By Jeff Pfeiffer
Acting sisters Emily and Zooey Deschanel (left and right in below photo) make their first onscreen appearance together on the Dec. 10 episode of Bones, airing at 8pm ET on FOX. In the episode, titled “The Goop on the Girl,” Zooey plays Margaret Whitesell, a distant relative of Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily’s character). When Brennan’s father, Max (returning guest star Ryan O’Neal), makes contact with Margaret, he invites her to spend Christmas with him and his daughter. Meanwhile, Brennan and Booth (David Boreanaz) investigate the death of a man dressed as Santa Claus who was blown up after a botched bank robbery (ah, the holidays …).
Emily and Zooey recently met with journalists on a conference call and spoke about the episode and more.
What was it like working together?
Emily Deschanel: It was fun. It was great, especially that first day was less hectic. We had a scene, it was just Ryan O’Neal and the two of us. It was really nice. We’ve never worked together before, except for our own plays that we’ve done together.
Why has it taken until now for you to work together professionally?
Zooey Deschanel: I think that we’ve had different career paths. It seems weird, but it’s sort of difficult to schedule. I talked about doing a Bones episode for a couple of years now, but it never ended up working in my schedule because with films, you end up getting a job and you have to leave and go somewhere the next week sometimes.
For instance, when we shot this a couple weeks ago, we had scheduled it thinking that I would have two weeks off after I came back from Ireland. I was shooting a movie in Ireland. I ended up having to stay there another eight days or nine days. So I literally came back on Friday and we started shooting on Tuesday or something. They were packed up against each other, so it’s hard to schedule.
I think that both of us like to let each other have our space because there’s a certain — there’s always the one thing that I would fear of working with a family member is you always want to make sure you don’t bring any silly bickering or anything like that to the set. We don’t really do so much anymore, but you worry that it will bring up your little family things.
I was … not hesitant, but I just wanted to make sure that everything was right. It was really fun. Emily was extremely welcoming and accommodating and very sweet. It ended up being really fun. I was glad I did it.
Is the story open-ended, or is this a one-off appearance for Zooey?
Z: I don’t die at the end of the episode.
E: Don’t give anything away now! I’m joking. We’d love to have you back.
E: Anytime, so I think it is open-ended. I think it’s open-ended for a reason. We’ll see. It took us five seasons to figure out when Zooey could come on the show, and it may take five more seasons.
Z: Season 10.
How involved were the two of you in coming up with Zooey’s character? Did you have any input?
E: [Creator/executive producer] Hart [Hanson] came up with the idea. He had the idea for a Christmas episode and told me some things about it. That she would be my relative, one of the two living relatives in my life.
Z: See, I never signed on. They said, “Do you want to do it?” and “This is the time when we could do it.” It seemed like, good with my schedule, but I’ve never ever said “yes” to anything without reading, knowing what the character is first. So it was a little bit scary for me because, obviously, I knew all the writers on the show are really good, and that they weren’t going to hang me out to dry, but it was a leap of faith, because I’m just not used to that. But they were very receptive and let me give some of my ideas, and we were able to come up with a cool character, I think.
Does the relationship between Brennan and Margaret mirror your real-life relationship?
E: No, not at all.
Did any type of “older sister/younger sister” dynamic come into play on the set as you worked?
Z: It’s more like it was Emily’s set, so I was happy to be working for her to some degree, I guess. [She’s] a producer on the show, so —
E: I guess that’s true. You are performing — you’re one of my favorite employees.
Z: Thanks. So, it was actually really very smooth, and I had a great time. I loved working with Emily.
Which of you was turned on to acting first?
Z: I feel like even though I’m younger, I started working first professionally, but we both were interested in acting as kids. Emily finished school first.
E: I think we both loved doing plays since we were really young. But I didn’t think of doing it as a profession. I think Zooey knew she wanted to be an actress from when she was very young. Whereas I didn’t think I wanted to do that.
Z: Yes, you wanted to be an architect.
E: Yes. So I held on to that dream for a while.
Z: I think you liked the way it sounded, maybe.
E: No, I love architecture. I just love the connection between art and science, I guess.
E: Engineering, exactly. Mathematics. So I don’t know, but then I started doing plays in high school and really loved it and considered it as a profession as I got later in high school.
Why do you think you’ve both become so successful in this profession? Something in your DNA?
Z: It’s hard to separate nature from nurture.
E: Yes, because we both grew up in the same household. I think of things that are more nurture in that, we grew up in a household where our mother is an actress, so our parents couldn’t really tell us not to be actors, because that would be hypocritical. But yet we were also — saw a lot of actors, family friends and our mother. We saw lots of people struggle. It’s a hard business. It’s a hard profession to pursue, so we didn’t have any delusions, I guess, about it going in, so we knew that we had to really persevere and work hard.
Z: I think, too, there was no sense that this wasn’t a job that you had to work at. There was no delusion of glamour, really.
E: Yes, I think a lot of times people go into the profession and think that it is about glamour … that it’s an easy job to do. I think we never thought about any of those things.
Z: That it’s all about how you look.
E: There’s so many things people think about acting [but] we knew the reality. I think we both just fell in love with acting and performing and all of that. I think that that helped, certainly. And it’s nice to have family who understands what you’re going through when you’re going through it.
Do you watch and keep up with each other’s work?
Z: I think we try to do as much as we can. Emily, obviously, being on a show, there’s so much more output. I mostly do movies, so it’s like I’ll come out with something like once or twice a year and Emily has something on every week. So it’s a lot to keep up with, but I try the best I can.
E: And I try to see pretty much everything Zooey does. Some things are harder to see because they’re either — they only have a limited release or whatever.
Z: I think we’re relaxed, but we try to —
E: We’re supportive, but not fanatical.
Emily, what are your thoughts on the recent direction Bones is taking in terms of more directly addressing the potential for romance between Brennan and Booth?
E: I think it makes sense. We’re in the fifth season of the show where the two characters have this chemistry together. Yet nothing has happened and I think that it’s a great way to explore this relationship and take it to another level without actually necessarily having some physical connection, I guess, to put it that way. I think it’s clever. I like this aspect.
It takes the relationship in a new direction and it takes it to a deeper place. The fact that both Booth and Brennan had that — well, Brennan wrote the book while Booth was in the coma and then Booth had the coma dream that was inspired by the book. The fact that it didn’t happen in reality almost doesn’t matter that much because it happened in their minds and they can’t get it out of their minds. Especially, we’ve been exploring Booth, because his feelings are a little more on the surface. I think it’s an interesting dynamic and I welcome it. I think it’s a clever way to deepen the relationship and explore the couple in a new relationship in a way. It’s almost like a new relationship.
Does Margaret bring any type of flirtiness or romantic tension toward Booth?
In this episode, do Booth and Brennan grow closer this Christmas?
E: That’s a good question. It’s so funny because we’re [currently filming] several episodes beyond the Christmas episode, so I have to think back. I think that the episode brings up a lot of questions for Booth and Brennan. Brennan opens up and has a new level of compassion that you’ll see in the episode. I think any time characters have a breakthrough on some level, that either Booth or Brennan has some kind of breakthrough, then that brings both of us together.
I think that brings us closer, and you’ll see in the episode Brennan has a new level of compassion and starts to have a paradigm shift in how she’s looking at certain situations. So Booth holds her hand through that. I think when you go through something, it changes you, it’s profound in a way. And if somebody is there helping you, that brings you closer together. I think that’s definitely what happens in this episode. Christmas brings people together, so as much as Brennan resists that aspect, she usually ends up together with people in the end on Christmas.
Is there a particularly memorable Christmas you two, as sisters, can look back on fondly together?
Z: Emily likes to sleep in on Christmas morning, and I like to wake up early, so Christmas was a day of compromise.
E: Yes, for sure.
Z: I don’t know if there was any Christmas that comes to mind. I know that we both love Christmas.
E: They all kind of blend together.
Z: Yes, exactly. I think that Christmas is always used at any point in the year to cheer us up. We would use that to cheer each other up; if we were in a sad mood or something, we’d just start talking about Christmas. So we always have loved Christmas. I don’t think there’s any particular Christmas that comes to mind.
Are there any other non-Bones collaborations on which you two would like to work?
E: We don’t have anything like that.
E: Besides this experience — our business — we have our own relationship that has nothing to do with business.
Z: Yes, I think it’s better. It’s so fun to do Bones, but I think it’s like in a lot of ways, it’s just nice that I can stand back and just see Emily and be proud of her without having to be in business so much. I just feel like it makes more sense for us to both have our own little things that we do, and —
E: We can be supportive, but we don’t have to work together.
Z: Exactly, yes. The less politics involved in your relationships. … I think it adds stress to the relationship. I just think that we don’t need that. It’s better to have a relationship and have that stress with other people.
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Photos: © 2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Greg Gayne