Have you ever noticed that the protagonists of the TV shows Bones and New Girl not only look pretty similar, but have almost the exact same voice? That’s because they’re related. Emily Deschanel, who starred on the Fox procedural Bones for 12 seasons, and Zooey Deschanel, who currently stars on the sitcom New Girl, are sisters.
Individually, they’re each highly successful actors, and together, they’re an inspiring pair who support each other in their tough industry. From their childhood in LA to their adulthood as TV stars, here is the untold truth of the Deschanel sisters.
Zooey always wanted to be an actor, but Emily had other plans
As children, the sisters didn’t always have the same career goals in mind. Zooey knew she wanted to act from the time she was very small. The sisters’ dad told The Hollywood Reporter that "from a very early age, our daughter Zooey wanted to crawl into The Wizard of Oz and be in that movie. She’s always been that way."
Emily was more on the fence. In a BuddyTV interview from 2009 she said, "I think we both loved doing plays since we were really young. But I didn’t think of it as 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…" Emily initially thought she would be an architect because, as she explained, "I love architecture. I just love the combination between art and science, I guess. 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."
By college, Emily had gotten fully on board with acting and decided to study theater at Boston University.
As kids, Emily would scare Zooey by pretending to be an alien
Big sisters often tease their younger siblings and it’s no surprise that for the Deschanel sisters, the teasing involved acting and layered characters. Emily confessed on Conan that she used to try to scare Zooey by pretending to be a murderous alien. While Emily says the two "get along now very well," it wasn’t always that way.
She recounted, "You know, I would kind of torture her. I was the older sister and it’s just the two of us and we would physically fight all the time but then I’d play kind of mental games with her. My favorite one was that I would tell her that I was from Neptune, that I was Neptunian, that I’d killed her sister and taken over her body, and that I was going to kill her next."
Both of their parents are in show business
It makes sense that the parents of two successful actresses would also be in the entertainment industry. The Deschanel sisters’ mom, Mary Jo Deschanel, is an actress too. Her professional roles go all the way back to 1967, and she’s appeared in notable projects like Twin Peaks, The Patriot, and The Right Stuff.
Their father, Caleb Deschanel, is a successful cinematographer. He’s been the director of photography for more than 20 movies, including National Treasure, Being There, and Fly Away Home. He’s been nominated for five Oscars, most recently in 2005 for The Passion of the Christ. Impressive family!
When the sisters were really young, the whole family would travel with their father to the location where he was filming. When his daughters got older, he took eight years off from shooting feature films to be with his family. He resumed his work when his kids were toward the end of high school because, as he told The Hollywood Reporter, "they had their friends and they didn’t need their dad as much anymore."
They grew up in LA but didn’t feel the same way about it
The Deschanels were a true LA family, but the sisters have different memories of their Hollywood childhoods. Emily loved it. She told Los Angeles magazine in 2013, "I grew up near Santa Monica and the Palisades, but we traveled with my dad for his work, so we always had an outside perspective and appreciated what Los Angeles has to offer." And don’t try to commiserate with her about her West Coast coming-of-age. She explained, "On the East Coast, when you tell people you’re from here, sometimes they say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m offended by that."
Zooey, on the other hand, feels like it was high-pressure to be in such an appearance-focused environment. She told Vulture in 2011, "I just feel like growing up in Los Angeles, you learn, ‘Well you’re never gonna be the prettiest girl in the room, so just don’t even try.’ I mean, I care about being pretty, but it’s not my most valued thing … I’ve always felt like it’s better to be like, ‘Well, I’ll just be myself,’ you know? I am what I am."
They had babies two months apart
In 2015, Emily and Zooey both had babies within two months of each other. They swear it wasn’t planned, but those little Deschanel cousins will get to grow up with a cousin who’s the exact same age.
In June 2015, Emily gave birth to her second child, a baby boy, with her actor-writer husband David Hornsby. Soon after, in July, Zooey gave birth to Elise Otter, her daughter with producer husband Jacob Pechenik.
Emily told Jimmy Kimmel, "It’s wonderful. We couldn’t have planned it better. It’s amazing. Except for the fact that we even work on the same lots and we bring our babies to work and yet it’s so hard to get them together." She elaborated, "Cause one will be down for a nap and then one will be up and then vice versa. They take so many naps." Emily also has an older son and Zooey later gave birth to a second child, Charlie Wolf, in 2017.
They worked together professionally for the first time on Bones
The first time the sisters got to work together professionally wasn’t until 2009. In the fifth season of Bones, the Fox procedural drama that Emily starred in for 12 seasons as forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan, Zooey guest starred in the show’s holiday episode. In "The Goop on the Girl," Zooey played Margaret Whitesell, a cousin of Emily’s character. While Emily has never appeared on Zooey’s Fox comedy New Girl, as of this writing there are still eight episodes left before the series ends. Maybe Emily will appear as Jess Day’s cousin to complete the circle?
They admire other successful siblings in show business
The Deschanels are not the only successful sisters in the limelight and they look to other sibling pairs as role models. When asked which ones they admire, Emily named the Kardashians ("of course") and the Arquettes (who she says are "cool"). Zooey pointed to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as well as Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sister fashion designers behind the label Rodarte. Imagine all the sister crossover possibilities among these extremely enviable families!
They used to live in adjoining duplexes
These sisters are not only close metaphorically, they’re also often close physically. According to E!, Emily and Zooey used to "live next door to each other in adjoining duplexes" in LA. Variety has even more info about the digs — the publication discovered that the sisters used to co-own a "a picturesque 1920s Spanish-style duplex building near Hancock Park" that they sold for $1.4 million in 2011. Co-owning a million-dollar duplex is kind of like the celebrity version of sharing bunk beds.
They have different experiences with veganism
Emily is a committed vegan who has refrained from animal products since she was a teenager. She told Vegetarian Times that animal rights are so important to her that she requested "that there’s a character to present the case for animals in every episode" of her TV show, Bones, when it was on the air. She said some of her favorite vegan dishes are seitan piccata and lemony roasted potatoes from the Veganomicon vegan cookbook.
Zooey, on the other hand, is not vegan — but her sister did inspire her to try out the lifestyle briefly. She explained to Vulture that when she found out she was allergic to dairy, eggs, and wheat, she thought she might as well go full veg, explaining, "In the back of my mind, I was like, ‘It’ll be easy! I can’t have that stuff anyway.’ But I didn’t realize you have so few options in the end. To be a gluten-free vegan is, like, the most difficult thing you can possibly be. And I lasted, like, six months."
Emily thinks Zooey is more fearless
When asked by Women’s Health how the two sisters are different, Emily said her younger sister is more fearless. To prove it, she she shared, "In seventh grade this kid didn’t invite Zooey to his bar mitzvah. And she went right up to him and shouted, ‘Why didn’t you invite me to your bar mitzvah?’ I just love that. She is fearless. I would have called my mom crying."