As New Girl’s Nick Miller, Jake Johnson is the master of the awkard movement. Whether moonwalking, finger-gunning, or going in for a wide-eyed kiss, he does something truly hypnotically weird that makes us want to watch it on an endless loop. So we called him up with an idea: We would turn our ten favorite Nick Miller moves — his greatest hits — into GIFs and have him explain what was going through his head when he was doing them. (An Inside the Spaz’s Studio, if you will.) He agreed, even though he believed we might be mocking him: He gently protested, “It’s humiliating. Me, looking like a damn buffoon next to Dennis Farina, that’s what you refer to as one of my greatest hits?” We tried to interject that they were Nick Miller’s hits, but he mock-angrily continued on. “There was a time in my life where I thought I was a serious actor. I had potential. Now we’re talking about the fact that I’m humping Dennis Farina’s hip with my face. I’m dancing terribly, screaming like a girl through a haunted house, being cradled by a shady Asian dude … ” (In reality, he was good-natured about the whole thing, saying, “I read all the nice things [fans of the show] say and it makes me feel good when I’m dancing in a diaper next to a grown man. Quite literally, I’m at a point where I read a review and it’s really positive, and the next day at work, when they’re like, “Hey Jake, I need you to drink the bottle and go, ‘I’m a baby, waaaah!’ I say as long as people like it, I’m happy to do it.”) And so, here are Nick Miller’s Craziest Moves, complete with Johnson’s color commentary.
“That man is an angel from Pasadena. He couldn’t be sweeter,” Johnson says of the actor (Ralph Ahn), whose job was to hold Nick close and never let go. Johnson didn’t get much direction for that pool scene. “They just said, ‘Get in his arms and react honestly.’ I’ll tell you, one hand of his was very supportive, and the other was wandering around. I don’t know if you’ve ever had your butt cheek swiped in a hot tub by an Asian guy, but that’s the story my face was telling.”
“I’d never moonwalked in my life. You think I went to moonwalking camp? No! I’m a terrible dancer. That’s why they make me dance so much. I’ll tell you this: When I was a little boy, Michael Jackson was in his heyday, and maybe 4-year-old Jake had a red jacket with zippers, and maybe he used to walk around with one glove. That little boy is never far. That little guy is always eating M&Ms and Snickers and hanging out at craft services, playing slap-ass with Max Greenfield. So when they said moonwalking, I just let his 4-year-old feet do the talking.”
Initially, Johnson went about this freak-out all wrong. “Like, imagine Rambo being cut,” he says. My screaming was way tougher, way cooler, more masculine.” After a few tries, New Girl showrunners Brett Baer and Dave Finkel told him to do it again, saying, “Only this time, we want you to scream like a very scared little girl.” Johnson says he pulled that off in one take, but “it felt like the opposite of natural.”
It’s hard to describe what exactly overtakes Nick while he’s trying to pull a con with his dad in “A Father’s Love.” He gets a sweaty back, strips, dances, and then, mid-spaz, sort of attaches himself to the side of Dennis Farina. Johnson explains: “Growing up, my Uncle Paul, my Uncle Eddie, and my Uncle Timmy were these cool, tough Chicago guys, and as a little boy, I was an idiot around them, so I’m used to being an idiot around tough characters. It felt very normal to be that way around Farina.” And no, he doesn’t remember exactly what he was trying to do.
“You probably could tell from my physique that I’m not the most athletic character around, so any kind of movement at a certain point is considered dance. That was the inspiration for the flapping arms you see here,” Johnson says of Nick’s attempts to cheer up Jess after she’s been dumped by Sam. “We shot that for probably 25 minutes’ worth of dance. What started out at first as a few thought-out moves turned into just trying to create movement in my body. [Series creator] Liz Meriwether kept yelling, ‘Bigger! More movement!’ They were playing that Taylor Swift song for that long, too. Old T-Swift. I had a very interesting conversation with Max Greenfield today, actually, on set. I said, ‘In your opinion, what is the big appeal of Taylor Swift?’ and he said, ‘You’re an idiot. You don’t get the way the world works … Taylor Swift is safe! Justin Bieber is safe!’ I just wanted to share that with you guys. My thoughts on Max by the way — and I spend every day with him, for over ten hours a day — he’s truly the dumbest boy I’ve ever been around.”
“That was a very easy day to act because they just said, ‘Flirt with Jamie Lee Curtis,’” Johnson says. “And let’s be honest, it’s Jamie Lee Curtis. Jamie Lee Curtis is a smoking hot lady.”
Johnson said this moment, in which Nick thinks he’s found the serial killer among Jess’s writing students, was all instinct. “Our bodies did what they would naturally do,” Johnson says. “Zooey really likes doing physical comedy, and we were clowning around, because I think all the script said was ‘Jess tries to wrestle the notebook away from Nick.’ It does look like we were humping. I’ll be perfectly honest: With New Girl, I don’t expect anything and I have no idea what is in the brains of our writers.”
“When you put that coat on, there’s a transformation that happens. You can’t help it,” Johnson says. Even though there is no question that it is a women’s trench coat. “That’s a sexy, slick jacket, and I don’t care if you’re into UFC, when you put that coat on you’re going to want to spin and do jazz hands,” Johnson continues. “What I’m trying to say is my body begs to differ.”
Nick weirds out Jess when he attempts to kiss her with a big smile and open eyes. No backstory here: “I do an eyes-open kiss 65 percent of the time,” Johnson says. “I can’t say what I’m looking at or what I focus on. It’s too incriminating.”
“I love the usage of the finger gun,” Johnson says. “I did a movie called Ceremony with Max Winkler, and my character in that movie did a finger-shooting thing, I think, in every scene I was in. Almost every third scene in New Girl I will improvise finger-shooting someone. And this is true: Never once do I plan to do it; never once do I think about it; and when they ask me why, never once have I defended my decision to do it. From a guy who’s been in the arms of an old Asian and flirted with Jamie Lee Curtis, all these ridiculous things, nothing makes me prouder than to get a finger gun on television.”