‘If you’re gonna have a job that’s 14- to 15-hour days,” Zooey Deschanel says breezily of her new Fox comedy, New Girl, “might as well be a fun comedy.” A job that’s fun—this is how the unassuming, lighthearted indie actor ((500) Days of Summer) and singer (She & Him) tends to speak of her career. While the 31-year-old now shares a network with her older sister, Emily Deschanel (Fox’s Bones), the two don’t compare notes. “I don’t just sit around talking about it, you know. It’s, like, what I do.” New Girl premieres September 20, the day after the second anniversary of Zooey’s wedding with Death Cab for Cutie’s frontman, Ben Gibbard.
New Girl’s pilot reminded me a bit of a Three’s Company setup without the pesky landlords: Three men and a woman live but don’t sleep together; they negotiate gender differences.
The thing that makes it different is it has the tone of, like, a John Hughes movie. It feels more like a romantic comedy to me than a sitcom, tonally. We’re not, like, hiding any kittens from our landlord. That, Three’s Company has up on us.
You sing a little in the show.
I don’t really sing. It’s singing out of self-expression. I don’t think she’s supposed to be a good singer. Whenever she feels awkward, she sings.
But you sing well here, too. You wrote and recorded the theme song.
Yeah, well, I have a music career.
Yeah, I have heard of She & Him.
[Laughs] I was like, wait, you know, I am a singer. I do also do this. [Laughs]
Given the show’s focus on single life, what was that like for you before marriage?
Um, hmm, it’s a lot of years to cover in one question. I was never, you know, a scenester. I always had boyfriends. I never was, like, [In a scenester voice] on the single scene, ready to mingle. I wasn’t a playa. I’ll say it. I was not a playa.
When commenting on his band’s new, cheerier sound, your husband recently told us, “I fell in love and got married to an amazing person.”
I don’t know who he’s talking about. [Laughs] Who is this person he’s talking about?!
What’s been the difference in your outlook since marrying Ben?
It’s nice ’cause you can relax. You’re, like, oh, I feel supported and happy. I’ve had more focus. I can just do my work. I’m not thinking about that other crap.
So it’s not like you made him lighter, he made you moodier.
No, my influence is very powerful. [Laughs] No, no, no, he moved to L.A. and we have such fun together in a sunshine-y place.
He also was very open about giving up drinking. Are you both teetotalers?
I never drank very much, and he doesn’t drink, so I don’t end up drinking. I’ll have a glass of wine if I feel like it. My constitution is too delicate, sir.
Did having a cinematographer dad and an actor mom inform your take on this industry?
Yeah, I think of it as work, and you have to enjoy your work. I just feel so lucky that I have a job I like. You know, my parents traveled all over the world and I saw the sort of difficult side of making movies, and that was good ’cause I don’t think of it just as, like, glitz and glamour.
You wrote a letter to Vogue when you were 17: “Why would you want to limit the spectrum of beauty to an ideal when you as a popular women’s magazine have the opportunity to expand it?” Do you still feel strongly about how the media defines women’s beauty?
That letter—they edited it down. I was in high school and seeing how the scientific method worked. And [the article] had taken people but hadn’t properly surveyed them; they hadn’t even used the scientific method to come to their conclusion. That part got cut out. [Laughs] I’m, like, all for fashion magazines. It really was just a suggestion that, hey, maybe you could do something to make people think of beauty in a broader spectrum.
How does that pertain to you personally? You’re sometimes described with phrases like “beautiful, but not traditionally so.”
I think vanity is the enemy of being a good actor. The actors that I grew up admiring, Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, they’re beautiful but they also look like real women—and Debra Winger—these are the people I aspire to be like. If somebody wanted to be just perfect looking, maybe you wouldn’t get as many opportunities. People may not sympathize with you. [Laughs]
You have such an affable personality—when are you at your least affable?
I’m pretty easygoing, but if I get tired and I lose my voice, I’ll sound dry, even if I’m not being dry.
Come on—even that is endearing, though.
But a couple times I’ve done press junkets and I really think the person interviewing me got the wrong idea ’cause I was so tired and I had lost my voice, and I’m, like, [Drily] “Good job.” And they’re like, “What a jerk. She’s being so sarcastic.” It’s a very strange thing that I for a very long time made a career out of playing dry people, dry ironic-sense-of-humor characters, because I am the least sarcastic person! My sense of humor is just a little zanier.
New Girl premieres September 20 at 8pm on Fox.