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Rashida Jones on Monogamy, Parks and Recreation, and Dating Other Actors

Rashida Jones is best known for appealingly low-key comic turns in shows like Parks and Recreation and The Office, but in the indie film Monogamy she mines meaty drama as a woman whose fiancé (played by Chris Messina) begins to stray emotionally. First Jim left her for Pam, now this! Glimpsed briefly but pivotally in The Social Network, Jones also has several other projects coming up over the next year, including a role in The Muppets (where she plays a hard-ass network executive "who gets to manhandle Kermit") and the starry comedy My Idiot Brother. Last week, she chatted with Vulture about the famous names she's been erroneously linked to, feeding a baby lion on the cover of Vanity Fair, and her nerves about whether Parks and Recreation will get another season.

When we talked to you about the movie at Tribeca last year, you said that a lot of people aren't really sticking to monogamy, that "there's a lot of fear and running and bullshit irresponsible behavior. I think dudes are acting out right now in a huge way." What makes it so hard for men to commit these days?
I feel like I have to amend this, because I know I said that, but I feel like women are more responsible than I originally stated. I think that women are powerful and they're multifaceted and they're survivors; they don't have to depend on a man to do the things they needed them to do, whether it was hunting or lifting heavy things, so what's a man's place now? Who knows! So I think that in a reaction to that, guys are in this drawn-out adolescence where they're screwing a bunch of girls and playing video games and acting like boys until they're 40, because they can. They can maintain their power by having sex whenever they want, and there's no incentive to settle down and be monogamous anymore, unless you really have that hankering within you.

What is monogamy like for an actor? I would think that it might be hard to date an actor, because they're away a whole lot of the time — so how is it that actors so often date other actors?
Not to be cynical, but there is what my friend likes to call the "actor factor," where you're on the set and you're away and it's cold and you're connecting emotionally. You kind of fall in love with yourself in the eyes of this other person. It's sweet because it reflects this want for romance and a relationship, but let's look at the statistics: In general, they're not pretty great, but for actors, it's pretty hard to make that work for a long period of time. And then the next time you're in a cold place and you want to connect with somebody, you're not near your husband or wife, and you'll want to connect with somebody else.

It's like actors get paid to have these flings for a month or two.
It's super weird, and it was especially weird with Chris Messina because his girlfriend, Jennifer Todd, is one of my best friends, so I went to New York to kind of have this screen affair with [the boyfriend of] one of my closest friends! And we're all getting paid to do it, which is really weird. But yeah, Chris and I connected so much under the guise of this safe, sheltered place. It's hard for actors to distinguish between those feelings, and it's hard to tell your body to communicate these things physiologically and yet it's just acting and nothing else. With emotional stuff like that, it's like a weird, short, unaccounted-for affair.

What is it like to know that when you do date someone, it can be a very public thing where paparazzi take your photo or it's discussed online on gossip blogs?
Honestly, for me, I try to keep really private. The outcome of that, and it's kind of funny, is that everybody I'm talked about dating is someone I'm not actually dating, so I don't really care. Like Seth Meyers has been my friend for ten years, and it's on my Wikipedia page that we dated because we went to one thing together and took a picture. I think it's funny and hilarious and I love him because he's my friend, but we never dated. So, my advice is to just be seen with people you're not dating, and stay at home with people you are dating.

At least you've been falsely linked to handsome men. There's that.
By the way, the last fake boyfriend I had was 26. Like, cougar town!

It was Garrett Hedlund, right?
Right, Garrett Hedlund, who's also my friend. I can call him and we can laugh about it, but also, I look awesome. [Laughs.]

You posed with him on the cover of Vanity Fair's annual "Hollywood" issue. What was it like to be asked to do that?
It's pretty much one of the very few things that I've aspired toward my whole professional career, so I was pretty shocked and excited and overwhelmed. The best thing was that most of the people on that cover have been working forever, so there was no attitude, no "I'm the next big thing." Everybody was just a working actor who was happy to be there. But it was cool. I was flanked by two hot dudes [Hedlund and Andrew Garfield].

And you were feeding a lion cub a bottle of milk.
And I was feeding a baby lion. Yep.

How did they broach that idea with you?
You know what? It was a total and complete surprise, and a great surprise. They were like, "Listen, you're probably going to be feeding this lion cub, so let's go and meet him."

That is a totally normal thing a person says.
Of course, that happens to me on every photo shoot I ever do. "Just show me where it is!" But he was so cute, and only fourteen weeks old. His name was Titan, and he was very strong. I know it looks like a very relaxed situation, but he was aggressively trying to get that bottle out of my hand and into his face.

Now, Parks and Rec. How do you feel about what they've given you to do over the last season? I've heard the creators talk about how they didn't want you to just be the "straight man" character anymore.
I'm thrilled. I don't think you can approach a new show and have everybody be wacky and crazy and have so many colors and layers. You really have to figure out what everybody's roles are on the show and then flip it around, so once you saw Ann as sort of the straight man or doormat, then you can have some fun and let her do some weird shit.

Amy Poehler has said that when shooting wrapped for Parks and Rec this past season, she treated it like a good-bye in case you didn't get another season. Is that how you felt at the time?
Oh my God. I have to say, it was an incredibly scary experience to leave the set. I hoped we would get picked up, but we knew that even if we did, we weren't going to see each other for seven months. I mean, I could almost be having a baby by then! We get along really well, and I would actually be devastated if we didn't come back — and I don't feel that way about many jobs. There's just something about this crew of people and where we're going and what it feels like — and this is going to be a terrible metaphor, I can just feel it — that's like being in the middle of a black diamond course with all this momentum, weaving through trees, and then there's this big snowplow in front of you.

Photo: Patrick McMullan