While Max Greenfield has been working consistently in film and television for over a decade, it was landing the show-defining role of Schmidt on “New Girl” that made people take notice of him as a comedy powerhouse. For the SXSW-premiering “Hello, My Name is Doris,” directed by Michael Showalter, though, Greenfield kept things grounded as the young object of Sally Field’s affections.
Below, Greenfield explains why he took the part without even reading the script, how the film’s stellar ensemble cast came together and what was hard about playing the straight man this time.
How did you get involved with the film?
I had done “They Came Together” with Michael [Showalter] and David [Wain], and Michael and I, on that film, just hit it off. I had such a great experience on that movie. The following summer, I had heard about this movie through mutual friends and I had thought to myself, look, Michael knows me, if he doesn’t think I’m right for it then obviously I’m not gonna bug him about it.
And then I had taken a meeting in New York — I was shooting another film in upstate New York called “About Alex” — which I thought was just a general, and went into it, and they offered me “Doris,” and I was like, “Don’t you think Michael should do this?” So I called Michael and he was like, “I think you’re perfect for the part.” And I hadn’t read anything, but I had had such a great experience with Michael on “They Came Together” that I thought, “I’ll do anything with you. I don’t need to read anything.”
So I’d accepted the part at that point and then was just blown away when I read the script. I was attached to it for close to a year before we started shooting. So it was really interesting to see the script change over that year and see rewrites from Michael. It was fun to be part of it for that long and see it all come together in the way that it did.
At what point in the process did you find out you were going to be making out with Sally Field?
I suppose when she was cast.
Were there rumors that they were going after her first?
Yeah. Michael had always brought Sally’s name up and was always excited about Sally. But I think, you know, for anybody, especially with these independent films, a lot of these people just seem so unattainable. You’re like, it would be a dream if Sally Field could do it. And then, through however that happened, the movie got to her. She read it, she liked it, she came in, she said yes.
The whole cast is really stacked with great people. It’s such a strong ensemble.
I think, towards the beginning, pre-Sally, I think it was me, Beth Behr and maybe, I don’t know, I think Sally came on after that. And once you have Sally Field, pretty much anybody says yes.
For how much of the cast, do you think, it was like, “Hey buddy, you wanna come do this film with us?”
Well, I know Michael had known Kumail and Natasha, and I think a lot of it was like that. Peter Gallagher was someone who none of us knew but who came in. A lot of people at that point just really responded to the script. Tyne Daly. A lot of people just loved the script. When someone knew came in it was this exciting, like, whoa, we got that person!
So was the whole cast locked before you started shooting?
I think the last person to join the cast was Gallagher. Not for any other reason than they just hadn’t found that role yet, and I think they sent the script to Peter and Peter came in. It was like the third day on set and it was like, YES!
And you played the younger version of Peter [in the 2007 “OC” episode “The Case of the Franks”]…
Yeah, it was very exciting. I actually get star-struck when I see him. I actually get nervous.
The film is much more of a leading role for you than some of the ensemble stuff you’ve done in the past.
It’s a little bit of both. It’s interesting. It’s obviously Sally’s movie, and it’s such a strong piece for her — even before she was cast, for any actress that was gonna take that role. I felt that on my part there was an excitement at being a part of a script that I loved, and supporting whomever was gonna take that role. I thought there was ways to play John that could have really taken away from her and I felt like I wanted to be in that supporting position because I felt like I knew how to do it.
To your point, there are elements to that character that are very much leading, which I was excited to play, too. Unlike so much of what I do on [“New Girl”], he’s very much kinda like just solid and straight the whole time. And that I just was so excited to do it, something I have not been really offered before. And, in this context, I was ready for it.
So you’re more excited about being a straight man.
You have no idea. It was different. There were times when it was nerve-wracking, because on the show there’s a certain rhythm that you hit, where you know we got it, when people are laughing. You go, “Oh, I know that’s the right place.” But this was just…you’re looking around, like, “Was that okay, guys”? You don’t know what to go on. You’re like, “Was it okay?”
Laughter is such a clean way of knowing something’s worked.
It’s such a result-oriented business, comedy. And this was a lot of the time on the other end of that, the complete opposite of that. And it was very exciting.
And is it a direction you want to go more toward in the future?
I think ultimately that would be the wrong way to look at what I would want to do in the future. I just want to read great scripts and be lucky enough to be a part of them. I certainly enjoyed doing it. I like the responsibility of being the lead and the idea of setting a tone for a film, that’s exciting.
This was an interesting one because Sally had brought such a perfect tone to this film, and playing off that, and going, “Oh, if you’re gonna do this, then I’m right in doing this.” And then it all really made sense.