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New Girl‘s Max Greenfield is swapping the loft for the lot — the high school parking lot, that is.

For the first time, Greenfield is stepping behind the camera, embracing a new role as producer and story writer on the upcoming comedy Fist Fight, out this Friday.

The film, a teacher-centric spin on 1987’s Three O’Clock High, stars Charlie Day and Ice Cube as high school teachers preparing for an after-school fist fight of epic proportions after Day’s character gets Ice Cube’s character fired.

EW caught up with Greenfield for an interview ahead of the film’s premiere, where he revealed how the movie came together, which cast members he thinks are “scary funny,” and whether or not we’ll be able to catch him in a cameo.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is your first time producing. What drew you to the project?
MAX GREENFIELD: We came up with the idea a very long time ago, and as it is with most good ideas, I feel like they sort of never leave, and you just keep coming back to them. I remember after the first season of New Girl, that summer I went on a bunch of general meetings with different film production companies just to meet people on the film side, and had sat down with 21 Laps, which is Shawn Levy’s company, and just really loved everybody over there and pitched them the idea, and they loved it and the next thing you know we got writers, Charlie Day and Ice Cube, and we’re making a movie.

You make it sound so easy!
I mean, it still took quite a bit of time. But things just continually moved and there weren’t many bumps in the road, which is a very rare occasion.

What surprised you about producing? How is it different than being in front of a camera?
I felt like you could see where a lot of things can go wrong behind the scenes. As each step went on, it was like passing the ball down the field and letting the next person run with it. So by the time [director] Richie Keen came on and Charlie and Ice Cube were down in Atlanta, I was shooting New Girl and was kind of watching and was like, “Oh my god, they’re doing so much of a better job than I ever could.” And I was just so happy. The dream, I think, with any project is it starts with an idea and then somebody writes it, and the writer hopes that a director comes on and makes this piece of material visual, and both the director and writer hope that they can have actors come in and bring something to it that neither one of them expected, elevating it along the way. And it really feels like that happened with this project.

Yeah, there are some huge names in the cast. What was it like working with people like Charlie, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dennis Haysbert, and Kumail Nanjiani?
It was great. They were all sort of Richie’s first choices. Charlie came on and Ice Cube came on, and then Richie came on after those guys, but then Tracy, Jillian Bell, these were all people that Richie fought for, not that they needed much convincing, and he got everybody he wanted and they’re so good in the movie. And being able to watch it now from the outside and getting to see Jillian and Tracy, specifically those two, just go — there are so many outtakes. They’re two of the scariest funny people I’ve ever seen.

I like the idea of “scary funny.”
I mean scary funny from an acting point of view, where you go, “I don’t know that I’d actually want to be in a scene with them. They’re too fast! They’re too funny and good!” Man, I don’t know that I could hang in there.

This movie’s based on Three O’Clock High. Were you familiar with that movie when you signed on?
Yeah, totally. There was like, High Noon, Three O’Clock High, a bunch of movies that all lead up to a monumental fight, and I guess it’s pretty close to Three O’Clock High, except for teachers. Or just cause it takes place in a school. But, yeah, I was totally familiar with it — one of my absolute favorites movies.

Any chance we’ll spot you in a surprise cameo?
No, I’m not in it. Maybe we should’ve shot me just getting randomly punched in the face. Everybody in the movie is pretty much on the poster. Dean Norris is in the movie, he plays the principal, and it’s so fantastic and just upsetting. I’m just so excited about it. I think it’s a really good, fresh movie, and I think it’s really time-appropriate. You have a lot of people who are passionate about things and the movie is about not sitting back and taking a stand and fighting for what you believe in.

Fist Fight arrives in theaters Friday.

Fist Fight
  • Movie
  • 91 minutes