Jake Johnson
Maarten De Boer/Contour by Getty Images

New Girl’s main man, JAKE JOHNSON, tries to stay just friends with Olivia Wilde in Drinking Buddies.


Improvisation has its downsides. Just ask Jake Johnson, whose new film, Drinking Buddies, was performed almost entirely off the cuff. The indie, which hits theaters this month, casts him and Olivia Wilde­ as brewery workers whose heavy flirting threatens their platonic friendship. And, as the actors learned, when a scene calls for an intense fight and there’s no script, things can get a little … personal.

“You’re trying to say things to get a reaction out of the other person ’cause the story needs it. And the complicated thing with acting is that you’re still making eye contact with these people and saying these things, and she was crying,” Johnson remembers. “I was sitting in my hotel room later, and it was sticking with me. We ­actually got on the phone, talked for a little bit and everything was cool.”

Though not much of a beer buff before making the film, shooting at Revolution Brewing, a real brewery in Johnson’s hometown of Chicago, and crafting beer with the film’s director, Joe Swansberg, gave Johnson a newfound appreciation for pale ales and porters. Good thing, because the on-screen imbibing you see in Drinking Buddies all of it — was real. “There are definitely scenes where, yeah, we had one too many,” Johnson admits. (Coincidentally, it was also Johnson’s having one too many that inspired the ­FunnyorDie.com skit turned Comedy Central series Drunk History, when his tipsy retelling of a story about Otis Redding years ago sparked an idea with series creator and longtime friend Derek Waters.)

In the end, Drinking Buddies hinges on the eternal head-scratcher: Can men and women really be friends? Johnson’s optimistic — “It’s really complicated, but I like to think that they can.” — though if he has his way, his hit show New Girl may refute his stance. “I really want it to happen,” he says of the will-they-won’t-they romance between his character, Nick, and roommate Jess, played by Zooey Deschanel. “I’m angling for it.”

While Johnson, 35, hopes to flex his other creative muscles, even inking a deal to develop shows for 20th Century Fox with pal Max Winkler, he has no plans to leave his “life-changing” New Girl gig behind. In fact, he often turns to his 255,000 Twitter followers for real-time constructive criticism of the show.

“My favorite thing is hearing what people think about episodes because you can literally use it,” he says. “I guarantee people have said things on Twitter that have 100 percent influenced what I did that week. It’s way more ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ than people realize.”