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Q&A: New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel: “I have a sort of shorthand for my character and I know what’s working and what’s not working”

The hit comedy New Girl has just returned for its sophomore season and its star, Zooey Deschanel, is excited about what’s coming up on the show.

Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis are on tap to star as her parents and her character is evolving but, she told me in a recent Q & A, don’t expect Nick and Jess to get together anytime soon. “I think that they’re not ready for each other,” she said.

In the interview, she also talked about working with the cast, guest-starring on The Simpsons and loving to “make people laugh.”

New Girl airs on Tuesday at 9:00/8:00c on FOX  Has comedy always come easy to you or is it something you’ve had to work out with?

Zooey Deschanel: I think comedy’s just about being interested in comedy and what makes people laugh and experimenting.  I’ve always loved making people laugh and that was in school I a lot of times would play the comic relief character.  So, it’s different patterns; something that always pops up.  But, I did drama, too.  I sort of consider myself a comedic actress, not a comedienne.  I think it’s different.  You know I’m not a stand-up or anything.  But, playing into comedic situations is sort of where, I think, my strength lies.

Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis are going to be playing your parents.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

Zooey Deschanel: Yes.  I’m really excited, you know.  I heard at the beginning of the season that we had talked about maybe having Jess’ parents come in last year, but it didn’t happen.  Then, this year, before even the season started, we talked about the fact that they were going to introduce Jess’ parents in the Thanksgiving episode.  So, we talked about a bunch of people and these were just beyond my wildest dreams.  They’re people that I think would be just so perfect.  I can’t wait to start shooting with them.

Your mother’s an actress who a lot people are aware of, especially from Twin Peaks.  But, did anybody ever talk on her and her interest of possibly coming on the show as your mother?

Zooey Deschanel: No, no there wasn’t.  I would love to work with my mom, but I think you want to keep things a little bit more imaginative.  If I were to work with my mom, I probably would not want her to play my mom.  That would get too real….

The male-female relationships on the show are really great to watch because they’re really platonic and they seem to represent kind of a more modern understanding of relationships between men and women.  But, I also like the emphasis on diversity that the show has.  Could you speak a little bit to that because you guys clearly have different ethnicities playing in the show that it’s all very natural?

Zooey Deschanel: Yes.  The thing is I know that was like one thing that was important to our exec producers and also to Fox that our show be diverse and that it’s not diverse in a way where we’re making a big deal out of the diversity.  It’s just friends.  I think to speak to what we were talking to before about the relationships between men and women; the diversity is also nobody makes a big deal out of.  It’s just more of an intermingling; it’s just more modern relationships.  You see more and more on TV this happening.  I think it’s speaks to you more like a modern sensibility because that’s the way people are now.

The writers have said a lot there’s a worry about getting Nick and Jess together too soon.  Do you think that that’s a problem? 

Zooey Deschanel: There’s no danger of that happening.  They’re not getting together anytime soon.  I think that they’re not ready for each other and nobody is going to push them together.  So, I think Nick and Jess have a great chemistry and I work really well with Jake Johnson.  I think it’s nice the sort of love-hate-but love relationship they have.  They’re not going to throw them together or anything soon.  They might tease it out.

How hard is it to work with the guys without cracking up, especially Max?

Zooey Deschanel: I don’t really ever crack up.  That’s my job because I’m an actor.  We’re in the situation and it’s not really about.  They’re all funny, but we’re all just for our jobs and we’re all professionals.  So, it’s not really like we’re all just laughing all the time.  It’s, again, especially it’s pretty basic acting, not cracking up.  Sometimes we’re laughing.  We make each other laugh.  And, they’re all funny.  It’s not like Max is funnier than Lamorne and Jake.  They’re all really funny.  I just want to say that.

There was an evolution of your character from the beginning of the first season to the end, where they kind of mellowed you out in terms of the quirkiness of the character.  Was that something that you encouraged or is that something that was just a very natural evolution?

Zooey Deschanel: Well, this is a natural evolution, but it was two things.  One, at the beginning of last year, I always said this, “She’s not going to always be in the same heightened state that she is in the pilot because in that situation she’s just gone through a crisis.”  Now, if it were a movie, you might just see her in slice of her life.  But, it’s a TV show so they stretch it out.

You see somebody in a lot of different situations and she gets confident, more confident and changes and she bawls and grows up and a lot of things over the season.  She is just like how somebody in a crazy heightened sense of reality.  I always thought of the show as we were aiming for reality.  Now, we have silly situations that sometimes throw our life into some broader stuff.  But, ultimately, I’m always grounding in reality.

Here’s the other thing is I’m watching every week and seeing what’s working.  I’m using my own sensibilities to inform how I play the character.  So, if I think something seems like too much, the next time we do something like that I’m going to pull it back a little bit, you know.  I think all of us are doing that.

The writers and the actors are going for what works best because sometimes on the day you don’t always know how to play something, but the fact that we’ve done however many episodes and I’ve been looking at them and seeing what works that’s going to inform how I play it.  I have a sort of shorthand for my character and I know what’s working and what’s not working.  I think that’s one of the privileges of doing television is the ability to evaluate my own performance and try to improve upon my own….

What was your experience like working on The Simpsons?  Has it been in the works for a while? 

Zooey Deschanel: Yes, I’ve been a huge fan of the show since I was like ten years old and really exciting.  I did an episode four years ago or something; four or five years ago, and it was really fun then.  But, I had to record it.  I was working in Philadelphia and I had to record it out there.  So, I didn’t get to see all the people read or record with any of the actors.  So, this time, I got to record with Nancy and that was really exciting.  I got to sing some songs and I actually got to write two songs for them.  So, one for this episode and one for the next I’m on.  That was super exciting.  I don’t know—it was kind of dream come true.  It’s been an amazing experience and I’m a huge fan of everyone over there.  It’s been nothing but fun.

You’ve found yourself having great success on TV, movies, and music.  Which one of those outlets do you enjoy most?

Zooey Deschanel: I like them all for different reasons.  I think it’s important to do a lot of different things.  These are all really exciting, fun jobs.  You don’t want to stop appreciating them because of the grind.  So, I think it’s really important to have, at least for me, different things that I enjoy doing.  They all play different roles in making me feel creatively satisfied.  I really like the collaboration of doing movies and television.  But, I like the sort of solitary work of doing music.  I love live performance, too.  So, it’s all really great.

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