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Dermot Mulroney talks 'New Girl': 'I would happily come back'

April 9, 2012 |  8:30 am

Dermot Mulroney talks "New Girl"

Dermot Mulroney has wooed his fair share of ladies on the big screen, in such romantic comedies as "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "The Wedding Date." But as of late, he's been applying those skills to the small screen with a guest-starring role on Fox's "New Girl," in which he plays the latest love interest for Zooey Deschanel's character.

Russell Schiller (Mulroney) is the fancy man in Jess' (Deschanel) life. He's a wealthy older (divorced) banker who is the father of one of her students. And you can't help but root for him because he's a man who helps a damsel in distress when her car stalls in traffic. He digs deconstructed spring rolls. His home smells like Shakespeare, if Shakespeare were a darn cowboy. He owns a hot-air balloon and a hangar in Palm Springs. He, at one time, sported a skinny ponytail. He uses the "three smile mode" when operating a Japanese bidet. And he's the kind of guy who makes ending a date with a pat on the back instead of a kiss somewhat endearing because, well, he's forgotten how to "tell whether it was the right moment." Need we say more?

After taking a breather last week, Mulroney is back to romancing Jess. Show Tracker caught up with the actor and found that he too is a fan of a future Nick/Jess hookup, has never sported a skinny ponytail and, like some folks, hasn't yet seen "Smash."

I hate to start off this way, but I have to say, I'm really upset with you.

And why is that, Yvonne?

Because I've been rooting for this Nick/Jess romance since the beginning of time and then Russell came along and totally has me rooting for him too.

Oh, I know. I know. I understand why you're upset. I do. Because, when I took the job, it was the first I had seen of the show. And I felt the same way. Nick is perfect for her, right?  So what the heck? But, you know, the romances on a sitcom have a pretty short shelf life, and [with] the ones that have the potential to be the long-running romances, they, of course, have to throw obstacles in the way so that we get to watch more TV. So I'm simply that. I am a roadblock to Nick's eternal happiness.

And I get it. I like Russell and all, but can you please let [creator] Liz Meriwether know that once the roadblock is over, some of us would like Nick to make the move.

Hey, you know what, I'll be honest with you, what I'm doing with Liz is trying to get on the show more. I've finished my run, and they've finished doing this season. But I've been harassing her about how to get Russell back on, and so I cannot help you with that problem.

Fair enough. I wouldn't mind more of the Russell distraction -- because like I said, I was trying really hard not to like him. But it just didn't last.

It takes a step or two up and away from the mainstream pretty soon. He takes a turn a bit. What you'll see is a guy my age trying to act like a guy their age and it's not that good a fit, I think is the point of the story there.

Talk about how you found yourself on "New Girl"?

Well, really, all I had seen was the advertisements everywhere, and I knew Zooey's work for years. So I just thought, "Wow, there's Zooey on a TV show. That's gonna be good." I never saw it, though, until they discussed me taking a part in it. So I watched three or four episodes in one night and was just blown away with how funny it was. And, obviously, for me it was a different kind of job, so I was interested in that as well. I could not have had better luck than falling into this show. These guys are fantastic. And the writers and producers are really at the top of their game and they're really young, too. The cast is off the charts. I got to tell you, as funny as the show already is, they have more to give when this continues. ... They have literally just scratched the surface of what they're capable of.

Is there any similarity between you and Russell -- might we find pictures of you sporting a skinny ponytail if we searched really hard?

No. And I'm grateful for that because I think that would be photographic evidence that I would never be able to live down.

You don't own hot-air balloons or a Japanese bidet?

I'm not rich. I know everyone thinks actors are rich, but I happen to be one of the ones who is not. So there's very little similarity, in fact.

What about the fact that he's getting into the dating scene after splitting from his wife of many, many years?

Well, I think the "whole getting back to the dating scene" has been funny in a lot of things for a long time. So it's kind of a classic anyhow. It's basically a fish-out-of-water story and that applies to Russell in a lot of ways in his arc. He's in a different peer group. I think that's what's funny is here's this guy you wouldn't picture going on a date with Zooey.

And checking/answering his phone at the table on that date! A big no-no!

I know. Well, you know, I want to point out something: I don't write this, so just know that I would never do that. I just show up with a smile on my face and put on the suit and do the scene. But, yes, I answer the phone at the table and I left very abruptly.

Yes, and that's when I found myself back on Team Nick. I was like, "Don't look at your phone! What are you doing?"

Yes. Exactly. I'm clueless.

As you close out your arc, are we going to see any scenes with you and Schmidt?

Uh, no. I mean, some. But there's a whole -- I don't know what the rules are with revealing too much. I actually got in touch with [executive producers] Jake Kasdan and Liz [Meriwether] to say, "You know when I called you the peanut gallery in that other article, I really meant that in a nice way." So I have to be careful. I really don't know what the rules are on this show, so I'm just going to plow forward and break some of them, I imagine.

Next week's show is hilarious. They have this drinking game in their apartment so it gets rather outlandish. Oh God, I don't remember what you asked me.

Actor Dermot Mulroney is back to romancing on Fox's "New Girl"
About whether you'd have scenes with Schmidt. I'm just thinking, "Hello, you'd come full circle. You were in 'About Schmidt' and now you've found yourself in the presence of another Schmidt."

Oh, wow, that's true. Well, he's part of the drinking game and he's always trying to check the label on my suit. So there's a little more interaction.

And are you a fan of this whole TV thing? You're mostly a film guy, but would you consider doing TV on a more permanent basis?

Most of my work has been in film and that's because I really enjoy it. But I've been having a blast. As you may know, I'll be appearing on "Enlightened," so I went back for more right away. I'm enjoying it immensely. These shows are pretty interesting, not "Enlightened" ... wait. No, don't get me wrong, "Enlightened" is very interesting. Both are fantastic shows. "New Girl," though -- I take that job not knowing what they're going to have me do or say. Even in the moment, they'll be throwing lines for you to say. Typically, I would sign on for a movie role knowing what happens on page 120 when it's over and what is to be expected of me in the meantime. And on this, your fate and your dignity is in their hands every week. It's a little bit of a sporting event. "Enlightened," I started yesterday and I go back tomorrow. And that's all scripted out. Mike White writes the whole season himself and I won't tell you anything because it is out of control -- the story line this season.

And Laura Dern's character is an entirely different kind of kooky, zany love interest for you.

She is. She is. Honestly ... ugh, I can't tell you anything about "Enlightened" because it's too good. And that one has a season-long reveal. "New Girl," every week it's revealing some other thing that you didn't know you were ever going to be asked to do on camera. So, that's where I find myself. I would happily come back to cause more anti-Nick trouble even though I know that breaks your heart.

Just to keep in the vein of the rom-com goodness that we're seeing with you on "New Girl," and since you've appeared in a number of big screen romantic comedies, let's settle it: Which do you prefer, "The Wedding Date" or "My Best Friend's Wedding"?

Hmm, I don't know. They both turned out to be good movies. Um, but that's only one of the hurdles in whether these movies have a long life. Both of them -- in fact, I'll be honest with you, probably against all odds with "The Wedding Date" -- both of them have become standards. It can be a popular movie without it having long legs, but both of these still play. People still watch them again and again, so I don't know. There's not much difference. "My Best Friend's Wedding," I guess it's been a couple of years since I've seen it -- I hadn't seen it in so long and when I saw it again, I mean, it's just phenomenal. It really is. I used to kind of go, "Ugh, that movie,"' but I'm telling you, as a little more time goes by, you look at it now and you realize that really does deserve to be up there with the ranks of "When Harry Met Sally" or whatever the other great ones are.

Given "The Wedding Date," would you consider a guest role on "Smash" -- it's returning next season?

Oh, that's right, with Jack Davenport and Debra [Messing]. Yeah, I certainly would, depending on the wardrobe they'd make me wear. Jack Davenport was a little bit upset with the frequency with which he had to wear a dance belt -- but that's sort of a behind-the-scenes kind of a thing. You'll have to take that up with Jack. He has complained about that, by text, if you can picture that happening. I haven't caught "Smash," but I'm pals with both of them. I'll catch up on it soon because I love them both.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it. Until then, I will just sit here hoping that you'll guest star.

All right, good. Make some calls. Don't just hope -- make it happen!

Get the vocal cords ready and I'll see what I can do.

No, there's nothing I can do with my vocal cords. I mean, listen to me, there's no warming up or anything. As much as I warm up, I sound like this. There's nothing to be done about that.

RELATED:

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"New Girl" creator Liz Meriwether talks realism and RomComs

Zooey Deschanel on Golden Globe nom: "It's like cake and ice cream"

-- Yvonne Villarreal
twitter.com/villarrealy

Photos: Dermot Mulroney as Russell and Zooey Deschanel as Jess in scenes from "New Girl." Credit: Fox

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