Emily Deschanel Had an Emotional 'Exorcism' After 'Bones' (Exclusive)

Emily Deschanel on Animal Kingdom

Two years after Bones left the air, Emily Deschanel returns to television in her first major role since playing beloved forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan for well over a decade. But on TNT's Animal Kingdom, Deschanel won't be rolling up her sleeves in the laboratory, impressively spewing scientific jargon. Instead, she plays Angela, a woman from the wrong side of the tracks -- a former junkie who recently got out of jail, desperate to reintegrate herself back into the world.

The mission won't be so simple for Angela, whose checkered past with the Cody family puts her two steps behind when she makes her debut in Tuesday's episode. An old friend of Smurf's late daughter, Julia, Angela comes back into their lives seeking to begin a new chapter and work her way back into the family's good graces. Let's just say, it won't be pretty.

"I thought it was interesting to play a character who just got out of prison and was a recovering addict. That's an interesting topic and an interesting conversation to have about addiction and that issue in our country right now," Deschanel, 42, tells ET ahead of her introduction. "There were a lot of aspects that appealed to me about the character."

"Of course, I saw [the show] and I thought maybe I'll learn how to surf. Maybe I'll get to jump out of an airplane. Maybe I'll do some heists," she says with a chuckle, referring to the drama's picturesque Oceanside, California, locale. "I did not get to do any of those things, but it's been very fun." ET spoke with the actress on her return to television after a two-year sabbatical, portraying a "badass" woman on the opposite spectrum of Brennan and why you should be very worried about Angela. 

Emily Deschanel on Animal Kingdom

ET: This is your first true return to TV after Bones. What about this show and the character struck a chord with you where you thought, "Yes, I want to jump back into things again"?

Emily Deschanel: I needed time to decompress after doing Bones and to have an exorcism [to] get the character, Brennan, out of my system, having played that character for so long. I took a full two years off and as I was starting to think of working again and thinking about what I wanted to do, the main thing [was] I wanted to do something different -- a different tone and a different character. I didn't want to just jump in. The last thing I wanted to do at this moment is to jump in and be the lead of a network show because I've done that and I know how demanding that is. I wanted to have time with my kids. I didn't want it to take too much time away from them. So this came about, and it checked all the boxes that were my concerns. 

I wanted to dip my toe back into things. I said to my representation, "Can they give me a three-episode arc on a show?" The only thing different about this is that it's a 12-episode arc, so a little longer than I was intending at first. But the character was so different and interesting and the show had a totally different tone. And it had Ellen Barkin in it, who I've always loved as an actress. These were all really exciting to me and I really wanted to explore that space.

Your character, Angela, is vastly different from Brennan. What excited you about digging into this woman's journey?

You get a character at one of their lowest points. She has nowhere to go to. She has nothing to her name. She just got out of prison. She's struggling to keep her sobriety after she gets clean in prison and that's really interesting to explore -- somebody at their very bottom and how desperate they can be in that situation. As an actor, you just want to explore different things and be pushed and stretched. This show certainly has pushed me beyond where Bones had me pushed. It can be scary at times for sure, but it's been interesting to jump in and see where this character goes and where the story goes.

When Angela comes onto the scene, she's piecing together all that she's missed since she's been in jail. Can you preview the complicated dynamics she has with the family?

I think that my character represents Julia, Smurf's daughter, to them, who dies in the pilot. Angela represents Julia to them because she was her best friend and she's been around the family since we were children. So that is a reminder to them of their loss. Smurf and Angela are really at odds; Angela blames her for Julia's death and she blames me for Julia's death for different reasons. My character sees Pope as kind of like a violent protector, which, a lot of times he is. 

Emily Deschanel in Animal Kingdom

There's J, Julia's son, and in Angela's mind, she helped raise him, even though raising him was like having him shoot her up with heroin and then watching cartoons together. Or it was taking him for ice cream while his mom was OD'ing. In anyone else's mind, that's not good parenting, but from Angela's perspective she has helped raise him and she sees him as a son she is looking out for and wants to help. There are a lot of mixed feelings about Angela from the other characters. A lot of them don't trust Angela or don't know what to do or don't know if they should trust her. And Angela doesn't know who to trust either, but she's trying to figure it out and weasel her way back in, for lack of a better term.

How did you channel your inner dark side to play Angela?

I would listen to certain types of music as I would drive [to set]. But we all have different sides. We all experience all the emotions that the characters are going to experience. For me, I like to imagine what the character has gone through, their history, their memories of things that they've experienced with the other characters. I build a history, so that I have that to pull from when I'm playing the character. Yes, Angela is a badass in a lot of ways, but she's incredibly vulnerable. She's coming in [while she's in] a very, very delicate phase. She's been through prison, she's seen all kinds of things. She's had to survive there. She's gotten clean. She's done everything she can to survive in life. She's a survivor in many ways and I can relate to that. You start from scratch and try to imagine what she's thinking, where she's coming from in each situation. And you have your own memories to draw from that you create for the character. That's the way I like to work. 

One thing that has been well-established on Animal Kingdom is how brutal the world these characters live in can be and how often that results in death. How worried should viewers be about whether Angela makes it out alive?

I think you should be worried about Angela. I keep saying, "When can Angela catch a break?!" I thought, "Oh, she's coming in at rock bottom, so she's only going to go up!" Nope, she keeps going down. There are so many things that happen throughout the season that really knock her down and put her... she's in really bad places. You're right to worry about her. 

Animal Kingdom airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.

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