EXCLUSIVE: Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg each get about one scene in the upcoming romantic comedy "Friends With Benefits." But they soon could be occupying the same movie for a lot longer, and in a somewhat more dramatic vein.
The "Parks and Recreation" star and the "Saturday Night Live" staple are set to costar in "Celeste and Jesse Forever," the long-gestating romantic dramedy that Jones has written with actor-writer Will McCormack.
A studio executive who was briefed on the project said Samberg was set to join Jones as the film's male lead. The actress confirmed the casting and said that the production has also brought on a director, Lee Toland Krieger, who helmed the festival drama "The Vicious Kind."
"Celeste & Jesse" tackles the story of a couple that's getting divorced but wants to remain friends -- a kind of inversion, perhaps, of the just-hooking-up subgenre of "Friends With Benefits" and "No Strings Attached."
"Our movie is about two people who love each other a ton but they don't know what to do with that love, and how do you let that person go," Jones said. "It's very different from: 'I like having sex with this person because I'm so modern but then, ooh, maybe I like them.' I'm less interested in that story." She added, "It's the version of 'When Harry Met Sally' 20 years later, or 'Blue Valentine.' It's really about how you break up with someone.'"
Samberg aims to shoot the movie ahead of "I Hate You, Dad," the Adam Sandler comedy he will make this summer. (Samberg and Jones, incidentally, each had parts in "I Love You, Man," playing brother and fiancée, respectively, to Paul Rudd's friend-challenged lead.)
Financing has come together for "Celeste & Jesse," which previously had an unusual spell of bad luck: It was set up at 20th Century Fox label Fox Atomic before that label was closed down. Overture Films later bought it, only to be shuttered by parent company Starz Media. The veteran producers behind "Memento" and"Prime" are producing.
Jones, who's starring in the current indie relationship drama"Monogamy" and appears in upcoming comedies including "The Muppets" and "The Big Year," said she thinks "Celeste & Jesse" offers an antidote to the spate of recent comedies looking at romance from a male point of view.
"It's hard to find female leads that are flawed and interesting and dynamic. We wanted to write something that was in the vein of Judd Apatow -- you talk like you actually talk with your friends -- but with ladies," Jones said. "I want to do that and not just be someone's girlfriend or wife. I want to be the one to go on the journey."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Rashida Jones. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times.