Every generation has an IT girl – an actress who seemingly embodies her generation. On the small screen, past IT girls have included Mary Tyler Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Marlo Thomas (wait, she was THAT girl), Lindsay Wagner, Jennifer Anniston, etc … Actress Zooey Deschanel, who after years struggling to find her place on the Silver Screen, seems to have found a home on the small one as FOX’s New Girl. Does this make her an IT girl? Time will tell.
Zooey Claire Deschanel (born January 17th, 1980) is an actress, musician and singer/songwriter. Though she comes from a Hollywood heritage, she came into her own in the late 1990s, most notably in Cameron Crowe’s film Almost Famous. Since then, she has carved out a name for herself on the Silver Screen and the musical stage.
Born in Los Angeles, to director and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and actress Mary Jo Deschanel, Zooey was named after the male protagonist from J.D. Salinger’s 1961 novella Frannie and Zooey. She has one older sister, Emily, also an actress, who stars in the television series Bones.
Though Los Angeles was her home, Zooey spent most of her childhood traveling with her father from location-shoot to location-shoot. Attending Crossroads, a private school in Santa Monica, she became friends with future costars Kate Hudson and Jake Gyllenhaal. During summers, she also attended The French Woods Festival of Performing Arts where she honed her singing skills, with the intention of pursuing a career in musical theater. Later, she enrolled at Northwestern University, only to drop out seven months later to seek work as an actress.
After making her film debut in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1999 film Mumford, writer/director Cameron Crowe cast her as Anita, the young hero’s free-spirited older sister, in his semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous. The film received enormous critical praise, but was a box office disappointment (it has since gained a well-deserved cult following). Zooey continued her musical career during this time, and in 2001 formed If All The Stars Were Pretty Babies, a Los Angeles cabaret act with friend and fellow actress Samantha Shelton.
Many minor supporting roles came Zooey’s way in low-budget fare like Manic, Big Trouble, Abandon, and the Jennifer Aniston vehicle, The Good Girl. Unbeknownst to her, she was being typecast during this time as the “sarcastic best friend.” Zooey objected to this, saying, "A lot of these roles are just a formula idea of somebody's best friend, and it's like, I don't even have that many friends. In high school, I stayed home all the time, so I don't know how I'm everybody's best friend now."
Zooey’s first lead role was in 2003’s All the Real Girls. Playing Noel, a sexually curious 18-year-old virgin whose romance with an 22-year-old slacker changes her life, garnered much critical praise. Later that same year, Zooey got massive exposure by playing a wry department store worker opposite Will Ferrell in the smash hit Elf. Zooey also sang in the film – her bathroom duet of Baby, It’s Cold Outside was a delightful highlight of an already delightful film.
Zooey’s next cinematic ventures included The New Guy, Eulogy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and Failure To Launch (where once again she got stuck playing “best friend” to Sarah Jessica Parker – many thought aptly that she stole that otherwise tepid rom-com from its bigger name stars). During this time, she also made a few guest appearances on the popular Showtime series Weeds.
In fall of 2006, Variety reported that Zooey would portray 1960s singer Janis Joplin in an upcoming biopic. The film, The Gospel According to Janis, was to be co-written and directed by Penelope Spheeris. Zooey was to sing all of Joplin’s songs herself, and took four months of singing lessons to approximate Joplin's gravely vocal style. The film was greenlit and scheduled to begin principal photography in late 2006. However, it was later put into turnaround and postponed indefinitely.
Picking herself up and dusting herself off after that major disappointment, Zooey next appeared in the children’s fantasy Bridge to Terabithia. She also provided the voice of Lani Aliikai in the animated film, Surf’s Up. In late ‘07, Zooey did some television work – portraying DG in the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries Tin Man – an update of The Wizard of Oz. Two more disappointing films were added to Zooey’s resumé in 2008: M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and the Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man – both of which did less-than-stellar box office.
In 2009, Zooey played opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the romantic comedy (some would say, aptly, anti-rom-com) 500 Days of Summer. The film was a critical and commercial success, earning comparisons to other films like High Fidelity and Annie Hall.
In 2011 (after appearing in the 2010 box-office bomb, Your Highness), Zooey moved to the small screen, starring as the titular character in the FOX series New Girl. The show was an instant hit.
While her box office track record has room for improvement, where Zooey’s star continues to shine ever brighter, is with her music. Combining her talents with singer/songwriter M. Ward, the two have started a musical group entitled She and Him. Their debut album, Volume One, received great critical praise and an ever-growing fan base. Volume One was followed by (of course) Volume Two (2010) and A Very She and Him Christmas (2011).
Whether on the small screen or the Silver Screen (or whatever portable listening devices are the current rage), Zooey will succeed. She IS an IT girl. Go Zooey, go!
Zooey Deschanel Quotes:
"I love old music, old movies, screwball comedies, vintage clothes and basically I’m an old-fashioned gal."
“It’s such an amazing feeling to look out and see all these people singing along to my melodies. Now that I’ve experienced what it’s like to stand up there, I just can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.”
“I don’t really like to go out very much. I’m not scandalous. I’m not, like, in this to be famous. I also find it so embarrassing when you read about people and it’s like they were so trashed at Skybar and stumbling around. I don’t want to be that person. That’s just so embarrassing to have that written about you.”
“You have to keep reminding yourself it’s not about money, because there is a lot of money to be made in this business if you’re willing to do whatever. But that’s not what I’m thinking about. I continue only to take movies because I love the script and because I really want to do it.”
“I’m blessed with a lot of energy and stamina. I can’t stand sitting still. I went to a spa once with my mom and I was like, ‘Get me out of here!’”
“For me, writing is 75 percent procrastinating and 25 percent actually sitting down and working.”
“I don`t want to be a babe. I don`t want vanity to ever get in the way, because I think to maintain that, you have to be aware of yourself all the time, and that gets in the way of acting. My job`s not to be the beautiful person. My job is to be the best actor I can be.”
“I don`t think I`m very much like anyone else, really. I`m sure there are aspects of other actors that I share, but I don`t see anybody else and go, 'Damn, they stole my thing.' I`m me, and I like that there are people who have an appreciation for that.”