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Q&A: Emily Deschanel on Playing a 'Perfect' Catholic Lesbian

Emily Deschanel
Getty Images

Emily Deschanel is best known for her work as forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan on Fox's "Bones," which is currently in its seventh season -- and also for being the older sister of Zooey Deschanel.

Deschanel costars in the indie comedy "The Perfect Family," in which Kathleen Turner returns to the big screen as Eileen, a devout Catholic who has been nominated for Catholic Woman of the Year. The religious matriarch -- who has a recovering alcoholic husband, a son who's cheating on his wife, and a lesbian daughter (Deschanel) planning to marry her partner and have a baby with her -- is forced to examine what makes a family perfect: its appearance to the outside world, or how it feels from the inside.

We sat down with the energetic Deschanel as she talked to us about gay rights, potentially working with her sister, what's next on "Bones" and what she would do if asked to play Wonder Woman.

In "The Perfect Family," your character, Shannon, is a lesbian who is planning a wedding with her partner. Did you and actress Angelique Cabral get to know each other before shooting so you could convincingly play a loving couple?
Yes, we did. We had to spend a little time with each other in rehearsals, but really it's about using your imagination, too. Whether the other character is supposed to be your mother or someone you've known your whole life, you have to build a history with that person, and that's what I worked on doing. Angelique and I have friends in common, so I've met her before a couple of times anyway.

The Perfect Family
Variance Films

You grew up Catholic. How does "The Perfect Family" reflect your upbringing?
I had a wonderful experience being Catholic. I am not a practicing Catholic or any religion right now, and a lot of the reason is the stance on being gay in a lot of the churches. I don't agree with that, and I don't think that is the core of what the church originally started for anyway. I am more of a spiritual person, if anything, and I am of the belief that we don't know, and I'm not going to pretend that I do.

Has playing Shannon affected your opinion on gay rights and the right to marry?
No. I have always had the opinion that everyone deserves to marry and [have] the same rights, no matter what your sexual orientation. Maybe playing this part made me see it from a more personal level, even after having gay friends having to come out and get married and have children. This gave me a deeper understanding of how hard that can be.

"The Perfect Family" is Kathleen Turner's first leading role since "Serial Mom" back in 1994. What was she like when the cameras were off?
I have to pinch myself every time I think of getting to work with Kathleen Turner. She's such an incredibly strong woman, and this character that she plays is strong in her beliefs but not strong in other ways. I love seeing her play this role because it's so different from her life -- Kathleen is not religious and is very free-thinking and questions things. She wouldn't listen to someone else telling her what to believe, including a religion. I've never seen her play a character like this, and I think she really handles the comedy and drama. It's her specialty.

What's your favorite Kathleen Turner role?
Hmm. I loved "Serial Mom." Come on! That was so much fun. She was so incredible in "Body Heat," "Romancing the Stone" and "Jewel of the Nile," and there are so many more. She can go from being the femme fatale to the sweet, crazy, goofy romantic-comedy girl. She can handle anything you give her.

Bones
Fox

You've been playing Bones for over seven seasons. Did you expect the series to have such a long life?
We just got picked up for our eighth season. When we did the pilot, I thought we'd be really lucky if it goes. I mean, how many stories can you tell from bones? Cut to 140-something episodes later, I can't believe it. I thought three seasons, top. That didn't happen, and I realize that I am lucky and have a great job that I enjoy. I love doing a series because you get to see changes in a character and see her grow. It's a journey with change, and you don't get to see that long-term type of development with just a film.

I like seeing the softer side of Bones, and it was nice that she became a mother when I became a mother, despite the fact that they would never have been able to cover up my pregnant belly. Now there's a whole new dynamic between Booth [David Boreanaz] and Bones because they are a couple raising a child together. I like seeing the softer side of her, and I would like to explore that more.

Will we ever see you and your sister work together on-screen? Will you turn up on "New Girl"?
Zooey played my cousin on an episode of "Bones" a couple of seasons ago, and we've talked about me coming in to do "New Girl." We shoot on the same lot, so if we weren't so busy it might be really easy to swing on by and play a part; but it's hard to get a few hours off just to do press for this movie, let alone a couple days to do her show. We'll see. I hope it happens because I love her show. I watch every episode as soon as I can when I'm not working.

You are a vegan and an animal activist. How has that influenced your work?
I encouraged the producers to do "Bones" episodes about that. I don't think that every character that I play has to be a vegetarian or bring up animal rights, but once you're aware of what goes on with animals in this world, I think you can't help but see the world through that prism. I helped produce the documentary "I Am an Elephant," which is an informative story about elephants in Thailand and the history of how elephants have been treated as well as this young activist working to save them.

There is broad support for you to play Wonder Woman. What do you think?
I like that! That would be a dream of a lifetime. I am a huge Wonder Woman fan -- I had Wonder Woman Underoos and a towel that I saved from when I was a little girl that is so faded, if that tells you anything. I was obsessed with the Lynda Carter show. They should definitely call me!

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