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'New Girl': Margo Martindale talks Zooey Deschanel, 'Chicago' guester

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New Girl Walkup
Greg Gayne/FOX

If you think you’re seeing Margo Martindale everywhere, you’re not hallucinating. Just this spring, the Emmy winner has been beaten to a pulp as tough-as-nails KGB wrangler Claudia on The Americans, ousted arts gala guests as a tough-as-nails socialite on Smash, and stoked buzz for Showtime’s Masters of Sex, in which she plays a secretary who’s — you guessed it! — tough as nails. But Martindale’s guest spot on tonight’s New Girl might be the character actress’s biggest stretch in recent memory, quite literally. Martindale dances, improvises, and (eventually) reveals her soft underbelly as Bonnie, the mother of Jake Johnson’s sadsack Nick. But she’s still tough as nails, of course. She‘s from Chicago.

As EW exclusively previewed last week, tonight’s episode sees New Girl gang schlep to Chi-town when Nick’s father’s Walt suddenly passes away. The funeral preparations show new facets of Nick’s personality, including responsibility we wouldn’t dare expect from the slouchy bartender. Martindale also recalls filming Walt’s eulogy in which Johnson conveys Nick’s rarely seen vulnerability. “He made me cry every single time,” she says.

There’s plenty of comedy to balance out the drama as the roommate’s pull together to fulfill Walt’s final wish: An Elvis-themed funeral. With such potential for adorkability, how could Jess (Zooey Deschanel) not end up in the King’s fabled jumpsuit to perform an only-on-New-Girl rendition of “In the Ghetto”? Martindale — a self-proclaimed “gigantic Elvis fan” — says she might opt for something along the lines of “‘Hawaiian Wedding Song” for her own memorial, but that didn’t stop her from showing off her dance moves when the scene called for it. And, in the spirit of New Girl‘s improv vibe, “I didn’t get any input [on my dancing],” she laughs. “I just jumped up and started being a fool!” She adds, “I did appreciate hamming it up…. I’ve been doing all this drama, so it’s fun to do comedy.”

Martindale does admit she was slightly awestruck when she stepped on New Girl‘s improv-heavy set. “I don’t have any skills as a writer,” she claims. By the end of the day, she was slinging zings with the best of ’em. “I don’t know what they kept,” Martindale laughs. “It was all so mean!”

Dance moves and deadly line reads weren’t Martindale’s only secret weapons. “Nobody could have known that I am an Elvis fanatic,” she says. “Everybody I know, back in the ’70s and ’80s, used to give me pictures of Elvis. Elvis has been in my life since the ’50s.” She continues, “In 1982 or ’83, I did a play in Louisville called Graceland, which was all about being the number one Elvis fanatic. I dressed like Elvis for that one.” Something she can now share with Deschanel.

With a gig where even a funeral can turn into a dance party, of course Martindale would like to return as Bonnie for season 3. And she has a few ideas how to make that happen — not to mention set up a for-the-ages pairing between herself and Dennis Farina, who plays Walt. “Maybe [Walt] didn’t really die,” she suggests. “He is a con man. I think that he could easily not be dead. Why would he have to be dead? He conned his own death.” Somebody get Julius Pepperwood on the case!

New Girl airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.

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