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Friends With Your Ex? Rashida Jones Understands

Aug 3, 2012
Originally published on August 3, 2012 6:06 pm

Don't be fooled by the title of Rashida Jones' new movie: It's called Celeste and Jesse Forever, but Celeste and Jesse, played by Jones and Andy Samberg, are not forever — in fact, they're getting divorced. And they have a weird way of dealing with it: They keep spending time together as if they were best friends.

For much of her TV and movie career, Jones has played girlfriend characters who are funny, loving and kind. But when she got the chance to write and star in her own film, she cast herself as a complex character — a woman who's definitely funny, but a little more complicated when it comes to being loving and kind.

Jones, who co-wrote Celeste and Jesse with Will McCormack, talks with NPR's Audie Cornish about acting, writing and the complications of falling in and out of love.


Interview Highlights

On the chemistry between Celeste and Jesse at the beginning of the film

"You start to realize why they're not together throughout the course of the movie. We wanted to show a couple that maybe is not in love anymore, but there's still all these elements about their friendship that they don't want to lose. So selfishly they try to find a way to seamlessly transition into friendship, which turns out to be impossible."

On finding inspiration in When Harry Met Sally

"I would be lying if I said we didn't set out to borrow and steal from the best parts of that movie because [co-writer] Will [McCormack] and I absolutely love that movie. We humbly set out to do what When Harry Met Sally did so well. They asked this question: Can women and men be friends? I guess the answer is they can't, because they end up together. But we were hoping to ask a similar cultural question right now, which is: Can you be friends with your ex? Can you just go into being friends with you ex?"

On modern relationships and how we define them

"We're still figuring out what it means to be in a modern relationship, and it's changing so much. I think people are feeling like they can be the ones to define what that relationship is, whether it's an open relationship, or being with someone for 10 years, having children, and then meeting the love of your life after that. Or living together when you have broken up and seeing other people. There are all these kind of new iterations of relationships.

"So in a way, this is a story about your first love. And what do you do with the love you feel for your first love? Can you take it with you, can it still be a part of your life, can you integrate it into your life? Do you have to let them go forever to move on? Can you be friends eventually? It's complicated. And it's something I relate to strongly."

On when she started writing

"[I didn't start writing seriously] until four years ago. I always wanted to do it. I actually just recently found a thing I wrote in the third grade about 'What are you going to be when you're older?' And I talked about wanting to write movies, which I must have buried deep in my subconscious because I don't remember ever having that as a dream. In college, I had a lot of friends who were writers and wanted to be writers and I felt intimidated by it. I just didn't know if I had any gift or voice and I had no confidence about it.

"And then just out of necessity I was waiting around, I was in a holding deal with acting, and I thought: Maybe this is the time. And I just said to Will, 'Let's just sit down and write every day and if something great comes out of it, great. If it sucks, nobody ever has to see it. But if we have something let's see if it's good and let's give it to friends.'"

On finding parts that fit

"After college I moved to New York and was auditioning, and I got one job in a year, which is weirdly kind of good odds-wise. But I was really surprised by how hard it was. I didn't really fit into one thing. I was too quirky to play a lead girl but I was too exotic to play the stable best friend. ... I would try out to play women of color and they'd be like, 'You're not dark enough.' And then I would try to play a surfer babe and they'd be like, 'You're too exotic, we want somebody who kind of looks like the girl next door.' My personality maybe doesn't match what I look like.

"I think every actor has this story where they don't fit in until they do. And that's fine. I still got work and I was able to support myself. Then, when I was 30, I just had a major lull where I just wasn't getting any work and I considered going back to school. I got some applications for grad school. Then, I got The Office and that kind of changed everything for me."

On what's next

"Will and I are still writing. We adapted my comic book [Frenemy of the State] for Universal so we'll see if they make it. And I just filmed another movie in London. I'm just going to try to play it out. I think I probably have to go play some pretty serious, dark parts. I might need to play a murderer or a drug addict soon because I've been so dependable and reliable and pragmatic for so long in my roles. ... I think it would be nice to try to expand a little bit and challenge myself and see if I can do something different."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. For much of her TV and movie career, Rashida Jones has played girlfriend characters who were funny, loving and kind. When she got the chance to write her own film, she crafted a complex character for herself who isn't always so kind and not so skilled at understanding love.

The movie is called "Celeste and Jesse Forever," but as you'll hear in this clip, Celeste and Jesse are not forever and they have a funny way of dealing with it as their best friends not so gently point out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER")

ARI GRAYNOR: (as Beth) What the - are you two doing?

RASHIDA JONES: (as Celeste) What do you mean?

ANDY SAMBERG: (as Jesse) Yeah. What do you mean?

GRAYNOR: What do I mean? You two are not together. It's not normal, OK? You guys have been separated for six months. You're getting divorced, all right? And you spend every day together hanging out as if, like, it's no big deal. Guess what? It's - weird.

SAMBERG: (as Jesse) Beth, I don't think this is...

GRAYNOR: (as Beth) No. Tell me what you think - stick up for yourself.

ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN: (as Tucker) All right. You know what? Let's not play charades. It's weird.

JONES: (as Celeste) There's no charades...

SAMBERG: (as Jesse) No charades.

JONES: (as Celeste) ...being played here.

SAMBERG: (as Jesse) No charading.

JONES: (as Celeste) No. We are separated and we're friends. You guys should be happy. We used to fight all the time. We don't anymore.

SAMBERG: (as Jesse) Yeah. You should be thrilled. You don't have to choose sides. It's the perfect breakup.

JONES: (as Celeste) Yeah. Everyone's cool.

GRAYNOR: (as Beth) Everyone is not cool.

OLSEN: (as Tucker) Not cool.

GRAYNOR: (as Beth) Nothing is cool here.

CORNISH: Yeah. Everyone is not cool.

JONES: Everyone is not cool, as you find out in the film pretty quickly. Like, literally, everybody is not cool, not even them. I think they think - you know, I think Celeste and Jesse think that they can outsmart the natural course of getting over someone, arriving at a new phase in life, and the truth is you can't.

CORNISH: Because Jesse lives in the back of their house. They're separated and...

JONES: Yeah.

CORNISH: For the first two minutes of the film, they look so in love.

JONES: And happy, yeah.

CORNISH: And the chemistry of it. Though, even though I knew the plot point was coming, when they said it...

JONES: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...I found myself being like, what?

JONES: Right, right. We wanted to do that on purpose because I do think that you start to realize why they're not together through the course of the movie, but you know, we wanted to show a couple that maybe is not in love anymore, but there are still all these elements about their friendship that they don't want to lose. And so, selfishly, they try to, you know, find a way to seamlessly transition into friendship, which is, you know, turns out to be impossible.

CORNISH: Now, their chemistry is so engaging. You and Andy Samberg, who plays the role of Jesse - he's really great in this and it reminded me of another film, which I'll play a clip of.

JONES: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WHEN HARRY MET SALLY")

BILLY CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) Please, to repeat after me. Pepper.

MEG RYAN: (as Sally Albright) Pepper.

CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) Pepper.

RYAN: (as Sally Albright) Pepper.

CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) Pepper.

RYAN: (as Sally Albright) Pepper.

CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) Pepper.

RYAN: (as Sally Albright) Pepper.

CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.

RYAN: (as Sally Albright) Waiter, there is too much...

CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) There is too much pepper...

RYAN: (as Sally Albright) ...pepper...

CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) ...on my paprikash.

RYAN: (as Sally Albright) ...on my paprikash.

CRYSTAL: (as Harry Burns) But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.

JONES: So, as a student of the genre, I mean, that's the biggest compliment you could possibly...

CORNISH: And that, of course, is "When Harry Met Sally."

JONES: Yeah.

CORNISH: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.

JONES: Definitely a classic. Yeah. I mean, I would be lying if I said we didn't set out to borrow and steal from the best parts of that movie because I just absolutely - Will and I absolutely love that movie.

CORNISH: And, oh, I should say Will McCormack is your writing partner.

JONES: Will McCormack. Yes, yes. And we humbly set out to do what "When Harry Met Sally" did so well. They asked this question, can women and men be friends? I guess the answer is they can't because they end up together, but we were hoping to kind of ask a similar cultural question right now, you know, which is, can you be friends with your ex?

CORNISH: And is it a generational thing, this idea of somehow outsmarting your heartbreak? And I ask that because this is actually not the first time I have heard of this. In my own life, I had friends who separated and thought, well, we're going to have this very genial separation.

JONES: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think we're still figuring out what it is to be in a modern relationship. And it's changing so much and I think people are feeling like they can be the ones to define what that relationship is, whether it's an open relationship or, you know, being with somebody for 10 years and having children and then meeting the love of your life after that or living together when you have broken up and seeing other people.

In a way, this is a story about your first love. And what do you do with the love you feel for your first love? I mean, can you take it with you? Can it still be a part of your life? Can you integrate it into your life? Do you have to let them go forever to move on? It's complicated and I absolutely - it's something I relate to strongly.

CORNISH: Now, as we said, you co-wrote this with Will McCormack, but you've also written a graphic novel. And I'm interested in how you got into writing because your dad is Quincy Jones, a big record producer and a million other things, I think. And Peggy Lipton, your mom, is an actress. When did you sit down and really start writing seriously?

JONES: Really not until four years ago. I always wanted to do it. I actually just recently found a thing I wrote in the third grade. It was like, what do you want to be when you're older? And I talked about wanting to write movies, which I must have buried deep in my subconscious because I don't remember ever having that as a dream.

And, in college, I had a lot of friends who were writers and wanted to be writers and I felt intimidated by them. I just didn't know if I had any gift or voice and I had no confidence about it and then, just kind of out of necessity, I was in a holding deal with acting and I thought maybe this is the time.

And I just said to Will, let's just sit down and write every day and, if something great comes out of it, great. If it sucks, nobody ever has to see it. But, if we have something, let's see if it's good and let's give it to friends and see what they think.

CORNISH: I want to ask about that holding pattern with acting because, in doing some research about you, I've seen those words before where it seems like you're almost going to walk away from acting and then get pulled back into it, namely after college, right?

JONES: Yeah. Well, after college, I moved to New York and, you know, was auditioning and I got one job in a year, which is weirdly kind of good, odds-wise. But I was really surprised by how hard it was and then...

CORNISH: And what were the kinds of things casting directors would say to you?

JONES: It's probably the same for everyone. I didn't really fit into one thing. I was too quirky to play a lead girl, but I was too exotic to play the, like, stable best friend or, you know, I just never fit.

CORNISH: You mean, being biracial, they were like, no one will know what you are if we put you on screen?

JONES: It wasn't that black and white, pun intended, but it was like - there was definitely a thing that was like - I would try out to play women of color and they'd be like, you're not dark enough. And then I would try out to play, like, surfer babe and they'd be like, you're too exotic. We want somebody who kind of looks like a girl next door.

So - and my personality maybe doesn't match what I look like or something. I don't know. I mean, I think every actor has the story where they don't fit in until they do and that's fine. And I still got work and I was able to support myself and then, when I was 30, I just had a major lull where I just wasn't getting any work and I considered going back to school and got some applications for grad school and then I got "The Office" and that kind of changed everything for me.

CORNISH: So what's next for you? I mean, now that you've opened up this avenue of screenwriting, what do you want to pursue?

JONES: You know, Will and I are still writing. We adapted my comic book and I just filmed another movie in London. And, you know, I'm just going to try to play it out. I think I probably have to go play some pretty serious dark parts. I might need to play, like, a murderer or a drug addict soon because I've been so dependable and reliable and pragmatic for so long that...

CORNISH: In your roles, as well as your life role.

JONES: And in my life. Yeah. Maybe I need some adventure in my life, too. I'm not going to murder anybody. That's not what I'm saying, but in my roles, I think it would be nice to try to expand a little bit and challenge myself and see if I can do something different.

CORNISH: Thank you for the clarification on the murder bit. I appreciate that.

JONES: Yeah. I don't want intent to be dropped on this show.

CORNISH: Well, Rashida Jones, thank you so much for talking with us.

JONES: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Rashida Jones. She co-wrote and stars in the new movie, "Celeste and Jesse Forever." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.