When word hit the Internet not long ago that Rashida Jones, the co-star of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, was creating her own comic book series—a spy thriller called Frenemy of the State, co-written with Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, that will be published in early 2010 by Oni Press—the response was a resounding “Yes, please.” Actually, as sometimes happens when attractive women mix with comic fandom, things got a little creepy. Bloggers didn’t hesitate to use terms like “geek chubby” when describing their excitement. And as one online commentator noted, “Rashida Jones is so hot, and the fact that she made a comic makes her much hotter.”
Jones isn’t the first actress to try her hand at comic book authorship—Jenna Jameson and Rosario Dawson both created their own graphic novels, Shadow Hunter and Occult Crimes Taskforce, respectively—but something about Jones’s comic ambitions seems especially surprising. After all, this is the daughter of Quincy Jones and the Mod Squad’s Peggy Lipton. This is the woman who played the woman who cock-blocked Pam on The Office. Sure, she got all the worst lines in the Paul Rudd/Jason Segel flick I Love You Man, but goddammit, she was in I Love You Man! A woman of her pedigree should be hanging out in Hollywood nightclubs, snogging with John Mayer and trying to decide if she’s too drunk to drive. Learning that Rashida Jones wrote a comic book is like finding out that the hot cheerleader at your high school is really into video games and heavy metal. It’s validation that maybe the things that you love don’t necessarily make you a social outcast. To borrow a phrase from Benjamin Franklin, it’s proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
I called Jones to talk about Frenemy of the State and comics in general. She was gracious and outgoing, talking to me with the warmth of an old friend. And best of all, she was unfazed by the occasional jackassery of my questions—especially when I asked her if she could convince Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau (who she’s rumored to be dating) to slip some Li’l Wayne lyrics into the president’s next speech (“Look at the ice, radiculous price. Your camera has neva seen a picture this nice”)—for which I am eternally grateful.
Eric Spitznagel: Have you seen the reaction to Frenemy of the State online? It’s like geek boys across the globe experienced a simultaneous orgasm.
Rashida Jones: (Laughs.) Yeah, people have definitely been very nice about it. I’m humbled by the whole thing. It can be hard to change direction, and making a comic is not necessarily a natural progression for me. So it’s really amazing that people are being so supportive.
Promoting a comic is a lot different than plugging a movie or a TV show. Are you ready for the nerd clusterfuck that is Comic-Con?
I’m not, but I imagine my instincts will quickly kick in. I’m very excited about it. I know that Comic-Con has turned into something else over the last couple of years, but I think it’s still a great event for people who genuinely love the art form. It’s not quite at the level of Sundance yet, which a lot of people go to just because they’re giving away free shit. People still go to Comic-Con because they love comics.
Are you emotionally prepared to see a 40-year-old man dressed as Frenemy’s female heroine?
(Laughs.) I’m not going to lie to you, that’s going to be a little shocking for me. But I will try to appreciate their commitment.
Your comic is about a rich heiresses named Ariana Von Holmberg who leads a double life as a C.I.A. spy. I’ve heard that the character is loosely based on Paris Hilton but, well… that can’t be true, can it?
It sounds like kinda a stretch, I know.
When most people look at Paris Hilton, they don’t think, “Hmm, I wonder if she’s secretly fighting crime?” They think, “Hmm, I wonder how long until her next amateur porno leaks?”
Back when Paris was at her height of fame and people were just obsessed with her, I had this funny notion that she’s actually some crazy genius who knew exactly what she was doing, and she was just conducting this elaborate anthropological study on the world. I imagined that she was going home every night and whispering into her mini-recorder: “Day three hundred and twenty seven. I continue to have them all fooled.” That was sort of where the idea for this comic started. And also, I’m obsessed with our country’s almost cannibalistic obsession with people who are famous for no other reason than that they’re famous. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to give somebody like Paris Hilton another layer? What if her fame is something more than just an overwhelming need to be an object of desire?” Ariana is a little bit reluctant to be in the spotlight, and there’s a sadness to that.
“Reluctant” isn’t a word I’d use to describe Paris. She practically dry-humps the paparazzi.
I think a lot of these girls are completely complicit in their overexposure. They need that attention from the outside to make themselves feel valid. But for a lot of these girls, they don’t need more attention, they need help. We’re just supporting their demise. It’s like we’re all part of this terrible Schadenfreude machine. It’s my biggest complaint about how everything went down with Michael Jackson. We don’t honor and support and uplift our heroes when they’re alive. We need the mythology of tragedy before we’re finally able to honor them.
Do we all deserve a little of the blame for Jackson’s death?
Nobody wants to take ultimate responsibility for why something like that happens, but it starts with just one person, one businessman who buys a US Weekly at the airport. Just don’t do it. Don’t support that kind of storytelling. It’s eating away at us. And I think it’s only getting worse. It may actually be killing our culture. (Laughs.) Not to get too heavy on you.
No, please, I’m digging the doomsayer vibe.
All I’m saying is buy a Newsweek instead. Buy a Sports Illustrated.
Or a… (coughs, mumbles) Vanity Fair.
Sure, yeah. I remember being a kid and seeing the National Inquirer at the grocery store checkout line. When somebody actually picked up a copy, it was mortifying. You felt dirty for them. But now it’s perfectly acceptable to read something like that. There’s absolutely no taboo surrounding that kind of exploitation. I’m not trying to be a puritan, but come on, there’s a lot of other shit going on in the world. Why do you care what’s happening with Brangelina? Leave it alone! I don’t think people understand what they’re doing to themselves. It’s like fast food. It’s going to take twenty-five years before people really understand what the effects of all this tabloid journalism are.
What’s the mental equivalent of diabetes?
Exactly. It’s like sugar overload to the point where you’re making yourself sick and possibly killing yourself.
It made sense why people were obsessed with Michael Jackson. He actually had talent. But somebody like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian? What exactly is the fascination?
In some respects, I get it. It’s glamour, it’s beauty, it’s wealth, it’s all that stuff. But whatever people are projecting onto celebrities, it’s all bullshit. It’s whatever they want to see, whether it’s negative or positive. They’re really just satisfying their own fantasies and it really has no basis in reality. Also, with somebody like Paris, her talent is branding. And that’ll take you a lot further these days than having an actual talent. Control the public’s perception of you and nobody will care if you have any talent. Which is why Michael Jackson became this freak. He was an incredibly talented man, but he couldn’t control how the outside world perceived him.
What about your character Ariana from Frenemy of the State? Is she manipulating her brand?
She is, but I think she has a conflicted relationship with the paparazzi and the press. She craves privacy but it’s a little bit too late for her now. She cultivated this public persona when she was just 18. When you’re 18, who knows how to handle their life, especially when you’re in the spotlight? So now she’s 21 and she looks at what her life has become and she thinks, “Aw shit, I actually don’t want all this attention.” But it’s too late. She’s forced to uphold this status and this celebrity because it’s the best way to keep her cover at the CIA.
Unlike Paris and her ilk, is she a little better at wearing panties?
(Laughs.) Yes, she is very skilled at wearing undergarments. She’s more like a European socialite. Like Charlotte Casiraghi or somebody like that, who is very well educated and travels everywhere and is essentially very sophisticated.
Ariana and you look very similar. Is she at least partly based on you?
Is Parks & Recreation just a cover for your real passion, espionage?
(Laughs.) Wouldn’t you like to know?
Yes, I definitely would.
Sadly, no, I was never approached by the C.I.A. to be a secret agent. I’ve always dreamt of having some sort of undercover job. I think it’s probably the coolest thing in the world, but ultimately a very lonely life.
What about Ariana’s celebrity? I don’t think anybody would accuse you of being a socialite heiress, but you did have a privileged upbringing.
Absolutely I did. But my parents never spoiled me. It was never like “Here’s a credit card, get whatever you want!” So I was more of an outside observer of that kind of girl. I went to school with the Hiltons and the Kardashians, but I never really related to that lifestyle.
You didn’t secretly wish you could be Kim Kardashian’s BFF?
Well of course, there’s always been a little bit of that, especially when I was younger. You can’t grow up surrounded by all that and not feel a little bit of envy. At the time, it seemed like for those kind of girls, the world was their oyster. But in hindsight, it feels more like a cautionary tale. All that status and wealth doesn’t make the world your oyster. It’s more like the most oppressive thing ever.
That path leads to bulimia, amphetamine addiction and up to eighty-two minutes in jail.
(Laughs.) Yeah, there aren’t many opportunities past that socialite lifestyle. I mean, what are your options? You end up working for a fashion magazine as a “consultant” or you do a reality show or you make a sex tape. There aren’t a ton of choices.
Are you worried that some readers might pick up Frenemy for the wrong reasons?
What are the wrong reasons?
Not everybody will care about the subtext of celebrity culture. They’ll just be like, “A hot chick in tight clothes kicking ass? Sweet!”
No, no, that’s great. I’m all about hot chicks kicking ass! Admittedly, I came up with the idea because I feel like there aren’t a lot of good female role models. So I thought, why not take something that’s essentially a destructive role model for women and turn it around, empower her and give her an interesting struggle. Maybe some people will just think she’s a hot chick, but that’s good enough for me. I’m fine with that.
I guess it comes with the territory. Look at a TV show like Alias. Sydney Bristow was an empowering, incredibly independent superspy. But that didn’t stop teenage boys from watching the show without pants.
And good for them. That’s awesome. Those are the people who are the most diehard fans. Alias was a huge, huge inspiration for this and for me in general. I just absolutely loved that show. If we can even come close to that level of dynamism in Ariana, and get even a fraction of their fan base, that would be incredible.
I may be wrong, but it seems like all the best female action heroes are written by men. J.J. Abrams did Alias, Joss Whedon did Buffy the Vampire Slayer…
I know, what is that all about?
Guys just have a more vivid imagination when it comes to chicks that kick ass?
I think it’s a way of playing out whatever adolescent fantasies they had growing up. It’s their way of creating their ideal woman.
So it’s their Frankenstein monster but with perkier boobs?
But it’s not just a sexual thing. Buffy and Alias, for all intents and purposes, are very feminist characters. With Joss and J.J., you’re not going to meet two guys who love and understand women better.
Did you read comics as a kid?
To be honest, I mostly read Archie comics. Maybe that’s what inspired the female relationships in Frenemy.
In the Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle, who did you root for?
I was definitely a Betty for the majority of my life. Veronica was a little too snooty for me. Also, she was super popular, and I just couldn’t relate to that. I was well-liked among my high school peers but I wasn’t popular. It wasn’t like the guys were drooling all over me.
I read Archie occasionally, but only because I hoped Betty and Veronica’s rivalry would lead to a catfight.
I was always waiting for a make out. My entire purpose for reading that comic was waiting for one of them to make out with Archie.
You liked Archie? He struck me as kinda a tool.
(Laughs.) Yeah, I’d have to agree with that. I don’t think he was very deserving of all that female attention. But growing up, I gotta be honest, I was really into him.
He’s so clean-cut and prudish. Why no love for Jughead?
It wasn’t his time yet. In the 2000s, because of guys like Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, I think the Jugheads of the world are on the forefront of sexy times.
Maybe it’s the crown, but there’s something about him that makes me think Jughead’s into the freaky stuff.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think when Jughead becomes an adult, when he finally figures out who he is and what he’s good at, he might be the one to watch. He’s going to be the hot, sexy, dirty one.
You gotta be careful of guys like that. Flirting with Jughead is how a girl ends up on TMZ.
(Laughs.) I know, I know.
You were at the center of some tabloid gossip recently, with the whole “Rashida and John Mayer sitting in a tree” rumor. Does that make you crazy?
Not really. I think you get to a certain level—and I’m talking about him, not me—and anything you do is under a magnifying glass. The mistake is thinking you can somehow control the situation or that you’ll somehow be able to change people’s minds about you. The media is a beast. It’s impenetrable, and you can’t win. It’s not like having a relationship with somebody where you just keep trying and eventually you find a way to understand each other. The media has too many tentacles now, and if you try to control it, you will fail. I’ve tried to understand it, I’ve tried to shut it down, but you just can’t. You shouldn’t even bother. And that’s not just about being famous. I feel like that’s part of becoming an adult, too. You realize that you can’t control what people think of you, so you just kind of give up.
Given the level of maturity in your last answer, I suppose it’d be kind of stupid of me to follow up with something like, “Seriously, are you dating John Mayer?”
(Laughs.) Probably, yeah.
Let me just ask this: To the best of your knowledge, is your body a wonderland?
(Laughs.) I’m pretty sure that my body is not a wonderland. Last time I checked, it was not in any way a wonderland.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com