Hannah Simone is just as emotional about the end of New Girl as you are.
The actress, who plays Cece, has spent the past seven years filming on-screen hijinks with the cast that includes Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Lamorne Morris, and her TV husband, Max Greenfield. For the show’s final season, Cece and Schmidt (Greenfield) are navigating life as new parents, saying goodbye to the indecisiveness of their twenties and maturing (more in Cece’s case than Schmidt’s) into actual adulthood. Fitting, since so many fans of the show have grown up with the loft-mates themselves.
And while she’s prepping to say goodbye to her first major TV role, Simone’s also looking ahead to another character that just might land her in the history books. The actress is set to play Meera, an Indian-American woman from Cleveland in the reboot of the classic superhero series The Greatest American Hero. The role will make her the first female of South Asian descent to ever don a cape on network TV.
We chatted with Simone about emotional goodbyes on New Girl, the problem with Apu and other South Asian characters on TV, and how to really play True American.
What’s it been like saying goodbye to the show?
I think we’ve felt lucky that we had the chance to say a proper goodbye to a show that we all loved so much. Most shows don’t get that opportunity. Jake Johnson said it was like the senior year of high school. It kind of felt like that. I think it did have that kind of an atmosphere where you’re just really spending a lot of time reflecting on the past seven years of your life. We all know our paths are going to cross again, we all genuinely became really good friends, but we’re all going off to different colleges.
Was there a scene this season that brought the tissues out when you were filming?
You don’t shoot in order and the last scene of our series, all of us were together. I don’t want to spoil the series finale, but we’re all together in a way that was so perfect, I think for the fans when they watch the show, but also for us as a way to say goodbye, and that I feel like was the most emotional moment to shoot.
Are fans going to be happy with where Cece and Schmidt end up?
It was cool to be able to do a season with Cece and Schmidt as parents. Fans have been very vocal about what they’ve always wanted to see and to know about the cast and I think that this was kind of our goodbye love letter to them, so we tried to jam as much of that into the eight episodes. I think they’ll be incredibly happy.
You’re set to become the first female superhero of South Asian descent on network TV with The Greatest American Hero reboot. Is it wild to you that this character even exists on TV in 2018?
Yeah, the landscape has changed so dramatically in the past seven years. I auditioned for New Girl seven years ago and have been living in that bubble. At that time, the fact that I was even going in for a role as a main character of a cast for this American sitcom blew my mind, because that was the only one I was going in for. The fact that it worked out is shocking.
I remember saying to Liz Meriwether, “You have no idea what you’ve done putting a South Asian girl in the main cast of the show.” They weren’t looking for an Indian woman. She kind of looked at me like I was crazy and said, “I just cast the funniest actor and I don’t see what the big deal is.” That was even more incredible, that they weren’t trying to fill some sort of quota. She was unique in that aspect, that was definitely not the norm.
In a year of reboots, it’s nice to see a show like this totally reimagined to fit with the times. What does it mean for you as an actor to be bringing this character to TV?
I remember growing up and watching those superhero shows, and I never ever saw anyone who looked like me. Forget superhero shows, on any show, I never saw anyone that looked like me and to play a woman that is empowered and flawed, trying to do her best in such an iconic role, I couldn’t resist it. It has this dream team of women behind it, Rachna Fruchbom and Nahnatchka Khan. The fact that they trusted me with such an important role because it all comes with responsibility, I was moved. That was emotional too. I went from the finale of New Girl feeling emotional and stepping into this other role that I feel like has a lot of responsibility with it, and we were all very aware of it the entire time. Luckily the pilot was directed by Chris Gernon, who directed a couple of great, female-driven New Girl episodes that were emotional and complicated with big choices made. I love Chris so much and so the fact that she was the one to kind of steer the ship on the new pilot, it just felt so meant to be.
I don’t know if you’re a Simpsons fan, but there’s been controversy over the Apu character on that show and how it reflects how South Asians are stereotyped on TV. Do you think The Greatest American Hero can change that narrative?
The landscape is starting to shift from when Apu was first created. I feel like we’re going in the right direction. I executive produced the film called Miss India America, [about] pageants in Orange County with South Asian girls. I just feel like the more doors that are open to tell our own stories, that’s where we see truly the representation that we want to see on TV and film. That just starts with creating our own content. It’s not a shock that if we were looking at older versions of Indians that were on TV, those characters weren’t created, and their stories weren’t told by Indians; the part is usually inaccurate or a boiled down, one-dimensional stereotype, because it’s not their story, they don’t have that experience.
I’m really lucky that I’ve worked alongside a lot of great people that have created those characters and allowed me to play them and they’ve always felt great. For me, it always starts with Liz Meriwether because she just created a cool best friend on a sitcom and then allowed her to be Indian. I think that changed the course for me in a way that I can’t ever thank her enough for.
Well since New Girl is almost over, maybe you can clear up one thing for me before you go. How the hell do you really play True American?
[Laughs.] Ahh, True American. I’m really happy we got a final game of True American in our final season. There are no rules. There are no rules. I feel like people have created websites trying to map it out over the years. I think it’s just get really drunk and yell a bunch of stuff. And never forget that the floor is lava.