NEW YORK (AP) — Jake Johnson admits to being worried when he found out his Fox comedy "New Girl" would continue filming episodes while the show's star, Zooey Deschanel, was on maternity leave.
"I thought it was really weird," he said. "At first I thought it was really jarring that Zooey wasn't going to be in some episodes. ... I wasn't sure if the show worked without her and I was pleasantly surprised that the 'New Girl' voice and tone is more about the writing and the ensemble more than any one person."
Not only did production continue, they brought in a new character, played by Megan Fox of franchise films like "Transformers" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," to fill the void while Deschanel was away.
"I thought 'How does Megan Fox, international movie star. ...fit into this world?'" said Johnson. "And the wild part is she just fits in."
If you've been watching, Deschanel's character, Jess, has been sequestered on jury duty. In Tuesday's episode, her roommates (played by Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone) decide to rent out her room to Fox's character, Reagan, while Jess is away.
"To bring in somebody new who didn't know all of the backstories and didn't know everything about the show, those characters were forced to defend themselves in new ways; to sort of bring somebody else up to speed to their own weirdness was really fun," said showrunner Liz Meriwether.
"She's phenomenal," Johnson said about Fox. "I didn't know her at all (prior). She is one of the easiest people to work with. She's kind, she's funny. She's also crazy and loves talking about aliens and lizard people, which makes work so fun," he laughed. "She's genuinely fun."
Meriwether now believes the puzzle of writing Jess out and Regan in added a new energy to the show, which is now in its fifth season.
"Sometimes challenges really result in great creative stuff because you're forced to step outside of your comfort zone and to tell a story you haven't told on the show."
Deschanel returns for the show's 100th episode, which also happens to be the final episode in Fox's arc.
"I don't view it as Megan replacing Zooey, it's just adding Megan," said Johnson. "So when Zooey came back it was great because (the characters) Jess and Reagan are really funny next to each other."
So could Fox ever make a return to "New Girl"?
"I hope so," said Johnson. "I know she's got an enormous movie career. When you're in Japan doing a press tour, I think it's a little less sexy to (do the TV grind), but I cannot say enough of what a pleasure it was to work with Megan both on camera and off. Grumpy gaffers are still talking about how great she was," said Johnson.