This past Monday, the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour went on location to the set of Fox’s hit freshman comedy New Girl, where the cast and creative team behind the series talked about what goes into making the show as adorable, funny and loved by fans as it is. When talking to the show’s star, Zooey Deschanel, and its creator, Liz Meriwether, it’s easy to see how their strong working relationship translates on screen.
During the interview, they talked about how the idea for the show came about, that the actors influence their characters, the amount of input they get to have, upcoming guest stars (including Lizzy Caplan, Dermot Mulroney and True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten), their reaction to the Golden Globe nominations, and working in such a relaxed and creative environment. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
ZOOEY DESCHANEL: Well, I had been developing a show for awhile for HBO, that didn’t end up coming to fruition. I wasn’t even in that mind-set, per se. I was just interested in developing something. And then, I read the script, and just fell in love with the character, and the writing. It was all about the writing. It was very obvious to me that it was something I couldn’t turn down. It was too good. Nothing is better than being on a TV show where you have all these great writers, writing for me every week, thinking about what I do best and writing that. There’s nothing more exciting for an actor than that. And, it was about getting to work on the same character, and explore that character, and delve deeper than you would for a movie. I love doing movies, but there’s something so nice about coming to work every day and knowing that this is something that is being created around you. That’s very exciting.
Liz, now that you’ve known these actors for awhile, how had that influenced some of the things that you’ve written?
LIZ MERIWETHER: Every day, I learn something new. I think one of the most exciting things for a writer is to work on a TV show. It’s like a novel. You have a really long time to develop and learn about the characters, and you can just really keep digging in deeper, every week. As I’m working with these actors, I keep seeing so much more about the characters, based on what they’re doing, than I think we would have ever thought of, in our weird, little room on the other side of the lot. These actors are so extraordinary and so creative. There’s so much of the show that’s just improv and in the moment, and what they bring to the scene. We probably rely on them more than we should. We throw stuff at them and just see what they do with it, and I think you really can see it. You can see in the show, just the amount of creativity that they bring to it.
DESCHANEL: One thing that I love is that we are really allowed to do our thing. We’re allowed to be actors and contribute, and it’s not always that way. I think a lot of actors feel stifled. This is such an open atmosphere. We’re allowed to play and have fun, and it’s a wonderful atmosphere to work in.
Liz, how long do you think you can play out the awkward tension between Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake M. Johnson) before you have to act on it?
MERIWETHER: Before they have to do it? I’m not sure that’s what the show is about, in this season. The show is about a lot of things, but it’s also about these two people who are coming out of these bad relationships, and trying to learn how to be people again and learn how to date again. I feel like they have a long way to go, as characters, before they’re able to take that step. I think this is a show about friendship, and the intricacies of a male/female friendship, and how that’s complicated and also great, sometimes. I think that’s really what we were focusing on, for the season. Hopefully, there will be another one.
Do you have any thoughts about Season 2 yet?
MERIWETHER: I don’t know. We’re really just getting through this one. We’re in the middle of shooting Episode 15 right now.
Liz, are there specific aspects of your personality that you’ve written into the Jess character?
MERIWETHER: I really had to imagine what would it be like to be totally nerdy. It was super awkward. Yes, there’s a lot of me in all the characters. I love these characters. I think you have to love the characters that you write. I don’t know how you could possibly write a TV show where you didn’t love the characters.
There seems to be a trend these days towards roommate shows, these days. Is that just because of all the personalities that you can explore?
DESCHANEL: It’s a good way to get weird people, all in one place, at one time.
MERIWETHER: That’s true. Whenever you start waxing poetic about sitcoms, you sound a little silly. I was writing from my personal experience of bouncing from Craigslist sublet to Craigslist sublet, for four years in L.A. With the economy, I feel like people are moving. It’s harder to put down roots. I don’t know. I was writing from my experience, as a 20-something, living off of Craigslist.
Zooey, how did you decide on the fashion for Jess? Is her style anything like your style?
DESCHANEL: I would say yes. I think my own personal style always ends up seeping into characters that I play. I’ve always had a very distinct idea of fashion for myself, and what a character should wear. But, our costume designer is all kinds of amazing. I’m obsessed with her. I love her so much. She’s my fashion soulmate. We just nerd out on fashion.
When you got the Golden Globe nominations, what was your reaction?
MERIWETHER: We shut down production and said, “We’re done. We’re good.” No, we were working that day. That’s the thing about TV. It doesn’t stop for anything.
Did you celebrate, in any way?
DESCHANEL: No, we didn’t.
What about love interests? You’ve got Lizzy Caplan coming on, and now Dermot [Mulroney] coming on for Jess. Are there any other hook-ups coming up?
MERIWETHER: Ryan Kwanten is going to be in the Valentine’s Day episode. Jess tries to have a one-night stand and happens to meet Ryan Kwanten at a bar.
DESCHANEL: That’s not really so bad.
MERIWETHER: It’s great to be on TV.
DESCHANEL: It’s really true. That is probably not who you would meet.
MERIWETHER: No. And then, Dermot Mulroney is going to come on. That’s a new development that we’re excited about. And, Kali Hawk is playing Winston’s love interest, and she’s hilariously funny. I’ve been wanting to work with her for awhile, so that was really exciting.
Zooey, do you find it easier to work on this show, compared to other stuff you’ve done, because of the relaxed working environment?
DESCHANEL: Yeah. I’ve had experiences where I wasn’t allowed to change words around at all because you have to say everything, exactly as written on the page. That’s not fun for me. For me, part of being an actor is being able to contribute to a character’s rhythms. If there’s room to explore, you find a happy medium. We almost always get it as written, and then, we throw some improvs in or some alternatives.