Zooey Deschanel may not have the same marital status as Jessica “Jess” Day, the character she plays in the TV comedy series “New Girl,” but she admits that she has a lot of the same quirky personality traits as Jess does. “New Girl” (which Fox premieres on September 20, 2011, at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time) follows the bachelorette life of Jess, who has moved in with three bachelor roommates, after she has had a painful breakup with her boyfriend. (In real life, Deschanel has been married to Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard since 2009.)
As Jess gets back into the dating scene, her model friend Cece Meyers (played by Hannah Simone) and Jess’ platonic male roommates — Nick Miller (played by Jake Johnson), Schmidt (played by Max Greenfield) and Winston Bishop (played by Lamorne Morris) — give Jess often-unsolicited advice on love, sex and dating. Deschanel is known mostly for being in movies, and “New Girl” is her first TV series in which she has had a starring role. (Deschanel has made guest appearances on other TV series, including the Fox crime-drama series “Bones,” which stars her older sister Emily Deschanel.) In a telephone conference call with journalists, Zooey Deschanel talked about “New Girl” and why she wanted to make the transition into starring in a TV series.
In your estimation, do you think it’s better to be the “it” girl, or to sort of fly under the radar? How do you like being the center of everyone’s entertainment world these days?
It’s good being both. I always think of myself, in my mind, I always think of myself as an underdog type. But, I’ve been called “it” girl so many times, at different points in my career. So, I guess “it” girl is sort of a flexible term.
I mean, either one, I just like working and having a job. It’s nice. But, I like that I have a show that the network is really behind and that is really fun to work on. So I’m just happy.
When did you decide to do comedy? How did that come about?
I always liked doing comedy when I would do plays in school always. I would play the comedic roles. I guess that’s kind of how it started. But I always think of myself as comedic actress.
I guess later I found that I could do drama as well, but I really started out thinking that I was more of a comedic actress. That’s what I really love to do. So I’m super happy and excited that I get to do funny stuff every week on the show.
Did the writers base the Jess Day character on your personality?
I think it was kind of actor/writer kismet situation, because I know that Liz Meriwether, who created the show. I know it wasn’t written for me initially, but it was sort of a perfect fit, you know.
You go to a store and there’s a dress that just looks like it was made for you, but it wasn’t. That’s sort of like what it was like. hen, now that I’m on the show, it is written for me. It’s wonderful to have all these great writers writing stuff for me.
In addition to “it” girl, you’re often also associated with the pop-culture term “manic pixie dream girl.” Do you have any feelings about that classification and the debate that goes along with it? It feels like that type is both loved and hated in equal measure.
Well, I think that it’s interesting. It’s this weird phenomenon. I don’t know who coined that term and how it’s weirdly broad and specific at the same time, if you know what I mean. But I think that’s sort of an example of if you think of a dream girl, you think of someone that you’re looking at from afar, like someone who’s like a weird modern dream girl.
But I feel like in a way that’s a very distant point of view. That’s not really what I want to portray necessarily. I don’t mind. I’m fine, if that’s for some of the parts I portray.
But I would prefer to be a person that people relate to than somebody that people feel distant from. But sometimes, I think a lot of that has to do with maybe being in films that are from a more masculine point of view.
It’s nice to be on a show that was created by a woman, starring a woman even though there’s guy humor in it, too. But it’s just nice to have a little bit more intimacy, I guess, with the character. So I hope that answers your question.
In “New Girl,” Jess Day has broken up with a boyfriend who cheated on her. Have you ever experience that in real life?
Oh, that’s a personal question. I think that’s too personal a question to ask. You want to ask another question, because I’m not going to answer that.
Do you think that the male perspective on relationships would help someone who was getting over infidelity?
I definitely think that in terms of this character. I think that she’s starting a whole new life. She’s been in one mode for a really long time. In her late 20s, she’s sort of living out the stuff that should have happened in her late teens and early 20s. So I think in a weird way, she bypassed all this stuff because she’s with the same guy for a long time.
I think more specifically than generally, these guys are helping her get over this experience, but not just that. It’s not just getting over the breakup. It’s also finding her way in a new life being a single woman in her late 20s.
Are you the type of girl who would in real life be likely to make up a theme song for yourself?
Yes, I actually did when I was 7. I made up a theme song for myself. My parents still sing it to me. It’s still embarrassing.
How are you adjusting to starring in a TV series? Are you enjoying it? Have you faced any difficulties in adjusting to working on a set?
I really have, I think, adjusted well because just love being busy. I love having a lot of content. I prefer to have constant stimulation. So I like going to set every day and working with the same awesome people. I really like that, even though it’s really long hours and it’s a lot to memorize.
It’s really exciting and it’s really fun. It’s fast moving, but I really love not waiting around. I like getting everything done quickly. There’s something really exhilarating about it. So I really enjoy that.
I also enjoy getting to develop a working relationship with a group of people. There’s always a little bit of summer camp sadness to doing a movie. If you’re having a really good time, it ends. Then there’s a certain amount of I think melancholy to that. I like that doing a TV show, you have potential for this to go on. So that potential is a really nice thing.
Is singing a hidden talent of Jess Day? Will we be hearing more from her in that regard?
I think that she’s not a singer, although that is something I do as a profession [in real life]. I felt like her singing comes out of pure self-expression. I just didn’t want her to be like Maria Callas or Beyoncé. I just didn’t want her to be a really great singer.
I thought she should be whatever manner she tries to sing in should match her mood at the time, and that she’s not really singing out of showing off her vocal togs as much as trying to express something she can’t express, and to express a certain awkwardness. Yes, she sings a lot. That’s one of her character quirks. So you will definitely hear a lot more weird random singing.
In the pilot episode, Jess is pretty distraught by this breakup and it seems like she is going to be relying on these guys to help her a lot. But they maybe are not the best-equipped for that. So how fast do things turn around for her?
She’s definitely distraught in the pilot, and the pilot’s a lot about the breakup. There is some stuff about the breakup. But, it’s more, I think, finding her way in the future is more of the focus and less the getting over the breakup. It’s more the totally “I’m used to being a single woman” and finding her way in that world. That is more the sort of territory that we cover in the episodes to follow the pilot.
Is starring in a TV show was something you were looking to do? Did they approach you with this role specifically?
No, I wasn’t looking for a TV show. I was sort of developing a show last year for HBO that was a little bit in development limbo. I was also thinking about maybe doing an arc on a TV show or something, just looking into it, because I’d been tour with my band all of last year, and had really taken a lot of time off working as an actress.
I just happened to read this script. I was so blown away by how perfect it was for me and how funny it was, and sweet, and smart. I just fell in love with this project. I guess I hadn’t seriously considered any television shows before, but this was just too great to pass up.
But, yes, they offered me the part. They sent it to me and I said I liked it. They offered it to me and took a chance that I would be able to do it. They took a chance on me.
What’s your favorite aspect of Jess?
I really love that she’s totally herself, even though she’s awkward at times and kind of nerdy at times. She’s not afraid of being herself, whether it comes out as being a little bit naive or something else, or just a really strong sense of self.
She’s totally herself. I think that’s really nice to see in female characters, because a lot of times female characters are just reacting to the men. Especially in comedies, I think a lot of time the female characters are there to provide a balance for guys.
And I really don’t feel that’s true with this character. I really feel like she’s equal to all the guys. I really, really love that. She’s a real true modern woman.
How did you relate to Jess in terms of being the only woman in a house full of men?
Well, I feel like it’s easy to take the show and be like, “Oh, it’s a girl and three guys.” Obviously with any sort of plot, you can boil it down and turn it into something that sounds like generic. And I do think that that is too generic.
I think that as far as this goes, it’s really about the person who’s having a big change in her life, and these people that help her. It’s less about male/female dynamics and more, I think, about these particular individuals relating to one another.
I have a lot of guy friends and they all have helped me a lot in different ways. So I feel like it’s less about her moving in with guys and more of about the person who’s really in transition in her life and her friends helping her.
Coach is going to be leaving, unfortunately, after just one episode, and being replaced by Winston. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Winston’s hang-ups are? What kind of dynamic does he bring to the table?
Well, Winston is Nick’s friend from childhood who has been playing basketball overseas in Latvia for two years. He had been living in the apartment and then moved out with subletting to Coach. So that’s the plot.
But, basically, he’s a guy who is figuring himself out, too, because he’s been away chasing his dream. It didn’t really work out. He’s back. He’s trying to find a job.
He is a guy who’s really great at everything, but his dream didn’t come true. He wants to win all the time. So that’s his little thing, is that he wants to win all the time. He’s really good at everything, but he doesn’t always win. He can’t quite understand it.
May I say Lamorne Morris, who plays Winston, is a really wonderful actor, is really, really funny. We’re very lucky to have him.
How do you and your “new Girl” co-stars read each other’s comedy styles? How did you start to work together?
I actually pretty much read with every single person that came in for a callback or almost everybody that made it past the first three, I read with. So I felt like being a part of that casting process was really eye opening for me as an actress.
Also, it allowed me to experiment with my character. It also allowed me to really see who I was going to work best with, because when I was cast, no one else was cast. I read with all those guys from the beginning. Really, we just cast the people who were the best actors. Obviously, you want the best comedic actors.
But I find that the best actors also tend to be really funny because the comedy’s coming out of the situation rather than just the ability to deliver jokes. So we really, first and foremost, were telling a story.
We just wanted the people that could really help tell these stories and were also hilarious and great actors as well. We really have a great rapport. I really love these guys so much.
This is a lot about Jess’s dating life. What are the biggest mistakes that men make? And, conversely, what are the qualities and behaviors that always win women over on dates?
The biggest mistakes that men make? I think being disingenuous. I don’t know. From my perspective, probably women are won over by people who are sweet and respectful and courteous and kind and funny. I think those are the things that win women over. I think that the mistakes that anyone can make going on dates is probably not being themselves because you can only trick people for so long.
What do you think it is about “New Girl” that will most draw people in and keep them coming back to watch?
To be honest, this is a new world for me. So I’m like that little kid. I don’t know. I have to say there’s something about this show — and I’m not saying it has anything to do with me, because I obviously wouldn’t want to say that — but this show I feel so lucky I jumped aboard this train, because the writing is so great and it just feels really special to me to be working on it. I can’t explain it.
I have had this feeling about a small number of things I’ve worked on, very small numbers. I just have a really special feeling about this. I think it’s really the writing. It’s a good group of people. I think it’s different.
It plays more like a romantic comedy than a sitcom, per se, even though it has some of the physical comedy that some of the classic sitcoms have. We’re telling stories that are not purely comedic. I really believe that you end up caring about these characters. I think that for me that’s what has brought me into loving shows. But, obviously, I just think that if I like it, then probably, hopefully somebody else will.
How do you juggle everything? How do you manage to unwind or de-stress at the end of the day?
I don’t. I go to sleep. At the end of the day, I basically eat and learn my lines at the same time. It’s really just trying to multi-task as best I can. Sometimes, you have to scramble to get stuff done, or a lot of times you have to scramble to get stuff done.
But I really love it because I love being busy. I’m a person who has a lot of energy. So, yes, I don’t really stop to rest or de-stress. I just keep going. I figure that if you don’t stop, then you’ll never notice how tired you are.
Jess has been described by the network as “adorkable.” Would you describe yourself that way?
I don’t know. That’s sort of like an outside in description. I don’t really talk to people when they say stuff about themselves. I’m the type of person who blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I wouldn’t trust myself. I don’t know.
Let’s say this: There’s a lot of Jess that is very much like me. I feel like I understand her very well. I feel like she is very much like I was when I was 13. I was not the coolest kid in my class. I feel like that inner dork is a wonderful thing to have. And, on behalf of middle-schoolers all around, I like to represent.
So yes, I don’t know. I definitely have a part of myself is a lot like Jess. So I’ll leave it at that. But, I don’t know if I’d describe myself as particularly adorkable. I don’t know.
For more info: “New Girl” website
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