Jake Johnson is, arguably, the most underrated comedic talent of our time. Anyone well-versed in New Girl knows this. It's where Johnson has played Nick Miller for the last six years, a leading man weirder than any sitcom romantic foil you've ever seen with tics and idiosyncrasies you might expect to find on a cable comedy but not FOX. New Girl overall, has become the most thoroughly entertaining, profoundly strange yet somehow still very endearing sitcom out right now and it's for that reason that we'll be extremely depressed if tonight is indeed the series finale of the show provided FOX chooses not to pick it up for a seventh season. (And if you disagree, go debate your Mom who swears by Friends.)
The scope of Johnson's career extends much further than Nick Miller though. You've seen him play comedic relief in blockbusters like Jurassic World and he'll delve into that bag again for this summer's The Mummy. Before that, though, he'll star in Win It All, a '70s-feel indie dramedy that debuts on Netflix this Friday. It's a project close to Johnson's heart—he co-wrote and produced it, with frequent collaborator Joe Swanberg. Complex hopped on the phone with Johnson to talk his new films, and of course, the ultimate fate of Nick and Jess.
Where did the inspiration for Win it All come from?
This is the third movie [Joe] Swanberg and I have made together, and after doing Digging for Fire we realized we wanted to make something more fun. The gambler type movie, the California-splits of the world, have always inspired myself as well as Joe so we wanted to make a movie that had a big story in the Swanberg style. It was movies from the 70s that I loved, but using the writing techniques that I learned from NYU and screenwriting books, and trying to mix forms a little bit.
What is it about Joe that like brings out the collaborator in you and then these great idiosyncratic projects?
Joe is a real artist. He cares about the process and he really wants to make something that he loves and that he cares about, but he's also a really nice fun person. I think our ideals of how to make a movie and how to treat people on set, the hours needed and the feeling in the air, is exactly the same. As a filmmaker, I'm not a doctor performing surgery. We're just making escapism, we're making content for people to enjoy themselves, have fun. So if we're not having fun with what we're doing, I think we're doing something inherently wrong.
You have this dropping and you're also in The Mummy. It's interesting to me how you do these kind of indie passion projects and then offset it with a blockbuster. What do you look for when you're doing these smaller scale projects, character and thematically speaking? What attracts you when you're in between blockbusters?
It's an interesting question because my career has been so weird, in that I really don't have any sort of strategy. The last summer I was actually planning on taking the summer off because I was little bit burnt out after New Girl. The Mummy fell in my lap, and [Mummy director] Alex Kurtzman is one of the kindest humans and I really wanted to do a Tom Cruise movie, so it was an easy yes. But in terms of the indies, I'm not really looking for anything because a lot of what I do I'm writing myself. If I'm going to be the lead of it, it either has to be a story or a director or a cast that I'm dying to work with, or it's going to be something that I want to create myself. Not alone. I'm a collaborator, so I love working with other people, but so far in the indie world my real happiness has come from stories that I'm co-writing.
Did the experience being in a Tom Cruise movie live up to the expectations?
Tom Cruise is one of my all-time favorite guys to work with on a movie, and he lived up to every piece of hype that my 38-year-old ass could have imagined, because he is what you want him to be on a film set. He does do his own stunts. He's always fired up. He's always enthusiastic. We would work out together; he's fired up in the gym. It felt like being on a basketball team with Michael Jordan. You hear about those things about sports where they're like, "He's the team leader! First in the gym, last to leave." That's Tom Cruise. He does more than anybody. So, when you're in a movie with Tom Cruise, you'd better care, because this dude cares. You don't want to be the guy who lets him down because he'll let you hear it.
With this and Jurassic World, you've got a lock on the wisecracking sidekick lane, but if you were given the opportunity to lead a franchise reboot, what would it be?
For my two cents, I would like to see more females running them, I want to see what happens if you got some more badass ladies. But for me personally, I am really happy having a role in them and really happy having somebody else running in front.
Switching gears to New Girl. The finale's tonight—either way it's going to be a big one, but it might be the series finale.
Yeah, we don't know until May. The executives have honestly not told us if they've picked it up. They told us they don't know if they're gonna.
Will the ending give fans closure?
I think so. But the truth of the matter is with New Girl fans, they have been the most loyal group of fans I could have ever imagined for a career, and I care less about how it ends and more—I truly, without any bullshit—just want that core fanbase to be happy with it. But I know that [series creator] Liz Meriwether, myself, Zooey [Deschanel], everybody—the fans have been crazy cool to us and kept us on TV and as an actor, given us jobs and watch us and they support our other work, and I just don't want this show to have an end that's unsatisfying for them. I'm really happy that I'm not the writers, because it's a lot of pressure. [laughs]
What can we expect on the Nick-Jess front?
If you're a fan of Nick and Jess, and you cared about that story, it's a relationship that you value, you should watch the finale. It's not a finale that leaves the Nick and Jess story untouched, for good or for bad. Liz understands how important that relationship is to the show and it's front and center.
If the show does end tomorrow, I always thought that a great spinoff would be a Winston cop sitcom. Would you sign off?
[laughs] I'd watch it.
How about a cameo?
For sure. We used to joke about a spin-off called Schmidt Happens where we follow Schmidt next. I love those guys. The cast of that show, we've been through a lot together so I think we will all always keep working with each other, depending on if those dudes ever call or if I ever call them, I know that's a very easy yes.
Yea, the energy that you guys created is next level, and six years in it really shows.
I got sad for the first time doing ADR, there was a Nick and Schmidt scene and I was watching it and I realized when this show is over, we'll never get to do that rhythm again. There's a rhythm that he and I had formed when we talked and it's constantly talking over each other and we know each other so well that I had that nostalgic thing, of, "Oh man, that Nick and Schmidt thing is done too. Weird."