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New Girl’s Max Greenfield on Playing Schmidt, Liking Rihanna, and Loving Ray Romano

Fox's New Girl is one of the success stories of the fall season. But if the sitcom was sold on the adorkable charms of its lead, Zooey Deschannel, it's won over viewers — and Vulture — because of the strength and hilarity of its supporting cast. Of the three dudes who play Deschanel's roommates, none is quite as absurdly captivating as Schmidt, the douchey bro with a heart of gold played by Max Greenfield. Vulture spoke to Greenfield, who before New Girl had a journeyman's career on shows like Veronica Mars and Ugly Betty, about playing such a goofy d-bag, taking off his shirt, enjoying pop music, and digging Everybody Love Raymond. And stick around for an exclusive clip of Schmidt from tonight's episode.

You have played incredibly nice guys on shows like Veronica Mars, and then you have played some douchebags, like Schmidt. Do you have a preference?
I think Schmidt's the mixture of the two. The original conception of the character was maybe a little cooler than he's turned out to be. At first read, he was a little bit more like Vince Vaughn–y cool — able to get a girl, a little bit more laid-back, or just not as big. But then we did the pilot and we were doing wardrobe fittings; we put on an outfit that I was supposed to wear to the cowboy party, and it was so ridiculous and I looked so unbelievably weird in it. I think it kind of just dawned on everybody once we saw that outfit, that it was like, "Oh, he's that guy. He's a ridiculous idiot." But I think it's way better that way.

One of the main critiques of the show has been that Zooey’s character Jess behaves like an insane person, beyond how a normal person could conceivably act.
I always feel like people in general are much weirder and insane than anybody really wants to admit. How dare somebody watch anything and go, "That's not real!" Go on the subway. For five minutes. And, oh yeah, Zooey's crazy.

You take your shirt off a lot. Is that fun?
Not a fun or funny thing to do. It depends on how naked I am in next week's episode how much I'm gonna go to the gym this week. I wish I didn't care, but I'm just not one of these guys who, like, you know, woke up with a six-pack. I need Skittles. I have to eat very particularly and I have to work out like a madman. And then it looks like ... okay. 

Do you have to do different grooming?
Nah, I don't do the grooming. And I'm so white, it's ridiculous. I thought about maybe tanning it up before the show, but I think it's very funny that I'm that white. And also I really wanted to stay away from any sort of Jersey Shore reference or ridiculousness.

So you did the video of Fat Schmidt dancing around to Rihanna.
Which I had to take down.

Because you didn't have rights to the music?
Well, eventually that would've been the problem. But more immediately, Extra had come on the set that day and done an interview with me and filmed the process of the makeup being put on, so they were given the rights to kind of "break" "Fat Schmidt." 

Do you like Rihanna?
Love Rihanna. I didn't know I was going to do the video. I was just like, "I wanna shoot something." And I knew I wanted to do a music video. The problem was I had to know all the words, 'cause it was gonna look weird if I didn't. My wife had downloaded that song that morning or the night before, and I looked up the lyrics and realized there's only about eight lines to the song. I just printed it out and put it next to me as I was singing it. I will tell you this: There is a new video coming.

Also singing?
Nope. Here's what's nice about life: Sometimes you have ideas and for the most part, they're not good ones. And then you'll follow through with a handful of them and sometimes you'll be pretty disappointed. And then other times you'll follow through and you'll go, "You know what? It's nice to be right." With this video, it's nice to be right. It is one of the dumbest things I've ever done, in such a great way. I'm really excited. The only thing I can tell you is it has to do with the show. Potentially we will be releasing Schmidt's online dating video from a few years ago. It's the fucking best. 

Do you like pop music? Or just your wife?
My wife loves it. I secretly like it a lot. You know, my life is pretty good right now. I'm on a show that's working. I have a job for a little while. I have a great wife. We have a baby. There are not a lot of things that are not working in my life right now. When I'm in the car sometimes it's like, "Yeah, man, just put on the pop music.” You know what I mean? I don't want to listen to Tom Waits. 

Circling back, how was it being in an actual fat suit?
The fat suit, when you get it done right — and obviously we did — it's not very uncomfortable. They make a mold of your face so that when you put it on it fits right on. It gets a little hot. It's funny for the first fifteen minutes and then the joke's over and then two hours in, you realize it's hard to have a conversation with people. You'll be having a real conversation and then someone's like, "I can't even talk to you right now." And you're like, "I need to talk to you. We need to talk about this scene that we're about to do!" But they can't take you seriously.

Do you guys improvise at all?
It's mostly written, but sometimes we'll get on set, and the writers will be there with us and we'll get a bunch of different options. Like, when I went on for eight years about Indian culture. It was literally me with [show creator] Liz Meriwether and Rachel Axler, who wrote the episode, just coming up with different options. I think there were three or four in the script, and then we ended up running about 75 of them. Every once in a while I'll try my best to get in — without it being too ridiculous — a third person. Like, in the episode that just aired, where Jake Johnson's character and my character are getting into a fight. He unfixes the basketball hoop and I flip out on him, "How you gonna unfix a dead Schmidt?"

Who breaks the most?
I think Lamorne breaks the most. But it all depends. I'm happy when I break, though. It means it's going well. Like, "Okay, it means we're doing something really funny." 

Are you close with the writers?
Yeah, I think so. I think we have a really, really good, collaborative experience on the show. But I annoy them so badly, I can't tell you. I like to go to the writers' room. Nothing annoys writers more than like, the actors pitching ideas. What I like to do, I like to just pop my head in the writers' room and I'll be like, "Hey, guys! Do you need anything? Do you want me to come in? Do you need me to help?" And they always have some sort of, like, averse reaction to that. But then I'll pop in sporadically throughout the next, like, ten to fifteen minutes just like, I don't know, to just let 'em know I'm there. It just makes me laugh to see them all get all uncomfortable like I really give a shit what they're writing. They're so good and I'm so happy every week that I just like to pretend to be the other kind of actor who like walks in and is like, "Hey, guys, so I have some ideas." I love winding people up. They're just like, "Oh my God, Max is being an idiot again."

Justin Long has been guest-starring. Are there any people you’d like to guest star?
Yeah. My No. 1 is Ray Romano. I want Ray Romano to come by real bad. As like, my uncle or somebody that I know. My mentor. I don't know. I just imagine Schmidt and Ray hanging out. Everybody Loves Raymond including me. Way to cancel Men of a Certain Age, TNT! I just love him. I think he's the Marlon Brando of the comedy world.

You’ve been doing pilots and guest spots on shows for so long now
So many years. It's torture.

Is the low of testing for pilots to the high of being on a hit just so extreme?
This was an interesting experience with the show in general, 'cause, to be totally honest with you, you have a kid and you get to a place where you're like, "Look, I'll be the fifth lead of a CSI-Wichita. I don't care. I just want to work." I had tested quite a bit for a bunch of different shows that I did not get. And eventually you're like, "When is it gonna break? When am I gonna get one of these things, 'cause it's been a while." You don't want to be that guy who just keeps testing and not getting something. So it becomes frustrating. And then a show like this comes along, and Zooey's attached, and it's like a hot script, and you go in with the opinion of "Well, I mean, I'm never gonna get this one so let's just let it rip!" And the next thing you know, you get it. You go to a place of just like, "Well, let's just make it through," and then all of a sudden something like this happens and I'm so used to failing, it’s like “How is this happening?" There's nothing bad about this.