Interview: Zooey Deschanel Chats FOX's NEW GIRL

For her lead role as Jess on NEW GIRL, Zooey Deschanel recently was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Earlier this summer, she won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series (tying with Amy Poehler). Last season, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award (Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Comedy or Musical).

Her starring roles in the feature films include “(500) Days of Summer,” “Yes Man,” and “My Idiot Brother." She also co-wrote and performed “So Long” in “Winnie the Pooh,” which earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Song Written For Visual Media.

After making her feature film debut in 1999 in Lawrence Kasdan’s “Mumford,” Deschanel’s breakout performance was in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous.” She earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Lead Actress for “All the Real Girls” and lent her voice talents to the animated feature “Surf’s Up.” Deschanel was the lead in the Emmy Award-nominated miniseries “Tin Man.”

Her additional credits include “The Good Girl,” “Eulogy,” the holiday classic “Elf,” “Failure to Launch,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “Live Free or Die,” “Flakes,” “Gigantic,” “The Go-Getter,” “The Good Life,” “Winter Passing,” “The Happening,” “Abandon,” “Big Trouble” and “Your Highness.”

The season 2 premiere of NEW GIRL launches Tuesday, Sept. 25 with two episodes: a special episode airing at 8/7c, and a second episode in its regular time slot airing at 9/8c. Zooey will also be the main guest on THE SIMPSONS season premiere airing Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8/7c on FOX.

Deschanel took time out of her busy production schedule last week to speak with TalkTVWorld and other media outlets about the upcoming second season of NEW GIRL. Check out the interview below!

Has comedy always come easy to you or is it something you’ve had to work at?

I think comedy’s just about being interested in comedy and what makes people laugh and experimenting. I’ve always loved making people laugh and that was in school I a lot of times would play the comic relief character. So, it’s different patterns; something that always pops up. But, I did drama, too. I sort of consider myself a comedic actress, not a comedienne. I think it’s different. You know I’m not a stand-up or anything. But, playing into comedic situations is sort of where, I think, my strength lies.

Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis are going to be playing your parents. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Yes. I’m really excited, you know. I heard at the beginning of the season that we had talked about maybe having Jess’ parents come in last year, but it didn’t happen. Then, this year, before even the season started, we talked about the fact that they were going to introduce Jess’ parents in the Thanksgiving episode. So, we talked about a bunch of people and these were just beyond my wildest dreams. They’re people that I think would be just so perfect. I can’t wait to start shooting with them.

Your mother’s an actress as a lot people are aware, especially from 'Twin Peaks'. But, did anybody ever talk to her about her interest of possibly coming on the show as your mother?

I would love to work with my mom, but I think you want to keep things a little bit more imaginative. If I were to work with my mom, I probably would not want her to play my mom. That would get too real....

I’m wondering what new shows are you looking forward to watching this year?

I’m looking forward to this whole Tuesday night lineup. I’m very excited about Ben and Kate and Mindy Project, along with us and Raising Hope. I think it’s pretty exciting that they built a night with us. There are a lot of great shows. I’ve seen the pilots of those shows and I think they’re really terrific. I think it’s just an exciting time to be working in comedy on TV.

I’m just curious—there’s this character who shares this apartment with all these guys and it’s kind of a quirky thing. Do you have anything like that in your real life that you can compare to the TV show? Or, do you have any friends like that or did you ever have to have funny roommates?

I never had funny roommates really. I’ve always had a lot of guy friends, so I love the camaraderie between Jess and the guys. So it’s, I think, nice to have. I have a lot of girlfriends, too, but I think it’s important to have guy friends because it sort of provides a different perspective. I really like that relationship.

The male-female relationships on the show are really great to watch because they’re really platonic and they seem to represent kind of a more modern understanding of relationships between men and women. But, I also like the emphasis on diversity that the show has. Could you speak a little bit to that because you guys clearly have different ethnicities playing in the show. 

I know that was like one thing that was important to our exec producers and also to Fox that our show be diverse and that it’s not diverse in a way where we’re making a big deal out of the diversity. It’s just friends. I think to speak to what we were talking to before about the relationships between men and women; the diversity is also nobody makes a big deal out of. It’s just more of an intermingling; it’s just more modern relationships. You see more and more on TV this happening. I think it’s speaks to you more like a modern sensibility because that’s the way people are now.

The writers have said there’s a worry about getting Nick and Jess together too soon. Do you think that’s a problem? 

There’s no danger of that happening. They’re not getting together anytime soon. I think that they’re not ready for each other and nobody is going to push them together. So, I think Nick and Jess have a great chemistry and I work really well with Jake Johnson. I think it’s nice the sort of love-hate-but love relationship they have. They’re not going to throw them together or anything soon. They might tease it out.

How hard is it to work with the guys without cracking up, especially Max?

I don’t really ever crack up. That’s my job because I’m an actor. We’re in the situation and it’s not really about. They’re all funny, but we’re all just for our jobs and we’re all professionals. So, it’s not really like we’re all just laughing all the time. It’s, again, especially it’s pretty basic acting, not cracking up. Sometimes we’re laughing. We make each other laugh. And, they’re all funny. It’s not like Max is funnier than Lamorne and Jake. They’re all really funny. I just want to say that.

There was an evolution of your character from the beginning of the first season to the end, where they kind of mellowed you out in terms of the quirkiness of the character. Was that something that you encouraged or is that something that was just a very natural evolution?

Well, this is a natural evolution, but it was two things. One, at the beginning of last year, I always said this, “She’s not going to always be in the same heightened state that she is in the pilot because in that situation she’s just gone through a crisis.” Now, if it were a movie, you might just see her in slice of her life. But, it’s a TV show so they stretch it out.

You see somebody in a lot of different situations and she gets confident, more confident and changes and she bawls and grows up and a lot of things over the season. She is just like how somebody in a crazy heightened sense of reality. I always thought of the show as we were aiming for reality. Now, we have silly situations that sometimes throw our life into some broader stuff. But, ultimately, I’m always grounding in reality.

Here’s the other thing is I’m watching every week and seeing what’s working. I’m using my own sensibilities to inform how I play the character. So, if I think something seems like too much, the next time we do something like that I’m going to pull it back a little bit, you know. I think all of us are doing that.

The writers and the actors are going for what works best because sometimes on the day you don’t always know how to play something, but the fact that we’ve done however many episodes and I’ve been looking at them and seeing what works that’s going to inform how I play it. I have a sort of shorthand for my character and I know what’s working and what’s not working. I think that’s one of the privileges of doing television is the ability to evaluate my own performance and try to improve upon my own....

The Mindy Project stars your friend, Mindy Cowling. How would you feel about a cross-over episode between the shows? Do you think that Jess and Mindy would be friends in real life?

I do. I think that would be really fun, actually. That’s a good idea. I like that idea.

Zooey, I’ll ask you about The Simpsons. What was the experience like? Has it been in the works for a while? Just generally, what was it like? Are you a fan of the show going back?

Yes, I’ve been a huge fan of the show since I was like ten years old and really exciting. I did an episode four years ago or something; four or five years ago, and it was really fun then. But, I had to record it. I was working in Philadelphia and I had to record it out there. So, I didn’t get to see all the people read or record with any of the actors. So, this time, I got to record with Nancy and that was really exciting. I got to sing some songs and I actually got to write two songs for them. So, one for this episode and one for the next I’m on. That was super exciting. I don’t know—it was kind of dream come true. It’s been an amazing experience and I’m a huge fan of everyone over there. It’s been nothing but fun.

How would you describe your personal style and have you ever been able to take any items home from the fashion closet or have you ever worn anything of your own on the show?

I would describe my personal style as feminine. Then, with the show I’m not allowed to take wardrobe home. That’s Fox …. I do sometimes buy stuff that I have tried on with our costume designer or worn on the show. Separately, I’ll go on-line and buy it. But, I have actually worn my own stuff on the show a couple of times. Last year, there was something I wore when I went out to dinner with Liz, the show creator, and she liked the shorts I wore, so I wore them on the show. Actually last week I wore a dress that was mine. So, a few times I’ll wear my own stuff.

Obviously you’ve found yourself having great success on TV, movies, and music. Which one of those outlets do you enjoy most?

I like them all for different reasons. I think it’s important to do a lot of different things. These are all really exciting, fun jobs. You don’t want to stop appreciating them because of the grind. So, I think it’s really important to have, at least for me, different things that I enjoy doing. They all play different roles in making me feel creatively satisfied. I really like the collaboration of doing movies and television. But, I like the sort of solitary work of doing music. I love live performance, too. So, it’s all really great.

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