rashida jones

“As an actress, you’re kind of on the bottom rung” 

Words: Susan Hornik 

After starring on NBC’s Parks and Recreation for five years, Rashida Jones seeks more creative control behind the camera.

The apple, they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Rashida Jones has found herself well within the shade of her famous Hollywood parents. Her dad is legendary music producer Quincy Jones, who worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. Her mom is prolific actress Peggy Lipton, perhaps best known for her role in the ’70s TV hit The Mod Squad. So it should come as no surprise that Jones would discover her own fame and fortune in such shows as Boston PublicThe Office and Parks and Recreation.

What may be less expected is her desire to step out of the limelight, for now, at least, as co-executive producer of NBC’s A to Z, a new romantic comedy about an adorable couple’s inevitable slide toward failure. We sat down with Jones to discuss her move from acting in front of the camera to calling the shots behind it.

“It’s important that I am really skilled before I present something to the world publicly.”
Rashida Jones

THE RED BULLETIN: What’s it like wearing the producer hat?

RASHIDA JONES: This has been such an incredible opportunity to executive produce at a network that I have long loved, worked with, respected and grew up on. Unfortunately, as an actress you are kind of at the bottom of the rung, in terms of what kind of creative leverage you have. And it’s great; you add a lot to what other people are doing or making. But ultimately, you are not really calling the shots as much.

So is this move really about having more control of the projects you are involved with?

Having a vision and having read a lot of scripts and acting in a lot of things, on some task level [the move to producing is about] understanding what my taste is and being able to really execute that and make that a reality. I like the meeting of the minds. That is really nice—you get to see where people talk things through and make decisions. And what part of that is business and creative; how you find the marriage of the two things. I find that very interesting. And also, for [co-executive producer] Will McCormack and I, we wanted to start this company being advocates for writers. That was the most important thing for us. There are a lot of people who focus on other elements of the show; for us, we want to make sure that each character’s voice is well executed and it feels authentic.

Parks and Recreation was critically acclaimed, but it always seemed to be at risk for being canceled. You left before the show’s final season this year—was the uncertain outcome each season tough for you as an actor?

We were on the bubble the whole time, as the television critics knew. But we were so much on the critics’ [radar] to push us through, and I really think that was the reason we stayed on the air for so long. And we all loved each other so much; none of our transitions [from the show to other projects] were messy or dramatic. Even though we had this underlying current of fear that we were not going to be on the air, we really kind of stayed a family. People left and came and it all had the same level of grace to it.

Rashida on Jimmy Fallon.

Even though you are segueing into producing, you’re still taking acting jobs, like a role on TBS’s Angie Tribeca, which is being produced by another actor-turned-behind-the-scenes-player, Steve Carell.

We shot the pilot but not the episodes yet. Steve is a dreamy person. I always wanted to be able to do some really silly comedy, and that is what this series is! And he is very open to my creative input, which is great.

Rashida Jones

Born: February 25, 1976 Los Angeles, California

Birds, Brains and Beauty
Named to People’s Most Beautiful 2014 list, the Harvard grad once learned to make bird calls for a role. 

Do we sense a pattern?
On three different series— Freaks and Geeks, Stella and The Office—Jones has played three different characters, all named Karen.

Both of your parents are veterans of the entertainment industry—your father is legendary music producer Quincy Jones; your mother is actress Peggy Lipton. How did that influence your relationship to the business?

I always think about music. I am very precious about my relationship with music, obviously, because my dad is a music master, so it’s important to me that I am really, really skilled before I do something professionally and present something to the world publicly.

Then do you see yourself always being involved in entertainment, be it producing or acting?

There is definitely a version of my life where I live in a different country or write a novel or a musical. Or I work for a nongovernmental organization or, I don’t know, go back to school. I like to be continually challenged; right now I very much am, and I don’t feel static.

Read more
12 2014 The Red Bulletin

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