When “New Girl” debuted on FOX last fall, anyone who watched the pilot — or even the first few episodes — would have classified Max Greenfield‘s character of Schmidt as a funny, but one-note sidekick. After all, his character was the reason why the boys in the apartment Jess Day (Zooey Deschanel) moves into maintained a “douchebag jar,” since it seemed all Schmidt was in love with was his clothes and abs.
But Schmidt turned out to be arguably one of the best supporting characters on TV not named Ron Swanson, and through his romance with Jess’ model buddy Cece (Hannah Simone), we found out where that overconfidence came from. Schmidt became such a favorite that, when his Emmy nomination was announced in July, it really didn’t come as much of a surprise.
Last week, Greenfield talked with Zap2It about how Schmidt and the show developed in the first season, what’s in store for Schmidt and Cece in the second season, why he’s in awe of Jason Segel, and how he thinks the whole Emmy season experience is completely surreal.
Zap2it: How surprised were you by getting this nomination?
Max Greenfield: Well, they do a lot of press stuff beforehand. And then it’s hard to not pay attention to the fact that you’re being discussed. I was more surprised that it was as much of a thing as it became leading up toward the nomination. It was so awesome to be a part of the conversation. And then while we were shooting, especially these last few months, we don’t hear a lot of things, we’re so isolated on the set. And then as soon as you stop filming, all of a sudden you’re bombarded with the reality of the Internet.
What was that reality?
It’s not even so much the reality of the Internet, because the Internet is telling you, you should watch all these people writing on Twitter going, “Get ready for the Emmys, man.” And you’re like, what are these people talking about? And then you get invited to things like The Hollywood Reporter Emmy roundtable and the Variety roundtable and all these really special, cool things. And the next thing you know you’re sitting at the table with Ed Helms and Ty Burrell and you’re talking shop. It was very cool.
So as much fun as that process was, I knew that it was definitely a possibility. Then when it came out and we found out that I was one of the nominees, it was just awesome.
It’s actually kind of a surprising response because most people I talk to are like, “Oh, no. No. I was not even paying any attention to any of this.”
That’s bulls***. That’s a bunch of bulls***. People follow this. They call you. They tell you what the f***’s going on.But you also never know and you never want to be like … and you never really want to think that it’s going to happen, especially in the first year. I mean, I suppose if you’re on “Modern Family,” you’re like, “Yeah. I’m probably going to get nominated,” and deservingly so. But in the first year and everything it was certainly surprising.
Do you wish “Modern Family” had more female characters at a certain point, you had more spaces for people to get in?
[Laughs] Geez, they couldn’t have made it a lesbian couple? They had to make it two gay guys.
What to you was the most satisfying thing about the show and about playing Schmidt in that first season?
I think the thing I enjoy most about the show and … and what genuinely feels nice about having been nominated for this thing is we’ve really created a collaborative set. And don’t get me wrong, I like to take as much credit as I can for Schmidt, but at the end of the day a character is so informed by the other actors on set, obviously the writing, most importantly the creator of our show, Liz [Meriwether], who kind of is the brainchild of all of this. And there’s been an allowance from her to Jake Kasdan, who’s our executive producer/director who’s directed many of our episodes, to the directors on set to the writers who come and whoever’s written that episode they’re down on set with us, to really kind of find it all together.
I think the way that the character kind of found itself was very much a group effort. And then I think we all just kind of ran with it. No one got in its way. No one got scared of it. And now it’s just a free-for-all. Does that make sense?
It does make sense. And one of the things I’m curious about is Schmidt’s the one who seems to have come the farthest from the beginning of the season to the end. What do you think was your contribution to that? And where did you start to see the change?
I think everybody could probably say the change really happened when they decided to have Schmidt and Cece kind of get together on the Valentine episode. I think we found out pretty early that it was funny, and I certainly was willing to go running and jumping off a wall screaming “parkour!” and doing whatever. And I was happy to do that, and that very easily could have been the only thing that they had me do. Then there was the Cece storyline that they easily could have shied away from, and they just kind of dove in the deep end. As it started to happen, I felt like, and I think we all felt like it was working.
And they just kind of let the character develop within that relationship, and I think we really saw, ultimately, a lot of vulnerability in the relationship. Because of that, you really got to see a multidimensional character at that point in its first season. I think we were all surprised with how much we had earned with the Schmidt character leading up to that. You know what I mean? I think we were like, “Oh, wow. We really did show a lot of shades leading up to this that made all of this Cece storyline meaningful.”
Normally in the first season of a show, maybe Zooey’s character might have gotten some depth because she’s the lead. So did that come as a surprise to you that at the end of the first season, we know a lot about Schmidt?
Well it definitely seemed a surprise that … I mean, I do not know. I do not know how surprising it was just because TV’s such an interesting beast in itself that you don’t plan on 24 episodes. You know what I mean? You go one at a time and you plan for the order that you’re given them. And then all of a sudden at some point they say, “Hey, man. We’d like you to do another 11 of these.” And then … the writers go, “Oh, God. What are we going to do now?” And I thought it was pretty awesome and I thought it was kind of a risky but great move that they decided to go this way with the character.
There’s still a little bit of douchebag in Schmidt, but at least we know where it comes from a little bit.
Oh, yeah. Totally. And I think it’ll always be there. Even when he’s married and with kids.
How much do you get a chance to throw in some ad-libbed dialog?
Every so often, I think there are scenes … it always depends. And that’s why I say it’s such a great set to work on. I so credit everybody because we get to a place where if a scene’s just clicking from the very beginning, like in rehearsal, and then we shoot the first ta
ke and we’re like, “Oh, my God. This thing is just really jumping off the page,” and we’re in it, then there’s room to move around. If there are other scenes that are not doing that, then there’s room to move around.
But what’s really nice about everybody on our set, and I think why it works so well, is because nobody takes advantage of that. I very rarely am going to just start running off at the mouth without running it by the writers first. But I’d say for the most part, we’re more scripted than I think it seems.
When I was watching your web series that you did for Axe, I noticed that you tend to bring this kind of vulnerable arrogance to your characters. Schmidt obviously showed a lot of that. Where does that come from?
F***ing straight stealing. The guys who can do that are the funniest people ever and the guys that I grew up with. And the fact that you’re picking up on that is just awesome. But I like guys who do that the best and far better than me. Steve Carell does the same thing. Steve Martin did it really well. Those are the best. It’s always what I’ve been attracted to — like the overconfident idiots.
When you were auditioning for Schmidt, that’s what they were looking for?
I think it definitely evolved into that. It was there, we found it here and there during the pilot, and then in the first episode they gave me things to do that were just awesome. And we just we honed in on it and then ran with it.
How do you think the other characters changed?
I think it’s so hard because you’re always trying to recalibrate, the writers are, just because all of a sudden, the ratings come in. And they’re like, “Oh, we’re doing well.” Then all of a sudden you’re having a conversation with the network and then the network is like … and you get picked up the second season. And you have to back off certain storylines and go with certain storylines because of longevity. So it’s always very, a tricky game with TV and character development.
But I love what they’re doing with everybody’s character. We come into this season and I don’t know, it’s so odd. … It’s much different than movies — there’s a start and a finish and you know what the end is, and you’re telling a story about a person and you’re able to make all these kind of choices as an actor as to what the character is.
Zooey’s character loses her job as a teacher in the first episode coming back, and she now has to adjust to life as an unemployed person. And it’s not as easy as she might think. So there’s that. And I think it’s always dependent on what our writers are giving us.
What will we see between Schmidt and Cece this season?
I know what they were trying to do at the end of last season was end it in a way where they could come back in the beginning of this season in a way where Cece and Schmidt are kind of starting where they started at the beginning of the first season, which is [where] I still want to be with this really hot model. But now there’s all this history behind us. And she now has a new boyfriend. I think they both ultimately know that they have to do some work on themselves individually before they can be in a relationship with each other. But that’s kind of where we start off at in the beginning of this season. It’s really fun. It’s been cool.
And where did you get the idea, by the way, for the web series? Have you had someone in your life that you were just so nervous to talk to?
Axe sort of came to us with that concept. I thought it was really smart and fun. And they asked me if I could lend anything to it comedically. I wrote those six web series. They gave me a day to shoot them. So I went out and we got a full production day in. We shot all six. I thought they came out really great. And they were fun to get out and kind of direct stuff and write it and see it come to life.
Think you’ll be doing more writing and directing down the line?
Our show is so time-consuming that I don’t know when I’d actually be able to do anything. But it’s definitely something I’m interested in. It’s so much fun to do it. I feel like I’ve worked with so many guys that are so good and learned so much already. I did a movie this summer with David Wain and Michael Showalter. And watching them kind of do their thing, and watching them kind of develop the script that we shot this summer was just really cool.
But you figured during the time you’re shooting the show, unless they ask you to do it, there’s no time at all?
MG: I wish there was. I don’t know how Jason Segel wrote “The Muppets” while shooting “How I Met Your Mother” He’s my hero. [chuckles]
If the mythical “Veronica Mars” movie ever comes to pass would you…
I always get asked “Would I do it?” I don’t know. If they ask me to, I would do it a heartbeat. But I don’t know. It’s very mythical. I asked a buddy of mine who’s one of the producers and would obviously be one of the producers of the movie, and I was like, “Hey, man. What’s going on with that thing?” And we have a very joking relationship, and it was the first time he ever was like, “Hey, man. Can we just not talk about it?” It’s a weird thing, man. I don’t know what’s going on. But I like to play with it and torture those guys and say, “Yes. It’s happening. I’m fully aware of it. I’ve seen the script. It’s amazing.”
Everybody associated with the show must get kind of tired of being asked that at this point.
I would assume.
What’s the plan for Emmy night? Who are you going with? What are you going to do?
I’m going to take my wife. We’re going to enjoy the evening fully. I don’t know, man. I’m excited. … Look, I’ve come to realize very quickly … because leading up to these Emmys there’s always events that you go to. And I’ve been to a couple of them. It’s all people who’ve been nominated or associates of the shows that are nominated. And it’s one big celebration of, “Hey, man. Our show’s not canceled.” Or like, “Hey, man. I’m pretty sure we get to do this again next year.” Not the Emmy stuff, but like that we get to shoot our show next year. It’s really great.
I got to spend a decent amount of time with the guys from “Modern Family.” They are the nicest guys you could imagine. And they’ve all been really, really good to me. This is my first time, and they’ve all been nominated seven years in a row. But like it’s just the nicest group of guys and all guys who have been working for a long time and are all get how rare it is and how grateful we all are to be on a show that’s working.
Do they go, “Welcome to the club, but don’t get too comfortable” or something like that?
No! It’s like, “Hey, man. Congratulations.” It’s really nice when everybody from “Modern Family” comes up to you and goes, “Man, you’re so funny on that show.” You go, “What is happening?” Like, “How did this happen?” Two years ago, I was like, “Hey, man. I mean, I’ve got this Nickelodeon audition next week. I hope I get that one.” What gives, man? It’s all of a sudden you’re like at Emmy f***ing night and the guys from “Modern Family” are like, “Man, that’s a really good show.” I mean, s***.
Just a little surreal, huh?
Oh, it’s completely surreal.
It’s an interesting category this year because you and Bill Hader were able to get in there because Jon Cryer is a lead now.
It’s cool. I’m obsessed with “Saturday Night Live.” I have been for a very, very long time. And if there’s anyone who deserves it from that show, it’s Bill. I mean, he’s become one of those guys over there, he’s like, we call him one of those “SNL” staples because … and it’s really difficult to become one of those guys. And he’s done it as good as anybody’s ever done it.