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Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer on Sundance Stalkers and Passing the Bechdel Rule

In the big Sundance comedy My Idiot Brother, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer play two of the sisters who take in their nomadic hippie brother Paul Rudd but are unprepared for the upheaval he brings into their lives. When the actresses sat down with Vulture during the fest, though, both seemed utterly welcoming of chaos, bouncing back and forth between each other like an expert comedy team. In a freewheeling interview, we discussed women who wear bunny ears, sexy love triangles, and the best things about Pixar that nobody knows.

I heard there was a lot of insanity at the Q&A after the premiere. I'm kind of sad I missed it.
Deschanel: You should be sad. You should be.

What happened?
Mortimer: I don't know what happened. I kept expecting Ashton Kutcher to jump out.
Deschanel: One person was, like, trying to ask Emily out.
Mortimer: That is not true!
Deschanel: He really was.
Mortimer: I don't know how you read that into what he was saying. It was seamless drivel. He just opened his mouth and hoped for the best.
Deschanel: Like, he wrote a novel. And then one person was trying to get Paul to do a PSA.
Mortimer: And you had a girl who was in love with you.
Deschanel: I could barely hear what she was saying. She was wearing bunny ears.
Mortimer: She was in the rafters wearing bunny ears and she seemed madly in love with Zooey.
Deschanel: We all have our fans.
Mortimer: We all have our little niche markets.

In a lot of Hollywood movies, women aren't allowed to be funny — they have to be the boring one while the men get to be funny.
Deschanel: We also never get to work with other women. I have [Your Highness] coming out in April and Natalie Portman's in it, and I love Natalie and never, ever got to work with her. In one scene, we pass by each other, and I thought, That's such a shame. You do these movies with great actresses and you finally get to work with them, and then you don't actually get a chance to [share a scene]. So it was such a treat that this movie was all women and, like, one or two guys.

Have you heard of the Bechdel rule?
Both: No.

Alison Bechdel decided that for a movie to get her recommendation, it has to star at least two women, they have to talk to each other, and it has to be about something other than a man. You'd be surprised by how many major movies don't pass all three of those rules, but My Idiot Brother definitely does.
Mortimer: Oh my God, that's fascinating.
Deschanel: Um, I think we get gold stars, then.
Mortimer: Do we talk about things other than men?
Deschanel: Yes, my character talks about women. Girl on girl! It's not men, so we're good.
Mortimer: We're good! Thank God for the lesbian character.

Zooey, did you worry about whether your character would be sympathetic since she's cheating on Rashida Jones, who is wearing the cutest lesbian hipster lawyer outfits ever?
Deschanel: I know, so cute.

So cute.
Deschanel: So friggin' cute. I know. No, because I prefer to play characters that need to be redeemed a little bit. It's more interesting. If you can make a character likable that's not very nice, that's the challenge of the job. I thought that this is an important time in her life, because she's struggling with her sexuality and trying to make a decision about committing to a person and making some huge mistakes. But it's these times in people's lives that make people who they are, and these big decisions will affect the rest of their lives. That's what's exciting to watch.

You've both been to Sundance plenty of times before, right?
Deschanel: I've been here lots.
Mortimer: I think this is my fourth time.

How do you approach the festival differently now?
Mortimer: I always forget what a big thing it is, because it's just a couple of days. You're sort of concentrating on your outfits more than anything else, in the run-up to it.
Deschanel: Mm-hmmm.
Mortimer: It's not like going off to do a job. You're looking forward to staying in a nice hotel, and then you get here, and it is intense from the moment you arrive. It's always a surprise how full-on it is, and really frightening, suddenly! Showing your little movie to an audience for the first time is really terrifying, and then afterwards, wondering how it went down and you don't quite know for a day or so what the fallout is. You're wandering around town doing all your interviews but thinking in the back of your head, Shit! Did they like it?
Deschanel: It's a lot.

So how did it feel when you heard that My Idiot Brother was the biggest buy of the festival?
Deschanel: It feels amazing because I've been here so many times, and there have been times when your film doesn't get bought —
Mortimer: And it's pretty miserable.
Deschanel: And it can take three years for it to come out —
Mortimer: Or it could never come out!
Deschanel: And that's hard. When you work on a movie, especially an independent movie, it's a lot of work to make it! It's not just our job as actors — so many people are working so hard, and even the littlest movie takes a lot of work. It's always a shame if you see it go to waste, so this is really exciting to have it bought and by good people.

Emily, you have a voice role in Cars 2. What was it like to go in and do that?
Mortimer: I've had the best time. I've kind of become a member of the cult of adoration of Pixar. [To Deschanel.] Have you been there, to Pixar?
Deschanel: Yeah, I went and did music for Disney, for Winnie the Pooh. It's so cool.
Mortimer: Oh, that's right. I had no idea that Steve Jobs started Pixar, and that he designed the offices there. It's these incredible buildings with this central atrium —
Deschanel: Wait, are you talking about the animation building at Disney?
Mortimer: At Pixar, in San Francisco.
Deschanel: Oh, then no, I haven't been there.
Mortimer: Literally, I came out of there thinking that the whole world should be run by the people who run that place.

What is it about them?
Mortimer: I don't know! They gave a me a glass of wine and sushi at the end, and I remember thinking This is amazing, I love this place, and I never want to leave. But there's this central atrium where everyone has to pass through it at least once a day and it's all about being with the people that you're working with, and not just the people you're working with on a daily basis. There's this amazing coffee shop and this delicious food and they all sort of sit and chill and hang, and then I got showed around the offices, and each animator and designer is allowed to build his own office space.
Deschanel: Wow.
Mortimer: And there are these crazy things! One office was on stilts like a hut, and another was this bar, sort of like a speakeasy, and we pressed this bust of William Shakespeare and went in. It was amazing! They have the right idea about work, which is that it's incredibly collaborative. They're all involved in each others' projects and they're perfectionists, but there are no bounds to the imagination of those people. I dunno, I just loved it! But the weird thing is that I got the offer about a week before I started voicing it, and they don't tell you what part you'll be playing or anything. You just say yes because it's Pixar. And then the script arrived the night before, and I suddenly realized it was a big part!

You thought maybe you'd have about three lines?
Mortimer: Yeah! And I thought maybe I'd be working for one day, and it's sort of been the last six months, I've been going back and doing it. But I'm so into it.

Zooey, I know you don't share a lot of scenes with Natalie Portman in Your Highness, but it does look like you spend time with Justin Theroux, and from the trailer alone, it seems like he's giving an insane performance.
Deschanel: Yeah, he plays an evil wizard who kidnaps me, and I'm like a maiden princess who's engaged to marry James Franco.
Mortimer: Oh my God, that sounds so cool.
Deschanel: And I get stolen by Justin Theroux. It's really not a bad predicament.
Mortimer: It sounds heavenly.
Deschanel: You're about to marry James Franco and then Justin Theroux steals you away. And then they're fighting for you the whole time? Yes.

Photo: Gustavo Caballero/Film Magic