If fans of the New Girl thought that the kiss between Jess and Nick was somewhat inevitable — given the growing, palpable rapport between actors Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson — well, now you understand why the writers of the show decided to let it happen. “I think people were seeing the chemistry growing between these characters, and at some point you want some kind of payoff,” says Deschanel. “And this was the perfect time for it.”
New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether says the kiss flowed organically out of a creative process that prizes improvisation and writes to the cast’s individual strengths and group dynamics. That doesn’t mean the writers room doesn’t drive the storytelling or plotting, though. For example, the Halloween episode, in which Jess dresses up a zombie Woody Allen. Says Meriwether: “I did dress up as a young, slutty Woody Allen at a Halloween party, which is where that idea came from. Whatever the opposite of getting laid was, that’s what happened that night. It was the biggest turn off to everybody.”
“You wanted me to be as unattractive as possible. And we went almost all the way there [in the script,]” recalls Deschanel during a joint interview with Meriwether on the set of New Girl last month. “And then I thought: I have a surprise for Liz! And the surprise was, I had glued fake beard material onto my eyebrows, and I was like, ‘This is going to make Liz so happy that I have fake beard glued to my eyebrows.’ That whole episode, with the absurd costumes and carnival, was this fun, Fellini-esque direction to go in.”
“Yes,” says Meriwether with a wry smile. “That’s what I was going for. Fellini.”
But New Girl’s approach to storytelling does mean that there is no master plan for the show, and Meriwether says the Nick-Jess relationship is a great example of why that can be a good thing. “We went where we needed to go in that specific episode. We felt our way through until we got to what we felt was a true thing. And then we were faced with the next one, and so on. So instead of having a plan, and then treading water and building to a specific episode, we’re pushing ourselves, painting ourselves into a corner and having to get out of it in the next episode. I think that’s pushed us to get things going a little bit quicker. I have been really surprised and happy. Having them kiss in episode 15 didn’t take anything out of their relationship. It has only built from there.”
Meriwether adds: “I am trying to make it sound perfect. Part of not having a master pan is constantly being under deadlines. But also, I’m not a big plan person.”
“Neither am I,” says Deschanel.
“I love the stuff that happens organically on stage,” says Meriwether. “Whenever we have followed what the actors are doing instead of what we want it to be, it has always led us to better story places. Sometimes when we have master plans, and we’re shoehorning it when it’s not working on stage, it’s been terrifying. We were in the notes meeting for this latest script, and people were like, ‘So what’s episode 21?’ And I’m like: ‘I don’t know! We’ll come up with something, and it’ll be interesting!’ It’s terrifying but it’s part of our ting.”
“But that’s just organic to our show,” says Deschanel. “Every show is unique, some shows have the master plan and have everything figured out and that’s just the way they do things. It’s like high school. Some people write their papers the second they get their assignments, and some people write it the day after it’s due.”
“I am the latter,” says Meriwether.
“I always would leave just enough time to stay up all night to write,” says Deschanel. “That’s just innately our thing.”
“Because we’re not nerds,” says Meriwether.
“We’re. Not. Freakin’. Nerds!” says Deschanel.
Meriwether adds that she enjoys throwing new challenges at Deschanel, especially in the area of physical comedy. But she has found the comedy line that her star won’t cross. While Deschanel is cool with sex-based blue humor, she recently vetoed a script that… well, we’ll let the collaborators and friends take it from here.
ZOOEY: That’s just between Liz and me.
LIZ: But this was good. A script came in and the story made her uncomfortable, and I also think we didn’t execute it that well. But in 42 episodes, it was a good time and good moment to know where that line was, because now we have this body of work that draws the boundaries of what we can and can’t do. It was a good correction.
ZOOEY: Occasionally I will get a storyline that feels like another character’s storyline, and that’s what happened there. I felt like I got a Winston storyline.
LIZ: We asked her to talk like a black man for a whole episode.
ZOOEY: No, that wasn’t it.
LIZ: Oh. Well now you’ve given me an idea. Are we being vague enough?
ZOOEY: We are being quite vague.
EW: You’re making me quite curious.
ZOOEY: I will say it was like potty humor. And scatological is just not my thing. I’ll go blue-sex humor but I won’t go blue-potty humor.
LIZ: So you won’t go brown?
ZOOEY: [laughing] I’ll go blue, but I won’t go brown.
For more on Zooey Deschanel and Elizabeth Meriwether and to read our complete Women Who Run TV package, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Feb. 1, or buy it here now.