The great thing about music videos is that, no matter the relative merits of the tune, you can still look at attractive people. Take, for example, the new She & Him video, “Don’t Look Back.” It’s catchy, cutesy, and fairly similar to other She & Him songs. I give it a B, with the possibility of an additional (+) if it’s still stuck in my head tomorrow morning. But the real prize is of course the always-adorable Zooey Deschanel looking irresistible as she lies on a rug amidst a retro-futuristic Scandinavian living room set, salaciously toeing the butt-cushion of a lazy chair with blue-stockinged feet. Video after the jump.
She & Him’s music video for their song ‘Thieves’ just debuted and it is nothing short of fuzzy, black-and-white vintage adorableness. The song itself is okay. It’s very mellow, pretty, lazy-day-ish — and actually sounds a bit more like an album track or B-side than single material, to be honest, but fair enough She & Him! It’s still a very nice song. My one complaint? The vintage black and white look is really fun, but perhaps it doesn’t show off Zooey Deschanel’s prettiness enough? I’m not saying that we need to ogle her in order to appreciate the song, nor am I appealing for absurd objectification, I’m just saying…wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Zooey Deschanel is one of the best face-havers in the business. I’m no music video director, but maybe show her face more?
It’s a pretty good face, I think you’ll agree. Get it? Pretty good face? Get it? You probably get it. There’s a reason I’m a professional.
We are in the backseat of a rented car, driving down a congested New York City street, when Zooey Deschanel takes the voice recorder from my hand and speaks into it with the intensity of Burt Lancaster’s commanding journalist in Sweet Smell of Success. “Hello? Hello?” she says, and then aims it squarely at singer-songwriter M. Ward.
But there isn’t much that these two don’t already know about each other. Four years and two albums into their musical collaboration as She & Him—their second folksy offering, Volume Two, is out this month- Deschanel, 30, and Ward, 36, come off like childhood friends. They swap high-fives when one of them enters the room. They finish each other’s sentences.
Deschanel refers to acting as her “day job.” When she isn’t writing, recording and performing with Ward, she has established herself as an indie pinup, bringing to life idiosyncratic women in All the Real Girls, The Good Girl, Elf and (500) Days of Summer.
Next, she’ll tackle two very different roles: a distressed damsel in David Gordon Green’s medieval stoner epic Your Highness, and Pamela Des Barres, a rock journalist, in the HBO series I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie. (Coincidence led her here: Deschanel landed her first major film role in Almost Famous, as the main character’s flight attendant sister, after losing the part of “band- aide” Penny Lane, which was inspired by Des Barres, to Kate Hudson.) Meanwhile, Ward continues to record solo material in addition to tracks with Monsters of Folk, a supergroup that also consists of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis.
Our car arrives outside of the Bowery Hotel. There are a handful of paparazzi on the sidewalk. Ward doesn’t notice but Deschanel bolts for the entrance with her head down and coat collar up. Inside, over cups of tea, she says of the photographers, “They’re not here for me, but they’ll take my picture if they see me. I need to remember my big hat the next time I go out. It usually does the trick. They think they’re pretty smart, but I’m smarter.” Deschanel then puts the recorder on the table between she and him, and turns it on.
Teenage angst often results in bad poetry and confessional journal entries. Did you pour all of your angst into songwriting instead? Zooey Deschanel: We traveled a lot when I was really young. I had no friends, but I had a tiny keyboard. M. Ward: Your friend was the keyboard. I learned how to play guitar by going through the Beatles’ anthologies. Once I learned all those chords, I basically had the ammunition to destroy the competition. [Laughs.] Those are the building blocks of every great song. Whether it’s old music or new music, I hear the Beatles. Maybe I’m crazy. ZD: I don’t think you’re crazy! I couldn’t play more than one note at a time, so that was frustrating. I later learned about chords in school, and when I got home, I started teaching myself how to play piano. Before that, I had no way of writing down the music or recording the ideas.
Does either of you recall a moment when you first felt proud enough of your music to share it? ZD: I got a karaoke machine in high school. I used it to experiment, in a very primitive way, with multi-track recording. I remember playing those songs for my parents. MW: You should definitely try to dig those tapes out. ZD: I used to have so many things that have since disappeared. It was about six years ago that I started feeling comfortable enough to play my songs for a friend. I felt super-shy when I first started, but I got comfortable fast. The music is so organic, and such a true representation of myself, that it didn’t take long for me to feel really at ease.
Have your songs been inspired by things outside of music? MW: I was really into David Lynch. Even when I was in elementary school, my favorite movie was The Elephant Man. In my eighth-grade yearbook, all the kids listed their favorite movie as Superman or Star Trek. Mine was The Elephant Man. I was such a weird kid. ZD: Would it be bad—because it’s sort of music—if I said old musicals? I love Gigi, Singin’ in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music. I love the colors and the way those movies have always made me feel. That’s kind of how I like to make people feel with music. It’s the way the Beach Boys make you feel. They share sweet optimism that makes me excited to be alive.
There’s something over-the-top about most musicals, intimations of which I’ve noticed in your music videos. ZD: I happen to think The Sound of Music is a really good movie—with a lot of singing. I’m not at all into over-the-top theatricality. That’s actually the opposite of how I like to feel. I’m very low-key. Subtle is good. I like things that will make me happy, things that are optimistic and sunny. I’m into sincerity in music and sincerity in art. If it doesn’t feel true, I don’t want to do it. Things that are too dramatic scare me. I think that’s why I don’t always fit into the world of performing arts. MW: Part of the genius of The Sound of Music is its storyline, which takes us from laughter to tears. You can be 5 years old or 95 years old and still be crazy about it. It’s pretty special when someone can figure out how to do that to humans. ZD: Plus, Julie Andrews kills it. She’s the bomb.
Zooey, I found out this morning that you will be starring in HBO’s I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie. Have either of you had any experience with overzealous fans? MW: There are overzealous fans… ZD: But we definitely don’t have groupies. MW: No one is like, “Call the cops!” ZD: We’re not exactly a party band. We drink tea. The HBO series is of a totally different time. Pamela [Des Barres, who wrote the 1987 memoir on which the series is based] is extremely innocent. These people were real music enthusiasts during a time when attitudes toward a lot of different things were changing. It’s not about groupies the way we know them today.
If not groupies, what is the biggest perk of being in a successful band? ZD: I always find it fun to plan what I’m going to wear on stage. It’s totally different stuff from what I would wear in real life. I like matching my outfits to the backup singers. MW: I love being able to sleep whenever I want and wake up whenever I want. If I want to spend a few days with family or friends, it’s okay, because I don’t have a 9-to-5 schedule.
How does each of you feel about touring? Zooey has always been so positive about the experience, but Matt… ZD: That one interview! We need to clear the record. MW: I’m glad you brought this up. I did an interview, maybe a year ago, and somebody at Vanity Fair asked me if I like touring. I had just gotten through a four- or five-week tour, which is too long. I was tired. If you’re away from home for too long, you start to forget things that really matter. You’re not able to nurture anything but music when you’re on the road. In my opinion, that’s a pretty one-dimensional state of being. ZD: Three weeks is a nice amount. On any given day, we’re only on stage for an hour and a half. During my day job, I have to stay energized for, like, 16 hours. Now, that’s insane. With music, I have time to sleep and exercise and go to restaurants. MW: And go to museums. ZD: And go to movies. MW: Did we already say food? ZD: Food, we said. We like food.
Can you recall one performance in particular when you felt a real connection with your audience? MW: Oyster Fest comes to mind. ZD: I’m still not quite sure what that was. MW: It was the coldest day in San Francisco’s history. Everyone was out on the lawn, eating oysters. We went on right before an Irish ska band.
Hair: Rolando Beauchamp for Bumble and Bumble Makeup: Christopher Ardoff usIng M.A.C Cosmetics for Art Department Location: SandBox studio, NYC On her: vintage top, stylist’s own, jean shorts by Current/Elliott, tights by Wolford, shoes by Christian Louboutin. On Him: Shirt by Spurr, jeans by William Rast, boots by Fiorentini + Baker, Fashion Assistant Amber Stolec.
It is a warm early spring day in Los Angeles and the rest of the city is already in flip-flops and too-short Abercrombie minis. But 28-year-old Zooey Deschanel arrives for tea dressed in stylish, high-waisted jeans, a pretty white blouse, and a soft, tweedy jacket. She wears pinkish socks with her sandals and no makeup. The effect is that of a student at the Sorbonne rather than of an actress who is on the verge of her major breakthrough, an image that is only reinforced when she begins to speak.
Does she mind sitting outside? “Not as long as I’m not in the sun,” she says sweetly, assessing the shade on her side of the table. Her skin is pale, a rare commodity in a city of human Slim Jims. This June, however, Deschanel will be exposed to a lot more glare than the Los Angeles sun can beam onto her. Her role in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, The Happening, is her first bid for major box office. The blockbuster potential isn’t on her mind. Instead, she says she chose the project, her first big-budget thriller, because she liked the people. The film is centered around a major eco-disaster that sends her and a band of survivors on a life-or-death journey to outrun it. Of her director, a man most audiences have reason to think is part-warlock, all Rod Serling, she says, “He’s not at all mysterious. He’s gregarious and fun—the life of the party!” Co-star Mark Wahlberg—Deschanel plays his wife—comes off as the gravitas of that set. “Mark’s a very natural actor, and very giving. He’s really smart and clear about his choices.” So, the Lord of the Night is the guy with a lampshade on his head and the former leader of the Funky Bunch is Lee Strasberg’s student in wire-rimmed glasses.
Custom black Antoinette swimsuit by Ashley Paige, all jewelry by Cartier.
But Deschanel is just as surprising in person. “They have the most wonderful fresh mint tea here. Would you like some?” She is polite, thoughtful, and self-sufficient. These qualities are also prized in the rough and tumble grab for great roles that marks the lot of many younger actresses. “Zooey has a translucent intelligence,” says Todd Komarnicki, producer of the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy Elf, which co-starred Deschanel, “as if she’s both keeping and sharing a secret with everyone she meets.” Today, it’s more the former than the latter. The usual questions about her life in Los Angeles are met with brief replies: She keeps a place here and is rarely in it; she has friends scattered across the globe; no, she doesn’t get out much and when she’s working, which is all the time, she won’t even go out to dinner. Deschanel’s shyness extends, naturally, to her personal life, which can’t help but be discussed anyway. She has been linked to actors such as “Saturday Night Live” alum Chris Kattan and musician Mickey Madden, the bassist for Maroon 5. But anyone looking for this member of young Hollywood on the cover of a tabloid had better just stay happy with Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag.
“I don’t like talking about myself,” she says shyly. Rather than merely answer questions, she is happier to engage in a true dialogue. As becomes clear, Deschanel is continually processing ideas about art, music, and life, and belongs to no single time period. One of her favorite movies is the 1938 Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn comedy, Bringing Up Baby. She adores Nina Simone, the Everly Brothers, and vintage fashion. With a finger in every decade—the Twenties, Forties, Sixties, Seventies—Zooey is a cultural Zelig, borrowing from the past to make a present all her own.
Though today she is enjoying a slower pace, waiting for her pot of tea to steep and pausing to appreciate its naturally bright green color, her gifts and career choices indicate a fierce work ethic that is not centered on a single objective. Beginning with a guest role on the implausible lingerie sitcom “Veronica’s Closet,” Deschanel has moved steadily back and forth across formats. Attentive audiences picked up on her delicate beauty and unselfconscious sincerity in indie fare such as All the Real Girls, The Good Girl, and her first film part, Mumford. No one could miss those eyes, and in person they seem even bigger than they do on the screen. They are as round and clear as Wedgwood blue salad plates—that’s right, salad plates.
It was as Will Ferrell’s tender-hearted romantic foil in Elf that Deschanel began to be noticed for her other automatic weapon: her voice. The film’s soundtrack featured a duet of the standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” between the soft chimes of Deschanel’s singing voice and gravelly Leon Redbone. The combination was pure magic. Not surprisingly, Deschanel now shows up regularly on soundtracks and in voiceover on animated projects such as Surf’s Up. Of her musical bent she says, “I love doing one thing and then the other because they each provide a break. It is nice to have variety.”
Mixing it up and keeping things fresh has now become a genuine second career in music, which at the moment is competing heavily with her on-screen work for the public’s attention. Traveling with a guitar and mini-keyboard, Deschanel writes music in hotel rooms and mixes demos on her laptop created by nothing but layers of her voice, making what she calls, “instrument-like noises.” Currently she is one half of She & Him, a duo she has formed with moody indie sensation M. Ward. Their first album, Volume One, is a living testament to her tastes and influences. Tracks like “Got Me” and “Change is Hard” are country heartbreakers that recall Patsy Cline. “I Was Made for You” rings with the Ronettes’ wall of sound. And an inspired cover of the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” offers up Liverpool by way of Buck Owens’s Bakersfield. “Zooey is a natural talent,” says M. Ward. “She is honest about who she is and who she wants to be, both inside and outside of her music.”
Deschanel with She & Him partner M. Ward.
When asked about her musical process, Deschanel says, “It’s a personal thing to write music. I had stage fright about my own stuff, and when you are generating the work, it is all you.” But for the Los Angeles-born actress, facing fears is what “it” is all about. “People who have the most courage are actually the people with the most fear. One way of getting control of the fear is to face it head on. The transition into music was a little frightening for me, but it’s more exciting [than acting] because it’s scarier.” But it is impossible to imagine Deschanel ever giving up the screen. And, as she says, she may have felt anxious about performing her own compositions in public, but make no mistake, Deschanel does not need job retraining. How does someone as private as she is make acting look so natural? She says, laughing, “I’ve always been more comfortable on stage than I am in real life.”
So, if music is the yin to her acting yang, then it makes sense that it was a soulful pairing of the two that led to Deschanel’s name-making turn as Anita Miller, the runaway teen stewardess in 2000’s rock travelogue, Almost Famous. It is Anita who possesses a collection of history’s most influential rock records, passes them on to brother William, and who first hits the road. Even after Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane overtakes the movie, it is Deschanel who suffuses the piece with late-’60s want and turmoil.
Her innate comprehension of that decade and, it seems, every other, began as a child of the film industry. She was raised amongst artists. Her father is The Passion of the Christ cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and her mother is actress Mary Jo Deschanel, who played Eileen Hayward on “Twin Peaks.” Her only sibling, sister Emily, plays the title role on the hit television series “Bones.” In other words, the Deschanels are one hard-working Hollywood family. And just as New York has its art and intellectual crowd, so does Los Angeles. Even Deschanel’s name—she is named for J.D. Salinger’s story collection Franny and Zooey—speaks more to the cul-de-sacs of the mind than to the beaches of Malibu.
Deschanel in The Happening.
At her core, Deschanel evinces an iconoclasm that guides her hand in the choices she makes. “I have no interest in participating in pop cultural phenomena,” she says. After all, style and voguishness are not the same thing. “For whatever reason, when I am faced with what everyone is peddling, I have the strongest desire to book it in the opposite direction,” Deschanel says, laughing. What then, to say about The Happening and her next film, Yes Man, alongside Jim Carrey, neither of which aspire to be shrinking violets? “I’m not prejudiced as far as what type of movie I do. It’s more about who I’m working with and what story we are telling.” And she doesn’t mind making mistakes, not that there are any one can point to. “There is something valuable about mistakes,” she says. “You want things to be precious and not everything can be.”
To bolster this attitude she admits that she often writes by hand—a form without a delete key—and says dryly: “I have a typewriter.” She is also happy to talk at length about the subject of paper stock. Her favorite is a Moleskine notebook with cream-colored pages and a black cover, all secured by a black elastic strap. Again, even though she studied at Northwestern University, that image of the Sorbonne étudiante remains.
Not giving in to a hyper-paced Hollywood life on fast-forward is working for Deschanel. Time is definitely on her side. Patience is part of her credo. Working for what you get and for the understanding you can only gain through experience mean more to her than a top spot on the A-list, or any list. “It’s like waiting in line for a roller coaster,” she says.
“When you do get on it, you appreciate it more. I don’t want to get on a roller coaster without waiting for it. That’s part of the fun.” We are happy to be patient too, but very glad that the wait looks like it is over.
Photography by Gitte Meldgaard Styling by B