come through it all unscathed.
“Obviously, it’s a huge blessing to be able to do what you want to do, and do it forever, and have people respect you and love you, but I’ve seen a lot of the negative sides of what it is to be famous and how it changes your life. So for me, it was like a cautionary tale. I think it made it really clear that fame would never be an objective for me.”
According to Jones, while acting and writing bring fulfillment, magazine covers and interviews are just a by-product of the gig, never the goal. “I’ve never really had any big fantasies about being a movie star,” she says, chuckling at the thought. “I’d just like to continue to work with great groups of people and take a minimal amount of credit for that.”
I noticed you’re not on Twitter. I thought you might be into social media since you were in The Social Network.
I just don’t feel like I have that many interesting things to say per day that I want to share with more than the people who are in my house or on my phone [laughs]. I think I’m just of that generation where I just missed that cutoff. It in no way adds to my identity.
Are you on Facebook?
I’m not on Facebook. I’m not on Twitter. I actually just went away for two weeks and I forgot my computer. It was kind of a bummer for work and for writing, because I have some deadlines, but it was kind of great, too. I’m okay with that. I think there’s a generation now where they’re not going to be okay if they don’t have their technology with them.
Almost everyone our age grew up watching the Muppets. What was it like acting with them in the upcoming The Muppets?
It was obviously a dream come true. It was so great, and completely surreal to be sitting there with my heroes. It was awesome. And it’s crazy because the Muppet performers are so good at their jobs that you forget that they’re even there. Then you’re just having a full-blown conversation with Kermit.
Which was your favorite Muppet movie growing up?
I liked The Muppets Take Manhattan.
Would you knowingly eat at a restaurant where rats were running the kitchen?
[Laughs] If they wore tiny chef hats, yes. And if they spoke. If they spoke, I’d go anywhere rats ran.
You recently finished filming The Big Year, which is about bird-watchers. Are you an amateur birder, or birdist, or whatever it’s called?
I would definitely not call myself an amateur bird-watcher. It’s something I knew absolutely nothing about, but I took some interest in it. I got this Audubon iPhone app, which is probably the most expensive iPhone app you can get, because I had to learn some bird calls. It’s so cool. There’s something incredibly peaceful about taking interest in these tiny, beautiful creatures.
You also just finished shooting Celeste and Jesse Forever, which you also co-wrote. What was it like to write a movie and see it get made?
It was pretty satisfying. We’ve been trying to get this movie made for three years now. It’s a different feeling altogether than I’m used to. It was the first thing I’ve written that’s gotten made, so it was great. You know, writing is fucking hard. It’s like running: It kind of sucks while you’re doing it, but it feels great when you’re done. In some ways it can be way more satisfying than acting, and in some ways acting is more satisfying than writing. You're operating a totally different part of your skill set.
What was life like growing up? Would you come downstairs and, like, Michael Jackson would be hanging around the kitchen?
I don’t know what it wasn’t like. It was great. I had a great childhood. We were definitely aware that Michael Jackson was Michael Jackson. But then also there was never any divide for me as a kid between public persona and private persona. It was just kind of like a natural dichotomy that I just kind of was aware of from a very early age. There’s the way people see you, and then there’s the way people really are.
You dabbled in a lot of different things growing up, but when did you know acting was what you wanted to do?
I was in college and was having a difficult time, as people do in college. I was doing a lot of plays, and acting was becoming the one thing I liked the most, the one thing that I wanted to do. I was not going to class for a couple of months [laughs], but I got it together and started going again. I ended up doing an indie film when I was, like, 19 in New York. It was just so great, and I felt so fulfilled, and I thought, This is great, why don’t I just try this for a little while? Not realizing how hard it is to get jobs. But you have to have a little bit of idealism to do anything.
It seems like being in an ensemble cast is kind of like sports — you’re on a team and you want your team to win.
I’ve been super lucky with the people I’ve been able to work with, and maybe it’s because I come from a big family, but I like being in an ensemble, I like being in a group effort. To me that’s the most satisfying way to be successful, to do it with a bunch of other people. So, yeah, that’s exactly what it is. I’m going for the… pendant? That’s a baseball phrase, right?
Well, it’s actually a pennant.
Pennant! A pennant. That’s so girly that I said pendant. Or a ring, that’s a thing.
Yes, a championship ring.
I want to go for the ring, and I don’t need to be Most Improved. They have rookies and MVPs. I don’t need any special distinction. I’ll just take a ring.
(This article originally appeared on the cover of the Fall 2011 issue of ANTENNA.)