First published on 7 Mar 2012. Updated on 7 Mar 2012.
Since the dawn of time (or at least since the evolution of chickens), humans have been told not to put all their eggs in one basket. But offbeat American actress Zooey Deschanel, who has appeared in films including Almost Famous, Yes Man and 500 Days of Summer, is not one to conform. The former jazz singer and musician has found a TV role that brings all her talents to light, in new musical comedy New Girl. The series, which was nominated for two Golden Globes last year, follows the life of twentysomething Jess as she moves into a share house with three men following the bust-up of her relationship. The series is accented with bouts of intentionally ill-sounding songs from the star. Here, we find out more about her new gig.
What made you choose the role in New Girl?
I loved the script, and I love the character. I hadn’t played anything like it before, but it was totally in my wheelhouse. When I read it, I knew exactly who Jess was, and I had so many ideas of how I wanted to play her. Most of all, I was excited to play her. She’s fun.
How much of Jess is in you, and you in her?
To some degree you always have to put some of yourself into the characters you play. I like to think of her as a 13-year-old version of myself. She’s sweet and guileless and, at the same time, excitable and emotional. And she really means well, although sometimes she’s unaware of what she’s doing.
About the obsession that your character has with Dirty Dancing – is this something you can relate to?
There are movies that I do watch over and over again – 1987 sitcom Broadcast News is one of them, and Meet Me in St Louis is another. I think we all have these sorts of movies that we love for different reasons. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person that didn’t have one movie that they’ve seen a million times.
You bridge a gap between the indie entertainment world and the mainstream. Why has this worked well for you?
I think I just do my own thing, and whoever wants to watch it does. I guess I don’t try to curate the types of fans that I have.
You’re also a singer, and one of the things Jess does very well is singing, just to express herself.
I feel I have a career as a singer. Jess is not a good singer. If something comes out in song, it’s sort of expressing her awkwardness. That was actually Liz Meriwether, who created the show. Thinking up a theme song was how she got through long commutes. She had a job she didn’t like, and she would be on the subway thinking about that. But I found it very funny and endearing that the character loves to sing, but she’s just a normal girl.
Jess is a chaotic roommate. What have you been like as a roommate in the past?
I think I’m pretty fun. I’m pretty much always cheerful, even in the morning. I go on tour with my band and there are 12 people on one bus. And I’m the one who’s happy in the morning. I might slack off on doing dishes.
You’re spending most of your days on set with a bunch of guys. Is that making you more girly, or are you telling dirty jokes and talking sport?
Yeah, I think I’ve always been really girly, but this has made me understand guy humour a little more. So yeah, definitely, I can tell a dirty joke.
Most of the characters you play exhibit a certain offbeat charm.
That’s just something I can’t shake. I always wanted to be normal. I tried really hard, but people still say I’m offbeat. I guess that’s part of being an actor – you realise you have a persona and you have to accept it.
You recently sang the United States national anthem in a stadium. Was it frightening?
No – I mean, it’s just one song. Yeah, it’s 48,000 people, but they just look like dots. It was really fun. It was a great experience.
New Girl screens Sundays on Channel 10.