He plays gruff and grumbling bartender Nick Miller on the hit Fox sitcom New Girl, which is currently in its second season, but Jake Johnson is just as adorkable as costar Zooey Deschanel. Having wrapped three films scheduled for next year — Ass Backwards, The Pretty One, and Drinking Buddies — the 34-year-old Chicago native opens up about his bromantic relationships both on- and off-screen.
The Advocate: Viewers are buzzing about the will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry between your character Nick and Zooey Deschanel’s Jess, but I think the heart of New Girl is the relationship between Nick and Max Greenfield’s Schmidt. So will they or won’t they?
Jake Johnson: It’s definitely a bromance, but it didn’t start out that way. In the beginning, Nick hated everything that came out of Schmidt’s mouth, but now he enjoys Schmidt a lot more. Yeah, something’s going to happen with those two. With all their Godfather “Fredo kisses,” Nick and Schmidt have already kissed way more than Nick and Jess. There’s a lot going on with those two buddies, and it’ll be fun as the writers keep exploring their relationship.
Are you aware of gay fans?
Sometimes I’ll get a tweet, like, “You are the perfect man for me.” I’ll think, Oh, who’s this lovely lady? And it’ll be an older African-American gentleman. Gay fans can be very critical, so that support means a lot to me, because it means I’m doing something right.
You didn’t seem excited when I sent you a link to a gay blog featuring Photoshopped pictures of you.
What do you want me to do? “Hey, everybody, come look! Gay guys are putting my head on pictures of other guys having sex!” It’s flattering, but I’m not making them my screensaver.
What was your introduction to the LGBT community?
I made my first and closest gay friend in 2000 during an NYU summer study abroad program in Ireland. He was my roommate, and he introduced me to gay culture. I remember I was just getting out of the shower when we met. He was clearly disgusted by the sight of me in a towel, so he left the room in a hissy and he went around telling the girls in the program, “Ugh, my roommate’s a goddamn bear!” But we became great friends.
Even after that first impression?
When I went from playing sports to doing theater in high school, it wasn’t the most welcoming environment. It was cliquey — about 95% of those guys were gay — and I don’t think they wanted someone like me in the group, but they accepted me by my senior year and we had fun. My first few years in New York I only had a couple close straight friends, so when I met my funny but sort of bitchy gay roommate in Dublin, it was a good, familiar feeling. He called me “Ike” and I called him “Tina.”
Was it an abusive relationship?
No, he was mad that I was living off of what I considered grilled cheese sandwiches, so he insisted on cooking for me. One night we were being really loud, doing bits, and the Dublin police were called on us for a potential domestic abuse complaint. I opened the door wearing a wife beater, and my roommate’s sprawled out in the background, all flushed and sweaty after cooking my dinner. Those cops did not know what to make of it. [Laughs] All jokes aside, I don’t see anything different between someone who’s gay and someone who’s not. Who you have sex with does not matter to me. My mom raised me to know that race, religion, and sexuality don’t matter; if you like someone, they’re your friend. My personal code has always been that if someone makes me laugh, they’re OK by me.
You mentioned that your roommate introduced you to gay culture. What exactly did this guy teach you?
I know now that this is a stereotype, but he’d come home every night with grass stains on his knees and tell me that gay guys could get ass whenever they wanted. I also learned that if you act like a helpless idiot, a good gay guy will be nice and cook for you.