Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) may have been New Girl’s central romance, but their wedding preceded a big moment for another love story: the one between Nick and Schmidt (Max Greenfield). At least, Johnson has always seen the friendship that way.
Below, the actor reflects on the series finale of New Girl and saying goodbye to the ensemble.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Going into this final season, what was on your bucket list? I hope Tran (Ralph Ahn) was on there.
JAKE JOHNSON: I was really excited to see Tran. I personally wanted to really finalize and cement that relationship. I wanted to do some more bits with the Schmidt stuff, I wanted to end that story line with the guys, and then I was really hoping to see as many guest stars as possible. Because one of the true secret successes of New Girl was the amount of talented people who populated that show. Having them all come back was really a blast.
Is there anybody who you guys didn’t get back but wish you did?
Yes, Justin Long. I thought season 1, when he came on early [as] Genzlinger, I thought it was so funny and really created a tone for our show that we copied. So I give him a lot of credit for New Girl, actually. He felt like our first big guest and was so funny. I hope to see him again on a job soon.
Tell me about filming that Nick and Schmidt scene, when Nick finally confesses that he loves Schmidt back.
For Max and I, we felt like that beat had been covered multiple times, so we didn’t think that was as big and as important as I think some of the producers felt. Honestly, they constantly tell each other how they feel about one another. [Laughs] For us, it was like, well of course they love each other. Look at how they treat one another!
For me as Jake, I feel like Zooey Deschanel was my big TV romance, but equally, I also feel like Max Greenfield was my other TV romantic partner, because Nick and Schmidt did not just feel like buddies to me. It felt like, we are in a romance. I did more scenes sitting next to Max talking about how I felt about him than I did with Jess. I would like someone, if there’s a diehard New Girl fan, to do, like, a tally of who’s got sweeter scenes. [Laughs] I think there’s more affection and actual scenes between Nick and Schmidt than there is between Nick and Jess.
Someone should get on it! With that in mind, though, when did you and the rest of the cast realize you’d be friends and not just co-workers?
Well, the audition process for this show was really unique, in that we got cast pretty quickly, Max and I, but they were looking for the Coach character for a long time. And so, while we were doing that search, we auditioned a ton, and Max and I and Zooey spent a lot of time together, and in that process, I did realize, “Oh, these people are becoming my friends.” And after that, Zooey and I would talk on the phone, or Max and I would text. It was just very clear, we were friends with one another. One of the reasons I asked for the final eight [episodes] was that I just wanted to work with everybody a little bit more.
Would you ever want to do another seven-year show?
Honestly, I have no idea. It would have to be the right people. I’m not somebody who has a real five-year plan. You know [laughs], I make the jokes that I’m semi-retired and the reason I say that is that I just don’t know. I love to act, I love to write, but when I take a part, I like to help create my character and I like to think about it. And so it has to do with the creators involved, what the show is, who the cast mates are. I like to really like the people I work with. There’s just a lot to it.
Well, for now we’ll see you in the film Tag, this summer. Did you ever meet the real-life people who played this long game of tag?
I did. It’s based on a true story, which is what really drew it to me. And then when the cast came together … I think it’s a shocking cast for a studio comedy. I wanted to work with all these people. For me, it was a really easy yes.
Anything else you’re working on? I saw you’ve been a part of a Natty Light campaign to ease college students’ debt.
Natty Light gave away $1 million to students with college debt — they take 25 winners and gave them each $40,000 — and I was part of that and I really liked it. They sent out a tweet May 14 that said for every retweet that, gets they’ll add a dollar, until it hopefully gets up to $2 million to give back to student loans with no strings attached. And honestly, when I was told I could just help spread the word about giving money to college students, there was no reason I would say no to that. It’s something I’ve been happy to be a part of.
Anything else you want to add?
Just to the fans and also to the critics who have stuck with our show and watched our show for so many years: I personally really appreciate it. Now that the show is ending and fading away, it’s becoming more real that it’s over. It was a hell of a ride. And I truly feel blessed we’ve done it, really. TV shows like this don’t just come around a lot. I feel honored that when I’m 60 years old, people will associate me with Nick Miller. It’s like, “Well, great!” [Laughs] It was a hell of a job.