Check out Zooey’s interview with Forbes Magazine along with some behind the scene pics:
In a flouncy red skirt and a pearl-dotted cardigan, perched on an organza couch in the lobby of TriBeCa’s Greenwich hotel, Zooey Deschanel is, as you’d expect, the very portrait of hipster-cute. When a smitten bellhop gives her a long-stemmed peony from the front desk, it only adds to the image. She places it across her lap, tucks her hair behind her ear and focuses those famous turquoise eyes on me, unembarrassed by the bellhop, still lurking just a few feet away.
For Deschanel, 32, attention is hardly a problem. A triple-threat actress, musician and producer, 2012 has been the year that made the dream girl of indie film audiences (“500 Days of Summer”) into the dream girl of Middle America. As the star of the FOX hit “New Girl” she’s made offbeat-twee mainstream. Critics call her “adorkable.” New York magazine devoted 5,000 words to examining her eccentricities (adorably authentic? Authentically annoying?). SNL ribbed her with a segment called “Bein’ Quirky! With Zooey Deschanel.” Deschanel, always the good sport, guest-starred.
It’s all been great for business. Forbes estimates Deschanel hauled in $9 million over the past 12 months. Nielsen tracks New Girl at eight million weekly viewers, and the actress added Pantene and Apple’s Siri to her growing list of lucrative endorsments.
Yet great as all that is, another project may hold still more long-term promise. In addition to starring in a new TV show, releasing an album and weathering a very public divorce, the 32-year-old L.A. native still found time to team up with two friends, Sophia Rossi and Molly McAleer, to build a website they envisioned as the female Funny or Die. “We didn’t raise capital, we didn’t self-fund,” Deschanel says, “We literally called in favors.” In June they launched hellogiggles.com, a web portal that operates something like a squeaky-clean HuffPo for “smart, independent and creative females.”
One year in, the site hosts a respectable 1.5 million unique visitors each month and 300 unpaid contributors who read like a who’s-who of up-and-coming Hollywood, from famous kids (Maude Apatow) to writers (Sloane Crosley) to actresses Kat Dennings and Mindy Kaling. Content is girly if not saccharine-sweet: how-tos on nail art and something called a BunnyCam (yes, really) get top-billing. Deschanel takes no credit for BunnyCam or its predecessor KittyCam, but claims Video Chat Karaoke, in which readers submit web-cam versions of their favorite songs, as a particular point of pride. “I’ve always been of the thinking that if I like something,” she says, “Whether it’s a song or a script or a feature for the site–chances are someone else will like it too.”
Profits? Maybe someday. Rossi and Deschanel envision e-commerce down the road, but the site currently subsists on banner ads and ticket sales from regular Upright Citizens Brigade-hosted comedy events in New York and L.A. Lena Dunham was an early emcee. “They sell out every single month,” Rossi says. “Plus they bring the community together in a really fun, offline way.”
The goal is to provide a platform for women to share their voices—something Deschanel says she wished for as a pre-Internet teen—but it’s becoming something bigger. “The community has really shaped the content and the way they’re connecting,” she says. “If we can be the place where 13-year-old-bloggers are engaging with 30somethings, finding out how much all women really have in common, then I think we’re on to something.”
And according to market research, they’re definitely tapping into the zeitgeist of women online. “Women are the biggest drivers of consumer spending in virtually every category, online and off,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research, noting that 73% of U.S. women made a purchase online in the past 12 months. “She knows her audience. She’s got something that teen and twenty something women aspire to,” she says. “If you can prove yourself as a cool and as a destination for both of those groups online, that’s a very powerful thing.”
So far the site is as much a compulsion as a company says Deschanel, who grew up Hollywood. Dad Caleb is an Oscar-nommed filmmaker (The Natural), Mom Mary Jo had a role in Twin Peaks. Big sister Emily stars on another FOX hit, the crime drama Bones. “I really just love telling stories,” she says, “In whatever medium I can get my hands on.” Ask collaborators to describe Deschanel, they use words like “amazing” and “dynamo” and “oh-my-god-she’s-an-animal” when extolling her work ethic or her ability to multitask. She used her recent New Girl hiatus to take hellogiggles meetings (she’s heading up a redesign) and host an episode of SNL. Deschanel describes her workaholic nature as a “tunnel vision” she’s struggled with since she was a kid. “I tend to get hyper focused on the task at hand,” she says. What was troubling at a prestigious Hollywood school (Gweneth Paltrow and Maya Rudolph are alumni) has proved useful now.
Her shifting roles have also brought new collaborative partnerships outside of what she calls the “boys club” of moviemaking. At 30, New Girl creator Liz Meriwether is one of a foursome of female writers, including Diablo Cody, who’ve labeled themselves the “Fempire.” There’s a feminine energy in the hellogiggles headquarters. “In the past most stories and teams that I was a part of were so male-centric,” she says, sipping her Splenda-sweetened English breakfast tea. “It’s great to get to work with women who are my age for two reasons. One, there’s sort of a short-hand of communication that I love. But second it really proves that there’s a real market for my demographic, and that’s refreshing.”