Zooey Deschanel

"When did you realize you were adorable?" one admiring reporter half-seriously asked Zooey Deschanel, evoking a flood of tweets that accompanied the panel for New Girl, Fox's new comedy starring the (500) Days of Summer actress. "I don't think of myself that way, but I will take the compliment."

Deschanel plays Jess, a quirky, slightly vulnerable, geeky gal embarking on an unfamiliar new phase in her life. Incidentally, this also pretty accurately describes her portrayer. To hear Deschanel tell it, taking on her first role on a television series was practically fated. "When I read the script for the pilot... I don't know if I've ever seen a part that was as charming and exciting and made me think," she said. "I was laughing out loud."

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When we first meet Deschanel's Jess, she's in a tailspin after a nasty breakup. As she convalesces, she subjects her three new male roommates to crying jags, periodic singing to herself and repeated viewings of Dirty Dancing. "I obviously needed to play this part; this is me," Deschanel joked. "I mean, not actually me, but it is a part of me, a secret part."

Viewers may have a hard time imagining the and She & Him crooner, who memorably shower-serenaded Will Ferrell in the movie Elf, in a role described as "geeky." "There are some attractive dorks out there," countered series creator Liz Meriwether. "And Liz is giving them a voice!" added executive producer Jake Kasdan.

"I didn't think I could find somebody as weird as I am," Meriwether added, recalling Deschanel's first audition. "The second she opened her mouth, everybody was like, 'This is a perfect match of character and actress.'"

New Girl premieres Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 9/8c on Fox.