Cece Parekh has long packed up and moved out of the loft, but Hannah Simone is leaving her heart behind with the cast and crew of New Girl. The final eight-episode season of New Girl premieres tonight and Simone is emotional, nostalgic, and confident fans will love how the writers wrapped up the gang’s storyline just as much as she does.
Last we saw, Cece had made a home with husband Schmidt (Max Greenfield), became the boss of her very own modelling agency, and found out she was pregnant in perhaps the most romantic scene in the show’s history. With season 7's time-jump, we see what the rest of the roommates and the Schmidts have been up to. Cece and Schmidt have a “new, new girl” in their three-year-old daughter, Ruth, Cece’s agency is thriving, and we find humour in the mundane as the duo juggle marriage and parenthood. But, spoiler, they’re obviously still madly in love and are in it for the long haul.
With a brand new show on the horizon, Simone won’t have much free time to sit back and reflect when we finally say goodbye to New Girl. She just wrapped the pilot for ABC’s The Greatest American Hero, a reboot that gender flips the '80s series by casting Simone in the title role of Meera, an Indian-American woman given a suit with magical abilities. Written and produced by Fresh Off The Boat’s Rachna Fruchbom and Nahnatchka Khan, Simone will continue to flex her comedic chops by playing the first female superhero of colour leading a show on network television — an achievement not lost on Simone, who is immensely proud of her Indian and Greek Cypriot heritage.
Refinery29 caught up with Simone and talked Cece and Schmidt, the legacy of New Girl, and why the real-life friendships between the cast is the real love story in the show.
What does it feel like doing press for the final season of New Girl? Are you ready to say goodbye to Cece?
“It’s an emotional thing when you know that you’re doing something for the last time. Often when you do a TV show, the show just gets canceled and that’s the end; you don’t realise that you’re shooting that final season. That’s often what happens. So for us, when we found out that we were coming back for these last eight episodes — it’s a wonderful gift. But, for eight weeks you’re just in a constant state of saying goodbye to something you love. I’ve never been in that position before. It was incredible.”
What was the atmosphere like during the last table read and filming of the finale?
“The last table read for me was emotional. This is my first show, so it’s my first love. I was just trying to appreciate every single moment because I know we’re never going back. I was just trying to be in the moment for my goodbyes. The last episode we shot for the series finale, the gang is all together — and this really is a show about a family, of people that really love each other, which was great. It made sense for all of us to be together in the end, which was nice because it plays from the screen into real life. We were all together all day for a week shooting, which is how it should have been.”
[Laughs] “It was a silly thing, to be honest with you. It was a really silly thing. I saw the characters, I think I saw it as a Twitter thing, it popped up on my feed, it was like ‘Where’s Cece?' But it was a little odd. We have a pretty diverse cast and that set of characters to represent the show… that was an odd choice.”
Do you think Cece and Schmidt are in it for the long run?
“I think the moment they got married it was all over. They both love each other so much. I’m so grateful that [creator and showrunner] Liz Meriwether chose to have a happily married couple that have a child represented on TV and be able to show that there’s comedy in that. That being in love and being happy still doesn’t mean that your life isn’t totally insane and funny. I thought that was nice. I think often we try to find comedy in conflict, and show people doing weird or terrible things to each other as funny. I’m so happy she allowed them to be madly in love with each other and still show how funny marriage and being a parent is.”
How has motherhood changed Cece?
“It was great for the show to show Cece and Schmidt as parents. That was an exciting, fun development. Cece and Schmidt are so solid it made sense for them to have their baby. And it was fun for us as a cast, we had these two twin girls who played the character of Ruth. It was great to be around this new, new girl on set.”
Do you and Max have an inside joke or a ritual during filming to get in the groove for the day?
“We’ve been doing it for almost the better part of a decade, so it’s second nature. And that was the beauty of the show, the last few years of it, we’ve been doing it for so long and have been doing it together for so long that it was just a part of us. I think that familiarity, that true sense of family is what I’m going to miss the most. That sense of family that’s completely genuine. All the cast still talk today. We’re really friends and we have a true bond because we’ve gone through something so intense together for so long.”
Cece is such an integral part of New Girl. Does she think she gets the respect she deserves? Or did that not happen until she became a businesswoman?
“I think that was the great thing about our show and why so many people responded to it, the show revolves around characters and that space in their life where your friends are your family and you’re really trying to figure out how to grow up. You moved out of your parent’s home and you’re not married with kids yet, so your friends are the ones who are guiding you, and you’re trying different things out. You’re trying different relationships out, trying different jobs out. And I’m so glad they gave Cece that journey as well. And it happened for all the characters. You watched how they loved each other and helped each other throughout.”
Cece was a model and obviously beautiful, but she was never presented to viewers through a male gaze and was never objectified. Do you think having a female creator had something to do with that?
“This is a female-driven show, the lead of our show is Zooey [Deschanel] and the story is always going to be told from that female perspective. And what was really great with what [Meriwether] did with Cece, she reflected something happening a lot especially in this generation; she had such a fear of emotional intimacy. So when it came to Schmidt, she was driving the boat of ‘we can hook up and hang out, but if I actually start to feel something with you, that’s scary.’ I think that’s why people responded to the characters, the story was always told through those big emotional choices, and how we protected ourselves, and dealt with our vulnerabilities and insecurities. It wasn’t a guy walking into a room and saying, ‘she’s super hot, let’s see if I can get her.’ There were always so many layers, and we tapped into the emotion behind everything. And I think that’s because women are emotional creatures, that’s how we function.”
Besides Mindy Lahiri and Alex Parrish, Priyanka Chopra’s character on Quantico, there are barely any South Asian women represented on network television. What did it mean to you to have Cece be one of those characters?
“An article just came out that talked about how this pilot season on TV was so incredibly different for South Asian people. I wrote a post about it because it made me so emotional to see this long list of South Asian actors and actresses who were all attached in leading roles on these new TV shows for pilots. A pilot is no guarantee of making it to TV, but the fact that they’re made is a huge shift in the landscape.
"When I started seven years ago, that definitely was not the case. When they cast me as a main cast member on this American sitcom, I remember going to Liz Meriwether and going, ‘you have no idea what you’ve done for representation of brown women.’ I did not grow up ever seeing someone who looked like me on a TV show like Friends. I remember Liz looking at me like, ‘we just cast the funniest girl.’ It was wonderful that all that Indian content came because they happened to cast someone who is half Indian, as opposed to ‘we got all these Indian jokes, go find an Indian actress.’”
Your character on The Greatest American Hero will also be South Asian. Was that element written in for you once you were cast or was ABC always looking for an Indian-American lead?
“Rachna Fruchbom, who wrote this pilot, that’s what she is. She’s an Indian woman from Cleveland so she’s just writing her story. This is what you were talking about before, having a female showrunner, stories are told from a female point of view. When you have an Indian showrunner — no surprise — those are the kinds of stories she wants to tell. That’s why it’s so important on all levels to have representation, because that begets more representation.”
Are you happy with where we leave Cece in the end?
“I am! My love story, truly, is with Liz Meriwether from day one because she changed me life. She gave me this job that I don’t know anyone else would have give me as an Indian actress. I trusted her up until the last frame. And she did right by all of us. I am forever going to love this job and miss this job. It’s true love. It’s one of the most important relationships of my entire life and I got to share it with millions of people that sat there, and loved it, and validated it every single day.”
What are you going to miss most about playing Cece?
“I’m going to miss the people. I think that was the beautiful thing about how this show reflected life for me. In that pilot episode, she’s introduced to the boys and introduced into that loft through Jess and slowly builds up all of her friendships. That was very true to my life. I kind of walked onto that set and didn’t know anybody and met everybody for the first time and then over the course of seven years they became people that were so incredibly important to me in my real life.”
This interview has been edited for style and length.