The thought that her likeness might soon be part of a theme-park ride hasn't yet turned Zooey Deschanel's head '- or flip-flopped her stomach.
Although she has been mostly a comedic character actress '- i.e., a bit player '- so far in her six-year career, she's now a leading lady in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and getting all the attention that comes with it.
H2G2, as it's known among loyalists, has been through many incarnations for creator Douglas Adams, first as a BBC radio show, then a novel collection, then a TV show, and now a film. While the others were all cult classics in their day, this big-budget Disney version might be the one that blasts the Hitchhiker concept '- and 25-year-old Deschanel's career along with it '- to another sphere. "I've never been a part of anything quite like it," says the actress, who grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by the film business thanks to her cinematographer dad, Caleb, and her actress mom, Mary Jo (sister Emily also acts). "This is a big commercial movie that is incredibly entertaining, but it's also got these characters that I think people can relate to."
When director Garth Jennings was casting the sci-fi adventure, Deschanel was on his short list for the role of brainy love interest Trillian. Her biggest project to that point had been Elf, in which she charmed Will Ferrell. Her turn in 2003's All The Real Girls garnered critical acclaim, as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination, and she's also had standout performances in Mumford, Almost Famous and The Good Girl. "Zooey was just wonderful," says Jennings. "I'd seen her in loads of her other films, and she was one of our first choices. It's always lovely when you get your first choice."
The admiration was mutual. "I thought he was just brilliant," says Deschanel. "And I also loved the book."
What she liked best about it was that the Trillian character wasn't just another space bimbo. Deschanel, who counts Katharine Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and Carole Lombard among her influences, notes, "Nowadays, a lot of women characters are kind of boring, not interesting, not smart. It was always exciting for me as a kid when you saw a character that you looked up to. It's very cool when you have a character that you want to be like who is also intelligent and inspiring. If it's like, 'I want to be like Barbie...'" She trails off with a groan.
When it's pointed out that Barbie had quite the career, Deschanel says with a laugh, "That's true. And a lot of outfits, but I felt like the careers were in service to the outfits." Not that she has anything against style. After receiving a compliment on her fabulous, sleek turquoise spiked heels, Deschanel playfully kicks them off to allow a closer view. "Aren't they amazing?" she asks. "I love clothes."
And like you-know-who, she also has a lot of career goals, such as producing. "Taking matters in your own hands is a very good way of assuring quality product," she says. Deschanel, who sings and plays the piano '- and ukulele '- would also like to do Broadway. "I'd love to do My Fair Lady," she admits with a dreamy glint in her eye. (With her raven hair tossed up in a casual ponytail and her sly sense of humor, the actress does capture a bit of elegantly offbeat Audrey and feisty Eliza.)
As for now, Zooey has wrapped two yet-to-be-released movies, Live Free or Die and Winter Passing, and is set to shoot Failure to Launch. "It's about a woman, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose job it is to get guys who still live at home out of the house," she says. And she got a taste of realizing her musical ambitions with the upcoming TV movie Once Upon a Mattress with Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman. "I got to sing with a 48-piece orchestra, which was incredible," says Deschanel. "I play Lady Larken. They put me in a long, blonde, curly wig and a pink dress. Actually, I kind of look like Barbie in that..."