Zooey Deschanel, From Actress To Indie Rocker Actress Zooey Deschanel co-stars in the new film (500) Days of Summer. But she's more than just an actress. In 2008, she released the CD "She and Him" with indie-rocker M. Ward.
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Zooey Deschanel, From Actress To Indie Rocker

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Zooey Deschanel, From Actress To Indie Rocker

Zooey Deschanel, From Actress To Indie Rocker

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For a few years now, Zooey Deschanel has done double duty as an actress and as a musician. She's appeared in such films as "Almost Famous" and "Elf" and more recently, she's performed and recorded as half of the music group called She and Him. She is she. Him is indie rock musician Matt Ward, who goes by the name M. Ward. Zooey Deschanel's new movie is called "(500) Days of Summer," a romantic comedy in which she plays a woman name Summer. Her costar, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a man who spends more than a year getting to know her and having such freewheeling conversations as how their relationship compares to that ill-fated punk figures Sid and Nancy.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Summer) We've been like Sid and Nancy for months now.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (Actor): (as Tom): Summer, Sid stabs Nancy seven times with a kitchen knife. I mean, we've had civil disagreements but I hardly think I'm Sid Vicious.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Summer) No. I'm Sid.

Mr. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (Actor): (as Tom): Oh so I'm Nancy?

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Summer) Let's just eat and then we'll talk about it later. Mm. That is good. I'm really glad we did this. I love these pancakes. What? Tom, don't go. You're still my best friend.

BIANCULLI: When Zooey Deschanel isn't on screen, she's likely to be in the studio. Her introductory CD, "She And Him, Volume One," features her original songs and a couple of covers. The arrangements are by M. Ward who is also featured on guitar. Terry Gross spoke with Zooey Deschanel in 2008. Here's one of Deschanel's original composition's "Change Is Hard."

(Soundbite of song, "Change Is Hard")

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL: (Singing) I'm all outta luck but what else could I be? I know he's yours and he'll never belong to me again. I did him wrong. So don't brag, keep it to yourself. I did him wrong. I was never no, never no, never enough, but I can try, I can try to toughen up. I listened when they told me if he burns you, let him go. Change is hard, I should know. I should know. I should know. Oh, I should know.

GROSS: Zooey Deschanel, welcome to FRESH AIR.

When I hear your album, here's one of the things I think about that makes me think that you really love music and have a fairly - a diverse record collection, and that you love country music, and you love jazz, and you love girl groups, and the Beach Boys, and somehow, like all of this is reflected in the songs that you write and sing. The song that we opened with, "Change Is Hard" has a country-ish sound to it.

Ms. DESCHANEL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And would you talk a little bit about what you were thinking about when wrote it? What you were thinking about musically? Or do songs just kind of come to you?

Ms. DESCHANEL: I don't know, I guess I have certain sort of chord progressions that I'm attracted to. I don't usually come at it from the point of view that I, you know, I'm trying to be in certain genre which is probably why it sort of spans a lot of genres because I do have a diverse music collection and my taste is kind of eclectic, so I'll just go right into it and sort of start writing. It's sort of a spontaneous thing and sometimes things come out that I'm surprised, I didn't know that I had that impulse in me and then it just sort of comes out.

GROSS: I think a lot of people were introduced to you as a singer through the movie "Elf" in which you sang a complete song and a couple of excerpts...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...including "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." So here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to first play the scene where you and Will Ferrell meet. And Will Ferrell, of course, is a human being who was adopted elves in Santa Land in the North Pole, and he goes to New York to find his birth father. And there he works in a department store Santa Land where he meets you, who wrap gifts there. And in this scene you're in the department store and here is you and Will Ferrell.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Are you enjoying the view?

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) You are very good at decorating that tree.

(Soundbite of song, "Santa Baby")

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Why you messing with me? Did grandpa put you up to this?

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) I'm not messing with you. It's just nice to meet another human who shares my affinity for elf culture.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) I'm just trying to get through the holiday.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Get through? Christmas is the greatest day in the whole wide world.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Please stop talking to me.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Uh-oh. Sounds like someone needs to sing a Christmas carol.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Go away.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Thanks but I don't sing.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Oh it's easy. It's just like talking except louder and longer and you move your voice up and down.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) I can sing but I just choose not to sing. Especially in front of other people.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Well, if you sing alone you can sing in front of other people. There's no difference.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Actually there's a big difference.

GROSS: Well, that's Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell in "Elf" and a little later you are, you think, alone...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...and singing. You're in the shower singing in the ladies room and unbeknownst to you, Will Ferrell is in the ladies room sitting on a sink dueting with you quietly and the sound of the shower water is drowning him out so you don't realize he's in there and singing with you until the end, so let's give that a listen.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) So really I better scurry. Well maybe just a half a drink more.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) The neighbors might think.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Baby it's bad out there.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) Say, what's in this drink?

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) No cabs to be had out there.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) I wish I knew how...

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Baby it's bad out there.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) ...to break the spell.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) I ought to say no, no, no, sir.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Mind if I move in closer?

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) At least I'm gonna say that I tried.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) What's the sense of hurting my pride?

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) I really can't stay. Ahh, but it's cold outside.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Baby it's cold outside.

(Soundbite of whistle)

GROSS: And then you turn off the show because you're pretty alarmed...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ... knowing that he's in there. It's such a really delightful scene. Now you got your first movie role when you were still in high school, and I think you left high school the last month of your senior year to shoot the movie...


GROSS: "Mumford."

Ms. DESCHANEL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What did you like or not like about that experience? I mean, obviously you decided to stay in that world as a movie actress.

Ms. DESCHANEL: Well, I had an amazing experience and I was still - I was finishing school. I was just - I had finished high school on set and then I just - I mean, it was a perfect first experience because every day we'd shoot, I mean we'd shoot, you know, 14 or 16 hours and I'd be like, I love this. I never want to go home. I would get, like, I would get sad when they would, they'd be like, okay, you're done for the day. And I would be like, really? Already? And it was so much fun that I didn't want to go home. So that was a great experience.

And then I went to Northwestern University for a year and part way through the year I auditioned for Cameron Crowe on my spring break and they were casting this movie "Almost Famous" and somebody had fallen out of the - they had a cast but the lead actress decided not to do it and then Kate Hudson was supposed to play the part of the kid sister and then she - he bumped her up to the lead role and then there was this empty role and they were about to shoot and I auditioned for it. And I found out I, you know, booked the job, and I shipped all my stuff home and so on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DESCHANEL: And on a just sort of a impulse.

GROSS: Well you did good. Let's hear your first scene in "Almost Famous." You're walking in the door. You're still living with your mother. You're 18. Your mother's played by Frances McDormand. As you walk in, you're wearing this like big coat and you're kind of holding it shut as if you're covering something up. So you walk in, your mother greets you at the door, and your little brother... xxx

…again, you're wearing just like big coat and you're kind of holding it shut as if you're covering something up. So, you walk in, your mother greets you at the door and your little brother who ends up growing up and writing for Rolling Stone is standing in the room also listening.

(Soundbite of movie, "Almost Famous")

Ms. FRANCES MCDORMAND (Actor): (as Elaine Miller) You've been kissing!

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) No, I haven't.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Yes, you have.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) No, I haven't.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Yes, you have. I can tell.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) You can't tell.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Not only can I tell, I know who it is. It's Darryl. What you got under your coat?

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) It's unfair that we can't listen to our music.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Because it is about drugs and promiscuous sex.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) Simon and Garfunkel is poetry.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Yes it's poetry. It is the poetry of drugs and promiscuous sex. Honey, they're on pot.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) First, it was butter then it was sugar and white flour, bacon, eggs, bologna, rock 'n roll, motorcycles. Then, it was celebrating Christmas on a day in September when you knew it wouldn't be commercialized. What else are you going to ban?

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Honey, you want to rebel against knowledge. I'm trying to give you the Cliff Notes on how to live life in this world.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) We're like nobody else I know.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) I'm a college professor. Why can't I teach my own kids? Use me.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) Darryl says that you use knowledge to keep me down. He says I'm a yes person and you are trying to raise us in a no environment.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Well, clearly no is a word Darryl doesn't hear much.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) I can't live here. I hate you. Even William hates you.

Mr. MICHAEL ANGARANO (Actor): (as Young William) I don't hate her.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) You do hate her. You don't even know the truth.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Sweetheart, don't be a drama queen.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) (bleep) you.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Hey.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) This is a house of lies.

(Soundbite of door closing)

GROSS: That's Zooey Deschanel and Frances McDormand in a scene from "Almost Famous," which was Zooey Deschanel's second movie. So, you know, here's something odd that I read, you know, you were supposed to play Janis Joplin in a movie directed by Penelope Spheeris, who's made a bunch of movies about punk rock. And I thought, wow, that seem so wrong to me. You've such a kind of clear, pure voice and she had so much kind of growl in hers, and your body types are completely different like, what were you thinking, what were they thinking?

Ms. DESCHANEL: I think that it was - they were looking for somebody who was an actress, who also could sing and I was thinking that it would be, you know, a really fun challenge to try to portray this person. I mean our voices, yes, are very different. And we were actually supposed to go like a year and a half ago. We were all set to make it and then it fell through due to a lot of, sort of, logistical things that I don't think I quite understand at this point. But, it was a lot, a lot of work. I worked for like six months. I mean, it's definitely very different from who I am, but I really found her to be an interesting person once I sort of started looking into who she was.

GROSS: So, I have to ask you about your name. You were named Zooey after "Franny and Zooey," the famous J.D. Salinger story, which so many people have read. How old were you when you read the story, and did you like it well enough to feel good about being named after…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …after the character, because probably throughout your life, people have been saying, oh, you named after "Franny and Zooey." So…


GROSS: …so, how old were you when you read the story and do you like it?

Ms. DESCHANEL: I was - I actually waited a really long time to read it because I was - I had read all of J.D. Salinger's other works and I was sort of terrified that I wouldn't like it and that I would be living with this, you know, identity of a person who doesn't like their namesake. But, fortunately I loved it when I read it. And I was 18 when I read it. I read it the summer after I graduated from high school. My older sister was named after Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte and they wanted me to have a literary name too. And I think they liked the name Zooey and they just decided to spell it that way as - you know, they loved J.D. Salinger and they loved that book. So, I think that's why.

GROSS: Well, they certainly chose a different period and different form of writing than your sister.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DESCHANEL: That's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, Zooey Deschanel, thanks so much for talking with us. And…

Ms. DESCHANEL: Thank you.

GROSS: Yeah, thank you again.

Ms. DESCHANEL: It was really nice talking to you. Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Zooey Deschanel speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. Her new movie is called "(500) Days of Summer," and her most recent CD is called "She and Him: Volume One." Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews a new British political satire, "In the Loop." This is FRESH AIR.

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