Since her breakout role in Almost Famous, Zooey Deschanel has deadpanned her path to fame in films like Failure to Launch, Yes Man, and (500) Days of Summer. She now stars as James Franco’s virginal bride in Your Highness, a medieval comedy out April 8, and as a bisexual hipster in My Idiot Brother, a Sundance favorite in theaters this fall. In her first major gay press interview, the 31-year-old frontwoman of folk band She & Him explains why, when it comes to lustful admiration, she prefers hers over his.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: What does the support of the gay community mean to you as an actress?
Zooey Deschanel: It’s the ultimate compliment because they like me, but it’s not because they want to be me or sleep with me.
Well, let’s not forget about the ladies.
Oh, I love my lesbian fans too.
When Esquire surveyed 10,000 women last year about whom they’d most want to sleep with if they were lesbians, you won by a landslide. Megan Fox came in at a distant second.
Wow. Now that’s really the best compliment. I’m super-honored and flattered. That’s better than being on the Maxim Hot 100 for sure.
What do all those women see in you?
I pride myself on being very down-to-earth, so maybe women are more likely to judge on personality rather than looks.
But Christina Hendricks also raved about your beauty when she told me you that were her girl-crush. Are you comfortable with all this public admiration?
I’m definitely modest, in more ways than one. I’m pretty sheepish, actually. I blush very easily.
Do you have a girl-crush?
That’s a really hard question and certainly not one to be taken lightly. Christina Hendricks is so pretty and such a good actress, but I’ll go with Tina Fey because she’s so funny. A sense of humor really does it for me. My husband [Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard] is the funniest person I know.
Has a gay guy ever told you he’s in love with your husband?
No, but that would be cute.
Then let me be the first. His music touches me in a place that no other straight man has touched before.
[Laughs] I will tell him that for sure. I know what you mean. He’s so sensitive, so talented, and so cute. He’s the best.
How did growing up in a showbiz family shape your views on gay people?
It was always just an accepted thing that I knew was normal from a very young age. I had lots of gay friends. Even in middle school, I had tons of friends who later ended up coming out. I went to Crossroads, which is an arts school in Santa Monica, and my sister and I were always involved with gay rights clubs. I also started a fashion club, but it somehow got combined with a philosophy club I started, so it was the Fashion and Philosophy Club in the yearbook.
You grew up and went on to speak out against Prop. 8 onstage at your She & Him concerts.
Yeah, and we also had a bunch of literature against Prop. 8 during the 2008 election, so I guess we were campaigning a little bit. My sister-in-law is gay. She got married two years ago, but not legally, and that’s just such a freakin’ bummer to me. I worry about my specific language here because I’m not a politician, but the government shouldn’t sanction who’s allowed to get married and who can’t visit you in the hospital. It’s not fair that straight spouses get different rights than gay partners. Everyone should be able to share a life together in the same way.
In My Idiot Brother, which you premiered at Sundance this year, you play a bisexual character named Natalie. What’s her deal?
Natalie has a girlfriend played by Rashida Jones. Rashida’s character is very sweet and loyal, but my character is unfaithful with other guys and girls. She takes out her angst in her sexual exploits and suffers because of it.
How did Natalie’s bisexuality inform your performance?
Rashida actually played her character super-boyish with cute little button-down shirts, so I wanted to have a little bit of a contrast to that. I didn’t think of Natalie as someone who necessarily thought about gender either way. I thought of her as someone who’s just really open.
Have you experienced a similar openness of sexuality?
Not really. I was a really late-bloomer. I didn’t even have a boyfriend until I was about 19 because I was so shy.
Did you have to get intimate with Rashida?
There’s some kissing but no sex scenes or anything.
Is this the first non-straight role you’ve played?
Yep. It’s weird, right? I guess I never really had the opportunity. No one’s given me the chance before.
To be fair, you were supposed to play bisexual singer Janis Joplin in The Gospel According to Janis.
True. And I worked hard on that, but it never ended up happening. It was a lot of work that I maintained over a really long time, so I walked away feeling at peace with it. When you work on something that takes so long to come to fruition, at a certain point you lose your enthusiasm. It was a lot of darkness to live with for that long. Amy Adams is a friend of mine, so I know she’ll do a great job [as Joplin in the biopic Get It While You Can.] I feel comfortable passing that baton, and I hope she has a great experience.
You also star in Your Highness as the love interest for James Franco. Are you aware that gay men very much enjoy him?
Um, everyone very much enjoys him. Listen, he’s super-handsome, super-creative, crazy-smart, and a really great actor, so he’s kind of got a lot going for him. He basically has anyone with a pulse aware of his presence at all times. If you’re alive, you know he’s in the room. He’s just a magnet.
Franco is leading a new breed of sensitive young straight actors who really cater to their gay audience without fear or apology.
Well, sensitivity is so much hotter. It’s like Joe Gordon-Levitt, who I’ve known forever. We did a movie called Manic together back in 2000, and I remember that after he got out of college, it seemed like every role he took was a gay role. I feel like he made a concerted effort to play gay characters, and I thought that was super-cool.
Your fairytale garb in Your Highness reminds me of your Lady Larken in the Once Upon a Mattress TV movie you did with Matthew Morrison.
I’m so glad you brought that up. I loved doing that. Matt Morrison really looks like a cartoon prince, and that guy can cut a rug, man. I love musicals, so that was a dream. Someday I’d love to do Broadway, which was my ultimate original dream when I was a child. I mostly love old musical theater like My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and all the classics. My childhood obsession was The Wizard of Oz.
And then you got to play DG, the “Dorothy” character, in the Tin Man miniseries.
Yeah, that was really special because I just love that story.
Did you see the musical version of Elf on Broadway? The actress who played your role did a decent Zooey Deschanel impression.
No, but I heard about it. So you saw it? How was it?
Meh. Speaking of music, why don’t you record a duet with Katy Perry to prove you’re not the same person?
There are already pictures of us together in the same room at the same time that you can find online. Some people want to create a rivalry there, so let me say that I like her very much. But she used to just be this girl around town who’d go out a lot, so people would mistake her for me. Even friends of mine would say, “Oh, I saw you,” and I’d be like, “I was in bed.” When I finally met her, it solved the doppelgänger mystery. Then she became very famous.
You two should cover “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica.
Well, that would be the day, wouldn’t it? It’s been a while since I’ve thought of that song, so thanks for reminding me.
What happened with Divorce Ranch, the post-WWII comedy you were supposed to do with Chloë Sevigny?
It just never got made. It’s funny because you’ll be attached to a project for six months, it’ll fall through, and then you’ll read about it randomly in a trade magazine or something five years later.
Your first TV role was a guest spot on Veronica’s Closet at the age of 17. Do you keep in touch with Kirstie Alley?
That was so much fun. I haven’t seen any of those guys in a really long time, but I did watch Kirstie on Kirstie Alley’s Big Life. I watch reality TV obsessively. Bravo is my favorite.
You’re also very active on Twitter. What’s the appeal for you?
I just like writing little things. I was scared of Twitter for a long time. I only had a Twitter account for the first year so I could be like, “Hey, all those people pretending to be me aren’t me!” But in the last few months I’ve just decided to really do it, and I’ve become totally addicted. Pink retweeted me the other day and I was like, That’s so random and cool! I think in 140 characters all the time, but now I actually have an outlet for it.
The Advocate, April 2011 issue; extended online interview.