Most TV characters start out as recognizable types, and Cece on "New Girl" was no exception.
In the show's first season, Cece was simply the model-perfect best friend of Jess (Zooey Deschanel), but as the Fox show has ripened into one of television's most pleasing ensemble comedies, it's become clear that Cece is anything but perfectly pulled together.
She generally has odd or simply terrible taste in men (ahem, Schmidt!); her roommate is a possible sociopathic Russian model; and she's not nearly as confident as she seems. But as Hannah Simone notes, as the woman who plays her, Cece has at least one good trait: She's a great friend.
"So many times on TV, it's [about] stealing someone's man, or a catfight," Simone said when we chatted. "That's not how you are with your best friend."
Below, Simone discusses Cece's strange -- and strangely transfixing -- relationship with the douchey-sweet Schmidt (Max Greenfield). She also talks about the hardest part of her job and the curveballs she's gotten from the writers of the show (whom I also recently interviewed).
When the show began, your character was a model and sort of perceived a certain way, as this aloof person. Did you ever think so many things would happen to her, just in the first season?
I love our creator, Liz Meriwether, so much, and we have the best showrunners in the business in Brett [Baer] and Dave [Finkel]. I could see the potential for my character and I loved their writing, so I knew with their sense of story that she was going to have a bit of a wild ride. I didn't think that she would have a pregnancy scare and a marriage proposal. We genuinely don't know what to expect week to week -- they just keep throwing these huge stories at us, and they work.
What's cool is that you're not just the straight man for everyone. All the Cece-Schmidt stuff, which was very funny and eventually quite emotional, became a big part of the show.
That relationship, for many reasons, surprised me so much, because, well, it was Schmidt. [Laughs.] I always say if we could pick the people we fall in love with, we'd all make way better decisions. So I couldn't question the fact that their hearts led them there. Working opposite Max Greenfield is the best job in the world. He's just incredible.
What is it about working with him that you enjoy so much?
Honestly, this applies to every member of the cast -- there is this incredible sense of safety. If you want to just get weird and try something, they're always going to support that choice for you. And that is the most liberating thing to feel as an actor -- that you don't have to hold back or be afraid. A bit might not work, but it doesn't matter.
The hardest part of my job, daily, is to not laugh while we shoot. All the actors are so funny and so incredible at comedy, but my character is never amused. I literally have to stay in that mode of not being amused.
How do you do that?
I just can't break. If I break, I'm done. So I don't break.
Do you work on your stone face at home?
Thankfully that's how I am in real life, most of the time -- I feign non-amusement. It really is tested [at work] ... we have the best writers and the most bizarre jokes. I remember once [in a scene], Max and I were talking about sexual positions, and the names they came up with … [Laughs.]
What do you know about what's coming up?
The one way, I guess, that you make it a spoiler-proof [show] is that you tell the actors nothing. When we shot the first season, I would never know from week to week what was happening. and I realized what a gift that was -- you were never playing toward an endgame. You were just in the moment with your character every week. And then, "Oh my goodness, I think I'm pregnant with Schmidt's baby." But you never had it in your head that that's coming, and I think it keeps us genuinely so authentic.
One thing stayed pretty consistent -- Cece has often had the worst taste in men.
Though, mind you, one of them now is the Green Arrow [Stephen Amell of The CW's "Arrow"], and one of them [Greenfield] is now doing a movie with Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd. But this is what I'm saying -- if we could control it, we would make better choices.
The thing that I love about her, which does not play into the stereotype of how most women are portrayed on television, is that she's a good friend. She has Jess' back -- she's in the bathroom with her at the Christmas party, eating cookies. That's how we are with our best friends. So many times on TV, it's [about] stealing someone's man, or a catfight -- that's not how you are with your best friend. I like that the comedy in the relationship comes from where natural comedy comes from among girlfriends, as opposed to a man that we fight over.
That's the thing -- in real life, I have rarely met any woman who would favor a guy over a friendship.
It was established in the pilot that the best friend shows up and says, "If you touch her ..." And there's comedy in that, as opposed to coming in there and [flirting with] the boys.
And in a weird way, I think maybe Cece's feelings for Schmidt represent her showing slightly better taste in men, despite his douchiness -- maybe?
They both have a very strong exterior of having it together, and being the person everyone perceives them to be. But I knew she was toast [where Schmidt was concerned early in Season 1]. It was an episode where they were in bed together in their pajamas, and they just wanted to hold hands and fall asleep with somebody. That was way before they started dating or hooking up or anything. That's when I knew.
Was there ever a concern that if they're together, there aren't as many comedy possibilities?
I don't think so at all. All my favorite sitcoms have had [characters that got together]. There was Rachel and Ross [on "Friends"], there was "Cheers." You can name any great sitcom that has an ensemble and it happens.
"New Girl" airs Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET on Fox.