Whether it’s the straightwoman to Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation” or the patient fiancée to Paul Rudd’s Peter Klaven in “I Love You, Man,” Rashida Jones has carved out a niche as one of the most confident and reliable comic foils working in the business today, which is why it is with some surprise to see her all wrapped up in self-doubt with one of her first dramatic roles to date in Dana Adam Shapiro’s “Monogamy,” a thriller concerning a soon-to-be-wed couple (Jones and “Away We Go”‘s Chris Messina) put to the test as the would-be groom Theo begins to get cold feet about commitment after his side job as a “photostalker,” where people pay him to capture them in their most intimate moments without their knowledge, leads to his questioning a life shared with just one person.
Since the significant other in question is Jones, one might begin to question the plausibility of the whole enterprise as her usual winning ways are on display as Nat, an aspiring singer who is left mostly singing the blues as Messina’s wedding photographer stumbles through a bizarre journey to self-actualization that involves gorilla masks, filming a woman pleasure herself in the park as part of his job, and only occasionally checking in on Nat after she suffers an infection on her finger that seems to deteriorate at the same pace as the couple’s relationship. Jones recently took the time to talk about the film, the first in which she’s had to channel some of her family’s rich musical heritage, and how as an artist she’s been far from monogamous in recent years.
How did you become interested in the film?
“Murderball” is a fantastic movie. I spoke to [its director] Dana Adam Shapiro on the phone and I just thought that he was going to make the kind of movie I would want to be in and I’ve always really loved Chris Messina as an actor and was excited to see him in a part like this and wanted to be a part of it.
You’re also friends with Chris in real life and yet you’re playing a couple that’s having problems in your relationship. Was having a bond offscreen something that was helpful or something that you had to overcome?
It’s interesting. Chris and I were talking about it today because it’s not a given. It’s not necessarily the kind of thing that makes the relationship more interesting or necessarily better because I know Chris really well and I know his girlfriend really well and I know his kids really well and because this is such an intimate, intense relationship, it could’ve worked either way, but luckily Chris is such a genuinely committed actor and such a professional in every sense of the word, and he’s just a brave, brave actor, he made it really easy for us to have the kind of relationship that would hopefully translate as real and meaningful.
When I spoke to Dana last year at Tribeca, he described how he would shoot for a very long time to get you and Chris exhausted. Was that a different way of working?
It was great. It was absolutely exhausting, but it was exhausting in a very fulfilling way. Yeah, he would just let the camera roll and we would do these like crazy 20-minute takes and he put a lot of faith in us, but it also allowed for us to forget we were being filmed, which is such a huge luxury as an actor because then you’re not battling all the elements of lights and camera and makeup touches and hitting your marks. All you’re doing really is connecting to the moment, so as daunting as it may sound, it’s actually kind of a blessing.
You’ve been in a couple other of indie productions, but this sounded particularly down and dirty. Did it feel like a rite of passage in a way?
Definitely. Everybody earned every penny they made on this movie for sure and there was a lot of just making it work with what we had. There’s something really fun and really rewarding about that, obviously. But it is exhausting and the crew was there because they just loved the movie and that’s really nice. You don’t get to say that very often.
Since Chris goes off on his own journey for much of the film, was it interesting for you to play a more reserved role and then later seeing what Chris goes through on his end in the final cut?
Chris did just such a beautiful job of balancing because his actions are very unlikeable and the way that he treats me could be interpreted as pretty hostile, but I feel like his focus and his commitment to being a voyeur, meaning something about his own confusion about his own life, I think, made him sympathetic.
And at the end of the film, you’re asked to sing, which is something you’ve never done before on screen and of course, your father is Quincy Jones, so there’s a lot to live up to. Was it daunting?
No, I haven’t done that on film before and that actually was my last day of shooting, so it was pretty scary. I find it scary to sing – scarier than acting actually. [slight laugh] Just because you’re so exposed and if you’re bad in a movie, you can always blame someone else — you’re like, “oh, it’s the editing.” But when you’re up there and you’re singing and you’re by yourself, you can’t blame anybody. It’s all you and there’s no trick, there’s no editing that you can create to take away from what you’re doing, so it’s thrilling, but it’s also terrifying.
I actually just heard Darren Aronofsky say about Natalie Portman that the hardest thing she had to do was act while dancing – did you find it the same with singing?
Her dancing was so beautiful in that movie and told you so much about that character. I would even hope to be able to do that with singing, but yeah, because it’s part of the storytelling, I’m like this timid wannabe singer and I finally reach this point at the end of the movie where I have the freedom from the relationship or whatever to express myself in that way and I do feel there’s a certain level of vulnerability that can’t really be expressed verbally.
However, you have been expressing yourself quite a bit these days by writing your own scripts (with Will McCormack), the comedy “Celeste and Jesse Forever” and “Frenemy of the State.” What is the status with those?
They’re happening. I’m writing a lot and hopefully we’re making one of our films this summer. We’re in the process of casting and stuff and finishing up the adaptation of my comic book [“Frenemy of the State”] and hopefully, they’ll make that pretty soon too.
In many ways, your career took off around the time of transmedia and while you were able to get your start doing films and television, was there a point for you that things really opened up because of all the different platforms available to you?
It’s really exciting and I’m really grateful because I know that it’s not the norm and I know that not everybody gets the opportunity to do it. My dad had always said to me, “Be really great at two things and you’ll never be in trouble.” And I might’ve taken that too far because I’m trying to be pretty good at a bunch of stuff because for me, I like to be challenged regularly and that’s another reason why I took this movie because I saw the script and I knew Chris was attached and I knew it would be down and dirty and I was scared of the idea of it and the minute I’m scared of something is the minute I know I have to do it to push through to whatever next level I’m going to push through to emotionally or professionally. So for me, I just always want to have things lined up that will challenge me and hopefully make me better and humble me and keep me on my toes.
“Monogamy” is now open in New York and expands on March 18th.