Thoughts on 'New Girl' star Zooey Deschanel and 'Coal Miner's Daughter'

The life story of Loretta Lynn comes back to life

Zooey Deschanel and Loretta Lynn at the Grand Ole Opry
Zooey Deschanel and Loretta Lynn at the Grand Ole Opry
Credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

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Actress Zooey Deschanel is slated to bring the life story of 80-year-old country music icon Loretta Lynn to Broadway in a stage version of “Coal Miner’s Daughter." Lynn herself made the announcement at a Grand Ole Opry country classics show on Thursday night. In typical sweet-natured, country-girl style, the Hall of Famer announced Deschanel thusly:

“There’s a little girl back stage that’s gonna do the play ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ on Broadway and I think she can sing herself to death.”

After the announcement the pair did a duet of the play’s title song, a performance which was reminiscent of the introduction Lynn gave to Sissy Spacek when she was tapped to play the role in the 1980 Academy Award-winning film. (Spacek herself took home the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.)

Deschanel, a Los Angeles native born into the Entertainment industry (her father, Caleb Deschanel, is an Oscar-nominated cinematographer and her mother, Mary Jo Deschanel, is an actress perhaps best known for her work on television’s “Twin Peaks”) referred to Lynn as her idol. The actress gained popularity for her portrayals of often quirky and ultimately likable characters in films such as “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and has since brought the essentially goofy-hot essence to television’s “New Girl

Now, I am going to have to own some bias on this bit of casting/production news. I’ve mentioned previously the impact that the cinematic version of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” had on my childhood, as well as the depths of my affection for Sissy Spacek. Spacek is an enduring talent with five Oscar nominations under her belt in addition to her win for “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” As a Texas native who currently lives on a horse ranch in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, she feels like an actress with a more organic connection with Lynn. They have a shared spirit that is, at its core, essentially country.

There’s something to the country flavor (not just Southern, but specifically country) that comes through as earthy and yet ephemeral and difficult to capture. Whether it be Flannery O'connor, Carson McCullers or Loretta Lynn, there is a tonal core which cannot be mimicked. Well, not easily so, in any event.

Having said that, I very much like Zooey Deschanel as an actress. I find her charming and enjoyable to watch. But there is a sense that she, herself, is very much a part and product of her own environment. One can sense the LA clubs she frequents and performs in as well as the Venice beach pathways and Silver Lake bars of her adolescence and adulthood coming through in her facial expressions, body language and certainly her vocal cadence.

While Spacek and Lynn evoke images of rich earth, sunshine and ancient loss, Deschanel inspires thoughts of bohemian art festivals with drum circles and fire pits -- both interesting in their own right, but somewhat diametrically opposed. It will be fascinating to witness Deschanel up the ante on her acting chops in order to bring Loretta Lynn’s rise from crushing poverty to country super-stardom to life once more.

In the interim, and because it brings me such pleasure, take a look at Spacek and the recently departed, legendary country musician Levon Helm (who played Lynn’s father in the film) perform "Coal Miner's Daughter" on "The Midnight Special" in 1980:

For year-round entertainment news and commentary follow @JRothC on Twitter.

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UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014