Rashida Jones Rebelled From Her Parents By Going to Harvard

That'll show 'em.

Rashida Jones
Photo: Sam Jones

Rashida Jones knows how to get a laugh onscreen, but the actress and Harvard graduate tends toward pragmatism in her personal life. On this week's episode of Ladies First with Laura Brown, Jones explains that being a realist was sort of her way of rebelling from her creative family.

Growing up with parents like legendary musician and producer Quincy Jones and The Mod Squad actress Peggy Lipton, the Parks and Recreation star was introduced to a Hollywood lifestyle at a young age, like meeting-ET-on-a-Tuesday-Hollywood.

"My mom picked me up from school and was like, 'I have a surprise,'" Jones tells Brown. "And under my uniform I was wearing my ET T-shirt of course, because I was obsessed and I had my ET doll, and they took me to go meet ET. You know, that's just weird. That's not normal."

But to younger Rashida, this was completely normal. It wasn't until someone pointed it out that she realized her upbringing was much different than most people's. "When you're in it, you just don't know until you have some experience where somebody else verifies that they think it's weird."

Rashida Jones on Pragmatism: Episode 20: April 20, 2021

InStyle Ladies First with Laura Brown

So getting away from Hollywood was her next act of rebellion. And what's the opposite of warm, sunny Hollywood? A chilly college outside of Boston, maybe you've heard of it? Yup, the Harvard University. "I think that was my version of rebelling because I had these artist parents, and I thought that was the way to kind of individuate."

But it wasn't long until she found her way back to the arts. In fact, theater actually saved her mental health. "My sophomore year of college, I suffered my first bout of depression, which I had never really had, and I don't think I shared it, I didn't talk to anybody, and I didn't see anybody for it," she explains. She says landing a few parts in school productions pulled her out of her slump.

"It was so full on, and I had to talk to the audience and kind of pour my heart out and be present and all that stuff. And I think there was something about it. It was so electrifying, it just helped me to push through."

Of course, after her days at Harvard, Jones went on to steal the little screen in the massively popular comedies The Office and Parks and Recreation, the latter being an experience Jones describes as "the best education."

"I mean, you just become so adept at keeping the ball in the air and keeping the story alive,
she says. "And then also figuring out what your funny is and how that is different than the people around you. Because nobody on that show has the same version of funny. There was no competition on that show. Everybody was in their lane in the best way possible."

These days, she has found a silver lining in staying home. She says the pandemic has afforded her the chance to slow down and really become content with taking it easy. But don't get it twisted, this actress has still been working hard. In October, she released On the Rocks with Bill Murray, and in November, she started a podcast with none other than Bill Gates called Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions.

"I think we both share this idea of, 'how do we collectively fix problems?'" She explains. "This thing has sort of organically taken shape, which is that he is an optimist. And I tend to be a realist, a pragmatist, if you will. And that's a good contrast, you know."

"Luckily he's the optimist," she adds. "I'm glad that the guy with all of the money is the optimist."

If Jones and Gates seem like a mismatched pair, you can credit their banter to her signature boldness, which stems from confidence she says she gained with age and now applies in all sorts of situations. Like, making conversation with acquaintances at dinner.

"I wasn't sure what I had in common, and I decided to start talking about vaginas," she recalls. "I knew everybody there had one and wanted to talk about it on some level. Truly, people started talking about it and it was a whole different conversation." To find out who that conversation was with, and how far she took it, listen to this week's Ladies First podcast, above.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple, PlayerFM, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. And tune in weekly to Ladies First with Laura Brown hosted by InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown, who speaks to guests like Michelle Pfeiffer, Emily Ratajkowski, Cynthia Erivo, Naomi Watts, La La Anthony, Ellen Pompeo, Rep. Katie Porter, and more to discuss current events, politics, some fashion, and, most importantly, the major firsts in their lives.

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