The temperature hovered just above zero, but that didn’t stop Max Greenfield from heading to Serendipity 3, the old-fashioned cafe and general store on East 60th Street known for its indulgent ice cream desserts and frozen hot chocolate.
Actually, he blamed it on his daughter, Lilly, who just turned 10. As part of her birthday present, Mr. Greenfield took her to New York City (her 3-year-old brother, Ozzie, and mother, Tess, were back home in Los Angeles). The trip included a visit to the Museum of Illusions, and that night they were going to see “Wicked.” But right now they were feeling a bit peckish.
“We were thinking of tea at the Plaza,” said Mr. Greenfield, who wore trim navy jacket with shearling collar. “But this is much more our speed.”
The two arrived shortly after noon and barely glanced up at the kitschy décor because they were so cold.
“Daddy, have we ever been this cold before?” Lilly said.
“Oh God, no,” he sad. “Never.”
On the sitcom “The Neighborhood,” the 38-year-old actor plays Dave, an affable embodiment of gentrification who moves his wife and son into a traditionally black community. Culture clashes arise, and are played for laughs, as he tries to befriend the family next door, played by Cedric the Entertainer and Tichina Arnold.
The show was recently renewed for a second season. “When my dad found out they got a second season, he started crying,” Lilly said, giggling.
“That’s not funny,” Mr. Greenfield said, feigning embarrassment. “That’s private, I told you that!” He flashed her a smile.
After taking a seat in a corner table under vintage Tiffany lamps, Mr. Greenfield ordered a cheeseburger, medium well, and fries for Lilly. And a frozen hot chocolate. She commandeered his iPhone to show off pictures of herself visiting the “Neighborhood” set.
Lilly often visits her father there. “It’s fun,” he said. “People actually do this for a living. And I don’t want to be like, ‘You can’t come around this,’ and create some negative connotation.”
Indeed, Lilly seemed to have caught the performing bug herself. She has starred as Mary Poppins in a local production for young performers, and as the Pharaoh in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“An amazing performance,” her father said. “We worked really hard on it, didn’t we?”
She nodded vigorously.
Mr. Greenfield’s big breakout was as Schmidt on the comedy series “New Girl,” about a single woman and her male roommates navigating early adulthood.
On it, he perfected a sort of well-meaning but clueless privileged white male archetype, which won him many fans. At the time he was living a bit of a double life, playing a single Lothario on screen while tending to his wife and children at home.
“It’s funny to play that and then on the weekend you’re going to a 2-year-old’s birthday party,” he said.
He has since diversified his portfolio. He starred opposite Sally Field in the awkward romantic film “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” had a cameo as a possible love interest to Will on the reboot of “Will & Grace,” played a drug addicted tenant of a haunted inn in Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story: Hotel” and, most recently, had a supporting role in “What Men Want,” a film starring Taraji P. Henson as a woman who can read men’s minds.
After the long days required on a single-camera show like “New Girl,” Mr. Greenfield was wary of rushing into another project. “I certainly wasn’t going to take a show unless I really believed in it,” he said.
In fact, he initially passed on “The Neighborhood.” But he was granted a second chance when the producers were looking to replace the lead role in the pilot. “I got to watch the pilot, which you never get to do,” he said. “So all of these unknowns when you read a script, which is terrifying, those were gone. I was like, ‘Oh, this is like a real show. There’s so many places this could go.’”
The burger arrived, and Mr. Greenfield cut it in half for his daughter.
“I’d always wanted to do a multicam, but they’re so hard to get right,” he said, referring to the classic sitcom format filmed in front of a live audience, which has recently fallen out of favor. “The minority used to be the cool indie show — now there’s like, seven thousand cool indie shows and we’re the minority. You want to be part of the thing you can’t find anywhere else.”
Halfway through her burger, Lilly was ready for her next course. “Can I please be done,” she said.
“One more big bite and I’ll order dessert,” he said. She called his bluff, reminding him that the order for the frozen hot chocolate had already been placed. “She’s smarter than me,” he said, sighing. “Not that that’s saying much.”
Ten minutes later the dessert arrived with great fanfare, and she wasted no time diving in. “It tastes like melted ice cream,” she said.
“You’re in heaven, I can see it.” Mr. Greenfield said.
Up next for the actor, other than the second season of “The Neighborhood,” is the reboot of “Veronica Mars,” a noirish mystery that first aired on UPN and the CW, in which he played Leo D’Amato, a police officer. With a couple of hit shows under his belt, Mr. Greenfield sees the possibility of eternal employment, thanks to the entertainment industry’s preoccupation with reviving old shows.
“I was joking recently, saying, maybe I’ll finish ‘Veronica Mars,’ and then ‘The Neighborhood’ will run five years and then we’ll do a reboot of ‘New Girl’ and then a new ‘Veronica Mars’ iteration and then ‘The Neighborhood’ revival,” he said. “I’ll have a career forever, just doing reboots.”