Fair warning, Newbies: If you haven’t seen tonight’s episode, “Virgins,” stop reading now! There are SPOILERS aplenty, courtesy of showrunner Liz Meriwether and star Jake Johnson. For everyone who has seen the show, read on for behind-the-scenes scoop on that scene…
Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: SQUEEEEEEEE…annnnnd okay, down to business.
Tonight’s episode of New Girl broke sexy new ground between Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) after the flirting roommates, along with the rest of the gang, reflected on their first sexual encounters. Given the steadily increasing momentum during this season’s latter half, Jess and Nick’s coupling seemed inevitable, but showrunner Liz Meriwether — helped by strong performances by Johnson and Deschanel — turned out a refreshing, unexpected set-up for a scene fans have been spinning in their minds for months.
Meriwether admits she had very specific priorities when it came to Jess and Nick’s first time: “We wanted it to feel honest and, honestly, hot. What’s fun is doing a genuinely sexy romance in a sitcom. That doesn’t always happen.” She adds affectionately, “The characters themselves are such idiots when it comes to each other that it’s fun to figure out what new idiotic thing they will get up to.”
Seven episodes after Jess and Nick’s first kiss, Meriwether felt it was time for the roomfriends to take things to the next level. “We were worried that it would come too soon, but we felt like, in reality, these characters would probably take that step. They’ve been back and forth and called it off, and basically they’re totally confused about how they feel about each other. We felt like they would realistically find themselves in that situation.”
For his part, Johnson was champing at the bit to explore the relationship on a deeper level because, “as an actor, I’ve wanted to do those scenes. As a fan of the show, I want to see what happens between Nick and Jess.” That said, he didn’t find the watershed moment that much of a change of pace from an average scene with Deschanel. “Zooey and I are around each other close to naked a lot,” he laughs. “We have to dance in front of each other and do things that are pretty humiliating enough times so that, at this point, it wasn’t too weird.”
After at least one fish-tank destroying makeout scene, fans were probably surprised at how understated the duo’s move from friends to lovers ended up playing out. For Meriwether, this was a purposeful choice made in the edit bay. In fact, Johnson and Deschanel filmed the scene with and without kissing, but Meriwether opted for eye contact over locked lips because “we felt like them just staring into each other’s eyes was really more exciting than them kissing — it had this intimacy to it.”
As to whether the other version will see the light of day, Meriwether says, “I don’t think [we’ll release it]. It’s a question of, ‘How much do we show, and how much do we not show?’ We felt like there was just enough in this episode.”
For Johnson, perhaps more than enough. The two set-up required more than a dozen takes — a fact the actor began to regret: “The scene is, I walk in carrying Zooey, we have a moment, and then we go to bed,” he says. “As a man, that’s an easy thing to do — just carry a woman to bed, fantastic. That’s what you do. By the fifteenth take… you know, I’m not a man of steel! My arms were getting a little bit noodly. You don’t want to say, ‘Can we speed this up?’ I’m carrying Zooey Deschanel — there’s a lot of guys who’d kill for this moment.” By the end of the night, he laughs, “I was just throwing her on the bed. Once we were out of frame, I’d just be, like, ‘Get off of me, woman!'”
On screen, the scene played much more smoothly — almost mellow, really. Meriwether kept the tone steady in the episode’s final moments — an extended shot of silent action and reaction between Deschanel and Johnson. She explains, “I felt like, just sort of put a camera on them and let them react in ways that their characters would react. It ended up [as] kind of a cool thing that you don’t always see on TV: two actors and 30 seconds of silence.”
How that silence will translate into words for the hyper-articulate Jess and Nick as the season winds down… well, Meriwether is keeping that secret close to the vest. Next week, Jess’s father (Rob Reiner) is sure to put a wrench in the works when he shows up at the loft unexpectedly. Then, with Cece (Hannah Simone) and Shivrang’s (Satya Bhabha) quickie wedding on tap for the May 14 finale, let’s just say Nick and Jess won’t have a lot of alone time for DTR-ing — though Meriwether and Johnson both promise the will-they-or-won’t-they questions will be answered by the end of season 2.
Of course, answering one question doesn’t mean plenty more won’t pop up. Johnson, for one, sees a long and adorkable road ahead for the roommates-turned-lovers: “I know they’re going to do something interesting in season 3. Knowing the way Liz writes these characters, I’d be surprised if they just date and are happy.”