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Porter
Cover story

Why, Ms Jones

With

Rashida Jones

From acting and writing to producing and directing, RASHIDA JONES seems to be a shining example for doing and having it all. Her secret? Dancing, making people laugh and refusing to toe the Hollywood line. By OLIVE WAKEFIELD

Photography Billy KiddStyling Katie Mossman
Cover Stories
Top image: Coat Max Mara; shirt Jil Sander; pants Ulla Johnson; earrings Rashida’s own. This image: Blazer and pants Tibi; tank The Row; earrings Rashida’s own

To sit round a table and put the world to rights with Brie Larson, Mindy Kaling and Rosario Dawson would be most people’s dream dinner party. But that’s not the way Rashida Jones describes it. “It was like a bad fever dream,” she shudders, fists clenched round her cappuccino. Jones is reliving her cameo in Jay Z’s latest music video, Family Feud, directed by Ava DuVernay. “In the scene, we’re sitting round the table, and Ava comes over and asks us to improv debate the Second Amendment. You know, the right to bear arms. On the spot. It was absolutely terrifying.”

As one of the most coveted talents in Hollywood, Jones rarely has to sit round tables and persuade people of anything. These days, Hollywood comes to her. She’s the woman Steve Carell created a sitcom for (Angie Tribeca); who studios queue up to work with; and who Jay Z and Drake both cast in their music videos (as the ultimate girl boss). Perhaps it’s because she transcends every role with her unique brand of wit and charm. You’ll have seen her perfect the ‘best friend’ in Parks and Recreation and the ‘girlfriend’ in The Office. But did you know she also directed a Netflix documentary about America’s porn epidemic, Hot Girls Wanted, co-wrote an episode of hit dystopic series Black Mirror, and produced the award-winning HBO show, Claws, about a band of female manicurists turned money launderers?

So far, so mind-blowing for the tiny, fresh-faced 42-year-old bundled up in front of me in an oversized coat. It’s the day after Coachella’s second weekend and, following an impromptu trip to the desert to support her friend, Beyoncé (“I watched her last week from my bed and I was jumping up and down. I had to get down there”), Jones is in a more pensive place. “The reason I got behind the camera was because I felt replaceable as an actress,” she says of her evolution from actress to writer/producer. “You walk into a room, and they’ve already decided whether you’ve got the part based on your hair. There are people born to act, but I play parts which are just versions of me. Writing is more of a back and forth conversation. That, for me, feels better.”

“I got BEHIND the camera because I felt REPLACEABLE as an actress. Writing is more of a CONVERSATION”

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Blazer and pants Oscar de la Renta; shirt Frame

She will step in front of the camera for the right project, as she did for her latest film, Tag, an ensemble comedy co-starring Jon Hamm and Isla Fisher about a group of friends playing a decades-long game of tag. But Jones knows the power she can wield with her pen. Especially given her half-black, half-Jewish (“Blewish”, she calls it) roots. “I am a product of slaves. I am also a product of Jewish immigrants and Holocaust survivors. I have a responsibility to represent those things. The possibility of me being alive is so slim.” Jones’ fans tell her they’re just happy she exists. For them, she is a voice of change. Does she see herself this way? “It’s an awkward position to be in, to have a voice. I don’t ever want to exploit it, but I am not going to be silent. Celebrities are given less of a chance than normal citizens. Just because we have so many followers on social media, we’re supposed to be silent, dumb entertainers? I’ve never been that.”

Blazer and shorts Joseph; shirt Loewe

“I am a product of SLAVES, Jewish immigrants and Holocaust SURVIVORS. I have a responsibility to represent those things. The possibility of me being ALIVE is so slim”

Jones credits her parents – her mother, actress Peggy Lipton (The Mod Squad and Twin Peaks) and father, prolific music producer Quincy Jones (behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller) – with giving her this fearlessness. Both were self-starters, teaching Jones and her sister, Kidada, that hard work, not their surname, would get them places. “My dad is all about mastery. He said, ‘Whatever you do, you have to work really hard to get really good at it.’” By the age of ten, Jones had mastered classical piano and, most importantly, found her comic voice. “I was a nerd but also an extrovert. Making people laugh was my survival currency. I would stop the party and tell jokes.” At four, she told her parents she wanted to go to Harvard and, of course, she followed through. “It was there I learned how to think critically, write better and connect the dots.”

Jones’ knack for comedy with brains is probably the reason she’s been asked, rumor has it, to write a post-#MeToo remake of 9 to 5 (“There will be something to talk about soon,” she whispers, without actually confirming the reports). The original 1980 cult classic starred Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as harassed employees wreaking revenge on their bigoted boss. Given the current climate, how does one find comedy in such issues? “Comedy is the only way,” Jones says. “For me, the comedy is in the fact that things have changed but they also haven’t. The ways that people experience harassment, inequality or gender bias may be more subtle now, but they are still there. 9 to 5 fully articulated my feelings about solidarity in the workplace and not taking any s* from a s*** man.”

The star admits she has suffered at the hands of horrible bosses and has plenty of experiences to draw on. “There is so much behavior I tolerated for so long because I didn’t know it was unacceptable. From being talked down to, to having your ideas stolen – like nobody hears your idea until the man says it – to being harassed. You just try to survive your job. You smile and you rage when you get home.” She pauses, choosing one story in a career of hundreds. “Only recently, I was at a business meeting with two guys, and one was teasing the other about wearing a bathrobe because it was ‘girly’. I was like, ‘Come on. It’s 2018.’”

“There is so much I TOLERATED for so long because I didn’t know it was unacceptable. From having IDEAS stolen to being harassed… You smile and you RAGE when you get home”

Blazer Petar Petrov; pants Joseph; sunglasses Illesteva; earrings Rashida’s own; necklace Alighieri; belt Anderson’s
Coat Max Mara; shirt Jil Sander; pants Ulla Johnson

Last November, she walked off the writers’ desk on Pixar’s Toy Story 4, citing a lack of diversity. “That situation was complicated,” she says, shifting uneasily in her chair. “You look at Pixar’s track record and it was one woman directing one film in 25 years, and she was fired. But that doesn’t look different from most studios in Hollywood. All I can be is myself, and speak up and be honest when I feel things don’t reflect the world as it today. As a corporation, you will be held accountable.”

She holds herself equally accountable when it comes to writing female characters that the next generation can aspire to. “When I was writing ten years ago, I took what is typically considered a male character and would give it to the woman. I’d get feedback saying, ‘She’s not likable.’ I would think, ‘So f** what. Every guy isn’t likable, until he is.’ Women are taught to be nice. Men are taught to be powerful. I want to find a way to tell stories from a woman’s perspective that doesn’t feel like it’s been put in the mouth of a woman by a guy.”

Shirt Frame; watch IWC Schaffhausen
Coat Acne Studios; shirt By Malene Birger; earrings Rashida’s own

“Now the pressure isn’t whether you WORK or not, now it’s ‘can you do EVERYTHING and make it look EASY’. It’s just another version of oppression”

There are plenty of strong women in her life to inspire those narratives. Jones’ tribe is the intersection of many different circles: her Harvard comrade Natalie Portman (“A force”); childhood best friend Nicole Richie (“So funny”); and industry peers including Ava DuVernay and Amy Poehler. Poehler in particular is a big influence when it comes to finding balance. “Amy has made me think long and hard about how I prioritize the hours in my day,” says Jones. “Nowadays the pressure isn’t whether you work or not; now the pressure is, ‘can you do everything, pretend it’s all okay and make it look really easy’, which is just another version of oppression. Amy is very honest about the challenges of balancing everything.”

For one of the busiest women in Hollywood, Jones manages her visibility on her terms. Her romantic life remains a mystery – she’s previously been linked to Tobey Maguire, and most recently to Ezra Koenig, lead singer of Vampire Weekend – and she prefers to keep it that way. “I am pretty fierce about my privacy. I have made career choices to protect it. I stopped going after big movies because what comes with it is they want you to be as famous as possible. I don’t have the constitution to battle that.”

Instead, she prefers to fly under the radar: hanging out with her six half-siblings, playing the piano (“Where I am happiest”), attending dance class (“The best part of my week”) then posting the routines on Instagram for her fans to enjoy, and writing through the night. Currently she has a musical, a book of short stories and countless film and documentary ideas (including one about her dad) brewing in her, which she’s glad of. “When you think about feminism and what it’s really about, for me it’s about every woman having the opportunity for optimum choices in their life – so they never feel they can only do just one thing.” As Hollywood’s great multitasker, Jones is living proof of that.

Tag is out June 15 (US); July 6 (UK)