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Emily Deschanel Says Her Animal Kingdom Character 'Is in Touch With Her Dark Side'

The former Bones star teases how this role took her out of her comfort zone

Kelly Connolly

Emily Deschanel is a long way from the Jeffersonian.

More than two years after Bones signed off, Deschanel is returning to TV screens in Season 4 of Animal Kingdom, premiering Tuesday on TNT. And the actress, who spent 12 seasons as scientist Temperance Brennan, is in completely new territory as Angela, a recovering addict newly released from prison who's got a long history with the Cody family. It's a role that took Deschanel out of her comfort zone -- which was part of the appeal.

"I was so used to being in a cocoon, in this protected space for 12 years," Deschanel told TV Guide. "This pushes me into a place that's not so comfortable."

Angela, who makes her debut in the second episode of the season, pushes the Codys into uncomfortable places too. The former best friend of Pope's (Shawn Hatosy) late twin sister, Julia, Angela is out to worm her way back into the family's lives -- but she'll have to get through Smurf (Ellen Barkin) first. Deschanel spoke to TV Guide about how Angela shakes up the family, why she wanted to play a character who's nothing like Brennan, and what it's like to go toe to toe with Ellen Barkin.

What can you tease about Angela's dynamic with the Codys?
Emily Deschanel:
Smurf and Angela are certainly at odds. There's a territorial thing. Smurf sees another woman coming into her house, a woman that was friends with her daughter, and I was a recovering addict, and we each blame each other for Julia's death. ... My character grew up with Julia, grew up with the family, so I have a lot of history with them, but especially Pope, since he was Julia's twin brother. So that's an interesting dynamic. Angela, she's in touch with her dark side, and so is Pope, so there's that connection there. She's trying to seduce him to get in with the family in a way, but she has affection for him -- as she does with J (Finn Cole), who is Julia's son. In her mind, she helped raise him, and she wants to protect him and look out for him. But she's hoping that'll help her as well.

What's it like getting into Angela's headspace?
I really like her as a character. I think she's really an interesting person. The show itself is dark, and lots of crazy things happen over the season, so it can be challenging. You're pushed farther than something like Bones, where you kind of are in a safe space, or at least I felt like I was for a long time. I was so used to being in a cocoon, in this protected space for 12 years. This pushes me into a place that's not so comfortable, and you have to constantly evaluate, like, why is this hard? ... But I think she's a really interesting character. Some people might watch the show and think that Angela's manipulating people, and people think that's evil, but I think she has her reasons.

Emily Deschanel, Animal Kingdom

Emily Deschanel, Animal Kingdom

Jesse Giddings, TNT

How is it playing a character who has history with everyone when you're coming into a set where the actors already have a working history with each other?
It's a weird thing to come in as a guest having been a person that was on set every day on Bones, and a producer, and number one on the call sheet. And it's definitely like a boys' club in a lot of ways -- the actors who play Smurf's sons are so lovely and welcoming, but it's intimidating, honestly, to come into that situation. But to answer your question, as an actor I just have to make up my own history that involves them and my character, and that's fun to come in and do that on my own. But it's definitely weird to come into a new environment and not have been a part of it from the beginning, having come from something where you're a part of a family for many many years.

How's working with Ellen Barkin?
She's amazing. I've always loved her as an actor, and I've loved all the opportunities I've had to watch her work and study her and learn from her. That's been an absolute dream come true and something I'll look back on when I'm older and look on my career and think of as a real highlight.

Were you looking to play a role that's so different from Brennan?
Yeah. After doing Bones there was part of me that was just so -- I was exhausted from doing 12 seasons, I had spent so much time away from my kids, I had played the same character for so long that I questioned if I wanted to act again, I questioned if I could ever play another character again. I had to take some time off and also spend time with my kids. So when I was feeling like it might be time to get back and do a little bit of work again, when I thought about what I want to do, my criteria was like: I don't want to have to move to Romania for seven years [laughs]. I want to stay close by. At this point I was not interested in doing a show where you're the lead, like I was on Bones. And I wanted to play a totally different character, different tone. ... The character's so different, and I'm so grateful that people thought I could play this character and considered me for it. It's been a lot of fun to dive in and explore that.

I can imagine it's also easier learning lines without all of the scientific jargon.
Oh my god, it's so much easier [laughs]. People who are not actors are like, 'How do you memorize lines?' and it's annoying as an actor -- not annoying, but that's like the least of your concerns. Except for on Bones, with Brennan, that was valid. That was a valid question to ask.

Animal Kingdom premieres Tuesday, May 28 at 9/8c on TNT.

Emily Deschanel, Animal Kingdom

Emily Deschanel, Animal Kingdom

Eddy Chen, TNT