Meriwether jokingly crowns her “the pinup of Williamsburg.” She adds, “When we were interviewing guy writers, we’d be talking about the show and it’s very professional, and then all of a sudden their voices would get like really low and they’d be like, [breathlessly] ‘I love Zooey Deschanel.’ And I was like, ‘All right. It’s better for both of us if you hold it back.’ ”
Deschanel’s husband gets it. “I’d seen her movies and obviously I thought she was very beautiful,” Gibbard says. And when they finally met three years ago, through their mutual music manager, “I was just awestruck that she was even talking to me.” (Their second date: dressing up and going to the Ohio State Fair.) Now he plays gatekeeper. “Every once in a while, there’s a guy that tries to be charming and goofy. I’m just kind of like, ‘I’m going to wait this out and make sure it doesn’t get inappropriate,’ ” he says. Not that he wouldn’t expect to win the fight. “The male fans, they’re kind of like indie-rockers, stylish and fey. It’s very rare that a big muscle-y guy is like, ‘I love you, Zooey Deschanel.’ But who knows? Maybe the show will change that.” Meriwether says that during that focus group, there actually was “this one really big, sort of scary-looking guy who was just like, ‘Yeah, I like her!’ We were just like, ‘All right! Great! You want doofy female screwball comedy? I will give it to you!’ ”
Among women, Deschanel tends to be more polarizing. They either covet her bangs or they resent her for seemingly playing into the male fantasy that women are only attractive when they act like girls. Plenty of blog posts have used Deschanel as a launchpad for this very debate. Then there’s grumbling that while alt-heroines of the past (Winona Ryder, Parker Posey) had a kind of edge to them, Deschanel is all sweetness and light: not enough kohl on the lens.
In terms of selling New Girl, however, edge doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. During the show’s presentation at the Television Critics Association conference in August, male critics had a running Twitter theme about Deschanel’s adorableness. The Hollywood Reporter chief TV critic Tim Goodman (@BastardMachine): “Pretty sure I won’t be able to tweet anything about Zooey Deschanel w/o using the word ‘adorable’ a lot.” “If Jeff Zucker had let Zooey Deschanel introduce him, he’d still be working in this business. We have been defanged by adorableness.” Time magazine columnist James Poniewozik: “A cartoon bluebird just landed on Zooey Deschanel’s shoulder. #tca #newgirl #adorableoverload.”
“When did you first realize you were adorable?” was an actual question during the TCA Q&A. According to ew.com, Deschanel blushed and covered her ears, saying, “My mom told me when I get compliments to cover my ears.” The EW reporter, naturally, found this incredibly adorable. Or, as Goodman put it: “Hella adorable. No, really. It is.”
If you ask Zooey Deschanel’s friends to pinpoint the moment when they thought she might have what it takes to make it in showbiz, they’ll point to a particularly indelible eighth-grade talent-show performance of “I’m Shy” from Once Upon a Mattress.
“Oh, that was huge,” says the actor Jason Ritter, who’s known her since kindergarten. “It starts off very timid …”
“And then it’s like, ‘I’m shy!’ Like a huge Broadway thing,” says another friend.
“Everyone was there: from seventh grade to twelfth grade, like 1,000 people,” says Ritter. “And she just belts out this song. It was a real sort of Zooey coming-out. The rest of us were all trying to sort of find out who we were and to be cool, and she was just like, ‘This is who I am. I already figured it out. I’m this. Like it or don’t.’ ”
Zooey and Emily grew up on-camera, not because their parents wanted to groom child stars—indeed, they refused to let Zooey go on auditions until she was old enough to drive—but because that’s what happens when your dad is an Oscar-nominated cinematographer. “My dad would shoot twenty rolls of film on a trip to Italy,” says Zooey. She loved it; Emily, who spent most of childhood wanting to be an architect, not so much. “My sister was always like, ‘Don’t film me! I’m so cool.’ She was very James Dean about it.”
When Deschanel was 7, her family moved to the Seychelles while Caleb directed Crusoe. Their island had only one TV set. “It was definitely a difficult adjustment from, like, ‘Aaaaaahhh, Play-Doh! Everything in your face!’ to, like, a complete abyss,” she says. “But I guess it made me really imaginative.” There were two movies for rent. One was the first half of Gandhi; the second tape was missing. The other was This Is Spinal Tap. “I knew every line by heart.”