Zooey Deschanel
Credit: Photo Illustration. Photos: Getty Images

Almost six months have passed since New Girl aired its series finale, and after playing quirky teacher-turned-principal Jessica Day for seven years, the show’s star Zooey Deschanel has been enjoying some well-deserved time off from acting. So, understandably, as she plots her next career move, the star is giving some serious thought as to what role she wants to take on next.

"I’m just looking for something that would be exciting and fulfilling for me," the 38-year-old actress and singer-songwriter recently told InStyle. Deschanel's main role for the foreseeable future? Being mom to 3-year-old daughter Elsie and 1-year-old son Charlie, her children with husband Jacob Pechenik. “I have two kids, and they're very important to me," she said. "I'm really focused on them, so I want to make sure that whatever I do next is really good. It has to be really good for me to leave them [and go to work].”

Parenting is undeniably Deschanel’s top priority, and she values each and every moment spent with her children. Luckily, these days, there are a lot of those moments. “I'm very hands-on,” she said. “I mean, I’m driving my kids to every class, every day. I'm there with them all the time. It's actually rare that I'm not with them. I try to be there as much as humanly possible.”

Naturally, that includes taking family trips. Travel is something that Deschanel is particularly passionate about, so much so that she's teamed up with Capital One for the launch of The Purpose Project, a research-based program that aims to change the way people think about taking travel (rebranding vacation, in a way, to be less of a luxury splurge, and more of a way to find oneself). “I like the fact that Capital One is making it easier for people to travel by offering a lot of flexibility in their travel rewards program," said Deschanel. "I believe travel can change your life and the lives of those around you. I’ve been traveling for work my entire career, and it's really shaped who I am. I find that when I look back on a year, I think about the trips I took. [They can] frame and define your life, and right now, I think people are looking to have more meaningful experiences in terms of what they spend their money on, rather than collecting more things.”

Whether she's at home or abroad, one thing in Deschanel’s schedule remains constant: serenading her kids with lullabies at bedtime. “I sing to both of them, but my daughter demands that I sing the entire Frozen soundtrack every night,” said Deschanel, who starred in a two-night production of Beauty and the Beast at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in May. “She’s very into Frozen right now, so I sing highlights from the songs. Sometimes, I have to sing Beauty and the Beast to her, too.”

Since she's found success — and loyal fans — in both the singing and acting realms, it may come as a surprise that Deschanel hasn’t established herself as one of Broadway’s leading ladies by now. But while she’s passionate about performing in live musicals, she says signing on for a stage production is simply too big of a commitment at the moment — although she won’t rule it out entirely. “I love, love, doing theater,” she said. “I don't know if I want to do it for a year at a time, though. That's a long time. But I'd love to do a show if it was, like, a limited run.”

While her audience only consists of family members right now, there’s one song that you won’t catch Deschanel singing at home: the holiday tune “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which she famously sang alongside Will Ferrell in the 2003 classic Elf. In fact, her kids have yet to see the film altogether. “My daughter has seen a couple of movies, but she hasn't seen that one yet,” said Deschanel. “I will let her see it [someday], though. And then my son is still too young to see it.”

As Elf’s 15th anniversary approaches on November 7th, Deschanel remains in awe of its lasting popularity. “I definitely didn't realize how iconic [it would become], until it started playing every year,” she said. “And then I thought ‘Oh, when you have something good that's a holiday thing, it comes back every year!’ I was 21 when I made that movie, so I didn't really have a lot of perspective on anything. All I know is when I read that script, I was laughing out loud the entire time and I felt like it was something that was special.”

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Credit: New Line Cinema

She was right, and the rest, of course, is Hollywood history. Though she doesn’t check in with her Elf co-stars often these days, Deschanel has nothing but fond memories from her time on set. “Again, I was so young,” she said. “It’s weird, because I was at a very different place in my life — I was just basically a child. I haven't seen a lot of people from it, but I have seen Will since then. I did another movie with him, probably just a few years after that. He's so nice; I haven't seen him very often, but he's such a nice guy. Jon Favreau, who directed it, just did a movie with my dad [Caleb Deschanel]. And then my friend produced it, and I see her fairly often.”

Looking back on the early days of her career, Deschanel says there's not much she would change. She grew up in the industry — her father, Caleb, is a director and her mother, Mary Jo, is an actress — and she credits her upbringing with staying grounded. “I was just really lucky that I have really good parents,” she said. “And because they were in the business, I kind of went into it with a very down-to-earth sensibility. I was lucky that way. So I don't look back on my younger years and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I was so crazy.’ I do wish that I had been a little bit more organized, maybe. I know it sounds boring, but focusing on organizing myself would have been a worthwhile thing.”

She's perhaps found that focus now, and one place where she lasers it in is social media. But while she’s happy to vocalize her support for causes she believes in on her social platforms, Deschanel feels that it’s wise for celebrities to carefully select which topics they want to support in order to truly enact change. “It's hard not to want to take on all of the issues,” said the star, who often advocates for human rights and environmental causes on her Instagram and Twitter accounts. “But if you can focus your efforts and try to hone in on one thing rather than a million things, and pick what's most important to you, then I think people are more likely to listen. [It’s best when] the message is as thoughtful as possible.”

She may put a great deal of thought into her words on social media, but there are boundaries as to what Deschanel is willing to show her followers. For instance, her kids are strictly off-limits. “I don't ever share pictures of my children, because it's not their choice,” she said. “You can't ever take those things back, and I always think, ‘Well, what if in 10 years they're really private and they don't want that [on there]?’ Even though I'm like, ‘Oh, that's so cute! I wanna show everyone,’ millions of people can see these things and sometimes that's not the best thing for kids. So I'm protective of them, but I will share anecdotes and things like that if I feel it's appropriate. I just try to share things about me and my life. Always, what I've tried to do is just be authentic.”