Rashida Jones talks acting opposite a robot in ‘Sunny’: She was a ‘high-maintenance co-star’

In Entertainment
July 09, 2024
Rashida Jones talks acting opposite a robot in ‘Sunny’: She was a ‘high-maintenance co-star’

Rashida Jones relies on an unlikely sisterhood — including Sunny, a chirpy femme robot — to help her sort through a mysterious plane crash linked to the disappearance of her husband and son in the new series Sunny.

The dark comedy, which is adapted from sci-fi novel The Dark Manual by Colin O’Sullivan and premieres July 10 on Apple TV+, stars Jones as Suzie, a cynical American in a near-future Kyoto, Japan, who navigates this mystery alongside: an eager local bartender, Mixxy (annie the clumsy); her contentious Japanese mother-in-law, Noriko Sakamoto (Judy Ongg); and a domestic robot that arrives as a “consolation” from her husband’s tech company, which Suzie finds both suspicious and highly annoying.

Suzie has made a habit of using her prickly personality to shut people out, including her husband, Masa Sakamoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima).

“I think Suzie’s a little bit more resistant to having any community, but she’s forced into friendship, even with her mother-in-law, who just doesn’t really like her,” Jones told Yahoo Entertainment. “They don’t like each other very much, but I think their love of Masa makes them kind of grow closer.”

Rashida Jones as Suzie searches for clues in her husband Masa's (Hidetoshi Nishijima) disappearance in

Rashida Jones as Suzie searches for clues in her husband Masa’s (Hidetoshi Nishijima) disappearance in “Sunny.” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

In her own life, Jones said her female friends and family “are critical to my livelihood.”

“I depend so much on my sisters and my chosen sisters and all the women in my life,” she said.

The daughter of music mogul Quincy Jones and the late actress Peggy Lipton, Rashida has two sisters — Kidada Jones and half-sister Kenya Kinski-Jones. She also has a community she’s built from college at Harvard, on her various series and films, as well as at her production company, Le Train Train, which also produced Sunny, with Rashida earning an executive producer credit alongside her leading role.

Series creator Katie Robbins, who adapted the show from the novel, stressed the importance of female friendships in the series, even changing Sunny the robot from male to female.

“Suzie is this person who, when we first meet her, is kind of an island to herself,” she explained, “and it actually is in these relationships with these women — with Mixxy, with Sunny, with Noriko — that kind of draws her out.”

From left: Rashida Jones, Sunny the robot and annie the clumsy form an unlikely friendship in

From left: Rashida Jones, Sunny the robot and annie the clumsy form an unlikely friendship in “Sunny.” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

Jones, who is perhaps best known for her affably witty roles on The Office and Parks and Recreation, plays against type as Suzie, which was “sort of a relief.”

“As actors, it’s really fun to be able to do something that feels slightly different from you and slightly different from what people expect from you,” she said. “It was nice to be somebody else.”

That somebody else — Suzie’s balance of likability and edge — wasn’t an easy needle to thread, according to Lucy Tcherniak, who directed five episodes of the series. She told Yahoo that Jones found empathy in a character that embodied “sardonic prickliness.”

“Finding someone that could play both that type of very specific brand of comedy, but also have real depth to them, was, you know, it was hard to find that person,” she said. “And I think Rashida really, really nails it.”

Nailing the role with other human actors is one thing, but nailing it with a robot is something else entirely — something that Jones says she appreciated.

“Sunny was a high-maintenance co-star,” Jones said, referring to not only the robot itself but also the elaborate design and technology that saw actress Joanna Sotomura voicing the role as well as providing Sunny’s expressions through a multi-robot process. (Sotomura donned a separate device that captured her expressions in real time — while she was sitting off camera — and transferred them to Sunny’s facial screen.)

“Joanna infused so much life into Sunny,” Jones explained. “There were moments when I really felt like, ‘Oh, this sweet, thoughtful, complicated robot person.’ But it was very technical, and so I was very quickly reminded that it was not a real thing. It was all acting from both sides.”

While Robbins won’t say if there will be a Season 2 of Sunny — ”We’re focused on Season 1 right now,” she said — Jones celebrates the female friendships and community formed during this series so far, calling them a necessity and saying that ultimately that’s what the show is all about anyway.

“You cannot live without that,” Jones said.

Sunny starts streaming July 10 on Apple TV+.

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