Zooey Claire Deschanel, was born in Los Angeles, California. Her father is a cinematographer/director and her mother is an actress. Deschanel lived in lower Los Angeles, but spent much of her childhood traveling because her father shot films on location. As a result, besides L.A., she grew up in Canada, Yugoslavia, England and South Africa.
She was named after Zooey Glass, the male protagonist of J. D. Salinger's 1961 novella Franny and Zooey. Her older sister, Emily Deschanel, is also an actress and stars in the TV series Bones. She is also the great granddaughter of Paul Deschanel, the 11th President of France.
Zooey attended Crossroads, a private preparatory school in Santa Monica, California, where she befriended future co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Kate Hudson. She sang throughout high school, planning to pursue a career in musical theatre. She attended Northwestern University for seven months before dropping out to work as an actress.
For a few years starting in 2001, Deschanel performed in the jazz cabaret act "If All the Stars Were Pretty Babies" with fellow actress Samantha Shelton. She plays keyboards, percussion, banjo and ukulele, and has sung in several of her films.
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The New Guy was the first of Deschanel's films in which she sang onscreen; in Elf she sand a duet with Will Ferrell in the bathroom shower scene on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and was also heard singing it on the soundtrack with Leon Redbone.
Subsequently, Deschanel has sung in Winter Passing ("My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean"), the 2005 television musical Once Upon a Mattress ("An Opening For a Princess," "In a Little While," "Normandy," and "Yesterday I Loved You"), an old cabaret song in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the 2007 short film Raving ("Hello, Dolly!")
Her piano composition "Bittersuite" was used in the dark, off-beat 2004 dramedy Winter Passing, in which she starred alongside Will Ferrell and Ed Harris.
In the film Yes Man, Deschanel sings several songs featured in the film and on the film soundtrack, and is shown singing "Uh-Huh" and "Sweet Ballad" alongside San Franciscan all-girl electro soul-punk group Von Iva in a fictional band called Munchausen by Proxy.
In the movie (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb also directed Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a music video, Bank Dance, with the She & Him song "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here."
In May 2011, she launced the Website "Hello Giggles," which is geared to women.
Also in 2011, Zooey starred in Our Idiot Brother, playing the flaky bisexual girlfriend of Rashida Jones from Parks and Recreation. She also stars in a TV comedy, New Girl.