Q & A: Emily Deschanel on ‘Bones’
Emily Deschanel has played the title character in Bones for 6 seasons. Usually that’s when shows start to sag but not Bones. In tonight’s moving episode, you get to see a different side to ‘Brennan’; a side that the audience hasn’t really seen.
Titled, The Doctor in the Photo, it centers on a Dr. whose life revolves around her work. When the Dr. is found dead, Brennan sees herself in the victim. “She starts relating to the character, believing that it’s her. “(The case) forces Brennan into a place where she is bold and kind of aware of her feelings in a way that she hasn’t been before,” Deschanel said.
I talked to Emily in a conference call where she talked about the emotional toll this episode took on her, if anything about character still surprises her and of course, I asked her advice to actors.
Does it ever get exhausting playing Brennan, because she’s so serious and factual? You, yourself always come across as so lively. Is it hard to be in that state of mind a lot?
Emily Deschanel: Yes and no. I think that Brennan has (a) become a lot more open over the years and you get to see her kind of dorky, quirky side at times, which is fun. I hang on to those moments and try to incorporate things like that in every episode. My favorite things about people in general is that they have contradictions. Brennan is no exception to that rule. I love exploring the contradictions of her character and all of that.
No, I’m an actor, too. So playing a character who’s very different from myself is one of the best things to happen to me, especially in a television series. So many times people are hired to play something very close to who they are in real life. It’s a wonderful opportunity to play this character who is very different. I can’t say that I don’t possess some qualities that are similar or that sometimes I don’t remind myself of her, when I behave like a real, I don’t know, nerd—I say that in the most affectionate way—but, I’m very different. So, I love the fact that I am different from the character. But, that’s true sometimes, especially when you’re doing certain episodes. You come home and you take it home a little bit with you.
I have tried to make boundaries for myself where I leave work at work. If I have lines to learn, I do all my acting work on the weekends and then I learn my lines the day before. If there’s any work that needs to be done before the next day, I do it at work. I don’t leave work until I’ve finished that. I don’t like to take work home with me. That means staying late even after working 15 hours. I’ll stay late an hour or two just to make sure I get everything right. I try to set those boundaries so I don’t take things home, but that said, it does leak into your personal life sometimes.
Six years is a really good run. Why do you think the show is doing so well?
Emily Deschanel: Wow, it’s hard for me to say what the success is and it’s hard for me to be objective about something that I’m absolutely in the middle of right now. But, when people come up to me and are fans of the show, a lot of people say, “It’s the only show that I can watch with my husband,” or, “It’s the only show I can watch with my family, or my wife.” Everyone likes different things. I think that one of the qualities of our show that may have been a detriment at times and may have not made us the huge hit right away that some other shows have been is the fact that it’s so many different things.
How long do you want to go with this show? Do you feel like you’re peaking?
Emily Deschanel: It’s such a good question. It’s so hard to know. I wish I had that perspective. It’s something that I don’t really have control over. At this point, I have a contract for eight seasons, so I can’t say, “I’m done now.” I’d rather not say, “We’re peaking, I’m done,” because I’d be in trouble for breaking my contract. I’d rather just think that we’re going for at least eight seasons or something.
No, it’s something as an actor that you only have a certain amount of control over. You look at certain shows that last for ten years and that is just incredible. I just can’t believe we’ve been here for six seasons. Not because I don’t believe in the show and I don’t love it and I don’ think it deserves a huge audience. It’s just that there’s so many wonderful shows that get cancelled in the first season. There’s so many wonderful shows that don’t get picked up in the first place. I know I’m so lucky to be doing the show; the show that I love doing and a character that I have such affection for. I’m just incredibly lucky.
But, I love doing this show. When I started, I thought, “Three seasons. That’s the most. That’s such a long time. I’ll be exhausted by then. I will be done and then I can move on to other things.” Then, it keeps going, but I’ve never thought, “Oh, we got picked up for another season. Oh, darn it. I wish that hadn’t happened.” I’ve always been excited when we’ve been picked up for another season. I think that will continue, but who knows. Maybe, talk to me—we’ll go for 11 years and I might be like, “I’m done with the show. I’m sick of it,” but right now I’m still enjoying myself and loving it, and just counting my lucky stars.
It was interesting to hear you talk about the work you do that you don’t want to take home. What sort of extra work did you have to do on this episode?
Emily Deschanel: You just spend more time working on it. I work with my acting teacher on it, but there’s just a lot of work you do on your own. I hate talking about the acting process, but it’s a lot of creating thoughts and memories and all of that. So, there’s a lot of work to do. When it’s such a heavy episode, you’re facing such serious emotions as a character. It’s just more demanding. It takes longer to do. You’re just working harder on that. It’s stuff I love. I love doing that. I like the challenge. I don’t think I could do it every single episode. I don’t know, maybe I’d get used to it, but it demands lot.
Playing this character for as long as you have, does anything about her still surprise you?
Emily Deschanel: Yes, yes. I think I was surprised as she started to open up more. What I just love, this was a couple of seasons ago, but there was a scene where she asked Sweets to help her learn facial expressions because she’s kind almost on the autistic spectrum, almost Aspbergery—not quite, but has some characteristics that fit into that. She doesn’t really understand how to read peoples’ emotions. I just love that she recognized that she didn’t know how to do this and she wanted to get better at it. I just love that.
I loved the Jersey Shore episode. That surprised me just how much Brennan had studied this culture of the guidos and how seriously she took it. In a way, things surprise me and in a way, things don’t. Because of course, she studied these guidos. Of course, she takes it very seriously as an anthropological study. She’s going to throw a guy the crab, doing a body building pose to scare someone away. It’s a lot of fun.
Yes and no I guess is my answer. I love so many of her qualities, especially when she’s trying to grow as a person and open up.
What’s your advice to actors?
Emily Deschanel: Study acting. Do theater. Play as different kind of characters as you possibly can. Stretch yourself as far as you can. Make it about the acting. So many people get caught up in the looks and the agents and the business of it all and who you know and all of that. I guess that’s valid, but if you concentrate on the acting, I can’t say that everything will fall into place, because I know so many incredibly talented actors who are struggling. I heard somebody say once it’s 90% perseverance and like 5% talent. I think that’s so true, but I think if you are perseverant and if you— Concentrate on the acting, that’s all I’ll say. Concentrate on the acting.
In this week’s episode, Brennan feels a strong connection to the victim in the case. How was it play Brennan in such a vulnerable light?
Emily Deschanel: It’s hard because you have to go through all the emotions that she’s going through. At the same time, it’s refreshing because it’s a very different episode than most episodes of the show. It’s kind of strange. It’s a different episode. I think it was one of my favorite scripts.
It’s just very unique. It’s very personal to Brennan. She is facing her own mortality and also looking at her life and seeing what she would be leaving behind when she dies. You don’t see that side of Brennan very often. She becomes very vulnerable trying to solve this case, which she believes to be— If people haven’t seen or don’t know basically, there is a woman who is killed. She’s a doctor. When they started listing the different qualities of this person, Brennan thinks is sounds very familiar, whether they’re physical or personal qualities. Then, even looking at the photograph of the person who died, it looks like Brennan when she looks at it. It’s from Brennan’s perspective, this episode.
It’s very interesting, but kind of terrifying for Brennan and confusing. She’s visited by a night watchman who we’re not even sure if he exists or not in real life. Enrico Colantoni played that part, who I’ve always loved as an actor, so it was a lot of fun to work with him.
Yes, it was definitely hard to go through that because I was also in every single scene of this episode. There were absolutely no breaks whatsoever.
You do a fantastic scene with David in the episode in the car when you’re talking to him. It’s a really somber moment. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like filming that emotionally charged scene? That actually had me crying, too.
Emily Deschanel: Oh, that’s—I shouldn’t say, “That’s nice. I’m glad you cried,” but I guess we always want to affect people emotionally. Yes, it was one of those scenes that you know is there. You prepare for it acting-wise. You know it’s coming up, but it’s one of those things that says that you’re crying in the scene. Then, you’re like, “It’s okay if I don’t cry. I don’t have to cry,” but then walking in, everyone’s expecting that. So, there’s a lot of pressure of that.
It’s one of those things as an actor that you kind of dread those scenes in a way, because you’d rather it just not be written in and see if your emotions go to that place or not. But, at the same time, it’s good to have those markers as an actor to know where your breaking points are for the character, and where in the story is the low point.
Do you think we’ll be left with any lasting change for Temperance after this episode or is she kind of like, “That’s that,” after she makes that pitch to Booth?
Emily Deschanel: I think you’ll see both. Honestly, Brennan’s the kind of person that the closer she gets to opening up her feelings, the more closed off she becomes. After that, I think she becomes even more closed off in a way. So, there is a reaction, but it may not be the reaction people want from Brennan. She rarely is predictable in that way. I think you’ll see Brennan becoming more protected than she has been even. Then at times, she’s open. I think it affects her, but I think it affects her in many different kind of opposing ways and you’ll see in episodes to come. We’re still reading and shooting episodes that are coming up, so we’re only few ahead of this one.
After this emotional episode, how nice was it to go back to more case of the week? Was it a relief?
Emily Deschanel: Absolutely, absolutely. It took a lot out of me. It was an exhausting episode, physically, outside in the rain at night, all of that stuff. I’m not saying poor me in any way, but I’m just saying it was a relief to come back to doing these episodes about …, things like that. Definitely a relief, definitely a relief.