In an evening filled with self-deprecating humor and tales of shenanigans filming “New Girl,” Max Greenfield, who played Schmidt on the show, kicked off USF Week in Monday’s spirited University Lecture Series (ULS).
Greenfield, an actor starring in over 38 shows and movies, starred in his own ULS on Monday at 7 p.m. on Microsoft Teams following the USF Week Kickoff. The ULS cost the Center for Student Involvement $25,990, which included Greenfield’s paycheck along with 200 mugs that were given away as prizes to students for attending.
The hourlong event was moderated by Sophia Nieves, a mass communications major and fan of “New Girl.” The first 45 minutes were full of questions posed by Nieves, followed by 15 minutes of audience Q&A, with topics ranging from pursuing dream careers to parenting.
The most popular of questions from the chat, and the most prevalent questions from Nieves, revolved around Greenfield’s time on “New Girl.” He said when he acted in the pilot episode, he had no idea where the show would go.
“You make a pilot and that’s all you’re thinking about, maybe you have an idea of where the ultimate series ends, but other than that, everything that happens in between those two things, you really haven’t planned for,” Greenfield said.
“Should you have the extreme fortune of making seven seasons of a show, you have no idea what’s going to happen. So, I think the best TV writers start to understand who they cast in these roles, and write to their strengths, specifically early on.”
Through raucous laughter, Greenfield explained that a lot of time spent on the set of “New Girl” was in effort to make each other laugh. He said the cast were all friends, so a lot of the time they were just attempting to get each other to break character while filming.
“So much of what you see on the screen really is the inside jokes that we were doing like a lot of it’s improv, is just us making each other laugh and torturing each other,” he said.
“Liz Meriwether, who wrote and created the show and who sits in every edit was like, ‘This is funny, I know it’s not what we wrote but these guys are just the dumbest people on earth,’ and she put a lot of [us improving] the show.”
When asked to recount some of the cast’s hijinks on the set of the show, Greenfield struggled to recall any, saying it was all a blur.
“I don’t remember anything from filming,” Greenfield said. “I was so delirious during the whole run of that show, I was the only one when we started who had a child and we shot crazy hours on that set. I mean, season one I was really dialed in and then after that we were just improvising and making each other laugh and you’re just doing that take after take and it was really chaotic.
“I think a lot of the comedy came from that chaos but people will send me episodes or clips now and I’ll watch them and go ‘I have no recollection of this. I don’t remember this at all.’”
Even though the show was mostly giggles, Greenfield said he nearly gave up acting right before he was cast as Schmidt because of the birth of his daughter, Lilly, in 2010. He did not know if he would be able to provide for his family without landing a substantial acting gig.
“You start to ask yourself, ‘At what point does this pursuit become selfish,’ he said. “And it was starting to really feel that way and so it felt like [an acting career] was not supposed to happen. Then I was done and I think that feeling and that belief that [my career] was going to be over, freed me up to do what ultimately became my best work.”
Greenfield said the most important part of doing his “best work” was allowing himself to accept that he never knew what was coming next in terms of roles or life experiences, and that was OK.
“You put so much pressure on this stuff when you’re coming up, every opportunity is such a big deal and it takes a lot of confidence,” he said. “It took me a long time to realize I didn’t know what the outcome or the result of a certain opportunity was going to be and … working as an actor and seeing jobs come and go and working on this and working on that or not getting this job, or getting fired from another job … you realize that we’re all on our own path.
“Those paths seem to be, at least in my opinion, their own thing and I can really try to control it, or I can just allow it all to happen, understand that the outcome is really not any of my business and enjoy the experience of it all.”
When the audience wasn’t busy cracking “New Girl” jokes in the chat or referencing Greenfield’s most hilarious improv moments, the questions took a more genuine tone.
The most serious topic of the night, though still filled with smiles and a few jokes, occurred while Greenfield was talking about parenting his two young children, Lilly, 11, and Ozzie, 5. They inspired Greenfield to write his new children’s book “I Don’t Want to Read This Book,” which is set to be released Nov. 9.
“I was approached about writing a book and I said ‘No thank you.’ And they said, ‘What about a children’s book?’ and then I pitched them this idea, which was very true to my childhood, and also to my experience as a father with my children where my kids don’t want to read and neither did I as a kid,” he said.
“Every night when I go to read to [my children], I say ‘Do you want to read this book?’ and the answer is always ‘No, I don’t want to read that book.’ So this is a book called ‘I Don’t Want to Read this Book’ and it’s all the reasons why you don’t want to read a book and by the end of the book, you’ve read a book.”
He hopes the book will act as a conversation starter for kids who don’t feel confident reading.
“I hope it’s a way that kids can express themselves and open a dialogue with either other students, their teachers, their parents, that allows them to say, ‘I know everybody else is doing this, and I feel dumb that I can’t because everybody else is doing this,’” Greenfield said.
Amid acting, parenting, writing books and dealing with the pandemic, he said he has become well accustomed to feelings of burnout. He said that it’s important for people to remember that things are going to get better.
“If you are experiencing burnout, I would just allow yourself, and this is a very hard thing for me to do, to give yourself a break and go, ‘You know what? I don’t need to do this right now. I don’t need to be totally on this right now, I might be doing myself more harm than good at this point,’” he said.
“Know that this too shall pass, and the burnout eventually gets back into a fire flame, and you [will] feel ready to go again.”