A Conversation Between Nicole Richie & Rashida Jones

Nicole Richie is a Virgo who is comfortable with the fact that life is a series of ebbs and flows. Her fellow Hollywood Renaissance woman Rashida Jones is on the same page, if not in the same zone of the astrological chart. Both daughters of famous singers who grew up in the starry heart of Los Angeles, Richie and Jones have been super tight for decades, long before fame, iconic TV shows, and everything else kicked in. It’s a friendship that, even to an outsider listening in on their phone conversation, feels inevitable.
That’s just one reason we tapped Jones for this interview with Richie: Who better to draw out the true you than a friend you’ve known forever? Another is that, as a celebrity herself, Jones intimately understands that life behind the lens isn’t always what it seems; it’s a perspective that’s especially valuable in this particular instance, given that, when Richie first debuted on the small screen, she was performing a funhouse mirror version of herself that got mistaken for her actual personality. That girl we encountered on The Simple Life was only a character she played on TV. But the woman who originated that part is wicked smart and laugh-out-loud hilarious — not to mention a person who wants to be known for something other than portraying herself.
On a sublimely sunny SoCal afternoon, the childhood besties hopped on a call to talk about what’s new in Richie World. The answer, if you’ve been keeping up with Thursday night network lineups, is a lot. But her new gig is only part of the story. At 35, Richie is reinventing herself all over again in a way that’s relatively unprecedented for a former reality star — not that we should be surprised, since she’s pretty much the poster child for a certain brand of mercuriality. This month, she’s adding actress to her list of done-that’s. As an anchorwoman named Portia on NBC’s Great News, which debuts April 25, she puts her natural comedic chops on full display. She even got the coveted Tina Fey stamp of approval.
Still, the newbie actress was understandably anxious about joining a seasoned ensemble. But Richie handled her nervousness the way she does most things in life: by being honest and rolling with the punches. That first day on set, she announced to everyone in earshot that she had zero clue what she was doing — so please, folks, pass along the pointers and criticisms. Anything to help her up her acting game.
It’s that kind of radical openness that has paved her unconventional path to stardom. But for Richie, it’s not about chasing fame, or roles — or anything, really. “It’s about how I’m spending my time here,” she tells Jones. It’s about letting things unfold. “What I’m working on right now is setting up my life.” Find out what that means — and much more — in their full Q&A below.
Photographed by Emily Shur.
Rashida Jones: “Hi, Nicole.”
Nicole Richie: “Hi, Rashida.”
RJ: “How are you?”
NR: “I'm really good. I wish we were together on this sunny day.”
RJ: “I wish we were together, too. It feels weird to talk on the phone. I don’t think we've talked on the phone for, like, maybe five years?”
NR: “The only reason why you and I actually get on the phone, like the real phone with no texting, is if we're breaking something down, and there are details that need to be disclosed.”
RJ: “Right. And also things that you don’t really want in writing.”
NR: “Yes, like secretive things [laughs].”
RJ: “Anyway — I'm gonna start from, like, the present and go backward, because I have questions about your new show, and I guess your career pivot, we could say? It's not really a change, but a pivot.”
NR: “Okay.”
RJ: “How did you get this part? It feels like a very coveted project for anybody, not to mention the struggling actors in comedy in the L.A. scene.”
NR: “It almost felt like it came out of nowhere. My manager called me and he told me about this script, and he said, ‘I want you to read it, I want you to read it in a very real way.’ I did and I was obsessed with the writing and the comedy and just the rhythm of it. So I went to audition. I auditioned for it three times. And then I got it, and we were shooting about six days later. It was very, very fast.”
Photographed by Emily Shur.
RJ: “As somebody who has known you for a really, really long time, I would put funny at the top of the list of things that you are. You're just naturally funny. This is sort of a different thing, though, because you're acting. Did you feel nervous in making that transition in any way?”
NR: “Oh, my gosh, I was intimidated on every level. First of all, these people had already shot a pilot, so they already knew each other. So I was really walking in not only as the girl who just got her first acting role as a regular on a series, but also as just the new kid on the block. It is the best set to be on. When I tell you how, like, lovely and warm and welcoming everybody is, I'm not exaggerating one bit.”
RJ: “Now you play a…”
NR: “John Michael Higgins and I are the co-anchors of the news show.”
RJ: “I mean, be honest: I have a secret dream of anchoring a show. Was this role a little bit of wish fulfillment for you?”
NR: “I need to have a little more room to throw in my opinions. There's no room for that on a news set. You're a talking head. That’s it. I need a little bass in my life, you know? A little rocking back and forth. A drumroll every now and then.”
RJ: “You’re very good off-the-cuff, and I wouldn’t want you to be robbed of that. But I can picture you in a talk show scenario, breaking it down with somebody and getting to the essence of their issues.”
NR: “Well, I feel very responsible playing Portia. I feel like a true adult — and that does not come often.”
RJ: “Interesting. So, let's talk about what it means to be an adult. We've known each other as children and as teenagers and as young adults. And kind-of-adults now…”
NR: “We are, but I don’t — not only do I not look at myself as an adult, I don’t look at you as one. I do in the sense of, I'm so proud of you and everything that you’ve accomplished, and it's so amazing. But when I’m talking to you, it’s like I'm 18 again, and we're sneaking into our rooms to break it down over the phone.”
RJ: “That’s true. I mean, thank you for saying that you don’t think of me as an adult. Because sometimes I feel so adult that there's no going back. So I'm happy to hear that you can still see that part of me.”
NR: “I have those areas too, yes. When I'm just hanging with you, I feel — actually, I feel my youngest.”
RJ: “That’s so nice to hear because I was gonna say, and I mean this as a compliment, I feel like you have become such an adult. And by that I mean you're such a responsible, calming force. You have a steadiness about you that I really admire, and I think you’ve done a nice job of cultivating your life as an adult. So I just want to ask if you felt like there was a turning point for you as a young person when you were like, I gotta get my shit together. It's time…”
NR: “No, there wasn’t. Because life, it's just ongoing; energy is ongoing. We just keep moving forward. For me, it's been very gradual. Like I just said, there are times that I don’t even feel like an adult. I feel like one when I'm a mom and when I'm sitting in my office sometimes. I'm taking on new challenges in my life now. I’m challenging myself now just as much as I was being challenged back when I was a teenager. And learning, I would say, even more now than I was even interested in learning back when I was a teenager.
“And it's so much fun when you get to that place. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it happens when you are young. I do think that people have a different appreciation for education. I don’t take it for granted in the way that I did. Once I got to a place where I loved learning, loved educating myself, then it just opened up a whole new world for me. That’s why I feel like I'm not done growing, and therefore, I don’t feel like a full adult yet.”
RJ: “You can tell me if you don’t want to talk about this, but I remember the day you showed me The Simple Life, and it was hilarious. You guys were kind of making fun of yourself, like you knew what you were doing, and that was the basis of the show. How do you feel about the way things have changed in that genre of TV?”
NR: “Well, when we did The Simple Life, remember the only other reality shows that were on were The Real World and The Osbournes. And The Simple Life was neither of those. It was actually me leaving my life for 30 days and going and planting myself in somebody else's life. It was always a safe kind of thing for me to do, because I always kept my sense of home and family somewhat private. I wouldn’t have done it if I had to bring cameras into my own house. I'm a Virgo and I love to have my alone time and my own private space.”
RJ: “Well, I do feel like that’s always been how you are. You have an outward persona and you know how to play it on a level where it never bumps up against your level of comfort, which I think is really admirable. Sometimes the outside world wants to know everything about you and they want access to your life, and it can become a giant burden. It's hard to know how to create those boundaries, and I think you’ve always had an instinct to have them. So I think scripted television is very good for you in that way.”
NR: “It not only took work, but it takes work. Learning your own boundaries is something that, for me, I had to learn just as they started coming. I wasn’t just born understanding myself and knowing what my boundaries were. It was something that over the course of the years I've had to say, um, this works for me and this doesn’t work for me. I'm the type of person where it kind of has to happen first and then I can make the decision of, okay, this is actually what I'm okay with and this is what I'm not. The key is to be okay with knowing that you are you, and some people are okay with things that you're not gonna be okay with, you know? And you have to do what's right for you and just live in the truth. Because if you're doing it for something else, it just never goes right.”
RJ: “With that being said — you know I think about this all the time — had I come of age during social media, I can't…”
NR: “I would have been a monster!”
RJ: “Right. Like it just would have been — I mean do you think that you would have embraced it and gone, like, whole hog into it?”
NR: “Oh, it would have been so sloppy. I think about it all the time. I'm like, [gasps], thank God, oh, no, no, no, no, no. That would have been so bad. That would have been so bad!”
RJ: “The thing is you can't make mistakes now the way that we were allowed to make so many mistakes. We weren't in a pressure cooker. You could just make the mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Now it's like it follows you forever.”
NR: “And by the way, I got caught — everything I did, and we didn’t even have camera phones! And I still figured out how to get caught every time I did something wrong. Can you imagine? I'm telling you, I'm like, ugh, thank God I was born in 1981.”
RJ: “I know, I know. I feel lucky in a lot of ways to not be a millennial. It's a real blessing.”
NR: “It is a blessing.”
RJ: “Do you have fantasies of running away from everything? I mean, I know — like I said, you're comfortable with your outward persona, but sometimes it can be difficult because it's part of our business. So do you have a fantasy of kind of living in the woods and just being like, 'Bye, world'?”
NR: “Well, no, because I really love my life and I love that I get to wake up in the morning and work on House of Harlow and get to do this show. Being out in the world and being social isn't my favorite thing, but I don’t necessarily have to do that. And I've been able to find places that are close to L.A. that I can drive to and get away for a weekend and enjoy nature. Being outside is very important to me. And I feel like you’re the same, right?”
RJ: “I mean, no. Sometimes I have, like, real off-the-grid fantasies, like really. Just, like, peace. Peace out, world!”
NR: “Yeah. There are times when I go on tour with Joel and we are in, like, I couldn’t even tell you the names of these towns that we're in. And I get to go and, like, just be a mom and find a kids’ museum and do it. So I have that in my life.”
RJ: “That’s good, that’s really good. Now people ask me all the time about growing up in L.A. and having a celebrity parent. And they ask me why I'm so normal, which I guess…”
NR: “Yeah, and you're like, what? I don’t know…”
RJ: “I know.”
NR: “It’s like, what do you want me to say to that?”
RJ: “I know, exactly. But I guess I always kind of give credit to my parents, because there was definitely the temptation, as you and I both know. We knew a lot of people who had absolutely no supervision. When you think about being a parent in L.A. and you and your husband being a bit known, what's the thing that you do to make sure you guys and your kids don’t get swept up in it? Besides not going out, how do you battle the kind of ever-insatiable, hungry monster of Hollywood?”
NR: “Well, for Joel and me it's very important. And it's just been this way since day one. It's extremely important to us for our kids to be kids, to have a full-blown childhood. And that is the life we’ve created for [them]. Not that there's anything wrong with taking your kids here and there, and sometimes we do and that's really fun, but family and togetherness and just developing a strong closeness and trust with our kids right now, especially at this age, is the most important thing to us. So, that is where we spend most of our time. We are a few years away from my daughter being a teenager. Now is the time for me to really have some one-on-one time with her, for me to hang out with her friends, to do things that she's interested in. And what we both do is just try and pour our interest into what the kids are interested in. We ask them what they want to do. And if it's going to a movie, we just try to keep it enjoyable. And by the way, I like to do that. I like to go to the mall — it's fun…going to Dippin' Dots!”
RJ: “Dippin' Dots. So good. I love Dippin' Dots! We're kind of running out of time, so I'm just gonna jump around here. We obviously live in a different era as of three months ago — how do you feel about the confluence of being in the public eye and using your voice politically? You know there's been a lot of talk about it; I feel like there was a lot of kind of slander about Hollywood elite, blah, blah, blah. It was sort of painted as this enemy by the Republican party. Do you feel any responsibility? Do you like to keep those things separate? What's your vibe there?”
NR: “I don’t have a strong need to stay silent for the obvious reason, like that’s not the feeling in me. But there is so much happening right now and it's happening on a daily basis. And it's important for me, for my own understanding, to almost try and take a step back and let it sit for a second just so I can even understand it.
“I think that we all are in a place of just trying to understand this new way of the world. And for me, as somebody who has only been like really interested in politics in any sort of real way for the past eight years, that’s not a long time. The one good thing coming out of all this is people are engaged and they're learning and they're listening and they are involved. You know this country can't be what it is — it can't just be amazing because it once was and we're just gonna keep it going. I mean we all have to stand for something eventually and that’s what we're doing. Those are the moves that we are making right now.”
RJ: “You’ve done so many things up to now. You are a designer; you have had several shows, both in the reality and the scripted space; you have a great family. What does your life look like in 10 years? What does your career look like in 10 years?”
NR: “I think I'm setting up my career now. I'm building House of Harlow, building it out as a lifestyle brand, just getting into this new chapter of acting, raising a family. You know that’s what I'm working on right now, is kind of setting up my life and doing things that I enjoy. Because it's not about the endgame for me; it's about how I'm spending my time here.”
RJ: “Will you continue to challenge yourself and go into different spaces as time goes on?”
NR: “Probably. It feels like I gravitate towards that.”
RJ: “That’s great. Well, I believe in you.”
NR: “You know what, Rashida? I believe in you.”

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