Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Currently Known For:
Actress, Model, Singer, and Songwriter
2000s - Present
January 17, 1980
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“The internet is like one big bathroom wall with a lot of people who anonymously can say really mean things...” Zooey Deschanel got her start in acting in the late 1990s and quickly built her reputation for deadpan comedy roles in hits like The Good Girl (2002), Elf (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), and Yes Man (2008). Also proving her talents as a dramatic actress in Winter Passing (2005) and Bridge to Terabithia (2007), the 39-year-old Deschanel is perhaps best known for her work as Jessica Day on the hit Fox sitcom, New Girl (2011-2018).
1980s to Stardom
The daughter of cinematographer and director Caleb Deschanel and his wife, actress Mary Jo Deschanel, Zooey Claire Deschanel came into this world on January 17, 1980, in Los Angeles, California. Because of her father’s career, Deschanel and her older sister, actress Emily Deschanel, spent most of their childhood traveling to sets around the world. “I hated all the traveling,” Deschanel later admitted. “I’m really happy now that I had the experience, but at the time I was just so miserable to have to leave my friends in Los Angeles and go to places where they didn’t have any food I liked or things I was used to.”
Deschanel attended the private Santa Monica preparatory school, Crossroads, where she was friends with Kate Hudson and Jake Gyllenhaal. While there, she improved her talents as a singer and later attended French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts where she dreamed of pursuing musical theatre. After graduation, she enrolled at Northwestern University only to drop out nine months later to pursue acting full time.
Deschanel’s decision quickly paid off when she made her television debut in an episode of Veronica’s Closet (1998) and her film debut in Mumford (1999). She co-starred in the award-winning Almost Famous (2000) and followed up with Manic (2001), Big Trouble (2002), The New Guy (2002), Good Girl (2002), and Abandon (2002). Her performances in the films earned her praise as critics finally took notice of “her deadpan, sardonic, and scene-stealing” style.
Although Deschanel shied away from being typecast, her talent was undeniable when she landed the leading role in All the Real Girls (2003). She joined Will Ferrell in Elf (2003) and followed up with credits in Eulogy (2004), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), and Failure to Launch (2006). She snagged a recurring role in Weeds (2006-2007) and proved her talents as a dramatic actress in Bridge to Terabithia (2007) and The Happening (2008).
Despite finding consistent work in flicks like (500) Days of Summer (2009), Our Idiot Brother (2011), and Your Highness (2011), something was missing from Deschanel’s career—staying power. Luckily, she found that and more in 2011 when she was cast as the star of Fox’s new sitcom, New Girl. The decision to play the bubbly and offbeat teacher was a huge transition for Deschanel as the show offered her a chance to produce and explore character development.
“Television’s totally changed since New Girl started, I know that much,” she said. “When I decided to do New Girl, these people were like, ‘Oh, you’re doing television?’ It was kind of looked down upon to do television if you were a movie actor. My thought was it’s an opportunity to make funny content, and it’s not really about the length. There are challenges to making movies just as there are challenges to making a television show. But it’s not as if one medium is better than the other. It’s just different. This is the golden age of television now, and there are so many amazing female characters on television. There were a lot fewer when we started. I can’t say that has anything to do with us.”
New Girl was an instant hit for the network and made Deschanel a household name as she earned an Emmy Award nomination and three Golden Globe nominations for her performance throughout the show’s run from 2011 to 2018. The series also taught her more about improvisation and allowed her the opportunity to step behind the camera. “It was a great experience… It was really fun to be able to take a kind of behind-the-scenes angle on it, and I really enjoyed myself,” Deschanel said. “I loved it. It was a lot of work. The thing that I thought was most difficult was—it was really fun when I wasn’t in the scenes. And when you’re in the scenes it’s a little more stressful because you’re trying to act and give a good performance and then judge yourself as well as direct and judge other people. We have stand-ins for blocking, so I could have my stand-in do my action so I could see what that looked like.”
Amid her stint on New Girl, Deschanel pursued her interests in film with credits in Rock the Kasbah (2015), The Driftless Area (2016), and Trolls (2016). She also pursued her interests in music and teamed up with M. Ward to form She & Him. Following the success of their debut album, Volume One, She & Him released A Very She & Him Christmas (2011), Volume 3 (2013), Classics (2014), and Christmas Party (2016).
In 2018, Deschanel wrapped up her starring role in New Girl and set her sights on the future. “More than anything personally, I think it’s such a treat to get to work with amazing people for seven years. It’s so rare,” she said. “All of my professional experiences have been limited to the run of a movie… no more than six months at a time. I’ve gotten to work with these people through so many life changes… I’ve gotten to know everyone so well. It’s kind of like high school but longer. I feel so fortunate that I was able to be there at the beginning and help with the casting process… I feel like this sense of camaraderie that I have never felt before, and I don’t know if I will ever have again.”
Wrapping up the show was bittersweet, but that doesn’t mean the 39-year-old is anxiously planning her next moves in Hollywood. “I’ve never been a five-year plan kind of person,” she says. So, what are her plans? Deschanel is happy to spend time at home with her husband, film producer Jacob Pechenik (2015), and their children—daughter Elsie Otter (2015) and Charlie Wolf (2017). As for her stardom, Deschanel simply doesn’t see it. “I’m just Zooey,” she says. “I’m me.”