Billy Eichner may have had his big breakout year in 2014, but a guest role on the latest New Girl has been in the works since well before the show was a twinkle in creator Liz Meriwether’s eye.
In fact, Eichner has been connected to star Zooey Deschanel since they shared a stage at Chicago’s Northwestern University. Though he was thrilled at the chance to reunite with his former schoolmate, Eichner’s pal Meriwether made sure his character—airline attendant Barry—was able to dish out plenty of sass to Deschanel’s adorkable Jess when she’s stranded at the airport.
Watch Eichner get saucy (and sauced) in an exclusive clip, then learn more about his guest gig.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you land this role?
BILLY EICHNER: I actually have a long history with two of the key players on that show. Liz Meriwether, who created the show and writes on the show, is an old friend of mine. I did the first play that she wrote after college. It was an Off Off Broadway played called Nicky Goes Goth, and it was this crazy satire about what would happen if Nicky Hilton gave up Hollywood and became a Goth girl. It was really funny. I was the narrator, and I played the Hilton sisters’ makeup artist. We did it in a small theater in Manhattan back in 2002, and Liz and I have been friends ever since. Liz and I have talked over the years about me doing the show. This seemed like a good fit, and it finally worked into my crazy schedule.
Another reason I was excited was because Zooey and I actually go farther back even than Liz and I go. Zooey and I were at Northwestern together at the same time. We were both theater majors. Now, Zooey was only there for a year because she was cast in a big movie at the end of her freshman year. I was a junior at the time, but in the year that she was there we did a musical together: [Stephen Sondheim’s] A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. We really clicked, but then she left, and I didn’t see her for a long time. We reconnected a few years ago on Twitter when Billy on the Street started to get popular, and she reached out. But New Girl was the first time we acted together since college. Between Liz and Zooey, it just seemed that, at some point, hopefully I’d be able to do the show. It was a real full-circle moment in many ways.
You are feisty as ever as Barry, the airline attendant…
Yes! They wrote so many good lines for me. I don’t know if they always intended the role for me, but I think at some point they did write for my voice. I had so much fun. It was really helpful knowing Zooey because I had to be mean to her. If I had just come in not knowing her, that could be challenging as a guest actor. But we do have a history, and we like each other, so we were able to just go for it and know that it wasn’t personal. [Laughs]
You get to drop some celebrity names and TV/movie knowledge. Was much of that improvved?
That was written, but it feels like something I would say. Liz said that they try to stay away from pop-culture references, but for this [episode] they broke their own rule for me, I think.
But you don’t get to mention your favorite actress Meryl Streep! Maybe that would breaking the fourth wall too much?
I do not mention Meryl. [The character’s] not exactly me, but she’s always in my thoughts certainly. Meryl’s always in my heart—she knows that—come rain or come shine.
Beyond what we see at the airport bar, what do you think a Jess/Barry hangout would look like? Perhaps some pink wine would be involved?
Maybe once the sun sets, Barry gets really crazy. Maybe there’s some Molly involved? No, I’m just kidding. [Laughs] Barry has a very stressful job, so maybe it’s not a pink drink. Maybe there’s a very dirty martini. It’s going to take something strong to calm him down, I think. I’m sure there’s lots of movie watching, and they’d probably talk about Gilmore Girls.