New Girl star Max Greenfield re-enacted a few of his favorite Schmidt catchphrases (“Judaism, son!”) and dealt the facts on how to actually play True American (“throw out some American history, have a beer or two, shotgun one and call it a day”) when he took the stage Saturday night in Bailey Hall.
His talk was co-sponsored by the Cornell University Program Board, Cornell Hillel Major Speaker series and Himan Brown Charitable Trust, which has brought notable Jewish speakers such as Aly Raisman and Josh Peck to campus in the past.
Julia Katz ’19, chair of the Major Speaker series for Hillel, told The Sun that the group had been trying for years to bring Greenfield to speak at Cornell.
“We’ve talked about bringing [Greenfield] to campus since my freshman year when I was on the committee, so it’s finally happening,” Katz said about the Emmy and Golden Globe nominee. “We’re excited to hear about his different projects and his experiences as a Jewish actor and generally just how he goes about life.”
Greenfield did just that, opening to a packed audience by talking about how nice and expensive Cornell looks and by reflecting on his own college experiences. He admitted that he only “sort of went to college,” and he decided to drop out after achieving a 0.67 GPA his freshman year.
“There was an acceptance that college went very wrong for me, and I look at all of you and I’m like, you are all better than me,” Greenfield said. “You guys should be really proud of yourself.”
Only after dropping out did Greenfield start seriously getting into acting and move to Los Angeles, where he took a few acting classes — although he kept getting rejected from auditions.
Nonetheless, it was his failures that actually “kept [him] afloat.”
“You just keep moving forward, and everytime you fail — which should be often — you just get comfortable in that place. Now I just accept to fail, and then when it goes well you go, ‘holy shit,’” he joked.
For a period of time, though, Greenfield considered giving up on acting. But when he stumbled upon the script for New Girl, he felt that he could “do a good job at this.”
”There were no stakes. I was done acting, but I gave the best audition that I had ever given in my life,” he said.
Greenfield also recounted how during his New Girl audition, the show’s creator Elizabeth Meriwether knew he was the perfect fit to play main character Winston Schmidt.
“The audition scene was the one from the pilot where randomly during that scene I take my shirt off. Except I had a sinus infection, so everything was a mess,” he said. “And Liz Meriwether, went, ‘Oh my god he’s so pale, and he’s got more moles than I’ve ever seen before. This is the guy!’”
As the show got more developed, there came a time where the writers decided to talk about Schmidt’s bar mitzvah. Greenfield discussed how his character’s Jewish identity was a subject that he knew would become important to the show — not just because his bar mitzvah was funny, but because “more people could relate to [the character].”
“It gives people an opportunity to identity with, whether you are Jewish and you’re like, ‘Yes!”, or if you’re not and you’re like, ‘I know that dude. ’” he said. “It makes it more real.”
Overall, Greenfield said he is very humbled by his successes as an actor and tries to give back to his community as much as he can.
In an interview with The Sun before the show, Greenfield talked about his involvement with Young Storytellers, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that hopes to “engage creativity through the art of storytelling,” according to its website. He acted in the short screenplays that students at the organization created.
“I always try to find ways to participate [in Young Storytellers] and give back, even though I feel like there’s not a lot I have to offer,” Greenfield said. “In a situation like that it’s just ‘say yes.’”
Up next for Greenfield, his new show “The Neighborhood” was recently renewed for a second season on Jan. 25.
Greenfield described how excited he was when he found out about the show’s return.
“I was talking to one of the executives at CBS [about The Neighborhood’s second season], and I tell her, I think I’m past gratitude at this point.” he said. “I feel guilt.”
“And she goes, ‘Ugh, how Jewish of you!’”