Judy Greer might be most known for her flamboyant performance in the show "Arrested Development," or as the "daffy sidekick" in movies like 13 Going on 30 and 27 Dresses. Some might love her as Fatty Mcgoo on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." While Greer does variate from comedy to drama, and usually stays somewhere in-between, she is about to break a few dramatic waves with the Hawaii-set film The Descendants, starring George Clooney.
In the film, Greer's surprising character becomes an integral component in the lesson of forgiveness that Alexander Payne's latest film ultimately teaches.
I sat down with Greer in a roundtable interview to discuss her pivotal scene in The Descendants, what the "Judy Greer" character is, and more.
The Descendants opens in Chicago on November 18.
Give us the sense of how you approached your last scene in the film.
I auditioned with all of my scenes in this movie. The day before my audition I worked with my friend Sean Gunn, who is an actor and director [of the film Super]. He helped me with that scene in particular, and we worked on it forever. We did it a thousand ways - acting school sh*t - and then he said, "Do it where all of it is in one," and I don't even know what that means. I didn't even know if I could do that again. And I did, for my audition. I got the part, and I was in Kauai shooting the first two scenes - I shot in order of the film, which is fun and you never get to do. When I was leaving, I asked Alexander, "I have my hospital scene in two weeks. What do you want me to get ready for?" And he said, "Just do what you did in your audition."
We shot that scene for over two days. I can't remember any notes that he gave me, but we would just keep doing it. He would tell me, "This is more George [Clooney], so don't go there." And a good director will tell you, "This is the money shot. These are the angles where I really need to see it. You can't do it, and you shouldn't do it for two days.
I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh or cry.
I overheard someone say on set, "It's so funny when you do that thing." I was like, "F**k! I'm crying my eyes out here!" But it is. But that's not my job - to decide the tone of the movie or the scene. That's all Alexander. And I've really been enjoying all of these Q&A's we have been doing after a screening. It's fun to hear Alexander talk about how he makes movies, and I didn't really get to hear much about it when I was working with him. He's been my favorite filmmaker since I lived in Chicago and saw Citizen Ruth in the theater. It's fun to hear him talk about it. How he does everything - casting, etc. He's subtle, but he directs you, and you end up doing what you want. He's like a genius.
One thing that I like about Alexander Payne films are his side characters. They have just a couple of lines, and we can already sense that they have an interesting background. Like Robert Forster's characters. And when I was watching him, and I was thinking, "I want YOUR movie!" I was just wondering as to how much background you gave to your character, and how much you developed with Alexander about this character. And if he even really does such development.
He doesn't really do a lot of rehearsal. I know with the main characters, he brought them up to Hawaii, and they all just kind of hung out. His type of rehearsal is, "We'll go over logistic stuff," but he mostly wants everyone to be comfortable around each other, so you feel like a family. I was not a part of that family. It's good for me to not have a lot of contact with them. We didn't really rehearse, and we didn't talk about back story - I'm not really that kind of actor. But I'll do it if I'm working with someone who needs that. Personally I just try to imagine the scene, and I try not to think of what happened after. There are technical things that you do when you go through a script, and find out who this person is, but I didn't really think of a lot of backstory.
You talk about your background as an actor, and obviously you play a lot of comedic roles, and some dramatic roles. Are you looking for something in-between, or do you prefer to stick to the extremes?
No, I just want to work with cool people. So, whatever, and I don't think any role is one thing or another. I'm not playing the character in Monster. That's not funny.
What if it were Monster's Inc.?
[Laughs] I would do that. I have been asked to do things like that. I think people know what they are getting when they cast me. I'm going to bring a lightness, or have a different take on it, because I can see things from a funnier point of view.
There's this sort of genre, that I really like, that has films like Jeff Who Lives at Home, and to a lesser extent this one, in which you can't answer if it's a drama or a comedy. You seem to be drawn to those kind of roles.
I think I am more like that person than the daffy sidekick that I always play. I think I see the humor in the horrible things, and I can take the horribleness in funny things. That's just more my personality. I don't act a lot.
What is that person, the Judy Greer character?
[Laughs] I know. I cry a lot, and then I make fun of myself for doing that. I think that that genre that you're talking about is kind of like, "movies for grown ups." That's what a grown-up comedy is. Because when you get older, and you go through some sh*t, you have to find the humor in this stuff because otherwise, wouldn't you just want to jump in front of a bus? I forget who said it, but we got a nice little speech from someone at a cocktail reception when The Descendants screened at the New York Film Festival. He said, "This is a movie for grown ups. It is a movie about adults and their problems." I thought that was a cool description. Because I think there are romantic comedies, which would appeal to my step-kids up to us. But then there are movies like this, where I want her to see it now, and I want her to see it when she's 25. That's how I felt about those movies, like M.A.S.H. I remember seeing that movie and being like, "Are you f**king kidding me? They're all wearing the same outfit."
But there are movies that you see when you are younger that help you when you are adult.
Yes, seeing certain movies taught me how to make adults laugh.
I was wondering if you had any words for aspiring actors?
Practically speaking, "Save all of your money." Because I feel that's a huge mistake when they get in the business - they get jobs, they spend all of their money, and they're poor and stuck having to do things that they don't want to do. You have more choices the more money you have. And "Don't buy a stupid car." But then I also think, "Be yourself. Don't feel like you have to act so hard." I take classes with Jeffrey Tambor when I can, and he played us this Frank Sinatra song, "Nice 'n' Easy." He says, "This is how acting should be. You shouldn't be acting so hard. It should be easier." And especially coming out of acting school, and you're going to all of these auditions, you're like, "I'm an actor! I have to perform and become this character!" They don't really want that. They just want you to be you. When I went to L.A, people were so in love with "Oh, she's from the Midwest! She's just a normal, nice girl." I didn't have to pretend to be anything other than that. That worked well for me, specifically.
Is fidelity a deal-breaker today?
I don't know. I think that's personal. Personally, I'm getting married, and I would hope that we'd never cheat on each other.
Is that going to be in the vows?
[Laughs] Seriously. But I think it is a case by case basis. It can be a symptom of other things. Everything is so specific. But it certainly makes good movie material.