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How 'Elf' united Zooey Deschanel with M. Ward and formed She & Him

In this article:
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  • Zooey Deschanel
    Zooey Deschanel
    American actress, model, and singer-songwriter
  • M. Ward
    Singer-songwriter and guitarist

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward talk to Yahoo Entertainment about how they came together and formed She & Him. Additionally, A Very She & Him Christmas is being re-released with an accompanying 7-inch containing two new ‘80s covers: Madonna’s “Holiday” and Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”

Video Transcript

LYNDSEY PARKER: Well, I had to dress up for you guys because I get very excited around the holidays, I get very excited for holiday music and I'm very excited about the 10th anniversary reissue of "A Very She & Him Christmas." I feel like your origins go right back to the heart of Christmas, because is it true that, Matt, it was because you heard Zooey sing in "Elf" that sort of got this whole project going?

- (SINGING) I wish I knew how to break the spell.

MATTHEW WARD: True story.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: It was part of it.

LYNDSEY PARKER: OK, well tell me how that's all connected then, because I think it kind of was meant to be that you do these Christmas records.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: I agree.

MATTHEW WARD: Yeah, well when I saw "Elf" I thought that when I heard Zoe's voice, such an amazing voice, and I thought this is someone that has a bunch of records already recorded, this is somebody who's a singer who also is acting in movies. But I was really surprised when we met in a studio at the invitation of a film director to cover a Richard and Linda Thompson song and I was amazed to find out that she didn't have any records.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Zero records.

MATTHEW WARD: And only one song out into the world, which was through "Elf". So very, very quickly after working on this Richard and Linda Thompson song, I was really happy to receive a few originals that Zooey wrote and that's really been the fuel for I'd say the longevity of "She & Him" is Zooey's songwriting.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: And Matt's wonderful production.

- (SINGING) Yeah I'll just keep it to myself in the sun.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: I sent Matt some of my songs. He said, come up to Portland, we'll record them and the rest is history. But yes, the origin was-- I kind of had-- Like he was willing to give me a chance because he'd heard me sing in "Elf". So he was not like, who is this-- who is this crazy lady? He was like, OK, I know she can sing.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Well I'm curious as to why you hadn't. Were you shy to put your music out there? Were you nervous to?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Yeah, I mean, just the way it panned out, my first professional job was a musical, but once I became an actor, I was told that you couldn't become a singer or a songwriter without people thinking you're just kind of like a joke. So it took me a long time to figure out the right way to do it. And as soon as I heard Matt's music and I knew that I had the opportunity to meet him, and I just had it in my mind, I was like, it has to be M. Ward or nobody else.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I've read before that the scene where you sing in "Elf" wasn't actually in the original script. How did that even come about?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: It was written in but it was kind of tailored to me because when I first talked to Jon Favreau, who directed the movie, he said that he wanted whoever-- I was probably their fifth choice because I was like not a known person, but he wanted whoever the cast to be someone who had a special skill. And I think one of the people they were looking at was good at skateboarding or something and they were going to maybe have her be a skateboarder. But when it was me, he knew that I could sing like this kind of old time style of music. I had a cabaret act, I had a lot of knowledge of that kind of old music. So then he tailored that part to me.

- (SINGING) At least I'm going to say that I tried.

- (SINGING) What's the sense of hurting my [INAUDIBLE].

- (SINGING) I really can't stay.

- (SINGING) Come in, it's cold outside. Oh baby, it's cold outside.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Is that why, because you did this sort of, as you say, this kind of old style cabaret thing that, you guys did "Baby It's Cold Outside"?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: That was just a good Christmas duet. And then we thought if we flipped it and had me sing the predator part, we could modernize it.

LYNDSEY PARKER: That's actually interesting now that you bring that up, because I'm sure--

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: The predatory part.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I'm sure you're aware that, that is kind of the reputation that song has gotten recently.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Yeah.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Which I understand the context in which that song was--

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: It's had a soft cancel, that song.

LYNDSEY PARKER: A soft cancel.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: It was written as a character song originally and when you see people playing it, it's supposed to be coy, but of course, when you look at the lyrics through today's lens and you just think of it as a pop song, it's not one that would be written now, but it was written as two characters that are very much of the time they were written and definitely not how we want to teach our young men to be.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Right, right.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: If she said no once, just let her go.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Was it your idea to flip the genders and be the "predator" so to speak and take on that role?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: We both wanted to just switch it up, so.

MATTHEW WARD: Yeah and we're always courting controversy, so.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Do you guys do "Baby It's Cold Outside" ever or have you done it live?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: We do it live always, yeah.

LYNDSEY PARKER: And how does that go over with the audience and related to what we--

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: People love that song and I usually preface it with talking about how we switched it around. Hopefully people will like it better this way.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Didn't that song come from a movie as well? Am I mistaken?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Frank Loesser, I think, wrote that song, who also wrote "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" and songs from [INAUDIBLE]. I do know there is a version that I've seen, and I'm not sure if it's from a movie or not, but it's a guy's just trying really hard to get the girl to stay. But you get the feeling when you see it that she kind of really does want to stay, but doesn't want to, you know. But again, all of this is played as a comedy and when you take it and you're just listening to the words, it could be-- I get the problem with it. I get why it's problematic.

LYNDSEY PARKER: But I also-- context is everything.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Exactly, context is everything. I knew the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong version of that song, which is played in a very comedic way. If it were played in a serious way, which when you're looking at the lyrics it is problematic, but different contexts lend different meanings.

LYNDSEY PARKER: So we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of "A Very She & Him Christmas", but before I let you guys go, what else do you guys-- You have a tour coming up. What else are you guys working on collectively or individually?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: We made another record over the pandemic, but--

LYNDSEY PARKER: Oh, OK.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: --we can't tell you about it just yet. But we-- but it was very fun and kind of got us through, making music. We've been making music the entire time. So that's been great.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Is it originals or is it covers, or?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: This one's kind of a songbook situation, wouldn't you say, Matt?

MATTHEW WARD: Yeah, we can't wait to divulge everything very soon. I think we will be--

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Yes.

MATTHEW WARD: --able to.

LYNDSEY PARKER: How exciting. And that will be released in 2022, I assume?

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Yes.

MATTHEW WARD: Fingers crossed.

ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Fingers crossed.