- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Bones star Emily Deschanel, 45, returns to TV as hospital psychiatrist Suzanne Mathis in the suspense thriller Devil in Ohio (Sept. 2 on Netflix). The eight-episode limited series is based on a true story about a doctor breaking protocol by providing refuge for a teenage girl (Madeleine Arthur) who’s fleeing a satanic cult.
Devil in Ohio explores the struggle between good and evil. Was that an enticement to you for this project?
Yes, that drew me to it. Why a person would do this and how they make their decisions fascinated me.
Why did Dr. Mathis take the teenager, Mae, into her home?
Certain things are revealed about my character’s past and why she felt the need to save this young girl. Yes, technically you’re not supposed to do that, but she’s blinded by trauma from her own childhood. That’s why she wants to save this teenage girl, who’s really suffering.
You’re a mom. Can you imagine exposing your own children to somebody from a satanic cult?
No, I personally would not do that. But there’s certainly been times where you think about refugees coming into the country who need to be taken in. I’ve certainly thought about those kinds of things where you’re like, “I want to help out,” but where you think about your own family, and it doesn’t make sense to do certain things.
Is good and evil a topic that’s of interest to you?
I went through my life for a long period of time just thinking there’s clear good and evil, black-and-white. And then at a certain point you realize there are gray areas. You don’t always know what to do in certain situations, what’s right and what’s wrong. I have a fascination with right and wrong and ethics in general. I religiously read the ethics section in the New York Times Magazine every week. It’s the first thing I read in the paper. I love knowing what you should and shouldn’t do, but I also love exploring when there are gray areas.
This is based on a true story, but it’s anonymous. We don’t know who the person is, but Daria [Polatin], the author of the book, has spoken with the person, knows the person and did a lot of research for writing the book and the TV series. The person’s an adult now [the character of Jules], but when they were a teenager, their mom, who’s a psychiatrist, brought in a teenage girl [Mae] who escaped from a satanic cult. Whenever I say satanic, it sounds even crazier than just saying a cult.
I play the psychiatrist who took Mae into her family. That’s a huge breach of ethics for a psychiatrist to do. But you can see that when she sees this girl struggling, she wants to give her a stable home to be in, so you can kind of understand why she does it.
This is how I’ll answer it. I wouldn’t do that myself, but I certainly can understand and have compassion and understanding for why this woman did it in the first place and why this character does it. She’s blinded by her own trauma essentially, to try and save this girl. She feels she needs to save this girl. She thinks her kids are OK; [she already has] three daughters; [she thinks] they can handle having another. The daughters are doing OK, and she thinks, We can handle taking in another person who really needs to be taken in and is in desperate need of a stable home. I certainly understand that and have compassion for it. I don’t think I would do it, but I understand why the character does it.
Is Dr. Mathis anything like Temperance Brennan from Bones? Obviously, she’s a bright woman, but Temperance was always the smartest woman in the room.
I think they’re different. Obviously, Dr. Mathis is an M.D., she’s a psychiatrist, she’s clearly very smart, but obviously has some blind spots. But so did Temperance, but in different ways. Suzanne Mathis is not as stilted socially as Temperance was. There are a lot of differences, but you could say they’re both very smart women who work in science, so there’s some overlap there for sure.
Although Temperance really didn’t think psychiatry was a science...
She always thought psychology was a soft science and did not believe in it, you’re right. I don’t know if Temperance was against psychiatry in terms of pharmacopsychology. Prescribing medications, she might think, is scientific enough because there are enough studies.
Did you have to do any research for your role?
I spoke with a psychiatrist, and I also spoke with someone who knew the person who went through this. I got as much information from Daria and the other person who knows the person. I didn’t talk to the individual who experienced this in their life as a teenager, because that’s all secret, but I did speak with a psychiatrist. I did research on what is it to be a psychiatrist, and how much of a reach this is. The person I spoke with said it’s such an ethical breach to do something like this, except that it’s a true story. Listen, Dr. Mathis is also not the only psychiatrist to breach ethical lines.
I found out as much as I could about the true story. I’ve not spoken with a cult expert, I didn’t find that to be necessary because my character’s not a cult expert, she’s a psychiatrist who takes in a girl from a cult. But I’ve certainly loved me some cult documentaries. I certainly watched a lot of those, and I’ve done that kind of research that I don’t consider research. I’m fascinated by it. In that respect, I had already been doing research for a long time before I got this part.
One reason why I was probably drawn to this story and this show is the aspect of cults and how they control people’s thinking and mindset. I find it fascinating this girl comes from a cult where she’s born into it. It’s an isolated town, essentially, a community that is not connected to the rest of the world. But there are people who join cults, they live in our world, typical society and they end up joining a cult. That’s fascinating to me.
I knew someone who’s sister joined a cult and they said that they’d done research and they’d spoken to experts and the expert had said you can judge and think, I’d never do something like that, but any person in a vulnerable state in their life can join a cult.
Bones [now streaming on Hulu] was a big success, with 12 years on Fox. Why do you think it connected so strongly with audiences?
[Bones] has so much to offer people who are looking for different things; it had gross, dead bodies, it solved crimes with science, and the good guys usually got the bad guy. People find that satisfying. Also, I think people love the characters.
You starred for 12 years on Bones. What was the takeaway from that? David Boreanaz went straight into another series, but you’ve been more selective.
Everyone has their preference of what they like to do. David loves working in TV and wants to be doing a TV show and he’s had such amazing success, for a great reason, because he’s such a great star and he’s a really talented actor as well. He went right into another series; that was the last thing I wanted to do after finishing Bones. I needed time away. I took almost two years off from working as an actor. I wanted that time with my kids.
Honestly, I was burned out. I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to take every job, and my husband [David Hornsby] works, as well. So, I’m in a really privileged, wonderful position.
I also want to explore different things with each job. I don’t want it to take me away from my family too much. I have so many things to consider when I do a job. It’s a miracle I’ve worked at all, to be honest, because I don’t want it to take me away from my family too much, and I don’t want to do something too similar to what Bones was, or Temperance Brennan as a character. I want to stretch myself in different ways.
Bones is streaming now, so it’s a brand-new show to some people. What things do people want to talk about when they see you out and about?
My favorite times are when you meet someone who watched the show as a teenager, and they loved seeing women in science and it encouraged them to be a woman in science and they went to go to college and grad school for such things. I love hearing that. I love hearing that people watch it with their family members. A lot of people say, “I watch it with my mom,” or, “I watch it with my kids.”
People have said to me, too—my character was never diagnosed with being on the spectrum, but some people recognize she had qualities like that and people on the spectrum have said they really appreciated that representation, as well. I love hearing that. So, there’s lots of nice things people have said.
One of your passions is protecting animals. Do you have something you’re currently working on in that regard?
I have been on the board of Farm Sanctuary, which is the first sanctuary for farm animals in the United States and I believe the largest one. But I’m about to end my term as a board member. Farm animals has been a focus because there’s lots of attention to our domesticated animals, like dogs and cats. But factory farming kills ten billion animals a year. Working against factory farming and protecting farm animals has been a passion of mine.
Your sister, Zooey Deschanel, is dating Property Brothers’ Jonathan Scott. Have you caught the home renovation bug being around those two?
You know what? I think it’s contagious to my kids. They’re building secret rooms and stuff in their home, so my son asked me, “Can we go to Home Depot and buy a chainsaw?” He wanted to cut open a wall to make a secret room for himself. I think it’s contagious to the whole family, for sure. But we are done doing any renovations on our home. We did that several years ago and I’m not doing any more right now. I don’t think I could take it. But I love watching Jonathan and Drew’s shows and other shows to see what people do. I get my fix watching the shows.
What’s next for you?
My focus will be with Mercy Corps, an international aid organization for women and girls affected by climate change throughout the world. Then career-wise, I love exploring different things and stretching myself and challenging myself as an actor.