Wearing a bright red coat over a simple black skirt and white blouse, her famous bangs framing those slightly more famous blue eyes, Zooey Deschanel walks — no, wafts — into the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, making Mary Poppins seem like a plodder. She slips into an outdoor booth, orders a cup of English Breakfast tea, flashes the waiter a smile that has the effect of a blow dart to the side of his neck. It's a cold day, so he asks if she's chilly, if she needs the heat lamp moved closer — he appears ready if necessary to build a campfire beside her Ferragamos. Even here, at the nexus of fame and beauty, where fresh celebrity is on the menu daily (Reese Witherspoon, dead ahead), the waiter is clearly starstruck, a little swoony and dazed.
Deschanel, 32, seems dazed, too, but not in a good way. This might be her least favorite part of celebrity — the interview. "I don't do well with direct questions," she admits. Deschanel tends to think out loud, talking in rough drafts, starting a sentence, then stopping, then starting another one, crumpling that one up, too. It's not the insecure patter of Jess, her lovably clueless character on Fox's New Girl, one of the smash hits of the fall TV season. Deep down, Deschanel seems to know exactly what she wants to say — it just takes her several tries. She's that way with most things. "I'm a person who gets better with practice," she says. "Getting older is awesome — because you get more practice."
At the moment she's trying, in fits and starts, to describe how the success of New Girl has changed her life. Never mind the Golden Globe nod (her first), and forget the critical praise. "It's harder to do normal things," she says. No longer can she run blithely into Ralph's for a head of lettuce or some paper towels. "I think that if you haven't been to the grocery store in a really long time, it's really easy to get very out of touch," she says.