Rashida Jones On Becoming A Mom, Losing Her Mom, And The 'Big Chapters' Of Life

Feb 11, 2021

When it comes to fame, actor Rashida Jones has seen it all. Growing up in Hollywood as the daughter of superstar music producer Quincy Jones and Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton, Jones watched as some people rose to success — and others seemed to fade away.

In her own household, Jones' mother felt uncomfortable with her quick rise to fame at such a young age and became more introverted, while her father continued to become more famous.

"It changed the dynamic of our household," Jones says. "People think [fame is] this wonderful, magical heal-all, and it's actually the opposite. It can be a poison. It can be intoxicating and destructive."

Initially, Jones wanted no part of show business or fame. Instead, she focused on academics, aiming to become a lawyer or a judge. But then, as a student at Harvard, she began doing comedy shows, and her attitude shifted.

"I had a ton of friends in college who became comedy writers," Jones says. "And I think being friends with funny, witty people at a certain age makes you want to, I don't know, do that for a living."

Jones went on to co-star in seven seasons of the NBC comedy series Parks and Recreation. She currently co-stars with Kenya Barris in the Netflix series #blackAF. In the new film, On the Rocks, Jones plays a writer and mother who suspects her husband is having an affair. Her father, played by Bill Murray, gives her advice based on his own, outdated view of masculinity.

Jones filmed On the Rocks shortly after losing her mother to cancer and becoming a mother herself. It was a tumultuous time, and she nearly turned down the role, but she's glad she didn't.

"In a weird way, this movie was kind of a salvation for me because [director] Sofia [Coppola] is such a tender, present director and friend," Jones says. "To land in this world for a couple months when I was kind of going through the hardest period of my life was like a real gift."


Interview highlights

On losing her mother and becoming a mother around the same time

This has been a very emotionally intense couple of years. ... It was sort of like back-to-back-to-back-to-back, just wrenching, pulling my heart in all different directions. ... I was in grief-shock. I don't even know if that's a word, but I was just not in my body at all and just had a baby. I was doubly not in my body. ...

The thing that's the craziest about birth and death is just the utter rawness of feeling. I still feel this way, I think. It's like something cracks in you. It's very binary, both things — becoming a mother and losing my mother — like, there's my life before and there's my life after. And strangely, there's something that's not recognizable before those two things happened. And it's just this utter rawness of emotion where it doesn't matter where I am, what I'm doing. If I'm overwhelmed by that grief or that joy, that's it. I have to feel that thing. I can't suppress it. I can't run away from it. It's just there.

On searching for meaning and identity in mid-life, and developing a greater awareness of death

I do think that there's these big chapters of life. I remember feeling this way a little bit in my late 20s, really having like these deep questions about who I was and not recognizing myself. And then I feel like I've kind of returned to that a bit in the past couple of years, probably not as strongly as my 20s, because I think in your 20s, you're really not quite sure how it's all going to pan out. Now, I'm halfway through, I can't pretend that my life isn't the way that it is and it's great, and I'm very grateful for it.

But I think my relationship with the world, and how I see my life unfolding from here on out, and what's important to me and to be honest, my relationship with death, because that's something that really kicks off, I think, in the middle of your life where you're invincible until then. And then all of a sudden you lose the person you love the most who brought you here and you wouldn't be here without them. And it really incites this much larger thing, which is like, OK, how do I live my life in a way that will honor my inevitable death? ... As my dad always says, "Live every day like it's your last, and one day you'll be right."

On being a biracial actor, often considered not light enough to play white roles, and not Black enough for Black roles

Inherently, being biracial, you just live in the middle. You just do. And I'm not complaining about that at all. It is just the way that it is. The nice thing is that there is some part of that which makes you like a bridge, in a sense, because you kind of always feel like a bit of an outsider. But when I was younger, there were a lot less biracial people on TV and film. So I think people were confused whether it was because they saw me or they saw my name on the sign-in sheet, or they were kind of confused how to cast me. And I remember having panic when I would get cast in something and I had to have a family and I would have to have this discussion with the director, the writer, whatever, and say, "I want to be represented the way my ethnicity is in real life. I don't want to cover up anything, or whatever."

I think, because my hair is naturally straight and my eyes are green and I'm pretty light-skinned, the instinct is to not cast me as Black. And I think, as far as things have changed, and there's more mixed families and more interracial families ... and there's a lot more understanding of all the different ways that biracial people can look, which is great. So there's a lot more kind of understanding. And it's less of a big deal now than it was when I first started acting, which is nice. And, I think, to be able to play roles where I get to be Black and unapologetically Black, like I am in #blackAF, has been such a relief for me because it's a whole side of myself that I haven't really gotten to play very often.

On growing up in Hollywood, compared to her father who grew up poor on Chicago's South Side

I think about it every day of my life, actually, because I think about circumstance and luck. So little of what our lives are have anything to do with what we did to get here, and I am constantly aware of the luck I've been afforded because of the country I was born [in], the parents I was born to, all these things I have absolutely no control over. And then I think about my dad who created his luck, created it from nothing, worked so hard and then lived this life filled with love. And he didn't hold grudges. He didn't hold on to his anger. And he just kept making things out of love. And it is how he learned how to survive. ...

I just think about how ridiculous it is that I exist because the lineage on both sides, the probability that I would exist — a Black Jew in 2021 and succeed and thrive — is a miracle. - Rashida Jones

Beyond being grateful, I think about my family history and I think about where my dad came from. And then I think about my mom's side of the family, [which is] completely Ashkenazi Jewish. And I did that show, Who Do You Think You Are? and we went to Latvia, to the village where my mom's great grandfather was born and the whole village was devastated during the war and everybody was killed. And I just think about how ridiculous it is that I exist because the lineage on both sides, the probability that I would exist — a Black Jew in 2021 and succeed and thrive — is a miracle. And it's something I do not take for granted. I think about it constantly, every day. I don't understand why I was chosen, but I feel like I have to make good on my dad's survival and my family's survival.

On Parks and Recreation gaining traction once it went to streaming

The funny thing is it was not an incredibly popular show [while it was on TV]. Now it is. But when we were on the air, we were almost canceled, like, a half a dozen times. Not that many people watched it. And we always felt like we were on the bubble. There were several different presidents of NBC that wanted to cancel it and then [they] got talked out of it or canceled it and then changed their minds. And we were just getting like little pick ups here and there, six episodes, 12 episodes.

It didn't feel like a successful show. I mean, it did from the inside in the sense that the cast loved each other. We loved to play with each other. It was such a dynamic writing staff and cast. And every minute of shooting that show was so enjoyable, truly every minute. And I think everybody who was on it would say the same. But then Netflix happened. Streaming happened. And that show it's sort of rewritten as this enormous cult hit. But the truth is, it wasn't when we were on.

Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Rashida Jones, stars with Bill Murray in the new movie "On The Rocks," which was just nominated for a Critic's Choice Award for best comedy. It was written and directed by Sofia Coppola and draws on Coppola's relationship with her famous father, Francis Ford Coppola. Jones made a Grammy Award-winning documentary about her famous father, Quincy Jones. Her mother, Peggy Lipton, starred in the series "The Mod Squad." Rashida Jones co-starred in seven seasons of the NBC comedy series "Parks And Recreation" as Ann Perkins. She had a recurring role for two seasons of "The Office" as Jim's girlfriend. Jones now co-stars with Kenya Barris in the Netflix series "#blackAF" and co-hosts a podcast with Bill Gates.

In "On The Rocks," she plays Laura, a successful writer who's been unable to complete her latest book. She's been at home in Manhattan raising her two young daughters and doing the cooking and housework while her husband has been traveling a lot getting his new business off the ground. She feels stuck and taken for granted, which is eating away at her self-confidence. Although she can't even admit it to herself, she thinks her husband may be having an affair with his new co-worker. She starts to confide in her father, Felix, a successful art dealer who seems to know everyone important in Manhattan and constantly talks with his daughter about what men are really like, as if he were some kind of anthropological scholar of masculinity. He offers that in part as an explanation for his many affairs, which was the reason Laura's mother divorced him.

When Laura tells her father, Felix, about her husband's constant travel and his latest trip, Felix comments that the hotel her husband stayed in is not a place you would stay if you were on a business trip and suggests it would be a good place for an affair. Laura denies that possibility at first. Here's Bill Murray and Rashida Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ON THE ROCKS")

RASHIDA JONES: (As Laura) There was something.

BILL MURRAY: (As Felix) What?

JONES: (As Laura) Nevermind.

MURRAY: (As Felix) What?

JONES: (As Laura) There were some - there were some of his co-worker's toiletries in his luggage.

MURRAY: (As Felix) Sloppy move.

JONES: (As Laura) But she couldn't put them in her carry-on through security, so he offered to put them in his luggage. That's it.

MURRAY: (As Felix) Raise your hand if that sounds fishy.

JONES: (As Laura) You know what? I shouldn't have said anything. Forget it.

MURRAY: (As Felix) Have you checked his phone?

JONES: (As Laura) No.

MURRAY: (As Felix) Well, do yourself a favor. Check his text messages. If it's - I mean, it may come to nothing, but, you know, may as well make sure.

JONES: (As Laura) Dean is not like you, OK? He's a nerd. He's a good guy, a great dad.

MURRAY: (As Felix) He's a man. It's nature. Males are forced to fight, to dominate and to impregnate all females. I remember the first time I saw your mother. It was a beach party. Back then, all the girls wore bikinis. Your mother walked out of the ocean in a white one-piece swimming suit, and that was it for me. I was done. Staying on track, what does Dean have planned for your birthday?

JONES: (As Laura) He's not going to be here for my birthday.

MURRAY: (As Felix) What kind of guy forgets his wife's birthday?

JONES: (As Laura) He didn't forget. He has a work trip, but we're going to celebrate when he gets back.

MURRAY: (As Felix) That's not the same. I traveled. I never missed a birthday.

JONES: (As Laura) Right. But you had some other shortcomings.

MURRAY: (As Felix) Like what?

GROSS: (Laughter) Rashida Jones, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's a pleasure to have you on our show.

JONES: It's a pleasure to be here.

GROSS: As a father and as a man, Bill Murray's character is often really charming and charismatic, but he's kind of insufferable and out of touch when it comes to anything related to gender. What do you say to a man like that of another generation who's in your life, whether it's a father or an uncle or a friend of your father's or whatever? I mean, you're fond of them - with your father. You love him. You don't want to kind of lecture him on gender - or do you? I mean, I had issues with my father who grew up in the generation of, like, women drivers?

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: Ridiculous.

GROSS: Ridiculous (laughter). So, you know, how do you deal with it?

JONES: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I think what's so lovely about this movie is it doesn't really answer that question because, the truth is, I think it's OK to live in the middle where you love somebody who has a completely different perspective on the world because they just grew up at a completely different time. And I think there's - there's kind of tender ways and ins where you can talk to them about it. And then there's times that you just can't. And you have to sort of let it be background noise because, the truth is, at a certain age, people probably don't change and won't change. But, you know, I think in this film, she has had enough. And, you know, the kind of climax of the film is she just lets it all spill out because she has held her tongue for so long or she's rolled her eyes or she's, you know, just looked the other way. And eventually there's just a couple of theories that she just - that just don't sit well with her and she has to let him know that and let him have it a little bit. So I think, you know, it is that kind of thing - it's like, what are the non-negotiables? Like, if you can just decide, like, that's something that I literally can't hear anybody say, including my father, I won't let him say that I'm going deaf to women's voices - that's just not something that's acceptable in my presence. And then the other things, like, I can just - I just have to let them roll off because they're never going to change.

GROSS: So you never say to your father you're part of the patriarchy (laughter).

JONES: Oh, you mean in the movie or in real life?

GROSS: In real life.

JONES: In real life, no. When I talk to my dad, sometimes I'm like, don't say that. You can't say that. But I also love him. And I - you know, it's followed up with a hug and a kiss.

GROSS: You made this film shortly after your mother died and your son was born. To lose a mother and become a mother so close together must have been such an emotional experience.

JONES: Yeah, this has been a - this has been a very emotionally intense couple of years. I know obviously for a lot of people this past year, but even right before this movie, you know, I mean, it was sort of like back to back to back to back, just wrenching, pulling my heart in all different directions. And, yeah, I for a moment, you know, thought about maybe not doing the movie because it was so close to when my mom passed away and I was in grief shock. I don't even know if that's a word, but I was, you know, just not in my body at all. And having, you know, just had a baby, I was doubly not in my body, but in a weird way, this movie was kind of a salvation for me because Sophia is such a tender present director and friend. And to land in this world for a couple months when I was kind of going through the hardest period of my life was - it was like a real gift for me. Because I think I would have probably just been, like, floating somewhere, you know, in the chaos of my own emotions. So in a weird, very weird, bittersweet way, this was, like, a really, really big blessing for me to have this movie to go to.

GROSS: Were there things in the film that you could connect to the emotions you were experiencing and express what you were feeling through this other character?

JONES: Yeah, of course. I mean, I think the thing that's the craziest about birth and death is just the utter rawness of feeling. Like, I can't - I still feel this way. And I think it's like something cracks in you. It's very binary, both things, like becoming a mother and my mother, like, there's my life before and there's my life after. And strangely, there's something that's, like, not recognizable before those two things happened. And it's just this utter rawness of emotion where, like, it doesn't matter where I am, what I'm doing. If I'm overwhelmed by that grief or that joy, it's - that's it (laughter). Like, I have to feel that thing. I can't suppress it. I can't run away from it. It's just there. And, you know, that's a nice thing to have, you know, if you need it to go to and if you - if it's there anyway.

So in that respect, I definitely felt moments, like, very connected to the way that I was feeling. And then, I think Laura, you know, she's got this sort of low-level melancholy happening, where she's not necessarily depressed, but I think she's searching. And she's kind of in this mid-life crisis. I wouldn't even say crisis. It's more just like a questioning about, you know, her own self-worth and her own relationship to her life and all those things I really relate to. And I think nothing brings that into starker relief than, you know, birth and death.

GROSS: Your character in the movie, Laura, she's a wife and a mother and a daughter and a writer who can't move forward on her book. She's stuck. And she starts to not recognize herself. And I think she - part of it is her fear that her husband is having an affair. But part of it is her life isn't the life she used to have. She's become, like, the homemaker and the mother. And there's a lot of responsibilities with that. Did - you said that, you know, losing your mother and becoming a mother, they were both binaries. They both had, like, before and after. Did you go through a period of feeling like you didn't recognize yourself anymore and you had to figure out, well, who am I now?

JONES: I mean, are we saying that that period is over?

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: Yes, yes. Yes. Yes. I think - I do think that there's these, like, big chapters of life. I remember feeling this way a little bit in my late 20s, really having, like, these deep questions about who I was and, like, not recognizing myself. And then, I feel like I've kind of returned to that a bit in the past couple of years, where, like - probably not as strongly as my 20s, because I think in your 20s, you're, like, really not quite sure how it's all going to pan out. Now, I'm halfway through. Like, I can't pretend that my life isn't the way that it is. And it's great. And I'm very grateful for it. But I think my relationship with the world and kind of how I see my life unfolding from here on out and what's important to me and, to be honest, my relationship with death - because that's something that really kicks off, I think, in the middle of your life, where, you know, you're invincible until then.

And then, all of a sudden, you know, you lose the person you love the most, who brought you here and you wouldn't be here without them. And it really, you know, incites this much larger thing, which is like, OK, how do I live my life in a way that will honor my death, my inevitable death? And I know that sounds so heavy. But it feels like, culturally, I never even considered that. Like, everything is about, like, living like you're young, pretending you're never going to die. And as my dad always says, like, live every day like it's your last. And one day, you'll be right. You have to sort of, like, now, contextually think about your life in the context of your death. And it - to me, that makes a lot of sense. And it should be respected and almost celebrated in a weird way. So that's where my head is now.

GROSS: You refer to your mid-20s when you went through a period of not really being sure who you were or where you were headed, what was happening in your mid-20s?

JONES: In my - it was, like, my mid-to-late 20s. I was living in New York. I was a little bit aimless. You know, I wanted to act. But I was kind of dabbling in other stuff. I was engaged. I was - you know, I think I was just kind of, like, trying to figure out what my life was going to look like as an adult, you know, and also what skills I was going to hone for the next decade, because I think so much of 20s and 30s is about skill-building and in a way that you don't even know until - not that I'm totally skilled. But now, in my 40s, I think, oh, right. I've been doing the same thing for a couple decades now. So even if I don't feel like I'm good at it every day, there's some stuff that I know just because I had the experience. So I didn't have that then. So I think I was kind of wondering what that was going to be and where I was going to live and, you know, what it looked like when I looked outside my window and who I was spending my time with and how I was going to make money and all these giant questions, you know?

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Rashida Jones. She stars in the new film "On The Rocks," which is streaming on Apple TV+. She also stars in the series "#blackAF," which is streaming on Netflix. We'll be back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAMPIRE WEEKEND SONG, "M79")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Rashida Jones. She stars in the new film "On The Rocks" with Bill Murray as her father and Marlon Wayans as her husband. It was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Jones directed a documentary about her father, Quincy Jones, which won a Grammy in 2019 for Best Music Film.

Having two parents in showbiz, was your early inclination to find a place in show business yourself or to stay away from it?

JONES: To stay far away (laughter) from it. I didn't succeed, obviously. But, yeah, I wanted to be - I wanted to go to law school. I wanted to be a judge or a lawyer. And my kind of - my rebellious identity as a young person was, like, studious, crossword-puzzle loving...

GROSS: (Laughter).

JONES: ...You know. I loved the idea of, like, maybe being a humorist or, like, you know, a novelist and a humorist or a lawyer. I don't know how those things relate. But either way, I loved the idea of having, like, academic structure behind, you know, my identity and my self-worth. So I was like, for sure going to go to college, for sure going to go to an Ivy League school, for sure going to get out of LA, have nothing to do with showbiz, you know, go pursue something legitimate (laughter), I say as I sit in my house in Hollywood, Calif.

GROSS: (Laughter) I love the idea that being studious and academic-minded made you rebellious. Like, that was your rebellion.

JONES: (Laughter) I know. It's pathetic, I know, I know (laughter).

GROSS: No, I think it's really interesting because, I mean, your parents were celebrities. And so what was it that you didn't want that you saw in the world of, like, celebrity or show business?

JONES: There's so many things I didn't want. You know, I have a very, very healthy perspective on fame. And I think a lot of people who pursue things that have either fame as kind of incidental, you know, kind of side challenge or actually pursue fame don't really know what it's like. I've seen it all. I've seen it all. I mean, you know, I've seen the ups and the downs. I've seen people rise to success and everybody orbits around them. Then I've seen it all go away. I've seen people handle it well. I've seen people handle it poorly. And I think, specifically with my parents, you know, my dad was always notable and well-respected.

And then when we were kids and my parents were together, he became really famous, recognizable because of the Grammys. He won lots and lots of Grammys with Michael Jackson for "Thriller." And all of a sudden, he was, like, a famous person. And even though my mom had experienced a lot of fame as a young actress, she sort of, like, put that aside. She decided she didn't want that. And she gave it up to raise us and to just kind of be in her family. So that - when that happened, it felt like it changed the dynamic of our household. And it changed my dynamic with it because I think, in some ways, I've always thought that fame, you know, has - it has very, very difficult consequences. And I don't think everybody - I don't think every family and I don't think every person is designed to carry the weight of fame. I think people think it's this wonderful, magical heal-all. And it's actually the opposite. It's like, it can be a poison. It can be intoxicating and destructive.

GROSS: Yeah. I mean, your mother says in your documentary about your father that after "The Color Purple," which he worked so hard on, writing the music, that - he had given away parts of himself before, but that after that, like, there was nothing left. He was just depleted. He'd given it all away. And she found that whole - she found that very upsetting and, I think, implying that there was nothing left for her. And that's when she ended the relationship. So it sounds like, you know, fame was part of the reason why your parents separated.

JONES: Yeah. I mean, he's a workaholic, too. I think fame is a part of that, for sure, because fame intensifies, you know, what people demand from you. So if you're already, you know, susceptible to people wanting things from you and deadlines and, you know, being pulled on by that, fame doesn't make that any better, for sure. And I think, you know, my dad does belong to the world. He's always been that kind of person anyway. Like, even though he has to be internal and create and all this stuff, like, he loves people. He gets his energy from people. He loves to travel. He loves to, you know, meet all different types of people.

In that way, he's perfectly suited for fame, you know? And he's good at it. He's really good at it. Not everybody's like that. And my mom was kind of an introvert. And it was hard on her. That was hard on her, for sure. You know, I think it just was, like, the opposite direction of maybe where she thought her life was going, you know? But like all love stories, there's always these things that you don't negotiate until you have to.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Rashida Jones. And she now stars in the film "On The Rocks." It was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. She also directed a documentary about her father, Quincy Jones, which won a Grammy in 2019 for Best Music Film. We'll talk more after we take a short break. Oh, first, I should mention that "On The Rocks" is streaming on Apple TV+. And the documentary about her father, which is called "Quincy," is streaming on Netflix. So we'll be right back. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUINCY JONES SONG, "KILLER JOE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Rashida Jones. She's now starring in the film comedy "On The Rocks," which was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. It's streaming on Apple TV+. Her documentary about her father, Quincy Jones, called "Quincy," is streaming on Netflix. Also streaming on Netflix is the series she stars in with Kenya Barris, who created the series, and that's called "BlackAF." And you can figure out what AF stands for if you haven't already seen the show.

Your mother, Peggy Lipton, was white. Your father, Quincy Jones, is Black. Has being biracial affected the roles that you're considered for? And I'm wondering if you're ever considered, like, too light-skinned for a Black role or too Black for a role that's explicitly or implicitly white.

JONES: All of it. Yeah, all of it. Inherently, being biracial, you just live in the middle, you just do. And I'm not complaining about that at all. It is just the way that it is. And the nice thing is that there is some part of that which makes you like a bridge in a sense, because you kind of always feel like a bit of an outsider. But when I was younger, there was a lot less biracial people on TV and film.

So I think people were confused whether it was because they saw me or they saw my name on the call-in, you know, the sign-in sheet. They were kind of confused how to cast me. And I remember having, like, panic when I would get cast in something and I had to have a family. And I would have to have this discussion with the director or the writer, whatever, and say, you know, I want to be represented the way I actually - my ethnicity is in real life. Like, I don't want to cover up anything or whatever. I mean, I think because my hair is naturally straight and my eyes are green and I'm pretty light-skinned, the instinct is to not cast me as Black.

And I think, you know, as things have changed and as there's more mixed families and more interracial families, things have changed. And there's a lot more understanding of all the different ways that biracial people can look, which is great. So there's a lot more kind of understanding. And it's less of a big deal now than it was when I first started acting, which is nice. And I think to be able to play - now to play roles where I get to be, you know, Black and unapologetically Black like I am on "BlackAF" has been such a relief for me because it's a whole side of myself that I haven't really gotten to play very often.

GROSS: You've been doing work behind the camera, you know, writing, directing. You directed a documentary about your father, Quincy Jones. And as everybody knows, he arranged and/or produced four people ranging from Dinah Washington and Sinatra to Michael Jackson. He's a hero to a lot of rappers. His work has been sampled. He's won lots of Grammys. Your film won a Grammy for Best Music Film. Was making a film about your father a way to ask questions about his life and his childhood that you wouldn't ordinarily bring up with him in conversation?

JONES: You know, my dad is a wonderfully open book, and I feel very lucky about that. And I think, you know, he's written a book about his life. And he's - he talks about himself. But yeah, I think when you spend hours and hours and hours with somebody, they let down their guard in a way that they wouldn't necessarily let down their guard if you're just doing a, you know, stand-alone interview or even like hanging out as a family.

You know, I think just seeing that on screen for me, like it really told the story of him, him hanging out with his family, hanging out in the kitchen, eating. That's something - it's a palette that's very different from somebody giving an interview about what they think about themselves. You know, like there's tacit moments in the movie where we just spend time with him just being quiet that I don't know if you can achieve by somebody, you know, telling you who they are in a way, you know.

And then also, he's - he told me some great stories that I never knew before. Like, one didn't even make it into the film because there wasn't enough time. But he was talking about "Fly Me To The Moon," which is the kind of song - the Frank Sinatra version - that you just - it just seems like it always just existed. It existed before the world existed because it's such a huge part of everybody's life. You know, you hear the first four of that come in and then the little like, you know, piano, the two piano notes and you know exactly what's about to happen.

But the truth is he found this song in other words, and it was a waltz in 3/4. And he decided to rearrange it to be 4/4 and swing it. And there is born this, like, incredible moment in songs for everybody to have forever. But, like, he had never told me that story before, you know.

GROSS: When I was a kid taking piano lessons, I had the sheet music for "Fly Me To The Moon." And I want to back you up and say, yes, it was in 3/4 time (laughter).

JONES: Yes, there you go.

GROSS: It was a waltz.

JONES: And it was called "In Other Words," right?

GROSS: Yes.

JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: It's one of those parentheses songs like "Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)" or vice versa. Yeah.

JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: I'm thinking about how different your father's childhood was from yours. Like, you grew up in celebrity culture. You went to high school with the children of celebrities. Your father grew up on Chicago's South Side. And in the film, he says that his father worked for the Jones brothers - no relation - who basically - there was like the Black gang that ran the ghetto in Chicago is the way he put it. And your father says that he, your father, wanted to be a gangster until he was 11 years old. And he literally has the scars to show for it, including one from an ice pick. So it's such a huge contrast to how you grew up. Did you think about that a lot when you were making the movie?

JONES: I think about it every day of my life, actually, because, you know, I think about circumstance and luck. So little of what our lives are have anything to do with what we did to get here. And I, you know, I am constantly aware of the luck I've been afforded because of the country I was born, the parents I was born to, all these things I have absolutely no control over.

And then I think about my dad, who created his luck, created it, I mean, from nothing, worked so hard and then lived this life filled with love. And no - you know, he didn't hold grudges. He didn't hold on to his anger. And he just kept making things out of love. And it is how he learned how to survive. And I - it blows my mind every time I think about it. And it also makes me feel - beyond being grateful, I think about like my family history, and I think about where my dad came from.

And then I think about my mom's side of the family and, you know, just completely Ashkenazi Jewish. And I did that show "Who Do You Think You Are?" And we went to Latvia, to the village where, you know, my mom's great-grandfather was born. And the whole village was devastated during the war, and everybody was killed. And I just think about how ridiculous it is that I exist because the lineage on both sides, the probability that I would exist, a Black Jew in 2021, and succeed and thrive is a miracle. And it's something I do not take for granted. I think about it constantly every day. I don't understand why I was chosen, but I feel like I have to make good on my dad's survival and my family's survival.

GROSS: So your parents became a couple just a few years after the Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, which is the decision that did away - it abolished any state laws remaining that made marriage between a Black person and a white person illegal. So how accepted do you think they were as an interracial couple? And this was - we're talking about the early '70s here when they became a couple.

JONES: Yeah. You know, I think in the country, not very. And I think my grandparents, my Jewish grandparents from the East Coast, at the beginning had a hard time with it, and then they loved my dad so much that they got over it. But I think a big part of their existence in California was - there was this, like, beautiful kind of, like, utopian enclave. Like, we had all these family friends - like, if you had asked me at age 6, you know, if I knew that, you know, 15 years prior, it would have been illegal for my parents to be together, I would have no idea because we had, you know, all these friends - we had a lot of interracial families that we were friends with, like Sidney Lumet and his wife and Sidney Poitier and, you know, Dicky and Minnie Rudolph - Mia Rudolph's parents. So we had all these - you know, my parents did a very good job of surrounding us with people that looked like us and had similar families to us, so it didn't feel weird to us.

GROSS: So you knew Maya Rudolph as a kid?

JONES: Yeah, she was at my house the day I was born.

GROSS: Wow (laughter).

JONES: She was, like, 4 or 5. Yeah, our parents were really good friends.

GROSS: Were you good friends?

JONES: Yeah, we are good friends.

GROSS: Oh, that's great.

JONES: Yeah, she's the best - the best.

GROSS: Well, let's take another break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Rashida Jones, and she's now starring in the comedy film "On The Rocks," which was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. And she directed a couple of years ago a documentary about her father, Quincy Jones. We're going to talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Rashida Jones. She stars in the film "On The Rocks" with Bill Murray as her father, Marlon Wayans as her husband. It was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Jones directed a documentary about her father Quincy Jones, which won a Grammy in 2019 for best music film.

You majored in religion and philosophy, I think, when you were at Harvard, right?

JONES: Yes, yeah.

GROSS: So that interest in religion stuck with you. What were you thinking of doing with it professionally, if anything, when you majored in it in Harvard?

JONES: I mean, nothing - nothing, really.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: I think I was just - I was really interested - we spent a lot of time at a meditation ashram, also, when I was a kid.

GROSS: With your mother?

JONES: Yeah, with my mom. And I spent some time in India. And I ended up writing my thesis on Indian philosophy, 11th century Indian philosophy. You know, you could do a lot with that in the real world.

GROSS: (Laughter).

JONES: But I just thought it was so fascinating. And I loved how old it was and how it endured. And, you know, it definitely had some things in common with Judaism. And it was the comparative study of religion, so I got a really good, like, buffet of everything. And I just - I don't know. As an organizing principle, I think religion is so fascinating in its ability to bring people together and its ability to, you know, incite war and violence and just to really create order and get people to do, you know, things you want them to do in the name of God. It's interesting to me.

GROSS: Did you try practicing other religions when you were studying different religions?

JONES: I did, yeah. I - even in high school, before I went to college, I was in a Christian choir. I was dabbling in Buddhism. I was going to this Hindu ashram. I was going to synagogue. Yeah, I was, like - I was loving it. I was going with my friend to her Presbyterian church on Sundays. Yeah, I just was so interested in it. I don't know why (laughter). It's weird.

GROSS: Oh, that sounds great, though. Sounds like such an education, too.

JONES: Yeah. And it was cool to - I think also the music part of it, just to see the music that came out of religion because that is where, you know, so much music comes from. I think that was interesting to me, too.

GROSS: Did your father go to church?

JONES: Yeah, he did. My grandmother was very religious. And, you know, we definitely had Baptist history, a lot of Southern family members, Baptist history. But...

GROSS: So were you raised in the church, too, as well as in - going to synagogue?

JONES: Not really. You know, it's weird. Like, my only real experience with church was - this is - sounds so Hollywood. But when my dad was filming "The Color Purple," we went to set, and there was a scene when Celie was at church. And I remember being so blown away by the music and wanting, wishing that I had had that experience a little bit more as a kid. But I had the Hollywood set version, the Steven Spielberg-directed version of church.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: How much time did you spend in the studio with your father, watching him like conduct or arrange or, You know, watching musicians perform?

JONES: A lot, a lot. I have some great memories. I was just talking about this the other day, actually, because we were talking about Westlake Studio, which is in LA. It's kind of, you know, iconic studio. And we went back there to record some stuff for the movie because we recorded this original song that Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt wrote for the movie that Chaka Khan sang. And then we got kind of all the original guys from the "Thriller"-era band, like the studio guys, like, legends to come and record. And it was so crazy to be back there because we spent so much time. And it felt so big and fun and dynamic. And it's so tiny. It's just like this tiny little place. But I was so tiny. And yeah, we spent hours and hours there. It was so fun. Those are really great memories for me.

GROSS: What kind of instrument or instruments did you play, if any, when you were young and what about singing?

JONES: I played piano. And I still play piano for my own enjoyment and nobody else's because I would never make anybody suffer through that. But I kind of peaked as a classical pianist around 10.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: I was a big, big Chopin fan. I practiced all day and night, much to the dismay of my older sister, on our, you know, big piano in our house. And I play guitar really badly. And, yeah, I sing. And I sang in every choir. And I sang a cappella in college. And I was music director of the a cappella group in college, the Harvard-Radcliffe Opportunes. You know, I sing a little bit here and there. And I'm a dabbler. And I'm an enjoyer. And I will continue to be a student of music, but I never - I just - I will always feel humbled by it in a way that will make me not pursue it hopefully. Hopefully, I don't have too much of a midlife crisis.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Rashida Jones. She stars in the new film "On The Rocks," which is streaming on Apple TV+. She also stars in the series "BlackAF," which is streaming on Netflix. We'll be back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Rashida Jones. She stars in the new film "On The Rocks" with Bill Murray as her father and Marlon Wayans as her husband. It was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Jones directed a documentary about her father, Quincy Jones, which won a Grammy in 2019 for Best Music Film.

You know, in your documentary about your father, there are scenes of him or a scene of him in the ICU. You're there with him after he was in a diabetic coma. And so, you know, he has tubes coming out of him. Did you have any reservations about showing him in such a vulnerable condition? Did he know you were coming in with a camera?

JONES: Yeah. Well, the truth is we filmed that stuff not for the documentary. We were in the middle of filming the documentary, and my dad collapsed and went to the hospital. And, you know, obviously we stopped shooting. My brother and I took video of my dad in the hospital to show him when he came to because he had been drinking a lot. And we were making this big plan around intervening and, you know, if he made it out - thank God he did - letting him know that we care about him and we - he can't drink anymore. So that was really the intention of shooting that stuff.

And then after the fact, after my dad recovered, thank God - and, by the way, woke up and said, I'm never going to drink again at 82 and then never had a drink again because he's a beast on a different level of - his character is unlike anybody I know. But after all that, Al (ph) and I discussed, you know, using that footage because we wanted to tell that story. And my dad was incredibly generous about letting us finish our movie before he saw it. Like, he did not micromanage any of it. And he wanted to see it in its entirety when it was done. So obviously, had he had any issues with that particular part of it, we would have taken it out. But we wanted to tell the whole story and that's part of the story, you know.

GROSS: Was the problem with alcohol that he was - that he'd gotten addicted to it or was the problem just the diabetes, that the alcohol was bad for the diabetes?

JONES: I think both. No, I think both. I mean, I think he's, you know, been drinking his entire life. It's part of being a musician. It's part of being on the road. It's part of traveling. It's part of having fun. It's just, you know, he's a night owl. He's up all night. He goes out. Like that's, you know, it's part of the lifestyle. So, you know, whether or not he would ever say expressly that it was a problem, it was absolutely a problem on every level.

GROSS: Right. So in a way, like, the diabetic coma saved his life by...

JONES: Oh, 100% - 100% saved his life.

GROSS: So, you know, we talked earlier about how you - in spite of your reservations about showbiz, you ended up having an acting and writing and directing career yourself. How did you get into comedy? Why did comedy become what you're best known for?

JONES: Well, I was always, always into comedy from a very young age. I was obsessed with "Saturday Night Live." My parents would let me stay up to watch it and SCTV and this show that was on HBO, "Not Necessarily The News." I love sketch comedy. I loved parody satire. I loved "Airplane!" and "Amazon Women On The Moon." And I just - I don't know. Maybe that was just, like, an escape for me or something. But I don't know. It just - it also felt fun. It felt fun to - a fun way to spend your time. I don't think I ever had ambitions of, like, you know, of exercising all of my, you know, emotional demons in public. But I did like the idea of the rhythm and the kind of - the almost, like, songlike quality of comedy. It's very musical in a sense. And, you know, I did a little bit of it in college. I did the female version of "The Odd Couple" and a couple other shows. And strangely, freshman year, I did a play with my friend - became my friend - Mike Schur - Michael Schur - who, you know, went on to be my boss because he created "Parks And Recreation." But I had a ton of friends in college who became comedy writers. And, you know, I think being friends with funny, witty people at a certain age makes you want to, I don't know, do that for a living.

GROSS: I see the connection between your music background and comedy because comedy is so much about timing.

JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: You know, we talked earlier about your parents' fame and what fame meant to you, and seeing, like, the downside of fame in your family and also in their friends. You became famous. I think your fame, like, really grew with "Parks And Recreation" because you were on that for - what? - seven seasons. It was an incredibly popular show. So how did you decide to deal with the fame of that?

JONES: Well, the funny thing is it was not an incredibly popular show. Now it is. But when we were on the air, we were almost canceled, like, a half a dozen times. Like, not that many people watched it. And we always felt like we were on the bubble. There was several different presidents of NBC that wanted to cancel it and then got talked out of it or canceled it and then changed their minds. And we were just getting, like, little pick-ups here and there - six episodes, 12 episodes. So it didn't feel like a successful show. I mean, it did from the inside in the sense that the cast loved each other. We loved to play with each other. It was such a dynamic writing staff and cast. And every minute of shooting that show was so enjoyable - truly every minute. And I think everybody who was on it would say the same. But then Netflix happened, streaming happened. And that show is - it's sort of rewritten as this enormous cult hit. But the truth is, it wasn't when we were on, which is probably good because it meant that we could just sort of enjoy each other there, you know?

GROSS: So finally, when I see QAnon referred to as Q, I think, like, I remember when Q just meant your father (laughter).

JONES: I know.

GROSS: Now it's this, like, conspiracy theory group. What's that like for you to see Q all the time now?

JONES: Listen, Q will always be my dad. I don't - whoever that other person is might not even exist, so they don't get to take the thunder. And hopefully the legacy of my dad and his, you know, enormous life and contribution will be the only Q that people remember. Hopefully this will fizzle out.

GROSS: Rashida Jones, it has been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

JONES: You too. Thank you so much. What a pleasure.

GROSS: Rashida Jones stars in the new film comedy "On The Rocks," which is streaming on Apple TV Plus. Her documentary about her father, Quincy Jones, is streaming on Netflix, as is her latest TV series, "BlackAF".

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY ME TO THE MOON")

QUINCY JONES: (Singing) Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars. In other words, hold my hand. In other words, baby, kiss me. Fill my heart with song and let me sing for evermore. You are all I long for, all I worship and adore. In other words, please be true. In other words, I love you.

GROSS: If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interviews with New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert, whose new book is about efforts to reverse some of the harm humans have done to the natural world, or New York Times cybertech reporter Nicole Perlroth about cyberattacks on the U.S. and how American cyber weapons got into the hands of our adversaries, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUINCY JONES SONG, "FLY ME TO THE MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.