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It has been 100 episodes since Max Greenfield first dropped a bill in the douchebag jar.
The man behind New Girl‘s reformed lothario rings in the Fox sitcom’s milestone as a significantly evolved version of Schmidt, barely logging an offensive remark in the March 8 episode — which also happens to mark the return of Zooey Deschanel. Character growth on a sitcom, however, is tricky business. So noted the actor when he recently looked back on his New Girl tenure with The Hollywood Reporter.
Greenfield, who plays the object of Sally Field’s affection in indie dramedy Hello, My Name Is Doris (in theaters March 11), also discussed his recent spate of side hustles — including shooting up heroin in American Horror Story and a not entirely un-Schmidt turn as a comically amoral mortgage broker in Oscar winner The Big Short.
What have you been up to?
I’m trying to do a lot of promotion for Hello, My Name Is Doris. It’s a really good movie. I’d tell you if it was a piece of shit, but it’s really good.
The trailer is terribly charming.
The whole movie is terribly charming. It might be the most charming movie that’s ever been filmed. Michael Showalter, who wrote and directed it, we’ve known each other for a while for doing They Came Together together. He showed me the script not long after, and I said, “Can I do this, please?” I was attached to it for quite a while. It was about eight months later that he sent the script to Sally. I got lucky. And I’m doing a lot of press with Sally. It’s like a “Let’s celebrate Sally Field” press run. She’s so not the type of person who would ever make herself the center of attention. But she made this movie, she’s really proud of it, which she should be, so we’re sort of celebrating the 50-some-odd years.
And what is she like to work with?
Incredible. It really did not disappoint. It’s not like she’s a superhero or anything, but she still really loves acting and loves the process of making films. The goal was always to make a great film, but she elevates that goal to a level you probably didn’t think was capable. And because of that, we ended up having just an awesome time on the movie.
Belated congrats on The Big Short.
I mean, can you believe that? I remember when I got the meeting with [writer-director Adam] McKay. I thought, “Is this some kind of joke?” It felt like they were looking for Steve Carell’s crew, and I was thinking that I wasn’t really right for any of those guys. That wasn’t how to get into the movie. But when I read the script, I really, unfortunately, responded to the biggest dirt bags, the mortgage brokers. McKay asked me if there was any role that I thought might work and, when I told them, everyone in the room looked at each other and went, “That would be perfect.” I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing — “You’re perfect for the sleaziest guy in the whole movie.”
Sally Field and Max Greenfield in Hello, My Name Is Doris.
Have you gotten offered a lot of dirt-bag parts since New Girl premiered?
Every once in a while, I’ll get a script where it’s the third friend. And, it’s not that often, but it’s a version of Schmidt. It’s not for me. I do the show eight months out of the year, so if I’m going to do something over the summer, I want it to be different and challenging. That’s why I was so excited about American Horror Story.
… where you played a heroin addict who gets stuffed into a mattress.
Oh, yeah. It was overwhelming to shoot, but I’ll follow Ryan Murphy into the fire. He’s just incredible.
Is it easier to moonlight when it’s for another 20th TV show?
Sort of. We had a longer hiatus, because of Zooey’s pregnancy, that pushed into October. There were a handful of shows going and we were available for the first time. When Ryan asked me to do it, things kind of synched up.
How did Murphy approach you about it?
Ryan came up to me at upfronts, and said, “It’s going to be really f—ed up. You’re going to dye your hair blonde, and you’re going to be a heroin addict.” Great, this all sounds awesome. I don’t think we talked again until a week before we started. I dyed my hair and lost a bunch of weight … what am I doing? One of the coolest things on that show, which I love, is Lou [Eyrich] and her costume design. She and Ryan work so incredibly well together. They were so instrumental in helping that character. The sets, the costumes, the makeup, I can’t tell you how helpful all of that stuff is. Once you’re in that environment, as an actor, you are filling in such small spaces that your job becomes so much easier — and, really, so much fun. It’s all there.
How are you feeling about all of the nostalgia that comes with 100 New Girl episodes?
I feel like I lost track somewhere in the 30s. It all becomes one episode. Then somebody tapped me on the shoulder and told me were taping the 100th. It makes me feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the job. Before New Girl, I had just been grinding in TV for a really long time. I had been testing for so many shows and not getting them. You don’t know how difficult it is or how lucky you have to be — and I only say lucky because there are so many people out there — to get a show on the air and keep it going. To be in a position where we’ve shot 100 of these is just lottery-ticket lucky.
And you have this huge body of work.
I can’t imagine a scenario on any sort of soundstage where I would be thrown, which is such an amazing thing. To know, after all of these years, all of the technical aspects of what goes into shooting as scene is quite incredible. It’s really a testament to our writers. We show up and we do our best with the script, but we’re not creating something out of nothing like they are.
Schmidt has evolved a lot over the last few seasons. Do you think there’s still room for him to weird out and wear a fat suit?
We’ve talked a lot about how difficult it is with a TV show. You never know how long it’s going to last, so you don’t know how or when to move your characters forward. To be in the situation we were in early on, where we knew we were going to do another season and likely multiple seasons, you have to prolong that character’s growth. If they move along too fast, you lose the dynamic of the show. But then, by season five, you have to grow these characters a little bit because now they’re just like aliens.
A little but not completely, yes?
I think it’s nice to see Schmidt grow up a little bit, get engaged and hopefully get married at the end of the season. I like to see him level out because it lends itself to frantic meltdowns that are more surprising. The littlest thing becomes the catalyst — and, for me, that’s more how real life works.
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