The comedy series New Girl, premiering September 20th on Fox, follows the life of Jess Day (Zooey Deschanel), an offbeat woman in her late 20’s who moves into a loft with three single guys, following a traumatic break-up. Goofy, positive, vulnerable and honest to a fault, Jess has faith in people, even when she shouldn’t. With the help of her new roommates (played by Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield and Lamorne Morris) and her childhood best friend (Hannah Simone), Jess sings and dances her way through the rough times, navigating life with her charmingly dysfunctional family.
During an interview to promote her TV show, actress Zooey Deschanel talked about how Jess was a role that was too charming and exciting to pass up, how she felt like this character was written specifically for her when she read it, the challenges of finding out how to most effectively play a long-term role, and how happy she is to share a home at Fox with her sister Emily, who is on Bones. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
ZOOEY DESCHANEL: I just loved this material. This is a character I could feel really good about doing for a long time. When I read the script for this pilot, I didn’t know if I’d ever seen a part that was as charming and exciting. I was literally laughing out loud, having such a good time. Every time we rehearse, I have a great time because the writing is so good. I think this opportunity became really appealing to me because the material is so great. I have so much fun. I love that I get to work with these people, every day. The thought of doing it for a long time is actually really exciting to me, and I just feel really lucky to be involved in the show. It’s such great material. They don’t make as many movies now as they used to. There’s been a huge change in the movie industry. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a role this good for myself, so I just had to jump on this opportunity because it’s an amazing one. If there’s any character that I want to play, forever and ever and ever, it’s this one, so I’m psyched.
Was there a moment reading the script when you thought that?
DESCHANEL: I think it was page one. It was really special, from the beginning of the script.
Did you know (executive producer) Liz Meriwether before this?
DESCHANEL: No, but we had friends in common. I would always hear about Liz Meriwether, but I’d never met her. Then, after I read this script, I saw her at a party. We were talking to each other and it was a weird, “You’re my twin,” kind of relationship. I love her. I’m so lucky to be working with her.
Would you have taken the role, if you hadn’t had that connection with her?
DESCHANEL: I loved the script, but I don’t think that script could have come from anyone but Liz. She’s a real unique person.
DESCHANEL: I would like to think that it was written for me, but I don’t think it was. I think that Liz’s soul and my soul are just connected. When your souls are connected, you’re meant to do a show together with a character who sings all the time. Jess is not a singer because she thinks she’s a great singer. It’s just part of how she expresses herself. I feel like the singing moments are peppered in well. You don’t want to overdo it. Singing the whole thing would be crazy. When there’s an awkward moment, she sings. She likes to sing in different styles, depending upon her mood and the moment. She’ll do Ethel Merman, a little jazz standard, a little heavy metal, a little ghoulish singing.
Have there been any challenges in developing this character?
DESCHANEL: I definitely experimented with different ways of playing her, and different expressions for some of the moments in the pilot. But, we have a really amazing director, Jake Kasdan, who did the pilot, who’s doing the second and third episodes as well. He’s been so instrumental in really helping me find the right way to most effectively play the character.
What’s the closest frame of reference you have for this character?
DESCHANEL: My 13-year-old self.
What was she like?
DESCHANEL: Just very open, loved to sing, and was very dorky. I really felt like I was in a musical, all the time, but I wasn’t. So, there is a part of me that is very much this character.
Do you think Jess could benefit from some therapy?
DESCHANEL: I think she’s someone who expresses her emotions, all the time. She’s very much herself, and she’s almost too in touch with her emotions, which is a really great contrast with the other characters, who are less in touch with their emotions. A lot of the comedy comes out of that juxtaposition.
DESCHANEL: Yes. She likes to sing and dance. The fun thing about that character is that I can just completely throw myself into it without vanity. I feel like vanity is ultimately the enemy of an actor. When we started this, I was like, “I’m gonna really go for this, in a way that could be so unattractive.”
Is the difference that sincerity makes it endearing?
DESCHANEL: I never want there to be a moment where she’s crying, and it’s fake crying. I want all those emotions to be as real as you would ever see them. I’m not playing a comedy. I want to be playing the truth of the moment, and then have the comedy come out.
How are things going with your music?
DESCHANEL: We just made a holiday record, and it’s coming out later this year.
Does this show inspire music for you?
DESCHANEL: Well, I’ve always had a really great time being in movies and writing music when I get home. The more creative I am, the more it feeds into other creative aspects of my life.
DESCHANEL: Oh my God, no! Of course not! Hers is a drama show, and my show is new. I’m just so thankful that my sister is so nice and so generous. That’s been lovely, getting advice from her. She’s on the lot, so she has lots of food in her trailer, and I’ll go and eat all her food. I keep no food around, and then I’m always hungry and I’m like, “Where can I go? Emily’s trailer!”
What advice did she give you?
DESCHANEL: It was really practical advice about learning lines. She has systems for those sorts of things, and I found that really helpful.
Would she ever appear on your show?
DESCHANEL: I don’t know. That would be cool. She’s welcome!
What was the hardest part of your journey to get to this point?
DESCHANEL: As far as your career goes, some things hit and some things don’t. It took a lot of time for me to realize that is just part of it. There are cycles. You’ll have ups and downs, in your career. You just do the best you can. Sometimes people will love you, and sometimes they won’t.
DESCHANEL: I try not to think about that stuff. I really just love the character and I love Liz, and I think the writing is so good. I feel like we are just trying to make it as truthful as possible. Hopefully, people will love it.
You come from a successful showbiz family. Was there any chance of you doing something else?
DESCHANEL: Yeah. I have a music career as well, so I was going to either be an actress or a musician. Then, I did both. But, I was always going to do something creative.
How has your life changed with the TV schedule?
DESCHANEL: I have little time to socialize, but that’s okay. I’ll socialize with my friends on set.
Was it hard for you to take time off of your movie career?
DESCHANEL: No. I like having a schedule. I tend to be the type of person that thrives on something being regular. I’m actually really excited because I think I’ll write more music. For my whole first record, I wrote in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep and I was doing movies, so I feel like it’ll be good. When you have endless time, you take all day to go to the grocery store. But, if you have to be at work for 14 hours a day, you manage your time better. I know I do.