Rashida Jones on making 'the definitive movie' about her dad, Quincy Jones
Attempting to document the life and career of Quincy Jones in just two hours is a formidable task. But Quincy, the upcoming Netflix project that delves into the world of the legendary music producer, had a secret weapon: Jones’s daughter, Rashida Jones.
“We wanted to make the definitive movie about his life,” the Parks and Rec star tells EW. Jones, who co-directed the film with Alan Hicks (Keep on Keepin’ On) set out to create more than just a portrait of Quincy’s music. They wanted to explore the human behind it. Winding through his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Chicago to his early work with the Dizzy Gillespie Band to producing some of the most significant pieces of music in the 20th Century (Michael Jackson’s Thriller), Quincy aims for a balanced portrayal between star producer and proud friend and father.
Still, Jones admits they weren’t able to cover it all. “There’s stuff that didn’t make the movie because you just can’t do everything,” she says. “The one that really stands out to me is [Jackson’s] Bad. We don’t even have time to cover that.”
Jones spoke with EW ahead of the film’s Sept. 21 premiere about the experience of filming her dad, delving into family history, and the eyebrow-raising interview Quincy gave earlier this year.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your dad is one of the most important and celebrated figures in music. How do you approach directing a project where he is the subject?
RASHIDA JONES: As much as my dad’s career has been followed and celebrated, nobody quite has the same relationship that I have been lucky enough to have with him. And I think there are so many things that are missing from the documentation of his life because he’s so accomplished. There’s never even time to get to who he is as a person, which is very much connected to why he’s so successful as an artist. For Al and I, it was important that we got to his heart, and how that’s connected with his work.
There are some really poignant family moments in this, including scenes with your dad in the hospital. Did you ever wrestle with showing that footage to the public?
I am so protective of my dad, and obviously, that’s a very intimate story to tell. My brother shot some of that stuff in the hospital, and then I shot some. Really, we did it for him, because we wanted him to be able to see where he was so that he wouldn’t forget and he would take care of himself. That was the original intention. I think I could tell that story, because I know he’s a responder and a survivor. And I know that he thrives from being able to look at death and the possibility of death, and then reorganize from there. That’s what I think made me comfortable doing it. It was certainly not an easy decision. And the first couple of times that I watched the scene where it was in the movie, it for sure made me uncomfortable. But I also felt like if we’re gonna tell this story, we have to really tell the story. I don’t want to pull punches.
So how do you balance your personal relationship with him versus your job as a director not pulling punches?
It’s intense to spend a lot of time with a parent, and I am so protective of him, and I love him so much. And then also, he can drive me crazy, like any kid with any parent. So, it was a professional balance that I had to achieve, where I had to go take care of myself sometimes, and then sometimes I had to give myself over to what was necessary for the film.
Your mom, Peggy Lipton, plays a big role in Quincy as well. Was she hesitant to talk about her relationship with your dad?
My mom was really, really incredible and generous through this process. My parents are so close, and that really makes it easier, because it all comes from a place of love. My mom is so empathetic towards my dad, but it also was incredibly raw for her to go through what she went through and admit that the relationship didn’t work out. But because they still know and love each other, I think that really helped. The thing about my dad’s life is the people that he’s touched, even when things don’t work out and people are hurt, he does seem to keep those people orbiting around. Like, our Thanksgiving dinners are still the ex-wives and the ex-girlfriends. For the most part, everybody’s kept the peace, because he keeps it about love, you know?
Earlier this year, a Vulture interview — where your dad discussed Richard Pryor and Marlon Brando’s alleged affair and criticized Paul McCartney, among others — went viral. How did the family handle that?
My dad stopped drinking a couple years ago. So I think his brain kind of started to process things differently. It’s not who he is. I was upset when the interviews came out because I think there was a lot of context that was missing. And that’s nobody’s fault. He just all of a sudden started telling this reporter things, but because he has so much in his brain and so much experience in his life, he wasn’t providing any context for any of these stories, so they just sounded chaotic and non-linear, and some things didn’t make a lot of sense. He had a moment, but it’s not who he is, and I know he felt really awful about it. I think maybe he forgot he was talking to a member of the press. He’s 85. What can you say? By the way, anybody who has a relative who’s 85 who had that platform, I’m gonna tell you right now, some crazy s— is gonna be said.
You anchored the film around the opening of the National Museum Of African American History And Culture. Why was that important?
The sociopolitical climate changed while we were working on the film. And although we always wanted to tell my dad’s personal story in a parallel way to the race story of this country, it felt more relevant than ever as we approached the release of the movie. The museum is … I mean, there are no words for it. The way it’s laid out, the bottom floor is a giant floor, and it’s all pre-slave trade Africa. And then it’s slavery. Then the next floor is Jim Crow. And then you get to civil rights, and by the time you get to the floor where my dad is in the movie, it’s a celebration of music. This country that was built on a platform of racism and kidnapping. And in the last 50 years, all of these incredible black figures have emerged out of the most hellish oppressive circumstances, unavoidable circumstances. So these giant floors of hundreds of years of history, and then there are 50 years of survival and celebration. My dad, he’s 85. He was born in Chicago in the ‘30s. He traces that meteoric rise and survival and success of the black voice in America. And there was just a really nice parallel there to focus on in the movie. And also, we wanted to show that he’s hard at work still, and he’s hard at work in a way where he still cares about the culture.
Did you learn anything surprising about your dad while making this?
This pattern that he has where he works himself into a tizzy, and then he has some sort of health crisis where he realizes he can’t do it anymore, and then he kind of returns to family and the things that are important. I don’t think I realized how many times he’s done that. I would say the only other thing is his need to survive through music. And I don’t think I really appreciated how important it was for him, and how difficult it must’ve been to leave that behind and run and continue to have forward motion in order to survive. He chose love to survive, and I don’t think that really occurred to me until I fully started piecing the movie together.
Quincy hits Netflix on Sept. 21.