By Nuzhat Naoreen
Updated June 13, 2012 at 08:00 PM EDT
Jordin Althaus/Fox

New Girl

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Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.

As the obsessive compulsive Schmidt on Fox’s New Girl, Max Greenfield has pretty much managed to do the impossible: He’s made us like…nay, love the douchebag. That’s no small task considering that the first time we met Schmidt, he took off his shirt and referred to his bare chest as “LLS” (aka Ladies Love Schmidt). Since then Greenfield’s shown us that Schmidt actually has some depth beneath those perfectly toned pecks. He’s balanced his character’s arrogance with a layer of insecurity (see his relationship with CeCe), and his neuroses with bursts of self-awareness. And it pretty much goes without saying that he’s kept it really, really funny along the way. Though Greenfield is reluctant to take much if any credit for Schmidt’s breakout success (the character even as a fitness video for goodness sakes!), we’re more than happy to heap on the praise. After all, there aren’t many actors who can recite a line like this—“I want to tell people about us because I think you are the dopest, flyest, smartest, ballsiest, bitchiest, truly terrifying woman that I have sexually enjoyed in really long time”“—and still make us root for him.

No where is Schmidt’s endearing (but let’s face it, totally delusional) sense of self better captured than in The Story of the 50, when he attempts to smooch roommate Jess (Zooey Deschanel) after she goes out of her way to throw him a birthday party. The move inevitably ended up costing him $50—deposited directly into the douchebag jar—but we’d like to think it was well worth it. Check out the clip below and then read what Greenfield has to say about why it was a defining moment for Schmidt, and how he nearly broke character while filming the scene.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about one of your favorite moment from the season.

MAX GREENFIELD: I do enjoy the scene at the end of [“The Story of the 50”] episode where Schmidt tries to kiss Jess. I thought it was a really vulnerable moment for him. I think that’s one of my favorite moments from Zooey too. We did about three takes and she played two different reactions. She played it one way where she was completely laughing about the whole thing and she played another one where she made this weird noise. It was like a broken down train. If you watch it you can almost see me break. I remember thinking she was so funny in that scene and it was so mortifying for Schmidt. I don’t even think he was like, “Oh I’m going to get some right now.” I think he was like, “Maybe this is the answer. Maybe this girl with her glasses and this gesture of throwing me this party, no one’s ever really been this nice to me before, maybe this is a sign.” [Laughs] Then her reaction just killed all of that optimism. The poor kid. [Laughs]

Did you think there was going to be a Schmidt-Jess romance when you read that script?

[Laughs] No I did not. I thought, “Oh man this is going to be a fun scene to play.” It was written so perfectly in the sense of like here’s this kid who’s had a couple too many drinks and in the moment thinks like, “This might be a sign from the Lord. You know what? At first I never saw her as an intimate partner but in this moment like maybe I was wrong. Maybe she’s Ms. Right.” Then he goes in for the move and he gets killed.

How much did you improvise?

I think it was played very straight to what was on the page. First of all, it’s a very collaborative set, so our writers are not like 40 miles away in some room sending us a script. A lot of the times they’re on set with us and they’ll be throwing different lines to us. It’s just a very on the fly, no ego, let’s make the best scene that we can. Sometimes I think we’re given the allowance to improvise but I think all the actors do it very respectfully and always kind of run it by the writers. Then [the writers] add on to it or the writers will throw out the suggestions and we may then add on to that. It’s hard to call what we do improvising because I think it gives the actors too much credit.

Was there fan reaction to the attempted kiss with Jess?

They thought it was super funny.

What is it about that scene that really captures Schmidt?

It’s that vulnerability. I think we’ve always kind of played him in a way—and I think it shows in that scene—where as much as he wants to be a dangerous, rebel guy, he is literally the safest human being on the planet. We’d also earned that moment to a degree from all the previous episodes. I think if played incorrectly, that moment could have come across very weird and kind of gross and not cool. But I think it came across very genuine and almost sweet on both of their parts. I think you understood both their characters in that moment. Here’s Jess who’s trying to do something really sweet for this guy that she lives with who she can see is in a vulnerable position. Here’s Schmidt who’s like, “This is not exactly the party I was looking for but no one’s ever really done anything for me like this before,” and for the first time he’s really [realizing] all the effort she puts in. The only way that he knows to kind of say thank you or to kind of appreciate or accept this moment is like, “Well maybe this is it. Maybe we should make out.” [Laughs] It was a very defining moment for him. In the beginning of shooting this show, the idea was to say, “Well here’s Jess who just broke up with this guy and she’s going to come and live with these other guys.” One of the questions was, “Will any of them ever get into a relationship?” and I think you get to see within all of them, how far away and how much work they have to do on their own before they can ever be with somebody else. I think that was a good marker on how far away he is of ever actually being in a successful relationship with another human being.

As an actor, what was the best part about playing that scene?

Honestly, watching Zooey. I think that’s crucial to a lot of the scenes I’ve had this year. Just the reaction and the performance on the other side of what I’ve been doing. I give Jake Johnson so much credit for Schmidt being what he is. I can remember in the pilot he would dismiss me in a way that made all the things that I did [as Schmidt] that were douchey like ok and acceptable. He would laugh them off and play them off in a faux kind of gross way, but as you do with a friend. He very much contributed to a lot of the stuff that made you feel as an audience like, “Ok this guy’s safe he’s just an idiot. All his friends know it and he kind of knows it.”

Do you think fans relate to Schmidt or do they just enjoy watching him?

I think a little bit of both. I think [Executive Producer Liz Meriwether] does a great job. Just when you think this is the goofiest guy ever, he does something really genuine or really relatable and you go, “Oh ok, maybe he’s not who I thought he was.” Then right when you have that thought he then goes and does something so ridiculous that it makes you go, “Oh my God I can’t believe I ever thought that.” He’s always kind of keeping you guessing and is always up to something new and I think because of that he definitely has a lot of success. I get a lot of, “My friend is just like Schmidt!” No one ever wants to say, “Oh I’m just like Schmidt!”

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New Girl

Zooey Deschanel plays lovable Jess, who is plodding through life with a good group of friends.
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