Max Greenfield Explains 'New Girl' Kitten-Wrangling, Schmidt's Version of 'Breaking Bad'

The actor tells THR about topless shoots with felines, the "Veronica Mars" movie and his alter ego's dramatic turn: "We’re taking a character that we’ve earned a lot of leeway with and potentially pushing it too far if that scene plays any differently."
Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield in "New Girl"

Schmidt (Max Greenfield) came as close as ever to crossing the line from lovable lothario and actual jerk during New Girl's Oct. 1 episode. One of the Fox comedy's more dramatic turns, the infidelity arc ended with the entire gang catching onto his two-timing and a brutally candid Schmidt coming clean to Cece (Hannah Simone).

Greenfield, who says he thinks the storyline's emotional conclusion spared his character from potentially going too far down a dark path, admits that "evil Schmidt" is a recurring theme during the third season. And, in the meantime, there is still the other side of the New Girl coin -- like the recent scene in which several overzealous kittens suckled him. (See image below.)

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The Hollywood Reporter chatted with Greenfield, who, in addition to detailing the hows and whys of shirtless cat wrangling, spoke about his prospects as a dramatic lead, the return of Damon Wayans Jr. and his day on the set of the Veronica Mars movie.

How did they get those cats to linger on your ... should we say "chest area"?
You know when you open a can of cat food -- not the one that’s just the big chunk of whatever, but the kind with the little bits of meat in the weird sauce?

Well, they took that weird sauce and they put a little bit of it on my chest in the area they wanted the cats to be focused on. So that’s how that worked.

Was it a long shoot?
It was not long at all, thank god. When the big cat did it, it was easy ... but in the one flashback -- where, for whatever reason, I was in a cowboy outfit – those little f---ing kittens were biting. It did not feel good. However long that screen grab was, it was the longest I could take it.

How does that now rank on the list of weird job skills?
I’m not going to lie. I’ve done some weird shit on this show, but I think that one wins. I watched the episode, and I said to myself, “This might be a regret.” And I never thought I’d say that.

You went from being frequently shirtless in season one to stuck in a fat suit for flashbacks in season two. Has a trend for season three emerged? 
I’m pretty clothed this season, and I’ve put on the fat suit once so far. It's been a lot of regular Schmidt, although the trend this season is evil Schmidt.

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It gets a little dark.
He breaks bad. This is the episode where I really just wanted to say to everybody that I’m taking a turn and no longer playing the comedic foil here. I’m a dramatic lead. If my transition after this show ends and isn’t on to some sort of Showtime or HBO drama, I'll feel like it’s all been a failure. It was all for naught.

What did you think of the two-timing coming to a head?
What I love about this job is being able to go from goofy-goofy stuff to dramatic and real moments in the next scene. It’s where our show lives. We’re not 30 Rock. To really sell that idea that he’s dating two girls at the same time, which is not a nice thing to ever do, you have to show that he’s doing it because he loves both of them so much. That is a tough buy. We really needed that scene to pay off, because we’re taking a character that we’ve earned a lot of leeway with and potentially pushing it too far if that scene plays any differently. I’m happy with the way that turned out. I think it’s a nice moment. It allows you, as time goes on, to forgive the situation.

Will this vendetta against Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) linger?
The actual act of him trying to break them up does not last long. For Schmidt, I think he truly believes that it’s Nick and Jess’ fault and that they're the reason he’s in that situation. He’ll figure out where the blame really lays. He’s on a journey this season; he’s really searching.

You just started filming with Damon Wayans Jr. How has Coach been explained back into the show?
They’re playing it as if he’s the type where when he has a girlfriend he completely disappears. They break up, he comes back and he is ready to party.

How was the Veronica Mars movie shoot this summer?
It was magical. Kristen [Bell] was great. And all of my stuff was with her, but I got to see a bunch of people. We shot my scene a couple days before Comic-Con, so I didn't make the trailer, but it’s definitely going to be fun. And they shot so much, I think they’re going to be able to make two movies. It’s just going to be a fan explosion. If you watched the show, it’s going to have everything you want.