Max Greenfield has moved onto CBS and into a lot of hot water. In The Neighborhood, Greenfield plays a father who moves his family to an all black neighborhood. His next door neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer) is not happy about it at all.
Greenfield spoke with reporters after a Television Critics Association panel on The Neighborhood this summer. Greenfield joined the show after the pilot, replacing another actor. He also has a role in the gender-flipped comedy What Men Want starring Taraji P. Henson, and The Neighborhood airs Monday nights on CBS.
What was it about this character that you liked?
Max Greenfield: “It wasn’t so much the character. I honestly thought we’ll figure out the character stuff later. To me, it was more this show feels really special. It feels like an incredible group and one that I felt like had a lasting potential. I thought if someone had asked me when I was in the process of making the decision, ‘If you were to see this show on in 10 years and you passed on it, would you be okay with that?’ And I said no.”
Now what do you like about him since you’ve been playing him?
Max Greenfield: “What I love about the character and his situation in the show is that they’re coming from Michigan. They probably got to L.A. and looked at an apartment near the La Brea tar pits. I’m sure they saw a bunch of apartments, realized they couldn’t afford any of them, and then he found this beautiful house with a backyard. It was just like he had in Michigan and he fantasized about this vision for his family and what he wanted to create for them. It was similar to what they had. The only difference was this neighborhood.
It’s not anything he ever thought about. Then he gets there and he realizes it’s something he should have thought about and it is going to create an issue for him and his family, but his intentions were simply I want what’s best for my family and I want to provide for them in the best way that I can which I think is the same thing that Cedric is doing with his family. I think you get to see these two good-hearted husbands and fathers trying to make it work.”
After playing Schmidt for so long, is it nice to play a really solid family man?
Max Greenfield: “It’s definitely something I have to think about, too. The show is as ensemble as I’ve ever seen, but there is an element specifically in the pilot and I think early on where he is a solid family man and is one of the leads of the show, which sort of makes you make more grounded decisions in your choices. So, to me, giving other people the opportunity to get the punchline and do the big humor stuff, which is what I was fed all the time on New Girl, I’m very excited about that prospect. I’ve had seven seasons of insanity. I’m happy to let everybody else go nuts.”
Were you apprehensive about doing another TV series?
Max Greenfield: “Well, it was just signing onto the right one and one that I believed in. I didn’t want to go do a show that was just like Schmidt as a dad and he’s got a kid and then build the show around that. I was in the incredible scenario of having gotten to see what was done already and eliminate all of the unknowns. Watching what was available with this show and seeing the tremendous cast and the writing, I knew I didn’t have to carry this show. I knew that I would have incredible teammates. Again, it’s about joining a great team as opposed to just being like, ‘I want to have my own show.'”
Does The Neighborhood remind you of other shows?
Max Greenfield: “The shows that it reminds me of are shows that I’m reluctant to talk about because they’re legendary TV shows. But I think it has the possibility to be a really special show and go for a really long time. I don’t think it’s inhibited in any way by a contrived premise. This is really about two families in a unique scenario from culturally different places and it gives us all the room in the world to explore.”
What kind of guy do you play in What Men Want?
Max Greenfield: “I haven’t seen it yet but that’s way closer to Schmidt. He’s an agent, but it was one of those things where it’s like you don’t necessarily want to go play Schmidt in a lot of different shows. I’m not so concerned about typecasting, but it’s just like you’ve done it for seven years. But I felt like they were doing something important over there. To have a diverse female lead of a romantic comedy, specifically in a time like this, was like whatever you want me to come do as a part of this movie, if I can lend myself to it, I’m happy to do so. The stuff I’ve seen of Taraji so far is incredible. She’s unbelievable.”
What was it like adapting to multi-camera sitcom with an audience?
Max Greenfield: “Well, that was really what I wanted to do so much. I was really lucky. I got to do an episode of Will & Grace last year. I had done some Hot in Cleveland episodes while New Girl was running. And having shot New Girl for seven seasons, the way we shoot New Girl is not different from how you would shoot a movie. I was inundated with that style for seven plus years. There isn’t that much excitement left in that type of production.
This is everything. It’s exciting, it’s pressurized. Tape night is so much fun. I’m very excited by it.”
How has this job affected your sensitivity to talking about race and cultural things?
Max Greenfield: “I mean, so much. Truly. You’ll get into a situation on this set where you’ll pitch a joke and you’ll make a choice and you’ll realize, ‘Before I do this I’m just going to announce that this might not work. And if it offends anybody, boy oh boy am I sorry.’ Everyone laughs, you do it and you either get, ‘No, that was great” or you get, ‘Well, you know’ and you know what, I’m not going to it. On the next one, I won’t do that. It has provided a level of thoughtfulness that I’d like to think that I had before but I certainly am aware of it now.”
Are you pitching ideas from your own experiences?
Max Greenfield: “I’ve learned, and I’ve learned this on New Girl too, I don’t like that role on a TV show. I really like acting. I’d like to keep that separate. If I had something incredible I thought I could really offer the show, I would. But at the same time, these writers are unbelievable. Again, it is the most diverse room I have ever seen, and I am so excited to see what they, sitting in a room, bouncing their stories, their personal experience off one another together, what they come up with from them.”
Will you find more drama in your breaks from The Neighborhood?
Max Greenfield: “Oh, I don’t know. We’re always looking for it. Sure, yeah, if it comes along, it’s with the right people, absolutely.”
Is comedy where your heart is?
Max Greenfield: “Good material and good people is where my heart is and I’m happy to go with where that is, no matter whether it’s comedy or drama.”