‘New Girl’: Zooey Deschanel’s Jess Was Inspired By This A-List Actor

New Girl is a quirky sitcom that aired on television between 2011 and 2018. The show, for many, encapsulates the golden age of television, offering up everything from old-fashioned romance to hilarious situation comedy situations. Although New Girl is no longer on the air, there is consistently a lot of talk about a possible reboot, and critics still have a lot to say about how well-written the storylines and characters were. In particular, the character played by Zooey Deschanel is considered to be one of a kind, a woman with many of the same quirks as one classic film actress. 

What is ‘New Girl’ about?

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New Girl told the story of a quirky teacher named Jess, who moves in with three male roommates. At first, the relationship between the four roommates is purely platonic. But over the years, as Jess forms attachments and develops a deep friendship with each one individually, a romance begins to grow between Jess and Nick.

Far from tales of romance, however, New Girl is packed full of heart, humor, and outrageous situations — many of them stemming from Jess’s “no-filter” attitude.

Right from the beginning, New Girl received acclaim from critics as well as viewers. Fans loved the way that the show featured original characters, never relying on gender stereotypes.

New Girl employed a cast of hugely talented stars, and even welcomed many guest stars over the years, from massive celebrities to character actors — but, at the heart of it all, was Deschanel as Jess. 

Zooey Deschanel made a splash in ‘New Girl’ as Jess

'New Girl' star Zooey Deschanel plays Jessica Day
‘New Girl’ star Zooey Deschanel plays Jessica Day | FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

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Deschanel first started receiving attention in the early 2000s, appearing in movies like Almost Famous, The Good Girl, and Elf. She became known for her unique, deadpan delivery, and her large, blue eyes.

Deschanel proved that she was versatile as well, acting in everything from dramas to broad comedies. She has gained notoriety in the music industry, forming the dup She & Him with musician M. Ward.

Still, one of Deschanel’s biggest roles is that of Jess in New Girl. A teacher who often struggles with romantic relationships, Jess is curious, offbeat, bubbly, and full of quirks — quirks that often puzzle her roommates and cause others to question her sanity. While showrunners might have had a flash of inspiration when they created the character of Jess, they actually based some aspects of her personality on a famous actress. 

Who inspired the character of Jess?

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New Girl writer Elizabeth Meriwether pulled from several different sources when she was forming the character of Jess. As she revealed to The New York Times, she took a great deal of inspiration from the British actor Tamsin Greig, who is best known for her work in the television show Green Wing.

Additionally, Meriwether looked to an actor who rose to fame in the ’70s — Diane Keaton. “She’s so massively, heart-wrenchingly funny, and she is never just playing one thing,” Meriwether stated. “Whenever we get criticized that the Jess character is too this or too that, I think about Diane Keaton. Funny women aren’t feminist symbols. Funny women are honest women. I guess that’s also true for men, but no one ever asks me if my male characters are presenting a negative image of masculinity. (As if that were possible … men are AMAZING.)”

Keaton, of course, is best known for her performances in high-profile Woody Allen films like Annie Hall and is also widely recognized for introducing a more diverse portrayal of women in pop culture. These days, Keaton continues to make waves — just like the character she inspired in New Girl