Sisters Zooey and Emily Deschanel share more than a last name — they’re also both famous actresses in their own rights
Sisters Zooey Deschanel and Emily Deschanel have both found success in Hollywood.
The daughters of six-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and actress Mary Jo Deschanel, the sisters are known as actresses in their own rights, with standout roles in Elf, 500 Days of Summer and New Girl for Zooey and Bones and The Devil in Ohio for Emily.
Though the pair admitted they had typical sibling bickering growing up, they have become close since, supporting their family members on the red carpet together, bringing their children to the same work lot and even filming a joint episode of Bones in 2009. “It was really fun. Emily was extremely welcoming and accommodating and very sweet,” Zooey told Channel Guide of her holiday cameo on her sister’s long-running hit that ended in 2017. “I was glad I did it.”
The two women, who Emily once described to Metro as “different — but also the same,” with “similarities from having grown up in the same household,” appreciate each other in unique ways.
“You were a really good big sister,” Zooey told Emily in a 2013 interview. “Very protective. Sometimes you were mean. But most of the time you were really nice.”
The She & Him singer also revealed that she looked up to her older sister, saying, “You were very cool. I always thought you were very cool.”
Emily, meanwhile, cited Zooey as being “fearless,” telling Women’s Health in March 2007, “In seventh grade this kid didn't invite Zooey to his bar mitzvah. And she went right up to him and shouted, ‘Why didn't you invite me to your bar mitzvah?’ I just love that ... I would have called my mom crying.”
Here's everything there is to know about the sisters and their relationship, from growing up together in Los Angeles to their shared lives as adults.
They’re both actresses
Both Zooey and Emily are well-established actresses. The first film Emily starred in was 1994's It Could Happen to You, with father, Caleb, serving as cinematographer. She followed it up with several independent projects, including a “brief-yet-memorable” role as a receptionist in Spider-Man 2 in 2004, before landing her breakout series, Bones, on which she played lead Temperance “Bones” Brennan from 2005 to 2017. She later played a different kind of doctor, psychiatrist Suzanne Mathis, in 2022’s The Devil in Ohio.
Zooey, on the other hand, is often typecast as a “manic pixie dream girl” for her quirky-yet-lovable characters such as Anita (Almost Famous, 2000), Jovie (Elf, 2003), Summer (500 Days of Summer, 2009) and Jess Day (New Girl, 2011 to 2018), for which she won a Critics’ Choice Award. It’s not a label she relates to, however. "I don't feel it's accurate," she told The Guardian in 2022. She added: "It doesn't hurt my feelings, but it's a way of making a woman one-dimensional and I'm not one-dimensional."
Emily wanted to be an architect
While Emily told BuddyTV in 2009 that she and Zooey “both loved doing plays” from an early age, Zooey took it more seriously. “I think Zooey knew she wanted to be an actress from when she was very young. Whereas I didn't think I wanted to do that,” she said.
Instead, Zooey revealed that her older sibling longed to be an architect. “I love architecture. I just love the combination between art and science,” Emily agreed. “But then I started doing plays in high school and really loved it and considered it as a profession."
Their parents are in showbusiness
Emily and Zooey were born to Caleb and Mary Jo Deschanel, both of whom worked in Hollywood. Caleb is a celebrated cinematographer and director of photography with six Academy Award nominations for his work and credits such as The Lion King (2019), The Passion of the Christ and National Treasure (2004).
Mary Jo, meanwhile, is an actress known for her roles in The Right Stuff (1983) and The Patriot (2000).
Watching their parents work hard for their success left a lasting impression on the Deschanel siblings. “We grew up in a household where our mother is an actress, so our parents couldn't really tell us not to be actors, because that would be hypocritical,” Emily told BuddyTV. “We … also saw a lot of actors, family friends and our mother. We saw lots of people struggle. It's a hard business. It's a hard profession to pursue, so we didn't have any delusions."
They created plays together as children
Before they hit the big time, Emily and Zooey performed plays that they created together for their parents. “We wrote musicals, essentially, they were Westerns, usually,” Emily said in a 2013 interview, recalling how they would charge Caleb and Mary Jo a penny each to watch their performances. “I would do the music,” Zooey added. “We would be in the play, and then I would run over to the piano and do the theme song.”
Emily used to “torture” Zooey as a kid
Zooey revealed to Jimmy Kimmel in 2012 that her big sister used to scare her as a child. “When I was 3, she was 7, and she was already evil,” she joked. “She basically just used the plot of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to terrify me.” Zooey added: “She would make me cry and then my dad would come in and try to mediate, and then she would laugh.”
Emily elaborated on her prank in 2013, telling Conan O’Brien in 2013 that while she and Zooey “get along now, very well” as adults, she used to “torture” her younger sister. “We would physically fight all the time, but then I’d play kind of mental games with her,” she said. Her usual punishment was to say she was an alien from Neptune who had killed Zooey’s real sister Emily and taken over her body — and that Zooey was next. “It got to a point where I just had to make my eyes a little wide and she’d freak out and think that I was Neptunian,” Emily said.
The sisters worked together on each other's shows
Emily and Zooey worked together for the first time in a 2009 episode of Bones. “It was nice, we’ve never actually worked together professionally,” Emily said in an interview.
Zooey played the cousin of her sister’s character. “We don’t really like each other,” Emily explained of their roles.
In real life, however, the two got along just fine. “It was actually really very smooth and I had a great time. I loved working with Emily. It was really fun,” Zooey gushed to BuddyTV.
Though Emily herself had hoped to appear on Zooey’s hit show New Girl, as she told Metro in 2013, her husband, David Hornsby, with whom she tied the knot on Sept. 25, 2010, appeared on the series as Ed Wonder, a.k.a. the head of Jess’s (Zooey) student parent council, in a season 6 episode of the show.
Zooey is a talented musician
In addition to showcasing her vocal talents as Jovie in 2003’s Elf and Jess Day on New Girl, Zooey serves as one half of the singing/songwriting duo She & Him, releasing her debut album Volume One with M. Ward in 2008.
The twosome has since released six more albums together, including two Christmas CDs and 2022’s Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson.
While Emily is less known for her singing ability, it’s a talent she shares with her famous sister: Fans were delighted to hear Emily’s vocals in a season 3 episode of Bones.
They had their babies a month apart
Emily and Zooey had children just a month apart, with Emily giving birth to her second son, Calvin, with husband David Horsby in June 2015 and Zooey welcoming her first child, daughter Elsie Otter, with ex-husband Jacob Pechenik in late July 2015.
“[We] couldn’t have planned it better,” Emily joked to Jimmy Kimmel in December 2020.
The Devil in Ohio actress conceded that their babies’ schedules made it hard to see each other despite their close proximity, however. “We even work on the same lots and we bring our babies to work, and yet it’s so hard to get them together,” she shared. “One will be down for a nap, and one will be up, and vice versa. They take so many naps.”
Zooey also shares son Charlie Wolf, whom she welcomed in 2017, with Pechenik, while Emily and Hornsby also share son Henry, born Sept. 21, 2011.
They watch each other’s work
The sisters told BuddyTV that while they do their best to keep up with each other’s work and projects, they’re not “fanatical” about it. “I try to see pretty much everything Zooey does,” Emily said, adding, “Some things are harder to see … they only have a limited release or whatever.”
Zooey added: “Emily has something on every week. So it’s a lot to keep up with, but I try the best I can.”
The sisters filmed an episode of Carpool Karaoke with Property Brothers stars Drew and Jonathan Scott
In August 2019, Emily and Zooey filmed an episode of Carpool Karaoke with Property Brothers stars Drew and Jonathan Scott that saw the foursome singing classics like K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life,” Britney Spears’ “...Baby One More Time” and Zooey’s own cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from Elf.
Sparks flew for Zooey and Jonathan, who made their Instagram debut as a couple two months later following Zooey’s split from ex-husband Jacob Pechenik. In August 2023, the pair announced their engagement.
They hit the red carpet together
That same year, the siblings appeared together on the 2019 Oscars red carpet in support of dad Caleb, who was nominated for Best Cinematography for Never Look Away.
Zooey and Emily also attended Caleb’s July 2019 premiere for the live action remake of The Lion King.
They have a shared love of the holidays
“We both love Christmas,” Zooey, who starred as Jovie in 2003’s Elf, told BuddyTV. “I think that Christmas is always used at any point in the year to cheer us up, like each other up. We would use that to cheer each other up if we were in a sad mood or something, we'd just start talking about Christmas."
The siblings also spent the holidays together in 2022, with Emily and her son Henry joining Zooey, fianceé Jonathan and her kids Elsie and Charlie at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles for Christmas Eve, as reported by the Daily Mail.
Emily helped Jonathan Scott throw Zooey’s 42nd birthday party
For Zooey’s 42nd birthday, her now-fianceé turned to Zooey's big sister for help planning the details of her celebration. “Fun fact … I love to throw an intimate party … especially for this gal,” he wrote of Zooey on Instagram in January 2022. He went on to thank Emily and the sisters' parents in the caption for their help in planning.
A source told PEOPLE that a violinist played for a small group of the actress’s family members and friends at the event, which also featured sparklers and a floral pink cake.
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