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NOV
13
2 YEARS

Carla Gugino on Taming Schmidt as 'New Girl's' Sexually Aggressive Guest Star

The actress, channeling "Fifty Shades of Grey" in her three-episode arc, tells THR about her new gig, eulogizes "Political Animals" and talks about what keeps drawing her back to TV.

New Girl Carla Gugino Max Greenfield - H 2012
Patrick McElhenney/FOX

When the news broke about Carla Gugino's guest arc on New Girl, stories described her character -- a vice president at Schmidt's (Max Greenfield) company -- as a female counterpart to Fifty Shades of Grey's kinky Casanova. And, as promised, her debut finds Gugino drawing up what might be network TV's first sex contract.

"I feel like I'm the only person -- or woman, at least -- who hasn't read Fifty Shades of Grey," Gugino tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I know what it's about, and I think with the S&M-influenced contractual obligations that's probably an appropriate likening ... though we are going for much more comedy."

Without any familiarity with the pseudo source material, Gugino worked with creator Liz Meriwether on the comically sex-crazed Emma before jumping in headfirst on her first day on set.

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"There's a scene where we meet in a break room and I stick my tongue in his ear," she says. "That was literally the first thing we shot. At one point, [Greenfield] turned to me and said, 'Oh wow, you really came to play.' "

Kinks aside, the two seem like a perfect match. Emma comes to town when the single Schmidt, pining for Cece (Hannah Simone) all season, is more ready than ever to move on to something new.

"She makes him sign this really bizarre sex contract that has some usual warnings in it, like 'Are you allergic to latex?' " says Gugino. "It's kind of terrifying and titillating to Schmidt at the same time. He thinks he's going to get the best sex boot camp of his life. And then you realize she's absolutely out of her mind. It's this fun, really kinetic process -- but I have to say I have less of any idea of the final outcome than most things I'm a part of."

Shooting with the cast for three episodes, Gugino's first time at bat doesn't delve too much into the Schmidt's contractual obligations, but the actress says the scenario won't be as straightforward as originally described.

"Is she really good at what she's saying she's good at?" Gugino asks, unwilling to give a definite answer. "You're going to see a little more of her soft underbelly and the reasons why she might be going about things in this way like that. I have no idea if she'll re-emerge at some point, but it's certainly left open."

Gugino, whose long TV resume goes from Spin City and Chicago Hope to Entourage and Californication, most recently starred in the USA miniseries Political Animals. She played the complicated reporter Susan Berg, embroiled in a unique relationship with Sigourney Weaver's secretary of State. And despite a strong critical response to the drama, and what Gugino describes as a "valid conversation" about parlaying Political Animals into a regular series, the network said this month that it won't be moving forward with a possible continuation.

"It's not often that the idea of continuing something for a potentially long period of time sounds exciting to me, because I really am a gypsy by nature," says Gugino. "I like to dip my toe in things and go into that world completely and then be somebody else the next time. There was so much to explore, so on that level, I do feel sad about it. We all really love it so much, and we had such an extraordinary time, but it was written and intended to be a miniseries."

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With her career balanced by television, film and theater work for the past two decades, Gugino says that gypsy mentality is something that still defines her decisions. But playing Susan -- and even her brief stint as New Girl's cartoonishly aggressive Emma -- has allowed for one of her favorite parts of her job that she only gets from television.

"One of the things I really love about TV is this symbiotic relationship you can get between the writers and the actors, and the characters start to come to life because you start to collaborate," she says. "They see something on film that inspires them to take it in a certain direction, you talk about it, and you, as an actor, take it and run with it."

Gugino's first appearance on New Girl airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Fox.

Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV