LOS ANGELES (Backstage) - Rashida Jones and Chris Messina are both actors currently at the top of their game.
In addition to her role on the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation,” Jones has appeared in films as varied as “The Social Network” and “I Love You, Man.”
After making his mark on “Six Feet Under,” Messina has enjoyed breakthrough roles as devoted husbands in “Julie & Julia” and “Away We Go.”
Now the two star as an engaged couple put to the test in the gritty indie “Monogamy,” in which Messina plays a photographer who becomes obsessed with one of his subjects. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Dana Adam Shapiro, who won acclaim with his 2005 documentary “Murderball.”
Back Stage recently spoke to the two old friends about working together so intimately for the first time.
BACK STAGE: YOU TWO KNEW EACH OTHER BEFORE THE FILM; HOW DID YOU MEET?
Messina: Rashida went to high school with my girlfriend, so I know Rashida through her. Rashida would come over to our house and play with our two boys; they love her. It was confusing and interesting to see what was going to happen, kissing one of my girlfriend’s best friends. And it turned out to be amazing. I think the experience we went through together ultimately made us even better friends.
Jones: It was amazing! I was nervous about it too, because you have to be pretty modern and mature to make that all work well. But the truth is, you have a couple jobs as an actor—yes, you hit your marks, you say your lines, you show up for work on time. But then you also have to do a really good job of keeping what you do at work separate from your life. It’s challenging because this film was so emotional and intense, but I felt really safe with Chris.
YOU’RE WORKING WITH A FIRST-TIME FEATURE DIRECTOR ON A VERY CHALLENGING SCRIPT. DID THAT GIVE YOU ANY HESITATION?
Messina: You always hesitate. No matter what you do, you wonder how things will go down. But a lot of people talk about working in the style of John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh and Robert Altman, but very few people stick to their plan. Because what those men did was extremely brave. And on a set, a lot of young filmmakers who preach these filmmakers, when everyone’s moving quick and the producers are getting angry and you have two minutes to get a scene, they usually collapse and say, “Let’s just say the lines and hit the marks and get out.” Dana didn’t. He stuck to his guns and we kept to the plan from day 1 to day 18.
“MONOGAMY” CAME TO BOTH OF YOU AS AN OFFER. DO YOU FIND AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER YOU’RE AUDITIONING LESS?
Jones: I don’t audition as much anymore, but it’s probably because I’m on a TV show and don’t have time. But I auditioned for “The Social Network” a few times. They weren’t sure I was assertive enough to play a lawyer. What happens is, more people know you, and that’s great. You don’t have to go on tape with the casting director’s assistant anymore, but you just go into rooms with bigger people.
Messina: And the more people know you, the more they think they’ve got you pegged. That was my problem with “Six Feet Under” and “Vicky Cristina Barcleona” and “Julie & Julia,” I was doing this nice-guy stuff. And those projects were amazing and I was so lucky, but the problem is, I was going into rooms where I had to convince people I could be more than this nice guy. They were like, “No way.”
Jones: There’s that thing where you work your ass off for years and years and then you get known for these one or two roles and within six months people are like, “Ugh, her again?” You want to say, “Can’t I just be successful for a year without people getting sick of me?”
RASHIDA, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT YOU DID TO MAKE YOURSELF MORE ASSERTIVE IN YOUR “SOCIAL NETWORK” AUDITION?
Jones: I broke some balls. No, actually, I was really surprised to get that note back because as a person, I am assertive. But I think I’m also a people pleaser and when you walk in that room, you talk to people and you’re your nice self. And even when you go into character, all they’re thinking about is that nice person who was telling them how much they loved their work before the audition even started. So my strategy was to get down to business and not do a lot of small talk.