In a Tribeca Talks “Storytellers” panel opposite Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj, Rashida Jones weighed in on an accomplished career that has already included a series of standout writing (Celeste & Jesse Forever) and performing (Parks and Recreation, The Office, Angie Tribeca) credits. But Minhaj was most interested in Jones’ most close-to-home project, co-writing and co-directing the 2018 documentary Quincy, which looked at the life and career of her astoundingly driven father, famed music producer/arranger Quincy Jones.
“It felt like a destiny I had to fulfill for the family,” she said of the project, which earned her a Best Music Film Grammy this year.
Fittingly enough, the project first came about courtesy of Jane Rosenthal, the Tribeca Film Festival co-founder who introduced Minhaj and Jones at the start of the night’s panel. “We were at a party and Jane said, ‘We need to make a documentary about your dad and you need to direct it.’ And I had the most non-party reaction; I said, ‘F*ck!’” Knowing that Rosenthal was right on both counts, “I immediately felt this [tremendous] weight,” Jones said.
The film took six years to do in total, including actually filming for three years, but the experience was clearly the most profound of the star’s life. “It was the hardest project I’ve ever done,” she said. “It was so personal and so intense to spend time with your parents and try to be objective.” (Luckily for Jones, her father told her “I don’t want to see it until it’s done.”)
Scenes included not only conversations with her mom, actress Peggy Lipton, but harrowing times in the hospital, filming her father (who’s now 86) while he lay unconscious during health scares.
“He pushes so hard [in his career] that I’m scared for him as his daughter,” Jones told Minhaj and the appreciative crowd. “He was on the brink of death so many times. He had two brain aneurysms, and with both, your survival rate is not great. But he’s [bounced back] so many times and that’s who he is. I had to accept that about him….He’s an aberration; there’s nobody like him. He’s not just been successful but pioneered through seven decades. I don’t try to compare myself; I just feel lucky to share genes with him. He taught me how to work hard.”
That ethic got her into Harvard, where she considered becoming a lawyer (“I was gonna rebel against the artistic family,” she joked to Minhaj) before falling in with fellow student actors, one of whom, Michael Schur, would go on to create Parks and Rec. “Now he makes things and puts me in them,” she explained when adding up for Minhaj how much of her career has to do with luck.
Schur and Jones co-writing an episode about social media and image obsession for the
British anthology science fiction series Black Mirror led Jones to talk about the dangers
of too much time spent with your phone.
“I haven’t been on Twitter for a long time,” Jones said. “It was like going into a dark alley and expecting things to be better but it never is. I’m a very sensitive person, I try to create from that place and if there’s too much negative input I can’t.
“[Social media is] sold to us as ways to connect and that’s a lie,” she added. “It’s like a fantasy. You have your avatar and it’s all games. It’s not real life.”
When pressed on exactly when she gave up Twitter, Jones ultimately admitted, “It was literally on November 7, 2016,” right after the last presidential election. “I said to myself, ‘I’m out.’”
Currently set to star opposite Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s next feature as writer-
director, On the Rocks, Jones closed by sharing some bits of wisdom, both from one-time mentor Mike Nichols (“He said, ‘Don’t work with assholes.’”) and from her own experience, in a commencement speech she was able to give at her alma mater.
“The kids who end up at Harvard are rule followers,” she said. “They get the great grades on tests but then you get there and the truth is, the world doesn’t reward rule followers — especially in America. All the things you did you have to undo and I undid at a slow pace. I was a late bloomer. I believed in structure way too long and I became disillusioned. Then you realize and you say, ‘F*ck it, I have to do it myself, and figure it out on my own.’”