Rashida Jones stars in the new Sofia Coppola film, “On the Rocks.” In the film, Jones plays Laura, a novelist who teams up with her father (Bill Murray) to track her husband, who she suspects of infidelity.
Jones recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Matt Noble about working alongside Murray in the Apple TV+ and A24 film, being in the Sofia Coppola universe now and why she likes to subvert expectations. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: Rashida, I want to ask you, what did you learn through making this film?
Rashida Jones: That’s a big question. What did I learn? I learned that Bill Murray is very deserving of his legendary status as a human being and as an actor and a friend. I learned that in retrospect, in hindsight, how much I love and appreciate New York City, and because we snuck this one in at the buzzer right before lockdown, it really does feel immediately nostalgic. So I learned that I still love New York because sometimes I question it and then I’m already feeling like I miss it during this time. And I think I learned that I’m not the only person who has this kind of melancholic quality of being middle-aged and trying to figure out how you fit into your own life, because I feel like this character that Sofia wrote is very much an archetype for a woman of a certain age, what she’s going through and I relate to that. That’s it. That’s the end of my answer (laughs).
GD: Yeah, it is funny because any movie that you watch now where people hug or shake hands seems like a period piece, doesn’t it?
RJ: Also, do you do that thing where you go, “Oh, no, don’t do that?!”
GD: Yeah, I’ve adjusted now. But yeah, especially when things started, for sure. In some ways with the film, and I think this is true of a lot of Sofia’s work, it’s the small moments that I think capture a lot. I think Bill Murray always says through the film, or Felix does, “It may be nothing, but.” And I think there’s a lot of choices that are made in directing and in the performances, that may be nothing in one level, but do say a lot at the same time. Is there a smaller moment that you’re particularly fond of from the film?
RJ: Yeah, there’s one. I think it’s actually an “It may be nothing, but” a moment, but this actually is something, so you have to pay attention, moment. When he calls me to his office to tell me he’s been tracking my husband and that he wants to put a hot watch on him, which is a term I wasn’t familiar with, but it really feels like Bill found his character in that scene because he does this spy turn, this dramatic spy turn where he’s wearing a turtleneck and a blazer and he’s facing the mantle and he turns back to me to say, “He’s going to Manzanillo,” or whatever he says about Manzanillo, but that moment, it’s like that’s the moment Felix became a professional spy, to nobody’s benefit at all. And I’m just like, “What? Come on, what is a hot watch and let’s get out of here.” But that moment made me laugh very hard. In fact, it made Bill laugh in a way that he wasn’t sure he was going to make it through his own choice, but he did. He made it through.
GD: Speaking to that, I think we see this in Bill’s performance but we definitely see it in yours, you say a lot without saying anything sometimes. Can you think of a choice you made in how you reacted to things in the film?
RJ: I think this was particularly challenging for me because I’m a pretty outspoken person, so to be more reserved and to listen and to internalize a reaction, that is challenging for me and something I wanted to make sure that came across in a multilayered way. But I think there’s a scene when we’re having lunch and he’s speaking Russian to the waitress and he’s asking if she’s a ballerina and all this stuff, and then he’s at the end of one of his long theoretical runs about why men are attracted to certain types of women and he lands on catching a woman to impregnate her just as the waitress comes back and everything is kind of said in my face, which is just like, “I am mortified, I’m so sorry to you that you have to be here and witness this moment. Welcome to my life, and also, there’s nothing I can do.” But I say nothing.
GD: I think this film really touches on the idea of voices of women, which is particularly apt, given it’s directed and written by Sofia Coppola, who is the third woman ever nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, I think only one of five women that have ever been nominated.
RJ: Oh, my God. Why?! It’s crazy, but great for her. But it’s crazy.
GD: What do you think this film says about the voices of women?
RJ: Well, what I love so much about Sofia as a filmmaker, take out the gender thing, is that she has such a delicate touch and such a defined atmosphere where it’s like the minute you start watching her films, you know where you are and you know where you’re going to be for the next 90 minutes to two hours. I think that’s the kind of thing any director aspires to be, regardless of where you’re from. You want to have that voice and that vision that just envelops the audience the minute they show up in your world. But I think in particular with Sofia, she does have this very classically feminine perspective and voice in her characters and on her subjects where my character loves her dad and wants to spend time with her dad. It does have a very light, delicate touch when it comes to how she corrects him and argues with him or doesn’t argue with him. I think at the end, she kind of explodes and says, “You have to start listening to women’s voices,” because it’s a silly thing that he says about being deaf specifically to women’s voices and she’s like, “You have all these women in your family who you love. So you’re going to have to start hearing women’s voices.” And there is something so poignant about that line, because whether or not you grew up in that generation or you’re used to it or whatever, too bad. You love women and you love strong women and now, you have to figure out a way to actually hear their voices. You can’t just say you love women, and that’s sort of the same when it comes to filmmaking and representation. OK, you can say you love women. All of these men who make decisions, all these men who direct movies, all these men who produce movies, they have women in their lives that they love. So, do you really love women? OK, great. Then you also have to listen to their stories and you have to celebrate their stories in a way where we have more than five women ever. Crazy.
GD: With the Laura and Felix relationship, I think it’s such a fun one, but an interesting one. There’s pain there, there’s fun there. It’s a great thing. How much do you think she wanted to be with Felix? Did she want to be with Felix as much as he wanted to be with her?
RJ: Yeah, I think Felix sweeps into town and Laura’s like, “Oh, good, dad’s here and he’s going to take me to nice lunches and we’re going to have a fun adventure.” I think she’s really up for that. I think towards the middle to the end, I think she’s a little bit like, “Is this adventure at the expense of my own livelihood and my family and my future?” I think he’s pretty lonely and I think he’s looking for an excuse to spend time with her and to have purpose. I do think he worries about her and wants her to have a happy life but I think he becomes possessed with this notion because it’s really fun to spend time with her and he misses her and he’s lonely and he has less to do than he used to. But I think for her, I think she gets caught up in his thing because she likes being with him and then has to kind of recalibrate, like, “Is this actually good for me?” The answer is probably no. But she learns that too late (laughs).
GD: And I think that you’ve got an interesting contrast, where she’s feeling boring in her marriage or family life, but less so probably when she’s out staking out with Felix.
RJ: Because he is like a bon vivant and he’s interesting and he’s interesting to other people, and I think just proximity to him makes her more interesting or feel more interesting, and also she basks in the glow of his love. He’s like, “This is my daughter, we get along.” There’s something really great for her that she gets along with her father even if she’s having weird tension with her husband. It’s this way to remember that she can be sort of interesting and the apple of somebody’s eye, even if it’s her dad.
GD: What was the hardest scene for you to film?
RJ: I think emotionally, the scene in Mexico where I really go after him, I think that was probably emotionally the hardest scene because it’s the first and last time in the film that she really has to say what’s on her mind and to do it in a way where it still feels like she loves him and isn’t giving up all of that because she’s having this realization that she’s been taken on this journey, but also to really let go and let the overwhelm of what she maybe has done to her own life wash over her. It was challenging to do that.
GD: I was wondering this watching the film. What do you think is going through her head after he says, “You used to be fun?”
RJ: Yeah, I actually really like that line because he’s never going to come back at her the way she comes at him because it’s his daughter. But it’s a real slap in the face to say that because I think the thing they bonded over for so long was how much fun they had together and how game she was for whatever adventure he would present to her and that probably became this thing. Not the reason he loved her, but it is the sort of thing that he probably made her feel good about, like, “You’re so fun. You’re so up for whatever adventure. You’re so much like me,” and so to say, “You used to be fun,” it’s like, “You’re not really the person I thought you were and it’s disappointing.” And that’s kind of the worst thing you can hear from a parent, even if it’s just couched in fun.
GD: And fortunately, that is not their last scene in the film. Do you have a Bill Murray story from making the film? People love their Bill Murray stories.
RJ: I know. I feel like the Bill Murray stories come from when you get one moment with Bill Murray and he makes that moment so special because he’s Bill Murray and he’s good at that. I feel very lucky to consider him a friend now. He was such a wonderful, generous scene partner. He loves cars. He loves to drive cars. He wants to do his own stunt driving, so he relented at some point and let the stunt driver take over with the hairpin turns and stuff. But he did a couple times when we were in that Alfa Romeo. He would just take off and ditch our follow van and our police escort and just zoom up the highway. Actually, once, we got pulled over by a cop. We were filming that scene where we get pulled over by a cop and we got pulled over by a cop that was not production, because we were out of the realm of production. But then I don’t know what happened. I feel like they escorted us back to our other cops or something. He got out of it, is my point, which is what he does very well,
GD: A good rehearsal for the scene in the film. Now, we’re an awards website and you are a Grammy Award winner, Rashida. You won a Grammy!
RJ: I am! I am.
GD: Following in your father’s footsteps. You won Best Film for the film about your father that you produced and when you were accepting that Grammy, you described your father, how he underscores an unstoppable drive to refuse to be limited in any capacity. How have you refused to be limited in the choices you’ve made in your career, in the works you’ve taken on?
RJ: I follow very, very meekly in his footsteps, my one Grammy. I think that was his 29th now, which makes him the living person with the most Grammys. So I got some ways to go, but I’m happy to be on the coattails. He really did and continues to just push through barriers in a way that I don’t even know if I have the tenacity to do that or the circumstance to do that. But I think what I’ve learned from him is there have been these moments in my life where I have felt like I very clearly see the path that could be for me as an actress or whatever, and I would be very lucky to take that path. But there’s this thing inside me that just feels not fully satiated, some curiosity or fear or whatever it is. So I often make the other choice, which is to look at the thing that feels like the clear path and then go do something else and fail at it a bit and maybe try to get better at it. I don’t feel satisfied, necessarily, with success. That’s not the thing that keeps me going. It is the trying to subvert my own expectations of myself and maybe sometimes other people’s expectations of me. So if it is writing something or if it’s having an opportunity to work with somebody like Sofia, I’ve only ever played a lead role one other time in my life and it was a movie that I wrote for myself, and I wasn’t really looking to do that. But when somebody like Sofia asks you to do that, you jump at the chance and it’s scary. I still have a lot of feelings of doubts about myself and my ability to perform and hold this movie but I had to step up to the challenge. I had to do it.
GD: Yeah, and I guess given all that, looking back on it, you’re saying you had a lot of doubts going into “On the Rocks.” How do you look back on that experience and what are you most proud of having completed that film?
RJ: I think so much of this is trusting your director because as an actor, you have to just be available and show up and trust your director and I really trust Sofia. She knows herself as a filmmaker and I just feel so happy to land in her orb, so I’m just proud. It’s cool to watch a movie and think, “Oh, my God, I’m in the Sofia Coppola universe. Like, I’m actually there.” And I think probably the thing I’m most proud of is that I was able to play this character that’s slightly different from myself, that is sort of internal and not reactionary and more thoughtful and paced in the way that they respond and I do feel… I mean, I don’t know, it’s for other people to decide, but I do feel like I did bring some life and color and dynamism to that internal life in a way that I’ve never had a chance to do before. So that’s cool.