NEW GIRL SET, FOX LOT, TUESDAY, AUG. 7 — Between takes on the set of New Girl’s second season premiere, Max Greenfield welcomes Vulture with a cordial greeting: “Ah, you came for moron fest. You’re just in time.” It’s day two of production and Greenfield, ever the gracious host, fills us in on some of the highlights they’ve already filmed for the episode in which Schmidt — penis finally healed, schlong cast removed — plans a party to rebrand himself as a man on the prowl. Earlier this week he dressed up in “many ridiculous costumes” for Schmidt’s rebranding campaign as he tries to decide his new persona (oh yes, in tribute to Channing Tatum, there will be a Magic Schmidt) and he filmed a shower scene wearing a diaper made out of a trash bag and duct tape to keep his then-still-plastered man-goods dry. “I read the first script and all I saw was ‘diaper’ and more nudity,” Greenfield says. “It doesn’t bother me. It was more like, ‘I guess we’re just diving right back in.’”
Today’s business involves a consultation with roommates Nick (Jake Johnson) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) over just which new look will best help him move on from being Broken Penis Guy. A director yells action and Schmidt slams his crotch cast down on the dining room table in triumph. “Soak it in, gentleman,” he says before announcing his scheme. They’re not pleased — “the smell!” cries Winston — but agree to judge the results of the photo shoot he sat for to try out new images. They swipe through his iPad pics in which he’s posed as Zuckerberg, as Greaser Joe, as the Scorpion King, etc., and the actors begin riffing off-script. “What is that?” Nick asks. “Jewish assassin,” Schmidt answers. “I hide my gun in my Torah.”
When New Girl initially launched last fall, it was a sweet comedy about an excessively quirky, recently dumped girl and her support group of new male roomies. But the show really found its footing in something far less broad and a lot more peculiar: the story of four high-strung weirdos living together, in which everyone seemed on equal footing. Little by little we found out about Jess’s sexual naiveté and bad impressions, Nick’s serious state of arrested development, Schmidt’s … everything. The season two premiere, “Relaunch” (airing Sept. 25), focuses on new beginnings for the roommates — Jess will be jobless, Nick and Schmidt are single again (after Nick’s aborted plans to move in with his old girlfriend, and Schmidt having White-Fang’d Cece in the season one finale) — and a more emboldened mission for the show itself: to go further down the rabbit hole of oddness. “That’s what our showrunners tell me: Weirder and weirder,” Johnson says, pointing to an upcoming episode in which Nick meets his future self. (Before the role was cast, Johnson’s fantasy was to have comedy utility player Fred Willard be Older Nick. “He’s getting a raw deal,” Johnson says. “So he masturbated in public. So what? He’s so funny and talented.” Instead, Justified’s Raymond J. Barry got the role.) Morris says he’s heard that even Winston, still the sanest member of the gang, is due for a shake-up, and he’s hoping to discover that the character’s got some twisted hankerings of his own, the way Schmidt likes to disrobe, for example. “I do have rippling six pack abs now,” Morris says. “I wouldn’t mind showing off my goods. I’m doing kegels as you and I are talking.”
To underscore New Girl’s commitment to comedy-envelope-pushing, writer-director Larry Charles, best known for his work on the more absurd episodes of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, arrives on set to prep the next episode, which he’ll be directing. He heads over to introduce himself to Greenfield before the afternoon table read: “Nice to meet you, sir. I’m a gigantic fan. I can’t wait to play around with you. We’re gonna have some fun.” When he leaves, Greenfield exhales. “I just hugged Larry Charles,” he tells us. “I must be in a good place because I only feel slightly nervous now after having just met him. I’ll be genuinely nervous next week … Mr. Charles can put me in any diaper he wants.” It’s only the second day of shooting the new season, but the cast has already been reminded of the long hours of a single-camera shoot. (And it’s not like they were just sitting around all summer: Johnson and Greenfield shot movies on their hiatus, and all of the actors have been doing their part to campaign for Emmys by participating in an endless parade of interviews, roundtables, and publicity events. The effort paid off: Both Greenfield and Zooey Deschanel scored nominations.) Johnson’s still getting re-accustomed to being back in the “forever twilight” of making television. He explains: “We shoot on a stage so it feels like no time has passed. It’s like a casino or a supermarket, how there are no clocks or windows, and you enter weirdo world. And the weirdest thing is you come in at 7 a.m., before you know it, you’re leaving and it’s dark out again, and you’re like, ‘I’m having a nervous breakdown and everyone just keeps putting makeup on my face.’” Morris, meanwhile, can’t stop tripping on his lines. He tried sleeping pills to calm first-week jitters but says they haven’t worked. “This is concealer under my eyes, I just look pretty,” he says.
No one’s complaining about exhaustion just yet, but they all concede it took a beat to get back into goof mode, that always-incredulous, shouty banter that’s become the show’s rhythm. “When we first showed up, we were like robots trying to get our lines perfectly, like when you’re trying to be a good student,” Johnson explains. “The school year starts and you think, maybe I can get good grades, and then you get your first homework assignment and you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m not getting good grades this year. Ninth grade is just like eighth grade, it’s terrible!’ It was only after we started messing around that it was like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember now.’” All credit goes to Deschanel, who Johnson says was the first to suggest they all loosen up and go nuts in the middle of day one. She’s not due on set today until later, but to channel her spirit, in the next take Greenfield tries out a new pronunciation for Capote (it rhymes with the special way Schmidt says chutney: Chut-uh-nay. Cuh-poh-tay) because putting accents in funny places is sort of his thing now. “That’s what I told the producers,” Greenfield deadpans, “I said, ‘Listen, I’m not gonna do much improv because the writing’s so brilliant, but I will mispronounce a lot of words. I can promise you that.’”
A minute later, Johnson improvs another dig at Schmidt’s photos: “You’re like an evil Disney prince!” The producers watching in video village chuckle; turns out it’s one of Johnson’s favorite things to ad-lib about Schmidt. “It’s something I’ve actually improvised in, I don’t know, maybe four episodes? They never put it in,” he says, laughing after the fact. “There’s a lot of things that I keep bringing back and they keep cutting, but when I first met Max, I literally thought, ‘He looks like a fuckin’ evil prince from a Disney movie!’ One that poses all chest out, and you’re thinking, ‘Ew, the girl should stay away from him. He’s scary.’ Right?” Especially in a diaper.