For the millions who enjoy watching Zooey Deschanel play Jess on New Girl every week, you have lazy screenwriters to thank.
Deschanel, who had a healthy film career going in both the indie world ((500) Days of Summer) and the mainstream (Elf, Yes Man), one day decided she just didn’t care for any of the movie roles out there. They were “one-dimensional” and “all sort of the same,” she says, echoing an oft-repeated chorus for women in showbiz.
But then came Jess and New Girl. The affable sitcom arrived on FOX to much hype back in 2011, and begins its third season Sept. 17.
“I felt like it was the perfect job for me,” Deschanel says. “You get interesting things to do every week and you never completely know what’s coming next, because we’re all forming things as we go. It’s just so rare to read a part that’s this great.”
Much of the hoopla this season revolves around Jess and Nick (Jake Johnson), roommates who finally answered the classic “will they or won’t they” question with a resounding, earth-shattering “they will.” While there usually is a fair amount of handwringing that goes along with letting two characters finally act on long-simmering romantic tension, Deschanel says she is excited for the new dynamic.
“I wanted them to get together, just because I felt like they were keeping the characters apart a lot,” she says. “And, for me, it’s good because I like working with Jake.”
She is quick to add that she enjoys working with all of her fellow cast members, including Max Greenfield, who plays the unendingly quotable Schmidt, and Lamorne Morris as the prank-loving Winston. The quartet has taken its place as one of the best ensembles on TV.
And now that they are into Season 3, with more than 50 episodes behind them, Deschanel says they’re only getting stronger.
“ I never want to rest on my laurels, but I can say that in some ways acting is a muscle,” she says. “When you work as much as we work — I mean, we’ve shot 50-something episodes of this show. When you’ve done it that many times, when you’ve done that many episodes, when you’ve worked that many days, it’s almost like getting in top shape as an actor doing this show. You’re more conditioned to be able to complete all the tasks that you’re asked to complete on this particular show. It’s not that it’s not different every week, but you find yourself figuring out how to do things and having a little bit more facilities with it than in Episode 5.”
While there will be plenty of Jess-Nick business this season, Deschanel believes it won’t overwhelm the rest of the show. She promises more Schmidt and Cece (Hannah Simone) drama, as well as something involving a cat.
“Whether they’re together or not, that’s not what makes the show good,” she says. “What makes shows good are the small details — the chemistry between actors, the writing, it’s a lot of different things. You could name or describe five different stories and they’d be like every story that’s ever been told. ‘Well, here’s a story about four roommates.’ We’ve seen stories about roommates in an apartment before. We’ve seen stories about two people falling in love before. But we keep wanting to see them again.”
While Deschanel says she’s still excited to be on New Girl, there will come a time when she will seek other roles, preferably far away from the “adorkable” Jess. Despite the strong association she has with being quirky (and “Bein’ Quirky”), she doesn’t feel that it will limit her options.
“No matter what, people are going to confuse you with the characters you play,” she says. “A lot of that is marketing. Really good marketing. Most people don’t really know what the word quirky means. I literally have had people call me that, and if you asked them to define it, I don’t think they would actually know what that means. Those are things I’ve been called. I don’t see myself as that. ‘Adorkable,’ that was for the show. That was the show’s slogan, so of course people are going to associate that with me. But that’s not how I think of myself. I can’t control what people think of me, nor should I. That’s not of any interest to me. I’m happy people watch the show and I love my job, so that’s all I can really worry about.”
New Girl Season 3 premieres at 9pm Tuesday, Sept. 17, on FOX.
Photo: © 2013 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Alexei Hay/FOX