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BU to Hollywood: From Bit Parts to TV’s Bones

Part three: Emily Deschanel (CFA’98) takes a clear-eyed approach to work, fame, and gory props


“I still live my life the way I’ve always lived it,” says Emily Deschanel (CFA’98), on the set of Bones. Photo courtesy of Fox

Imagine going to work each day and facing flesh-eating bugs, murder scenes, and decomposing bodies. As Temperance “Bones” Brennan, a forensic anthropologist teamed up with an FBI detective played by David Boreanaz on Fox TV’s Bones, that’s exactly what actress Emily Deschanel has to do. But the gore doesn’t faze her. “You just get used to coming into work and seeing decomposed human remains every day,” she says nonchalantly. “Instead of being grossed out by it, I have turned it into a fascination with the human body and the whole design of the skeleton.”

That pretty much sums up Deschanel (CFA’98): optimistic and upbeat. She’s one of those rarities, a native of L.A., and — perhaps even more rare — a grounded one at that. Acting is a job, and a day on the set of Bones is just another day at work. Sure, she gets to hang out all day with a handsome coworker. Yes, she appears every week in homes across the country. Granted, there are fan sites springing up across the Web. But, she says, “I still live my life the way I’ve always lived it.”

At the beginning of her career, Deschanel had small parts in big films; her first role was as a paint-throwing fur activist in 1994’s It Could Happen to You. She had a minor part in Cold Mountain and played a receptionist in Spider-Man 2.

The Disney film Glory Road (2006) opened the doors for her to a starring role. After working on the film, she was recommended by a Disney executive as a possible lead for Bones. “So I met with Hart Hanson, the creator of the show, and Barry Josephson, the other executive producer, and the director,” Deschanel says. “I just remember Hart laughing at really-not-funny jokes I was telling, and thinking, he’s a really nice guy, because I’m not funny at all right now.”

Landing a good role is a highly competitive process (“They make you jump through hoops,” she says). She made it through the initial round and was called in to test for the role. “There was just one other girl who was testing, and she was reading with David Boreanaz and I walked in the room. It can be kind of awkward and weird, but you get used to doing that as an actor. You get used to testing and not getting roles. You go in and you do your thing, and then it’s not in your hands and you have to walk away as best you can.”

She got the part, but she had her doubts. “I didn’t know anything about forensic anthropology, and it seemed very limited. I didn’t think you could do a whole show based on bones.” Three years later, she’s learned she was wrong. The amusing procedural has her plunging stubbornly into the toughest of cases, with no shortage of plot lines. (The role is based on real-life forensic anthropologist and novelist Kathy Reichs, who writes the book series.)

Despite her relatively sudden fame, everyday life in her hometown is the same as ever. It’s only when she travels that she realizes how different things are. “When I visited my grandparents in Portland, Oreg. — you just go grocery shopping and people call you Bones and Dr. Brennan. You don’t know how to respond to that. Do you say, ‘Yes’ or ‘Not really’?”

Click here to read part one of “BU to Hollywood,” about screenwriter Krista Vernoff (CFA’93). Click here to read part two, about actor Michael Chiklis (CFA’85). Check back tomorrow to read part four of the series.


2 Comments on BU to Hollywood: From Bit Parts to TV’s Bones

  • Seeker of Walk On Roles on 02.19.2009 at 7:12 pm

    Walk On TV Roles

    Who can direct me to the best forum or site for walk on roles that isn’t some type of marketing scheme?
    Thank you

  • Anonymous on 06.03.2011 at 12:23 pm

    Well, I’m sure it helps that her father is a big-time cinematographer.

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