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Things You Learn After a Lot of Time Spent With Zooey Deschanel

Photo: Larry Busacca/2011 Getty Images
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 23:  Actress Zooey Deschanel poses for a portrait during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival at The Samsung Galaxy Tab Lift on January 23, 2011 in Park City, Utah.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival) *** Local Caption *** Zooey Deschanel
Zooey Deschanel, in longer-haired days. Photo: Larry Busacca/2011 Getty Images

One of the sad realities (or perhaps blessings) about writing profiles for a magazine is that at some point the word count won’t let you squeeze in every weird factoid you’ve learned about your subject. But that’s what the web is for! In last week’s New York, Jada Yuan wrote about Zooey Deschanel, whose sitcom New Girl debuts on Fox tonight after Glee. That article was the result of multiple interviews with Deschanel and her friends, family, and co-workers, so there were plenty of random tidbits about Deschanel and the show that didn’t make it in. Enjoy! (And if you’re looking for a soundtrack to this reading, listen to her sing her own show’s theme song here.)

• Deschanel first showed signs of wanting to be in movies when she was 2. “When I saw Wizard of Oz, I, like, wanted to jump into the TV. My dad has the video tape of me seeing it for the first time, and I’m, like, up against the screen.” She also likes to tell the story of being in a production of Three Little Pigs at age three. The nursery school did multiple performances of the show because they wanted to give every kid in the class a chance to be on stage. But every go-around, Deschanel says, “some kid would get stage fright, so I would fill in for them. And by the third time, I was apparently, like, very fussy about how the wolf knocked on the door and insisted that the narrator call me The Third Baby Pig. My dad leaned to my mom and said, ‘Dustin Hoffman.’”

• She doesn’t like being seen as an indie boy’s dream girl. “I don’t think of myself like that; that would be weird. I’m flattered. But I mean, anyone can get a good haircut.”

• She thinks growing up in Los Angeles forced her to have to get a personality. “At my high school [Crossroads] there were just way more pretty girls than there were guys to go out with them, so any guy that was remotely attractive was like a rock star. There were, like, three of them and then half the class was really beautiful model-y girls,” she says. “I just feel like growing up in Los Angeles, you learn, ‘Well you’re never gonna be the prettiest girl in the room, so just don’t even try.’ I mean, I care about being pretty, but it’s not my most valued thing … I’ve always felt like it’s better to be like, ‘Well, I’ll just be myself,’ you know? I am what I am.”

Transylvania was her favorite computer game growing up. “That was one of those ones where you typed in ‘move rock’ and it moved the rock.”

• She started sewing her own clothes in high school because she had a strict allowance, couldn’t drive to the mall until she was 17, and constantly needed new clothes for theater. She also knits, but thinks it’s “too much” effort to learn all the patterns. Of the cute black and white outfit she wore on the day we met, she joked, “I bought it. This is embarrassing.”

• She’s been playing ukulele for ten years, long before it became the Williamsburg instrument du jour. She started because she likes the sound, and she thinks it’s cute. “It’s the perfect size,” she says. “There’s something about guitars, they’re just so big, you know what I mean? You’re just like, ‘Ugh!’ It just seems so overwhelming. And the ukulele is, like, the opposite of overwhelming.” As for Ryan Gosling and Eddie Vedder recently copping her uke style, she says, “Yeah, I should have trademarked that.”

• Her mom is Catholic, her father Quaker, but Zooey has no religion. (The subject came up because she’d taken her husband, Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard, to his first Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, which they loved.) “My family is liberal. I was raised in the ‘you can be whatever you want’ kind of way. And in the end, I was like, ‘Eh.’ I mean I’m interested in theology, and I love reading about it. But I don’t attach myself to any one religion or other.”

• Deschanel is not a vegan, despite what you might have seen on Top Chef Masters. She’s not even vegetarian. Basically, five years ago she took a blood test and discovered that she couldn’t eat dairy or eggs or wheat. “I am the worst person to ever eat with because I have all these stupid food allergies,” she says. “It wasn’t that many things, it was just all the things that are fun to eat — everything that I enjoy, like bread. ‘Awwwww, this is the worst thing!’ It was shitty.” Her sister, Emily, was a vegan, and Zooey could still eat in vegan restaurants, so she thought she’d just become one. “In the back of my mind, I was like, ‘It’ll be easy! I can’t have that stuff anyway.’ But I didn’t realize you have so few options in the end,” she says. “To be a gluten-free vegan is, like, the most difficult thing you can possibly be. And I lasted, like, six months.” The Top Chef Masters just happened to take place in that six months; by the time it aired, she was no longer vegan. “At a certain point, you just have to go, ‘You know, this gets in the way of my living too much ’… I think I was at a sushi restaurant and I was like, ‘Oh. Fuck it.’ On the set of New Girl, she gets special meals delivered to her trailer because she doesn’t want her cast and crew to have to eat all her “weird foods.”

• She still gets embarrassed seeing herself on talk shows when she first started out and had this habit of nervously rubbing her thighs throughout interviews. “I do cringe when I watch myself, like, ‘Oh, ahhh! No! Ugh, shut up!’” she says about her first appearance (as a blonde!) on David Letterman in 2006. “You’re really nervous when you go out there. They just shove you out and you’re like, ‘Ack! I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Forget about that! It was so awkward.”

• On a typical day, she arrives to the New Girl set a half-hour to an hour early, partly because, as the star of the show, she sets the tone. “And I like that responsibility,” she says. “I’ve been on shows where I’ve seen whoever is in the No. 1 position on the call sheet is not professional, and when that happens, I think everyone starts to go, like, ‘Well, they don’t show up on time, so I’m not going to.’ It makes me feel good that I can be in that position, you know, because I’ve spent so many years, not on the bottom, but I’ve spent so many years in the middle, sort of middling.”

• She only got a personal assistant because she was working sixteen-hour days on New Girl. The first task Deschanel gave her: making a cardboard cutout of Phil Collins’s head for an installment of Video Chat Karaoke on her website HelloGiggles.

• The working title for New Girl was Chicks and Dicks, a name “they knew they’d never be able to use,” says executive producer Jake Kasdan. “Creator Liz Meriwether has a history of racy titles. No Strings Attached was originally titled Fuckbuddies. The first pilot she did for FOX before New Girl was called Sluts.”

• Deschanel is, as she likes to say, “an easily distractible person.” The first time we met, at the Crosby Hotel*, she got so distracted by a family who sat down where we were drinking tea that she had to move to a table outside. There, her attention was divided between a giant fly having issues on the ground (“He’s like a 2-year-old having a tantrum. Or he’s dying. I can’t tell”) and an earwiglike bug we named Edwin that Deschanel was worried would crawl on her (“Oh, he’s creepin’! He’s making progress!”). When the waiter offered to kill Edwin for us, she objected strenuously. “Now he’s a character in our story. I’d feel bad if he, like, perished at our tea.”

• Deschanel spent seven months studying and preparing to play Janis Joplin in the biopic The Gospel According to Janis, but the project fell apart and she’s not too interested in revisiting it, should it ever come together. “This is maybe not the best thing for my career, but I don’t do well making, like, career moves, or decisions where I’m like, ‘This will be good for my career.’ I just do much better if I’m like, ‘Will this make me happy right now?’” she says. “But there was something about dragging myself through [the Janice Joplin] prep that makes it difficult to think about starting up again. It was a difficult experience. I mean, she was a really tortured person and it’s hard to live with that for a long time. So at a certain point I stopped keeping track of it because the thought of continuing to be in that space was too painful. I was like, ‘Uhhh. I can’t handle it.’”

• And she probably won’t get to play rock groupie Pamela Des Barres in the proposed HBO series I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, that was maybe going to shoot last year. The series wasn’t in shape by the time pilot season rolled around, so she shot New Girl instead.

• She and her sister Emily don’t see each other as role models, per se, but they are conscious about trying to put forth a healthy image. “I’m a small person, but I’m not an anorexic-looking person,” says Zooey. “I’m a normal, healthy weight. And I can say the same thing for my sister — she’s pregnant now, but in general. I think a lot of people think that they need to conform to some weird Hollywood idea of … and actually, I don’t think that the pressure is external. I think a lot of actresses feel this internal pressure to be unrealistic. And I don’t feel that, and I actually feel like that is a place to start. Like, I don’t want people to watch TV and think, ‘Everybody is 85 pounds!’ You know what I mean? That’s crazy. Normal people aren’t 85 pounds.”

• Her feminist rant about being girlie as she wants to be, in full: “Here’s the thing about being a girlie girl. I think there was a generation before us that felt like they needed to act like men to be taken seriously, like they had to use their sexuality to take control of people. I don’t judge people for that. But I don’t want to take all my clothes off and use myself as an object. It’s part of the machine and I don’t think that necessarily pushes us forward as women. I think you can still be girlie and maintain your power. The fact that you associate being girlie with being non-threatening, that is … I mean, I can’t think of more blatant example of playing into exactly the thing that we’re trying to fight against. I can’t be girlie? Why do I need to be defined aesthetically by someone else’s perceptions of what makes me seem like someone who should be taken seriously? I’m going to wear whatever I want to wear, because I’m expressing myself, and I deserve that right. And I like the way that looks. You’re not demeaning yourself by acting girlie. I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. Not me dressing girlie. I don’t think that undermines my power at all.

“I’m not doing it to pander to people. I just always knew what I liked versus what I don’t like. I never liked things with too many zippers or spikes and stuff. That weirds me out. I like things that are pretty. And I think it’s great to be pretty. I like being feminine. I think it’s good to be feminine. We don’t need to look like men or dress like men or talk like men to be powerful. We can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way.”

*This post has been corrected to show that the interview happened at the Crosby Hotel, not the Thompson Hotel.

Things You Learn After a Lot of Time Spent With Zooey Deschanel