‘New Girl’'s Hannah Simone on Jewelry Design, the Finale, and Anna Wintour

Hannah Simone New Girl
Photo: Autumn De Wilde/FOX
New Girl's Hannah Simone

Viewers of New Girl might have originally signed on for the "adorkable" Zooey Deschanel, but loyalists (there are a lot: FOX just picked up the sitcom for a second season) have stuck around in no small part to the guffaw-inducing—and up until recently, hushed-up—relationship between Max Greenfield's Schmidt and Hannah Simone's Cece.

Sure, Deschanel's Jess is central to many a comedic shenanigan after a bad breakup leads her to upend the lives of her new guy roommates, but high-maintenance Schmidt and super-confident model Cece have emerged as the hilarious heart of the Tuesday night show.

Recounting the previous evening's best lines is the subject of lots of office discussions on Wednesdays, so we were delighted to dial up Simone, a former UN employee, and talk her modeling past, jewelry designing with her mother, and her far-reaching hopes for an Anna Wintour cameo.

New Girl was just picked up for a second season. Congratulations!
Thank you. It's like Christmas and New Year's and your birthday all rolled into one.

How did you and the rest of the cast celebrate?
We were on a 12-hour photo shoot for season two so it was nice that we were all together when we got the official news. We just went around and hugged each other and said congratulations. We're just excited that we get another year to hang out together and tell these weird, funny stories.

We're excited too. Is the vibe on set just as crazy and hilarious and delightful as every fan, ourselves included, thinks it is?
Yes! It's really funny because I'm an avid TV watcher, and you have those shows that you love when you grow up, the cast that you love, and you always wonder [whispering] "What's it really like?" and you read all the interviews: "we all love each other" and then you find out that wasn't the case. It's so amazing now to be inside the television with this incredible cast, on this incredible show, and we do. I'm so thankful everyday: we have the most thoughtful, funny, amazing cast and crew and writers and creators. Honestly. And there's not even that one person where you're like "I wish they weren't there." Not one person. We're super lucky. I've been told that many other times by many other people that have been in this industry a long time: "You guys are really lucky."

Like Cece, you've modeled in the past. Is that something that's completely on the back burner? Do the writers base anecdotes from her career on your own stories?
I used to model when I was younger, and I loved it. I think I loved the idea of being able to create a character and a feeling just with the fashion and expression. I loved it, I really enjoyed it. I moved onto different things. It's been really exciting for me on this show to kind of return to where I first started when I was 13 years old. So I'm not a professional model but I get to play one on TV. I've told them (the writers) stories. Who knows in the coming seasons if those stories will come to play? I hope so. They are really great that way. They really like that collaborative aspect of the show where we get to talk and tell stories. The fun thing is, they've really been able—and you'll see as the season continues—to use the fact that Cece is a model. There's a really fun, wild, extraordinarily weird photo shoot she does in the finale. It was a lot of fun to shoot. We crimped and teased out my hair. That's fun too for me. Because she's a model, everyday we do a wild, different look. So I kind of get to do that on the show which is really fun.

How long did you model for?
I was living in Cyprus and they were looking for this fresh face, people who have never modeled, and then they put it on the cover of the most popular magazine in the country...but then I moved to India, and I was really involved in theater in India and became an AIDS activist and started working at the UN. My best friend in the world is a photographer, she lives in Toronto, and our idea of fun was to look in the closet and find a story we could tell and photos we could create. I love it. It's cool that I get to play that on the show. And I also love that the writers and creators are on the same page as me as making Cece a very smart, in-tuned, intelligent person, instead of playing this stereotype of what could be these easy jokes. I love that. I do have friends who are high fashion models, and they are so clever and so quick, and so well-read because they've traveled the world and met the most interesting people and they are over idiot guys because they deal with them on a minute to minute basis. I don't see that on TV with models. You don't see it so I thought that was really cool that we could break the stereotype.

Since you were a bit younger, how did modeling influence how you developed your own style or beauty routines?
I think my own sense of style comes from the fact that my family moved countries every three or four years. My mother is a designer so she was a jewelry designer when we were little and now she owns a clothing store in Cyprus where she designs the clothes... We always grew up with those jewelry-making boards where you replace the beads. My mom had amethysts and lapis and opal and tiger's eye. My little brother did it too (he may not want that down!). So that's what we would do: I was always making my own bracelets and necklaces and earrings. I always loaded up.

Gap jeans Rosella Giuliani

Photo: Isabella Vosmikova/FOX

Zooey Deschanel's Jess and Hannah Simone's Cece 

Do you have any design aspirations of your own?
I think eventually I would...if the right opportunity came along. [My mother] designed Indian-inspired clothes, in terms of the fabrics, for the Mediterranean lifestyle. I just watched her go through that process and her inspirations. I was born in London, my mom was born and raised in London, and when I was living in London, she would always come and visit me from Cyprus. And her inspiration, so much of it, wasn't from pages of fashion magazines. It was just from walking the streets, seeing what the cool girls were wearing. I think that really laid in my heart when it comes to fashion. When I'm at a party in L.A., I really look at people, at what they're wearing, how they're wearing it, and that has inspired me.

Cece's on-camera style is very sexy, especially compared to Jess's "adorkable" style. Is your style similar to Cece's?
No. Cece is amazing; she is a very forward girl. I think Cece kind of embodies what women are today, which is very comfortable with our sexuality. If you go into a relationship, usually the physical part is easy, the emotional intimacy is very hard. I love that that is playing out on the show with her and Schmidt. She's not afraid to be like "I need a quickie. gotta go, see you later." But what she feels, that's complicated, so she wears it on her sleeve. She'll wear a really hot dress and she'll work it. That is the great thing about building that character, about supporting her and how she interacts with the world. For me, we do so much running around— you're running to set, you're running here—you're kind of the go, for me, it's always fashion meets function, high meets low. A thing I found in a flea market, with some of my mother's jewelry, and a really great pair of shoes. I come from a culture from a Mediterranean island where you're proud that you're a woman, you don't try to hide that. I don't try to cover myself up because I'm ashamed that I've got a body.

Any hints or teasers about how the season wraps up?
Well, I can tell you there's a very big photo shoot that Cece does that is a part of how the finale turns out. And it's not just a photo shoot that's stuck in there for the sake of being silly. Something happens that actually plays out later in that episode. When i was reading the script, I was like "Ohhh, I didn't know they meant that." It's weird.

You've had some really fun guest stars already. Who tops your wish list?
Oh my goodness. The list is so long. We talk about this all the time. I think it would be pretty great if Bruce Willis showed up; I think that would be really fun. You know what would be a really cool one? I mean, it would never happen: if Anna Wintour showed up for a story with Cece. I think it would also be amazing to have some of the really big Bollywood stars come in and they do a Bollywood episode with Cece.

How often do you break when you're on set, especially with Max Greenfield, who plays Schmidt?
It's so funny you say that because I should get an award for it, because Max has never made me break. Everybody else he's made break.

That is impressive!
Okay but wait: He's never ever made me break, and he will try because now it's like a challenge. He'll just say something more insane and more insane and it will just keep rolling, and I won't. And there was an episode we shot that hasn't aired yet in an old folks' home, keep in mind, and he did something so physical that I broke. For the first time all season. I laughed so hard, I started to hyperventilate, I fell out of my chair, I was on the floor, they had to cut, everything had to stop, I cried all over my makeup. I think it was all the pent-up repression I had of every single laugh, from him for an entire year, came out. We had to reset all my makeup, we had to stop for like ten minutes because I could not get myself together. so I've broken once, is the answer to your question, but it was an epic break.