Since 2005, Boston University graduate Emily Deschanel, 39, has starred on the Fox crime procedural Bones as Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist who writes novels on the side. A Los Angeles native, she is the daughter of award-winning cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and actress Mary Jo Deschanel and the sister of actress Zooey Deschanel. She’s appeared in numerous other films and television shows and is an avid animal-rights activist and vegan. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
Emily Deschanel: And a 4-year-old, yeah. How do I have it all? I don’t. I’m constantly trying to balance things, and sometimes I’m in tears that I won’t see my kids. I’m just trying to survive or get it all done, and it’s definitely challenging.
Strangest thing about being a Hollywood kid when you came to Boston? I’m not sure I consider myself a Hollywood kid, and I’m not sure it’s weird, but I love Boston accents. That’s my favorite. But at BU, we had a dialect class, and even the teacher couldn’t do a Boston accent. She made a girl from Boston do it for us.
If you had a daughter, would you ever name her Temperance? No. [Laughs.] I think not. That would be kind of crazy. But I do have a son named Henry, and my character now has a son named Hank. That’s as comfortable as I feel with the characters’ names overlapping real life.
So are you squeamish? No. I’ll watch surgery, and I like the forensics shows. I’ve been to the morgue and seen autopsies. That said, I almost fainted when my son needed stitches in his chin. They had to get me a juice box. So I guess I’m very squeamish when it comes to my own children.
How hard did you have to study for this role? I got all these books on forensic anthropology, and forensics in general, and I kinda had the basis for certain terminology that I’d be using. So I learned about the basics. Now I know a lot of the bones in the body.
So you must kill when you sing “The knee bone’s connected to the shin bone…” Yup. It’s “The patella’s connected to the femur…” We did a show last season where I rewrote that song. It’s either 206 or 208 bones in the body, depending on who’s counting. We did an episode where we named every bone in the body.
Most dire animal rights abuse happening now? There are so many horrible things happening to animals in the world. I concentrate on the 10 billion animals that are raised and killed for food in this country on factory farms. The number is so large. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves. People don’t want to hear about it. But the environmental impact and the impact on people’s health, never mind the cruelty these animals face, is where I pay the most attention.
So have you ever solved a crime in real life? I think I solve many crimes all the time. We cook up little mysteries for my son to solve, because he loves it. But I solve the mystery of “Where’s my phone?” every day. I lose it on a daily basis.
Do you think you’ll ever work with your father, mother and sister? Well, my dad directed an episode of Bones, my sister appeared on an episode, and I was just saying to the producer that we need to get my mom on. So maybe not at the same time, but hopefully, yes.
Favorite film of your father’s? Being There.
Of your sister’s? Elf.
Of your own? Oh, I don’t know. What can I say? I had such a small part in it, but Cold Mountain. Or do I be a smartass and say Boogeyman?
That was unfairly overlooked by the Academy. So name one working actor who’s never appeared on Special Victims Unit. Wow! That’s such a good question. There aren’t many. I played Cassie Germaine, a cellist who was attacked. I worked so hard to learn how to fake playing the cello for this one scene, and in the end, the music wasn’t even synched up. But I’m guessing David Boreanaz has not been on that show.
What is it about crime procedurals that fascinates people? There are a lot of factors. People love solving a mystery. They like coming up with the answers before the characters do, or wish they had. The science is interesting. It keeps your mind working. It scares you in a kind of controlled environment. And the sense of justice—seeing the good guys win.
Thing about you that’s most like Temperance Brennan? I like the tangible. I don’t like speaking in metaphors. I like literal things, empirical things, things you can touch. Facts. I don’t do well with people who speak in metaphors or similes.
The way you’re least like her? She’s way smarter than I am. I’m a little more socially adept than she is, too.
Have you ever read or heard about a Jane Doe case where you were like “I can help with that. They need me.” [Laughs.] Probably when we first started doing it I had thoughts like that, but no. I know how much I don’t know, so I’m not that presumptuous. I do know of actors who do medical shows and actually think they can do an operation, but I don’t have those delusions. That said, I’m always fascinated when they do find an unidentified body. There are many, many Jane and John Does out there that have yet to be solved, sadly.
Actor you most enjoyed working with? Betty White was on the show recently, and she’s a hero of mine, so that was kind of awesome.
Director? That’s a terrible thing to ask because I work with different directors all the time. But I’ll say Anthony Minghella, who directed Cold Mountain. Not that my role was so big, but I will say that was an exceptional experience. He knew more about my character than I did, and I had months to think about it. It was a tiny, tiny part, and he had a whole backstory that was better than what I had. He’s just amazing.
You’re in your 11th season. Do you ever get sick of it, and how long do you see it going? Like any job, yes, of course, but I’m so lucky to have the job that I do. It’s kind of a show that might never die. It’s pretty perennial.
So here’s to another 11 seasons. By then, they’ll have our characters’ children solving the crimes.