Spoiler alert: The Glass Castle, in theaters now and based on journalist Jeannette Walls’ 2005 best-selling memoir about her vagabond childhood, boasts one of the most unexpected, triumphant, hide-under-your-couch scenes in recent film history. In it, Brie Larson, who plays an all-grown-up Wells, finally brings straight-laced fiancé David (New Girl‘s Max Greenfield) to meet her unconventional family. After far too may swigs from the moonshine jar, Papa Wells (a terrifically stubborn and wild-eyed Woody Harrelson) challenges David to an arm wrestling competition. Let’s just say it goes well—until Mr. Wells loses, rears back, and punches David right in his preppy face. The comedic reprieve is welcome at first, but the scene also serves to illuminate the larger truths about how families function. And how, sometimes, only an outsider can reveal the depths of our dysfunction. Here, Max Greenfield discusses playing catalyst to another family’s crazy, his own emotional shortcomings, and why being a “bad drunk” is the most egregious crime an actor can commit.
GLAMOUR: First thing’s first: My favorite scene in the movie is when you get punched in the face.
MAX GREENFIELD: I think it’s mine, too.
GLAMOUR: The reason I like it so much is you see Brie Larson, who’s so in control in this role, unleash her crazy. And there’s your character, seeing it for the first time. Talk about relatable…
MG: Yeah, totally. I don’t want to speak for Brie, but when we were reading it, it felt like the part that she was trying to run away from for so long was unleashed for a minute.
GLAMOUR: Have you been in that position in your life, where you’re either trying to shield someone else from your family’s crazy, or you’ve been welcomed into someone else’s ecosystem and thought, Okay, really I don’t know the bylaws here…
MG: I don’t know that I can specifically relate it to anything in my own life. But I remember, while we were making the movie, feeling like [David] was really in love with Jeannette, but had a lot of his own cut-and-dry opinions about her family. [He] tried to be as nice about it as he could, but, for a practical guy, that family is so outside of the norm. It’s uncomfortable for him, and I don’t think he’s able to really find a different opinion. He tries very hard to shield his thoughts from her, though.
GLAMOUR: You so nimbly play these characters who have good intentions, but sort of in spite of themselves, fuck it up. I’m a big New Girl fan and Schmidt’s amazing, but he’s also so unknown to himself.
MG: Yeah, it kinda was the same thing in Hello, My Name Is Doris, too, it’s interesting. [I tend to play] guys that are super well-intentioned, but are unable to sort of see a bigger picture, maybe.
GLAMOUR: Do you think obliviousness, to not recognize what’s going on in the world around you, is a privilege thing? All of these guys sort of have that in common.
MG: I don’t know that I can speak for the entire male gender, but I will say one of the things that has gotten me in the most trouble in my life is being oblivious to—and I don’t want to say other people’s feelings—but oblivious to the fact that my take isn’t bullet-proof. Do you know what I mean?
GLAMOUR: Totally. Was [your] character based on a real person in author Jeannette Walls’ life?
MG: She has an ex-husband that she was married to while this was all happening. [David’s] not really based on him, per se, but what he represented in her life. The other side of things. He represents New York City. The Upper East Side. Money. Big money. And he represents the antithesis of where she comes from.
GLAMOUR: It’s so fitting, though, with these two polar opposites, and her dad being the first love of her life [that] the breaking point between these diametrically opposed men would be an arm wrestling match. Well, first off, when was the last time you actually arm wrestled anyone?
MG: I don’t think ever.
GLAMOUR: So I know you win, but do you think that Woody Harrelson would have dominated you physically had, you know, the plot not gone in your favor?
MG: So quickly I can’t even begin to…
GLAMOUR: Right. I feel like he’s one of those guys that, like, doesn’t work out or anything, but is strong as an ox and is very physically powerful.
MG: Thank goodness I didn’t have to experience any of that power. It’s not something I’m willing to test.
GLAMOUR: And then, obviously, it’s movie magic, but you do receive a punch in the face. Is that the kind of thing that you read in the script and it’s more dreaded than a first kiss?
MG: Oh, my gosh, I was so excited for that scene. You know, with New Girl, we’ve shot so many hours of television. And we’ve done so many different crazy things, that there are very few moments that really throw you. This was one of those scenes. It was big, and there were multiple characters involved. I remember I was tired after the day [we filmed], because everything was just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. There wasn’t a lot of thinking. It was just reacting and moving. It was a tough scene to be a part of, too, because I would catch myself taking myself completely out of it and going, “Oh my God. There’s Woody Harrelson, and he’s, like, yelling at you right now.” [Laughs]
GLAMOUR: I interviewed Jake Johnson once about New Girl and he said that sometimes you guys have beers to help loosen things up and make it feel real. I mean, were you guys actually drinking or do you just play a really good drunk?
MG: In The Glass Castle?
MG: Oh, no, no, no, no. There was no drinking in that scene.
GLAMOUR: You were, like, the perfect sloppy frat boy drunk, though. So kudos to you.
MG: Let me tell you something, never have I gotten a better compliment. It is really true, though: There is nothing worse than bad drunk acting.