NEW GIRL: The new comedy starring Zooey Deschanel as an adorkable girl who moves in with three single guys, changing their lives in unexpected ways, premieres Tuesday, Sept. 20 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Pictured L-R: Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, Zooey Deschanel and Lamorne Morris). ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Autumn DeWilde/FOX

Her role in Elf as a depressed department-store worker riffed on her occasionally goofy persona, while her recent turn in Our Idiot Brother as a bisexual Brooklynite who dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian was so Zooey it was almost a pastiche.

“I always wanted to be normal,” Zooey says. “I tried really hard but it’s like I try so hard and then people still say I’m offbeat.” She shrugs. “I’ve learnt to accept that and take advantage of it as an actor. It’s like, ‘Well that’s who I am,’ and it comes through and it’s OK.”

It’s also the case that, increasingly, Zooey Deschanel is a brand. There’s the successful sitcom (New Girl attracted 10.1 million viewers at its debut and has been hailed as the break-out show of the US TV season); the music career (she sings, plays the piano and ukulele and writes songs with Matt Ward for their indie band, She & Him, which has attracted positive reviews); and a website, Hello Giggles, which is aimed at “smart, independent and creative females” and which, with its pictures of cute animals and articles on thrift-store finds, is unashamedly girly in feel.

“I’ve always been really girly,” she admits. “With the website I think people are happier when they’re not saying negative things about other people, so ultimately our goal is to make people happy. Hopefully a few people agree.”

Her twitter feed (you can follow her on twitter @ZooeyDeschanel), which has nearly 900 000 followers, is similarly cheerful, filled with recipes, exhortations to fans to upload their favourite dog pictures, and exclamation marks. Following it is rather like being perpetually doused in sunshine: perfectly pleasant and yet oddly unnerving. Surely nobody can be that relentlessly upbeat all of the time?

“I am pretty much always cheerful,” she says. “Even early in the morning. I go on tour with my band and it’s, like, 12 people on one bus. And I feel like I’m the one who’s happy in the morning… “

Yet beneath the happy façade runs a more self-conscious seam. She is much given to mannerisms, twisting her hair round her finger and hugging herself. It would be no surprise if she suddenly twirled around in the manner of her sitcom forerunners Marlo Thomas, of That Girl, or Mary Tyler Moore.

“I love Mary Tyler Moore,” she admits. “The moments in New Girl where Jess sings was something that I really related to in the script. You know, you think, like, ‘I’m going to be Mary Tyler Moore.’ That thing of somehow being a part of the crowd but somehow everybody’s watching you.”

There are moments, too, where the poise slips. She is keen to stress how close she is to her older sister, Emily, also an actress (she plays the lead female role in the long-running police procedural Bones), yet when asked if she ever babysits for her three-month-old nephew she sounds flustered.

“If somebody else is around. I don’t… I’ve never really babysat,” she finally says. “I’m not great at babysitting. I kind of like don’t know what to do, maybe if my mum was around or something.” She recovers. “I like holding him, he really is terribly cute.” In another reference to Emily she remarks that when she told her sister she was doing a show for Fox, the dry response was: “It might not get picked up.”

Zooey’s own personal life remains out of bounds. Soon after we meet, it’s announced that she has split up from her husband of two years, Ben Gibbard, the singer in Death Cab For Cutie. A brief statement says that the split is “amicable” and “mutual”. Two months earlier Ben had told New York magazine, describing the time the couple first met: “I was just awestruck that she was even talking to me.”

While the reality is no doubt less cheery than the spin suggests, Zooey will have no problem staving off sorrow with the hectic filming schedule of New Girl. She’s also considering movies and has recently released an album of Christmas songs.

“I’ve just always loved Christmas music,” she says.

“We wanted it to feel very intimate, like you were just sitting round the fire making music… It was really for fun.” – The Independent