From "New Girl" to "Not Dead Yet," Hannah Simone loves being the bestie – on TV and in real life

On "Salon Talks" Simone discusses choosing roles, friendship and seeing "New Girl" with "fresh eyes" on her podcast

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 22, 2023 1:30PM (EST)

Hannah Simone (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Hannah Simone (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Just like you, Hannah Simone has been rewatching "New Girl" too.

After playing Zooey Deschanel's ride-or-die for seven seasons on the beloved, briefly "adorkable" comedy, she's lately been revisiting the series on the podcast she hosts with her series costars Deschanel and Lamorne Morris. But while rewatching "New Girl" has deepened her appreciation of the show, Simone does have a few concerns for the fans who binge it. "Now people are watching it in a weekend," she says. "I'm like, are you OK? That's a lot of TV. We did a lot of episodes."

But now, after a primetime hiatus of a few years, Simone is hoping viewers will keep her around "for a very, very, very, very long time" again for her new ABC comedy. Starring Gina Rodriguez as an obituary writer haunted by her recently departed subjects, "Not Dead Yet" features Simone once again in the role of best friend — but this time with a lot more baggage. 

Simone joined me on "Salon Talks" to discuss what made her return to television, female friendship, Hollywood representation and why she describes herself as an "indoor cat." 

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

"Not Dead Yet" is a workplace comedy with a twist. What drew you to this show?

I read the pilot, and it had so many of the things that I look for and I really love. It had so much heart; it was really honest about what it's like to be a mess and hold it all together and have work-life balance. It just let all the characters fall apart a little bit, and there was so much truth in it, which was really wonderful. It made me laugh out loud when I read it, but it also got me very emotional, which surprised me. That was one thing that really drew me to it.

Then the other was Gina Rodriguez. Jake Johnson, who I worked with on "New Girl," had just done a project with her. I know that if you're lucky enough, you can be on a show and be around those people for a very, very, very, very long time, so you want to make sure that they're wonderful people off-screen too, because you hang out a lot. You become family.

I texted him and was like, "Tell me the truth about Gina." He texted me back and said, "Run to work with her. She's the best and she's just the most incredible, kind, funny, talented, wonderful person off camera and obviously on camera." That just sealed the deal for me, and its strong female friendships, its honest female friendships, which was one of the things I love so much about "New Girl." It has that same feel in this show. There were so many things I really couldn't say no.

This is a show about a friendship that has really changed, and the ways that we grow apart from each other and come back together when the dynamics are different. What did you draw on in your own life, looking at friendships and the ways you come in and out of love with people?

That was what was super interesting to me about how honestly they kind of wrote that awkward dynamic initially. My character and Gina's character, Sam and Nell, they were best friends like that wonderful, codependent best friendship you have when you're young, where that person is your whole world. They were personally and professionally on the same track.

Then Gina's character leaves, she goes and chases a man, and she falls in love. You see this in the series that my character shared that she was hurt and felt abandoned and that she didn't have anyone. Then she finds a new friendship in Lexi, played by the incredible Lauren Ash, who was kind of Nell's archnemesis. Nell comes back into the picture and just assumes that I'm going to ditch this friend and buddy up with her. 

"It's great escapism television with a heart."

But when you grow up, that's not what happens. You don't just throw people away. Nell has to grow up a little bit, and my character has to be honest about the fact that it hurt her to have her friend just leave. They have to repair and evolve, and then they have to understand this new friendship dynamic, which means they have to mature. I think that's so relatable when you watch the show. We talked about it a lot on set, about having those moments where you had to be a big girl and learn how to be around people that maybe you don't like, but the person you love loves, and work through it.

There's so many interesting themes in this show. I know it's called "Not Dead Yet," and we have these great guest stars that play these ghosts, and there's that whole aspect of it. But the heart of this show, I've said this from the beginning, is the love story between Nell and Sam, these two women who love each other, but things have changed and now they have to love the new versions of each other.

You've been in shows that are called "New Girl" and then "Not Dead Yet," which feel very much about phases in life, or phases for women in Hollywood. You're in your  40s; your co-stars are over 35. Is this a different moment in entertainment, where where we're seeing more women over 30, over 35, even over 40, taking on these leading roles?

This is where representation matters. I have been so lucky to be on female-led shows with female creators who want to tell their stories. When Elizabeth Meriwether did "New Girl," that was about that chapter in her life at that age, and she got to write what she knew. Thankfully she was given that opportunity as a woman to lead the show, and she hired women to help tell that story. The same thing, David [Windsor] and Casey [Johnson] created this show, and Casey is this incredible, strong, beautiful woman who tries to have this work-life balance in her real life and she got to infuse that in the show.

That's why in all aspects, whether it's gender or age or race or how you identify, it matters who gets to be the showrunners and tell the stories because then it gives actors who look different the opportunity to then play those roles. Slowly it's changing, slowly but surely.

Over the past couple of years, there were a couple of times when you were almost back in primetime. This show is about resilience and about coming back from disappointments and near misses and things that didn't work out. What have you brought from those experiences to this role and to this show?

What I've learned to really trust about this industry is that you don't want a role or a show that you're not right for, or the show isn't quite right yet. You don't want that. Those things kind of go away. If I'm up for a part and it goes to someone else, I don't ever take that personally. That person obviously is a better fit.

When I think about "New Girl," I actually tested for a pilot the year before for a different show, before I had learned that lesson of what's meant for me will be meant for me. I'll be the right choice and they won't be able to avoid it, so I'll get it. I tested all the way up and I didn't get it. That show got picked up and it ran for a year, over where the "New Girl" casting was. If I had gotten that role, I never would've been able to go and audition for "New Girl." 

The casting director from that is the one who remembered me and had me go in for "New Girl." I then booked "New Girl." That [other] show got canceled like a month later. I spent that whole year feeling sad, thinking I've missed this show that I was supposed to be on. But thank goodness, because if I had been on that show, I never would've gotten "New Girl," and I think about that all the time with "Not Dead Yet." 

"I don't put myself out there at all. I have a very small, tight friend circle."

When this show came to me, it was instant family. Forget how great this show is — and it's great. It tells important stories and it makes people who watch it feel seen in their grief, in their mess, in all their awkwardness and weirdness. It captures it and tells it so beautifully. It's great escapism television with a heart. But for me personally, Josh and Gina and Lauren and all of the cast, Angela and Rick, we've become such close friends. I saw everybody this week, in different places. I was at Gina's house, I went to a party with Lauren, I went out with Josh.

If any of those things that had happened in between "New Girl" and now had been picked up, I never would have formed these friendships that now are so meaningful in my life. I wouldn't have gotten to tell so many of these great stories that "Not Dead Yet" gets to tell.

So I'm grateful. I'm grateful that I got to make new relationships along the way with different studios and different networks and to figure out what stories I like to tell and grow up as a person. This was obviously so meant to be because I know just personally those people are supposed to be in my life. I feel very fortunate.

You just light up when you talk about the people you work with, and these ongoing relationships with your "New Girl" castmates. Yet when I look on your Instagram, you describe yourself as an "indoor cat" and an introvert. I want to know how someone who's an indoor cat overcomes the fear of getting out there in the world. 

I don't. I don't go. I don't put myself out in the world. I don't put myself out there at all. I have a very small, tight friend circle. It's so funny on these shows, "New Girl" and now on "Not Dead Yet," people are like, "How did you guys grow the chemistry? The chemistry of the cast is so great." I'm like, "It doesn't work like that." You meet somebody and you have instant undeniable chemistry without a word spoken. You just know it. That feeling when you're like, oh, that's just one of my people. I had it on "New Girl" and I have it on this show in spades. 

The great thing about meeting someone where you have instant chemistry with them is they accept you and love you exactly how you are. Lauren knows if we're going to hang out, it's going to be at my house. We're going to be in pajamas, we're going to be sitting on my couch watching a show together. That's what it's going to look like. Same with Gina. I'm going to go to her house and sit on her couch, and it's going to be the two of us. They accept me for who I am, or if they invite me to a big party, they'll always end it being like, "But we fully respect that you don't like to leave your house. We love you. We just didn't want you to not be invited. We know you'll say no." Those are the best kind of friends.

You have a podcast revisiting "New Girl," a show that you were on over a decade ago. What is it like returning to these episodes and seeing them now the way that many of us have been looking at them for years?

There's a whole new fan base that's discovered the show. During COVID, a lot of people found comfort in it because they were at home, and it became all of a sudden a binge-able show. When "New Girl" originally aired on Fox, it was week to week, and then you'd have to wait whatever, five, six months for the new season. It went on for seven years. It's not how it was consumed. Now people are watching it in a weekend, which I'm like, are you OK? That's a lot of TV. We did a lot of episodes.

They intimately know the show and the world so deeply, so fast, not over this big span of time. When I watched the show, I watched it as we shot it. I haven't watched Season 1 for whatever that is, 12 years. We decided, because we were getting so many questions with everybody newly finding the show or rewatching the show and binging it, we should make this podcast and actually rewatch it. Zooey, Lamorne and I have a podcast called "Welcome to Our Show." We're watching it kind of for the first time because I don't know about you, but I can't remember things I did 12 years ago. 

"You meet somebody and you have instant undeniable chemistry without a word spoken. That feeling when you're like, oh, that's just one of my people."

Every single time we come on to record, we look at each other, we remember nothing of this episode, and we get to watch it as fans and be like, "This is so funny." We call and we text the guest stars, the writer, the directors on that show. We get all of this information, which then sparks your memory and we get to share so many funny behind-the-scenes things that happened. "New Girl" is really good.

It's really good.

I'm rewatching it and I'm like, "Wow. I get why so many people love it," because I can now watch it with fresh eyes.

It's that magic secret sauce of great chemistry and a great cast that comes together, which now you get to experience again on "Not Dead Yet." I'm so excited for you and for this new show to open up these conversations about love and friendship and death and being messy. 

Yeah, exactly. It's all of those things I truly hope people see in the show what I saw in it, because I love it. I truly, truly love it.

"Not Dead Yet" airs Wednesdays on ABC and streams next day on Hulu.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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