By: Dave ItzkoffAnd for All The Real Girls star Zooey Deschanel, that dayis today
There’s almost nothing about Zooey Deschanel especially suited to the 21st century. From her flapper-era wardrobe to her dewy Vargas Girl eyes, from her classic-rock sensibilities to a name lifted straight from the pages of Salinger, the 23-year-old actress isa living cultural anachronism. Like her literary namesake, she has been voraciously examined, interviewed, and poked at, but this Zooey has no interest in being regarded as an intellectual curiosity.
“I was always up for performing,” says Deschanel in her big, brassy voice. “It was kind of the only way to get me to shut up.” In a sense, show business is in her blood: Her mother is an actress, and her father is the cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who lensed the Official Greatest Movie Ever Made, Hal Ashby’s Being There. She was educated at California’s prestigious Crossroads School (where her classmates included future industry colleague Kate Hudson), and by her senior year, she had landed her first scene-stealing screen role, as a troubled teen in Lawrence Kasdan’s comedy Mumford.
In short order, Deschanel turned in memorable supporting performances in Almost Famous, as the stewardess sister of Cameron Crowe’s youngalter ego, and as a loopy makeup-counter attendant in Miguel Arteta’s The Good Girl. But despite the increased visibility the roles brought, she was disappointed with the offers that followed, and she learned a bitter lesson about Hollywood’s penchant for categorizing its ingenues. “They’re always trying to put people in boxes,” she says. “I specifically picked parts where I could change myself completely, and they stillfound a weird, misshapen box to put me in.” The message was made even clearer by her Good Girl costar Jennifer Aniston, for whom the film was a long-awaited opportunity to prove she could be more than a prop on Must See TV. “She just wants to do good work,” Deschanel says of her famous Friend. “You don’t want to be remembered for having a special haircut.”
These experiences had Deschanel yearning for a role that would let her show her range for more than three minutes at a stretch, and she finally got her wish with this month’s All the Real Girls. Only the second effort from George Washington genius David Gordon Green, Girls is an extraordinary romance in the most literal sense: It chronicles an affair between a couple in an unremarkable, unnamed North Carolina community, he (played by Paul Schneider) a townie with plenty of notches on his belt, and she (played by Deschanel) a novice in love for the first time. With its languid pacing and vividly realized characters, Green’s assured and affecting film recalls the early work of Terrence Malick and even Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. “He calls it ‘redneck surrealism,'” Deschanel says of her 27-year-old director’s style, “butI call it the Southern New Wave.”
Girls’ success is equally attributable to the cast’s ability to improvise, a skill Deschanel was eager to exercise (in her typicallyold-fashioned manner, she cites Marlon Brando’s work in On the Waterfront as an influence). But before stepping in front of the camera, she had to endure a rehearsal process she compares to group therapy. “We all talked about our past relationships,” she says. “[Green and Schneider] came with pictures of all their ex-girlfriends who had broken their hearts. I had to call home, like, ‘Mom, send me pictures of so-and-so!'”
With Sundance plaudits for All the Real Girls in hand, Deschanel is now pondering her next move–more acting work, her Los Angeles-basedcabaret act, and a screenplay of her own all beckon. But the multitude of options doesn’t bother her. “I can do anything!” she declares. And she will.