Jake Johnson of 'New Girl' looks to be the new boy at the movies

As "New Girl" fans eye next week's season finale and its surprising Taylor Swift-ness, one of the show's stars is preparing to turn his attention elsewhere: to the movies.

Jake Johnson, who plays the slacker-y Nick Miller opposite Zooey Deschanel's quirky Jess, is set to spend his hiatus in New Orleans shooting an action comedy titled "Let's Be Cops" opposite Damon Wayans Jr. This after premiering his new movie "The Pretty One" at the Tribeca Film Festival last month and his other new movie, "Drinking Buddies," at SXSW in March (that one's set to come out from Magnolia Pictures).

"I like doing something people don't expect, and an action comedy with Damon Wayans Jr. is something people don't expect," Johnson said of his upcoming role, which has him and the "Happy Endings" star impersonating cops in a scheme gone awry. "It's all about the unexpected career choice."

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The 34-year-old rings a more familiar bell with "Pretty One" opposite another offbeat Z-lady, Zoe Kazan, to whom he plays a friend/possible love interest. In Jenee Lamarque's directorial debut, Johnson stars as Basel, the tenant to a mean-girl manipulator named Audrey. When Audrey dies in a car accident, he finds himself with a new landlord in Audrey's twin sister Laurel -- only he and everyone else believes it's still Audrey because of a mix-up involving the car accident. (It makes sense when you see it. Mostly.)

Johnson has had roles in a number of romance-tinged indies, including the Michael Cera faux documentary “Paper Heart” and last year’s time-travel comedy "Safety Not Guaranteed"; he also had a supporting part in the "21 Jump Street" reboot.

Despite the thematic (and titular) similarities between "Pretty One" and “New Girl,” Johnson says he's been struck by the differences between a get-’er-done world of indie film and the slow burn of a season of television production. "One's like a firecracker, light it and it goes. And the other's more of a family,” he said, showing a penchant for metaphor the sort-of smooth-talking Schmidt might appreciate.

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The actor is taking a career path embraced by a growing number of young actors: build a fan base with a TV show and leverage that into a career in the indie-film world, where producers are eager for names that don’t also cost them Brad Pitt money.

Johnson said that both films and even his Fox sitcom have offered a chance to flex some new acting muscles. “People are relating to Nick in the second season,” he said. “I don’t think that happened in the first season.”

He also, he adds, enjoys changes at a more follicular level.  "I shot two movies last summer," he said of “Pretty One” and "Drinking Buddies." "And I had a beard in both. I mean, I had to get them done in a pretty tight window so I could be clean-shaven for 'New Girl.' But it was all worth it. I got to have a beard in two movies."


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