A whole thesaurus-full of adjectives has been bestowed upon Zooey Deschanel over the course of her almost-15-year showbiz career. But none have had quite the staying power of “adorkable,” the descriptor that Fox coined to sum up her character, Jess Day, on the fall breakout, New Girl. Mind you, it doesn’t faze the 32-year-old actress, who in real life comes off far brainier than zany. “It was a really great tagline for the show’s first season,” says the movie star (Elf) and indie darling (500) Days of Summer). “I can’t complain.” Nonetheless, it probably won’t be long until she gets stamped with another label: Emmy nominee.
TVLINE | I hope you’re not superstitious, because I’d like to wish you luck with that Emmy nod I suspect you’re about to get.
Oh, thanks. But I haven’t won anything since fifth-grade student council, so I try not to think about that stuff. I mean, obviously, I would be to-the-moon excited if I were to be recognized. But I would never want to even assume [that I might get a nomination].
TVLINE | Understood. But you must have some sense that Jess is already, in a way, iconic — like a Mary Richards or a Carrie Bradshaw.
I just love this character. I remember reading the pilot script and thinking [that she] sort of represented a generation that I hadn’t seen before. And right away, I got so many ideas. I thought, ‘I could just endlessly work on this.’
TVLINE | A lot of people seem to have the perception that Jess is you. What percentage of her actually is?
There are parts of me that I put in her, but I throw myself into every character. I find the truth by filtering it through my own emotions. A lot of times, I’ve told people that Jess is like a teenage version of myself, but that’s maybe misleading in that it makes it sound like she is me. She’s not. She’s this wonderful collaboration that I’ve had with [series creator] Liz Meriwether. Plus, the character evolved. I watch her every week and see what’s working, and I adjust. It’s nice to be able to do that.
TVLINE | That kind of development really went on with all the characters over the course of the season.
That’s one thing that I liked about the show from the start, that I could see any one of these characters being the comic relief in a scene or the straight man. You could really shake it up, which makes for a pretty versatile cast of characters.
TVLINE | It also lends itself to a shifting dynamic, which might have surprised the critics who pigeonholed the show — and Jess — right away.
A lot of people didn’t even see the pilot, they only saw the promo for it and were like, “Oh, I don’t know about that!” But we’re talking about someone in a very heightened state who had just gone through a crazy break-up. You go through very broad strokes of emotion [at times like that]. As the season went on, it was wonderful to be able to play with a more subtle palette. Jess can [still] be awkward, but she’s not just constantly on one level.
TVLINE | The audience seemed to very quickly latch onto Jess and roommate Nick as not just a potential couple but the couple to root for. Will they get together next season?
I don’t actually know, because the writing staff hasn’t started breaking stories yet. But I hope Jake Johnson and I at least get more scenes together. [Early on, the powers that be] saw that there was good chemistry and were like, “Oh, crap!” They didn’t want to throw us together and ruin something.
TVLINE | By making it a show about this couple instead of a show about this bunch of friends?
Right. So I feel like [Jess and Nick’s feelings] could be unrequited, it could go on forever; it could happen and then fall apart… I don’t know!
TVLINE | Anybody you’d like to see come in and play an interim boyfriend before we finally get to Jess and Nick?
No. I just want the best actors that we can find. They don’t have to be famous. I’m not invested in stunt-casting. But I also don’t even want to say “finally get to Jess and Nick” since I don’t know that that’s where the show will go.
TVLINE | OK, we won’t say that, then. Whatever happens at the Emmys, how did it feel to be kind of the face of this TV season? I mean, you were everywhere — magazine covers, billboards, commercials…
To me, that just meant that our network was behind the show, which was really amazing. I came to this from doing tons of movies, [so I know that it’s gotten] harder to get people to go out and see movies, especially ones that may be of the same ilk as New Girl, which is a more character-driven comedy. That’s what I like to do. The fact that we were able to do this and have people watch… I love that.
This story first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season including deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.