Zooey Deschanel on her 'New Girl' role: 'If I had read this character in a movie script, I would've jumped on board immediately'


Image Credit: Autumn Dewilde/Fox

If you were five-alarm charmed by Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, there’s one day on the fall calendar you might want to circle: Sept. 20, when New Girl debuts on Fox. (For the more impatient, you can download the first episode from iTunes for free right now.) The blue-eyed indie film vet stars as Jess, a freshly dumped but adorable she-nerd who moves in with a trio of dudes, and it turns out everyone has a lot of learning to do about the opposite sex. EW spoke with Deschanel and series creator Liz Meriwether about their twentysomething comedy. 

On signing on to the show

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: “I don’t think there are that many awesome roles out there, whether we’re talking about movies or TV. It’s rare that you read something this funny and well-written. And if I had read this character in a movie script. I would’ve jumped on board immediately, anyway…. [Liz] can write this character and I can play this character. We both get this weird girl who’s not exactly like your average woman. I grew up the type of person where I always thought I was being normal and everybody else would think I was being weird all the time. I like that [Jess] is completely herself and unabashedly emotional, but not in an obnoxious way. She means well but she just messes up sometimes…. It felt really like a very easy decision to say yes to.”

On the show’s themes

LIZ MERIWETHER: “I didn’t want to lean too heavily into the battle-of-the-sexes part of it, but it’s definitely part of it. I’ve always been interested in gender roles, but not a necessarily straightforward version of that…. This show is about four weirdoes living together. Each is at a moment where they’re rebuilding their life or choosing a path. It is that mid- to late-20s moment where you’re like ‘Oh, s—.  This isn’t cute anymore.’ In one episode, they all go to a wedding and there’s some sense of ‘What’s wrong with us that we’re the four weird, damaged people at the wedding?’ Our goal is to make every episode like a little John Hughes’ movie or something — just this idea of a band of outsiders.”

On Deschanel’s style of comedy

LM: “She has this individual, amazing way of playing a scene where it’s not about the classic setup-setup-punchline, because she doesn’t come from the world of standup comedy. And she has this really interesting feel for the rhythms of a scene. She’ll glance off of a joke in a way that makes it 10 times funnier because she isn’t selling it in a cheesy sitcom way.  She just makes it feel real and that makes everything 10 times funnier because you actually believe that it’s happening and you believe in the person saying it.”

On Jess’ social skills

ZD: “Because she doesn’t exactly fit in, she’s always trying to do the thing that’s going to make her fit in, but she has the wrong instincts…. She’s trying to fit in with these guys but she has a completely different idea of what men are than what they actually are. Her version of guys is Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in sailor suits dancing around. You have a lot of comedic moments to be had out of this disconnect.”

On Jess’ penchant for breaking into song

ZD: “Every moment when she sings, she’s trying to express herself in a different way. She’s trying to connect to the moment through that. It’s not like she’s singing all the time because she thinks she has a good voice. I think the world in Jess’ head is different from the world that you actually see in the show, which is another really fun thing to play. She’s like, ‘Ooh, this is like a heavy metal song, right?'”

On the show’s Douchebag Jar, to which Jess’ roommate Schmidt (Max Greenfield) will be contributing frequently

LM: “The essence of Schmidt is that he wants to not be a douchebag, that he’s in a constant process of trying to prove himself and stop being so douche-y. And it actually buys us the room to make him as douche-y as possible, because he’s always trying not to be. One of the [upcoming plots] came from the prop guy, who put a fake $50 bill in the Douchebag Jar when we were shooting. And I was like, ‘That’s an episode!’ It’s like, ‘What did Schmidt do to put $50 in the Douchebag Jar?’ There is just something about [Greenfield] that he’s able to make you love him no matter what he does, which is a rare quality.  And we’re having fun exploring all of the outer boundaries of what being a douchebag means, all the different layers of douchebagginess that can happen.”

Read more:
Justin Long to play Zooey Deschanel’s love interest on ‘The New Girl’
Critics hammer Zooey Deschanel: ‘When did you realize you were adorable?’

Comments (40 total) Add your comment
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  • Jen

    Douchebaggery, DeeBees, Total D-BAGGERS. Ah, vocabulary.

  • Amy

    I have an irrational hatred for Zooey. It makes me feel bad because I love Emily so much. I don’t know where the dislike comes from. Maybe it is because her character in 500 Days of Summer was the definition of every annoying, condescending, trying-desperately-to-be-original hipster I have ever met. Whatever it is, I think this show looks awful and not at all funny. This interview just cemented that I won’t be watching it.

    • Templar

      Don’t sweat it, we balance out because I love Zooey and cannot stand Emily. She reminds me of a know it all block of ice, and, no, I’m not talking about Bones’ character.

    • Jen E.

      I’m gonna tip the scales because I concur with Templar. Zooey is so quirky and adorable to me and I just don’t get how Emily even gets work.

    • tvgirl48

      And here i thought i was the only one. I don’t mind Emily, she’s nothing special, but I really can’t stand Zooey and it’s probably in part due to her character in 500 Days of Summer. Or maybe just my pet peeve of ppl spelling their names in quirky, nonsensical ways. Part of it is her voice, which comes across as sarcastic and overall she just seems like a “trying to be cool” hipster. Or maybe it’s that shes playing the cliched hot girl who’s totally cool because she’s really just a nerd and can play with the fellas.

      • oh em gee

        I have a pet peeve about people who abbreviate people to ppl for no good reason.

      • KC

        You hate her because of a CHARACTER she PLAYS in a MOVIE? A FICTIONAL person?

        And because of the spelling of her NAME? Which is HER PARENTS fault and not hers?

        Those aren’t reasons. Those don’t even make SENSE.

  • PitaAppleBottom

    I watched the first episode (Hulu) and I was surprised at how funny it was. The first five minutes were great and the douchebag jar is awesome!

    Give it a chance :)

  • Sherry

    She is quite versatile though, her character was a total see you next tuesday in “500 days of summer”, a complete geek in “new girl”, and sorta crazy in “manic”.

  • rebecca a.

    i love zooey. i saw this pilot on demand last week. completely adorable, can’t wait to see zooey on a regular basis.

  • Javadude54

    If I hadn’t seen the pilot this article would convince me that New Girl was a fantastic show. Having seen the pilot I know that it’s a lot like My Boys but with less realistic characters and a more predictable plot line. It isn’t… bad…. but we’ve seen it all before with different names and clothes on.

    • bruno

      show is horrible. all the hype they’re doing for it won;t make it suck any less. big boo. big big boo….

  • LC

    I watched the pilot online the other day. I found Zooey’s voice so annoying by the end that I’m not sure I will tune in again. It’s a shame because I could see the show’s potential, even if a bit predictable. Duh, her new love interest has to be the guy in the red shirt in the picture.

  • Christine

    Of course she would’ve jumped on board immediately.
    It’s the only character she can play: the awkward, quirky, hipster.

    • Liv

      If you do it well, then keep on keeping on. I love her, even is she does play the same role all the time. She’s always likeable for the most part.

      • Christine

        I don’t find her very likeable. I find her fake.
        But I know her audience is very divided, so yeah.

  • Lina

    I actually got the feeling that the Schmidt character was closeted.

  • Sara

    wait. did they change the black guy roommate from the pilot? the guy in the picture looks different. I liked that guy!

    • Ann

      Yes.. They unfortunately change the “coach” role to some other actor. I thought Damon Waynes Jr. was good. This change reminds me of the gay cook on Golden Girls who is in the pilot episode but doesn’t appear thereafter.

      • Kelly

        Damon Wayans is on another show, “Happy Endings” that got an unexpected pick up for a second season. That’s why they had to change the character.

  • Ann

    I saw the pilot episode and it was a pretty good show. My only complaint is the singing. It was quirky the first couple of times but the novelty got old. I also didn’t care for the sing at the restaurant. Hopefully the show will cut the singing to a minimum in the next episode.

  • Pat D.

    I wonder how she feels about her big sis having Cricket’s baby.

    • Asha

      Lol, I always call him Rickety Cricket too.

  • c

    Ugh she is so twee it’s unbearable.

  • Tico

    Fell in love with her in Failure to Launch and Tin Man. She’s a sweetheart.

    • Ally

      LOVED her in Failure to Launch.

  • charlotte

    Just saw the pilot and I really wanted to like it. But I just found her character irritating (esp. the singing!) and none of the actors really had that much chemistry. I didn’t see a lot of depth to her character that made me want to continue watching. Also, the biggest thing for me was that it just wasn’t that funny. Maybe the other eps will get better. It’s really hard to judge a show by the pilot alone but I wasn’t terribly impressed.

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