Celeste and Jesse: Friends Forever?

Rashida Jones (Celeste) and Adam Samberg (Jesse) in a scene from the movie.

When actors Rashida Jones and Will McCormack sat down at 92YTribeca last week to discuss the new movie they wrote, “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” the similarities between these creative partners and their title characters were hard to miss.

The film, released this week, tells the story of Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), who are best friends, soul mates, and on their way to a divorce. Their earnest attempt to salvage the friendship in the face of new relationships and life changes, came from Jones and McCormack’s own strong belief that men and women can be friends—citing themselves as proof.

The duo met 13 years ago when they were set up on a date. “We dated for three weeks,” McCormack said. (“Two!” Jones interjected), “My sister said we would be soul mates and we sort of are…we didn’t have to be divorced to write this movie together.”

Jones, now starring on "Parks and Recreation," and McCormack, who had a recurring role on the television show "In Plain Sight," began drafting the script in 2008. They found that their writing brought out more difficult memories than expected. “I was definitely working stuff out,” Jones explained. “There was some exorcising of pain and feelings.”

McCormack admited this wasn’t a script that the two could have created with when they were in their 20s. “It took some time to process all of the [experiences],” he said.

What was most important, they agreed, was writing a film as truthful to life as possible, an uncommon approach to many romantic comedies. “It’s such a hard genre because it’s so familiar,” McCormack said. “There’s some rules you have to follow and then you look for ways to make it fresh. We didn’t try to be satirical or ironic about the heartache. We just tried to be honest about it.”

So honest, in fact, that the bad dates that Celeste experiences after her break up were pulled from Jones’s own life. “Wasn’t one of the guys from New York? Maybe he’s here tonight,” McCormack said slyly to Jones, who squealed, “Please don’t say that. He knows who he is…he can’t hide.”

Also from Jones’s life? The striped sweater Celeste wears every day for the weeks following her fall out with Jesse. “It’s from H&M. It’s mine,” she said with a laugh, “I remember I was so insistent about that sweater. I wanted to show that she basically didn’t bathe and she kept putting it on because it was right by the door and she stopped being able to dress herself and behave like an adult.”

Seated beside the pair, the movie's director, Lee Krieger, noted that Jones’s willingness to appear unglamorous is rare among women in leading roles. “There are very few actresses that will throw vanity out the window the way she did.”

The director went on to say that nothing about the film was typical of a Hollywood production. The script was sold to two movie companies, each of which promptly shut down afterwards. It was finally picked up by Envision Media Arts and shot for under $1 million in just 22 days.

“Andy Samberg wrapped Saturday Night Live on Sunday morning, flew out and started work on Tuesday, worked nine straight days and then got on a plane the next day to Boston to start filming “That’s My Boy,” Krieger recalled. “Ultimately it was a labor of love. The cast came together because they loved it…it just so happened that on our budget nobody had a place to sit down. Or decent food.”

While the audience relished the behind-the-scenes anecdotes, the memory of Celeste's and Jesse's bittersweet relationship seemed to linger in the room. “I’m going to tell a personal story,” McCormack said in response to someone who prodded them about the turn of events in the story. “My eldest sister had this boyfriend forever and he was like a big brother to me. They broke up, as young people do, and I wept uncontrollably. ‘Why did you break up? You love each other so much.’ And she responded, ‘Sometimes love isn’t enough.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m twelve and you just ruined my life.’”