Judy Greer is one of those brilliant actresses who will pop up in a movie when you least expect her, absolutely kill it and steal the scene from the stars, something she’s also done on television when she’s appeared on “Arrested Development,” “Two and a Half Men” and her own short-lived series “Miss Guided.” Even so, she’s also been quite terrific headlining a number of lower-key indies like Barry Munday and The TV Set, her impressive resume showing her to be an actress with a lot of range despite often being thought of a comic actress.
She’s back in scenestealing mode in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants where she shows up roughly an hour into the movie as the wife of the man having an affair with George Clooney’s comatose wife. It seems like a fairly innocuous role at first, but Greer brings something to the character that’s very hard to do, which is deliver an emotional performance that’s still able to get laughs. She only has a few scenes, but every single one of them leaves a lasting impression.
Greer has long been one of our favorite actresses and for whatever reason, she rarely does the junkets for the movies she’s in, maybe because she’s constantly busy and in demand, something that’s likely to continue after her performance in Payne’s film and her return to CBS’ “Two and a Half Men.”
ComingSoon.net actually spoke to her a few months back when she was in New York City for the New York Film Festival, and besides talking to her about working with Alexander Payne, we of course had to ask her about the possible return for Kitty Sanchez in the planned “Arrested Development” return.
ComingSoon.net: Obviously, you’ve been in a lot of great movies, both dramas and comedies and lots of great TV shows. What’s your reaction when you out Alexander Payne wants to work with you? Did you just get a script?
Judy Greer: In this particular situation, when a director like… well, there’s no director like Alexander Payne, first of all, but he’s someone I’ve been such a follower of and huge fan of since “Citizen Ruth.” It really made an impact on me, that film, and I just thought that to be able to tell a story like that with that amount of humor and compassion and those people, who you kind of love and kind of hate. That main character, Laura Dern’s character in “Citizen Ruth” is somebody who is really despicable, but you really end up siding with her. Well, she’s not despicable, but she’s someone that’s hard to love. She keeps f*cking up, but you kind of want her to succeed. You see what she’s become in this situation and for a man to tell a story like that about abortion, with a female leading character and it was like “Who is this guy?” I haven’t auditioned for him ever before, and when they said there’s this role in his new movie and he’s doing it, I was like. “Well, best case scenario is that I get to be in a room for ten minutes with Alexander Payne,” so I got pretty zen about it and just got excited maybe just to audition for him.
CS: Was it a casting director you’d worked with before who mentioned your name or had he seen you in something?
Greer: I don’t know 100% but I believe it was the casting director that pitched me to Alexander Payne, and I’ve been doing this long enough that I know most of the casting directors now, or they kind of know me. Or it might have been that sometimes the scripts go around to the agencies and they go “How about this client? This client?” to the casting director and I think that’s how it happened.
CS: I’m kind of surprised you’d have to audition because I’d think by now…
Greer: I audition for almost every movie I do.
CS: That’s crazy, because considering how much versatility you’ve shown in the different things you’ve done over the years, I would think someone would know that you were perfect for this role.
Greer: Totally not the case. I go in for everything and I bust my ass to get parts in movies. I know, but you would think that by now I’d be really good at auditioning. (Laughs)
CS: How secretive is a project like this when you’re coming onto it? You’re only in three or four really key scenes, but do you get the whole script?
CS: Oh, you do?
Greer: Well, it’s based on a book, this particular project. It’s not like a Steven Spielberg movie where he’s written a script that’s watermarked completely or I’ve done “Two and a Half Men” and our scripts were given to us where my name was on every single page for those scripts so I wouldn’t even leave it in my car when I was running into Taco Bell, because I was terrified if somebody steals my car and my name is all over the script that’s on the internet. In this case, it was based on a book, so anyone could buy the book and figure out what the movie is about.
CS: But even movies based on books have some secrecy and especially with Alexander Payne since it’s been seven years since his last movie and there’s so much anticipation…
Greer: I know.
CS: So I would think there’d be as much of a feel of “Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing or that you’re in the movie.”
Greer: Thankfully, I got to talk about it. No one told me not to. There’s a reveal with me in the end that they do kind of want to keep it a little bit under the wraps. I’ve been talking about it today, people have been asking me about it, people who’ve seen the movie, so no one told me not to talk about it. But it’s also been at the festivals now. You can talk about what you’re doing at work and you can talk about the movie and you can talk about how it’s going on set, but you never know what the movie is going to be like when he makes a movie until you see it. Expectations are very high, but who can pinpoint how he’s going to tell that story?
CS: A lot of your movies are like that, though, where you’re just watching them and suddenly, it’s like, “Oh, it’s Judy Greer!”
Greer: Oh, cool, thank you!
CS: That was the case with this as well, because you hear so much about George being in it, and I think both you and Robert Forster were nice surprises.
CS: What was it like shooting this? You have those three or four scenes in Hawaii, shot in Hawaii, so how many days did you go out there for and how long did it take you to do these days?
Greer: I went out there twice. I was doing another movie at the same time in New Orleans, so I couldn’t just have a vacation in the middle, so I flew out from New Orleans to Kawaii and I shot my scenes in order, which usually you don’t. So I went out there and did my first two scenes and then went back to New Orleans and worked a bit and went back to Oahu to finish my last scene. Shooting in Hawaii has a whole… whereas in New York, it seems like when I’m shooting in New York, I’m busy… “I’ll walk to work, I don’t need to get a ride. I’m going to go shopping, I’m going to go out to dinner after work.” Like it’s going, going, going, and this felt like it was very mellow, and I think that really lends itself to Alexander Payne’s method of storytelling because he’s not heavy-handed. He’s very patient, he’s a patient director, he seems like a patient friend. He’s a good listener, really a good listener, so being in Hawaii where it’s “Hawaiian Time,” it’s mellow and it felt like… because it’s the only movie I’ve done with him, it feels like it’s how he works.
CS: It’s funny because his last movie was in Northern California in the wine country, so who knows? Maybe he just finds nice vacation spots to make movies.
Greer: He’s like Adam Sandler, where Adam Sandler’s like, “I just want to work in Hawaii all the time.”
CS: You’ve probably answered this but what was it like working with Alexander Payne after wanting to work with him for so long?
Greer: It lived up. I mean, he’s awesome. He’s extremely supportive. We had a table read in Santa Monica before they went off to star the movie, and I went the opposite direction in the country to do another movie and we had this table read and everyone from Fox Searchlight was there and the cast was there and the designers and editor and he made this amazing speech at our table read. He said, “I just want you all to know that I love this movie, I love you all, I’ve cast you because of who you are. You don’t have to do anything, just do you.” Imagine having someone tell you that. Imagine, “You’re good enough, just what you are right now is good enough.” It’s like what you hope your spouse will say to you. “Don’t change for me. I like you just the way you are” is kind of what he said to us, and with that, he’s like, “Let’s do this table read.” I felt like, “This guy is f*cking awesome.” Talk about taking the pressure off.
CS: And you don’t come in for a good hour, so you must have just been able to enjoy the story.
Greer: Well, actually at the table read, I was reading (George’s younger daughter) Scottie too, because they hadn’t cast Amara yet, so they called me and said, “Would you read that role, too?” So it was special because…
CS: That’s also a good role!
Greer: Yeah, I know.
CS: Were you trying to possibly get that role, too?
Greer: It was funny. They were having a really, really hard time casting that part, and Alexander was like, “God, why can’t you just do it?”
CS: Performance capture!
Greer: No, honestly, if you want to make that character a cartoon, I’ll just do the voice of it.
CS: That would great, a performance capture little girl. I’ll suggest it when I see him later (and I did).
CS: It’s a little late now cause the movie is done…
Greer: Yeah, a little late.
CS: What else have you been doing? I just read that you’re going to go back to “Two and a Half Men”?
Greer: Doing more “Two and a Half Men,” I do “Archer,” we’re in our third season of “Archer” which is super-awesome. It’s so fun and so rewarding. I couldn’t imagine that 15 minutes of work every couple of weeks would be so gratifying, but I really love it. It’s a really creative environment, and really cool. I get to do whatever I want. I’m all by myself in this tiny booth, and I can really be weird and crappy and it’s fun, and I have a couple movies coming out. “Jeff Who Lives at Home” and “Playing the Field” in the spring, and I have a web series I’m doing with Yahoo!, which is weird and kind of awesome. I pitched this idea to Yahoo! called “Reluctantly Healthy” where I basically got Yahoo! to pay me to talk to a trainer and a chef and a health coach to talk about what you can do when you’re really busy to stay healthy. It’s something like I talk to a lot of my friends and family about, so…
CS: It’s like a serious thing.
Greer: Yeah, it’s like a weird talk showy kind of thing. It’s like the episodes or webisodes, like three minutes long, they’re fast, they’re easy, lots of recipes and tips and that’s been fun. Then I sold a television show idea to ABC, so we were supposed to close the deal last Friday but I think it’ll close today.
CS: Well, then good luck.
Greer: Thank you. I know, that should be good.
CS: I loved “Ms. Guided.” That was one of the shows I really liked and was very upset it didn’t last. Wasn’t Ashton a producer on that?
Greer: I know, I know.
CS: Was he involved in getting you back to “Two and a Half Men”?
Greer: I didn’t ask him. I still get kind of nervous around him even though I shouldn’t, but yeah, I think he had a little something to do with it. I mean, Chuck Lorre and Lee Aramson were like “We love you, we think you’re great, we want you to play this part even though you’ve already played another part on the show. This is a totally different person.” I’m like, “Really?” “And Ashton loves you.” So I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to ask too many questions, I’ll just do it.”
CS: That doesn’t happen very often where you play two different characters on the same sitcom.
Greer: I know. It’s very soap opera like, you know? I feel like in a soap opera, the same person would come back as the same part, not the same person comes back as a different part, but you know what? They’re breaking the rules left and right on “Two and a Half Men.”
CS: And the show’s been doing really well this season so being back on that show can only help in getting your own show going.
Greer: Seriously, I know. It’s been really fun and really cool and the residuals won’t be back either.
CS: I don’t know if you’ve been involved in the whole “Arrested Development” thing over the years where they were talking about doing a movie and now Mitch is talking about doing another season first. Your character Kitty Sanchez has been in every season so do you just expect you’ll get a call one of these days?
Greer: Um… I don’t like to expect anything in this business because it makes me nervous and I’m superstitious, but it seems like I should be getting a phone call. I hope that I get a phone call. I hope they want me to do it. I think the people who loved me in the show would want me to do it.
CS: I think so, too. If not, we can always start a campaign.
Greer: I wouldn’t mind that.
CS: I don’t think we’ll need to, though.
Greer: Okay, good!
CS: How hard would it be getting back into a character like that which you haven’t played in years?
Greer: I know, I know! It depends on where they come from. If they start where they left off, that will be harder, but if they pick up now, maybe that will be easier, because to go back in time and do that thing again exactly like that now, everybody would be like “Oh, everyone’s been doing different things.”
CS: How much are you usually able to put into developing a character, especially something like Kitty, who has very specific quirks. How much of that are you able to bring in yourself and add to what they have?
Greer: With Kitty from “Arrested Development,” it was kind of like, I don’t know, it just happened kind of organically on set, this character kind of emerged. I read the scene and she was just so crazy, and I got to be even crazier and crazier, and they never said “Stop.” They never said, “It’s too much.” They said, “We’ll tell you when to stop,” and I was like, “Okay.” It’s really freeing to play a character who looks like that and acts like that because almost anything goes, so I wouldn’t say I spent a ton of time deciding how to be her, but when I was on set and you’re acting with that caliber of those people, you gotta be able to hold your own.
CS: I’ll be really curious to see how it is going back to it, because it seems like everyone on that show has gone onto much bigger things and it’ll be interesting to see if Mitch can bring back that same dynamic.
Greer: Yeah, I wonder.
The Descendants is now playing in select cities.
(Photo Credit: Flynet Pictures)