Set Visit: 'New Girl'

2012-22 FEA New Girl Zooey Deschanel Justin Long H
David Strick

Zooey Deschanel and guest star Justin Long film a fully clothed scene in the series' classroom just a few hours after awkwardly navigating a bedroom scene in front of a much smaller crowd.

Tequila and tears are on the menu as THR goes behind the scenes with Liz Meriwether, Zooey Deschanel and the entire ensemble of Fox's freshman comedy for a penultimate episode that's heavy on flashbacks and improv.

This is the first time in New Girl's brief shooting history that actor Jake Johnson has arrived on set in a "Jesus beard." He's also sporting a long wig and a fermented-looking sweatshirt. It's March 15, and he's filming a flashback on the Fox lot in Century City for the first season's penultimate episode. Clearly, his character, Nick, had a rough time in 2010. The scene requires nothing from the rest of the cast, save one line from Max Greenfield, 31, who plays one of four twentysomethings (along with Zooey Deschanel, 32, Lamorne Morris, 28, and Johnson, 33) sharing a downtown L.A. loft in the hit comedy. Everyone watches with muffled laughter as Johnson addresses his future self in a taped confessional. "Hello, Nick, you magnificent dumb ass," he growls, taking swigs from two bottles designated "tequila" and "tears." Just outside the shot, executive producers Dave Finkel and Brett Baer, director Nanette Burstein and some of the writers feed Johnson dozens of other lines -- 90 percent of which never make it to air. "We each give like 10 jokes on each line," Johnson says of the show's unique (and often exhausting) shooting style. "We do a ton of improv and so many takes that our characters are ultimately defined by what is chosen in postproduction."

After an hour and a half of Johnson's energetic non sequiturs, New Girl creator Liz Meriwether arrives from the office where she has been known to sleep and smiles at Johnson and Greenfield wrestling on the monitors. "These takes need to end up on the DVDs," she whispers. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. In the show's first 24-episode season, countless hours of footage likely have vanished into the ether. "It makes the episodes a bit hard to watch," says Johnson. "You're like, 'Oh man, there was a whole thing they didn't use!' My wife reminded me that people don't know how many takes we do, they just see the final project. That's become an important thing to try to keep in mind for me."

Once the bearded flashbacks are done, Johnson pulls the glue from his face and everyone buzzes back to life in between scenes. Notes the ever-game Deschanel, dressed in her character Jess' trademark pajamas: "I never say, 'There's something wrong with this script.' It's more like, 'You need to put something embarrassing in here!' "