To all actors craving to pacify their improv comedy roots: nab a guest arc on Fox’s New Girl. With only five episodes aired, the second season has already entertained Parker Posey, Josh Gad, Charlie Saxton and David Walton, and is also set to feature Carla Gugino and Olivia Munn. Even more so, the cast will gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table with Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis, who play Zooey Deschanel’s onscreen divorced parents.
Series executive producer Jake Kasdan first mentioned Reiner as a prospect for the paternal role.
“It was immediately like, that was the best idea, and when he said yes, it was so exciting,” showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether told The Hollywood Reporter at the New York Television Festival’s “A Salute to FOX Comedy” panel on Friday night. “Having him on set for the week – I was trying to play it cool, but every time I was around him, I was shaking a little bit! The things that he’s done are so unbelievable. One of those moments where I know I’m gonna be thinking back to this, years from now.”
Though admiration flowed plentifully behind the scenes for the guest stars, watch out for Cece’s hotheaded moment for Reiner’s counterpart in the episode.
“I got to yell at Jamie Lee Curtis -- incredible!” Hannah Simone told THR. “I was a huge fan of hers growing up. She was just that strong, sexy confident women that could really do physical comedy, and she wasn’t afraid of it. It was incredible to have her on set and to work with her.”
The New Girl creator loved working with Curtis while filming and, inevitably, rewriting comedic moments.
“Like most comedy writers, I don’t laugh very easily at people’s jokes, but she makes me laugh,” Meriwether explained. “She’s such a smart, creative person -- a lot of the jokes from that episode were things that we came up with together, that she would email me. When you meet a smart, collaborative actress, you’re like, hold on to her for dear life!”
The opportunity to contribute jokes on the fly is what Dermot Mulroney referred to as “controlled improv or rolling ad-lib within the script itself” after filming his guest arc last season, and it’s quickly becoming a signature characteristic of stopping into the Fox comedy, even just for an episode.
“I think actors usually really enjoy that. Some don’t, [but] people who love comedy love to improv and get a new joke,” noted Meriwether. “You feel when something isn’t funny -- you can say it twenty times in a row, it’s not gonna be funny. You have to have a flexibility on set when something isn’t working to be able to just try something new. There’s a lot of spontaneity that comes from just throwing jokes, which actually yields really good results.”
With an elongated second season and Emmy nominations for Deschanel and Max Greenfield, these starstudded, partially improvised guest arcs emulate the show’s newfound freedom to take new risks.
“What’s good about the second year is that you don’t have to focus so much on ‘Are we gonna survive? Are we gonna make it to the end of the season?’ You can focus on the characters, the work, the process, and that’s all been really good for us to get deeper with the characters.”
Hopefully, viewers will enjoy the chances that New Girl is taking, as Fox’s newly formed Tuesday night comedy block competes with NBC’s Go On and The New Normal, as well as ABC’s Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B—in Apt. 23 (which is written in the same building as New Girl).
“One thing that I learned last year is that you have no control over the ratings, you just have to keep going -- you have control over literally everything else, and then you just put it out into the world and hope that people keep watching,” Meriwether told THR. “There are a lot of comedies that night, and I think all of them are actually pretty great. You just hope that everything finds an audience, enough for it to survive.”
Yet these guest arcs give fans a great incentive to continue tuning in. Currently, the cast is filming episodes with Olivia Munn, who plays Nick’s (Jake Johnson) latest love interest.
“She’s a totally different energy, which is great,” teased Meriwether of Munn. “She’s playing a stripper, which is obviously a strange direction for Nick to go in, but we actually just shot this huge stripper fight last night and she got hit in the face! She’s fine, but she’s just an amazing actress to throw herself into that – hair-pulling with two strippers in the middle of the night.
“I think it’s gonna be a really fun arc for Nick and the group,” she added. “She’s a no bullshit-type character, which is really great for our show. And she’s straight up gorgeous – that helps too.”