By Matt Pais
RedEye movie critic
November 15, 2011
Judy Greer knows she’s played the “best friend role” in what feels like countless romantic comedies. But she’s not going to swear them off.
“I see actors making decisions like, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore.’ Like, ‘I don’t want to be on a television show anymore. I want to be a movie star,’” says Greer, whose new film, “The Descendants,” opens Nov. 18. “Then it’s like they never do anything again, and you see them back on television.”
Fortunately, the Michigan-raised DePaul grad—who has appeared in many films, including “27 Dresses” and “The Wedding Planner,” but is probably best known for her role as Kitty Sanchez in “Arrested Development”—sometimes gets to stretch. Two years ago she asked her agents to find her different, small roles, and Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” is a perfect example of what Greer was looking for: Appearing as the wife of the man who’s been sleeping with George Clooney’s character’s now-comatose wife, she has only a few scenes but exudes real warmth and vulnerability.
At the Public Hotel, the L.A.-based 36-year-old talked about kissing Clooney, the benefits of pinch-hitting for the star and how large Kitty’s breasts should be when “Arrested Development” returns.
You previously worked with George Clooney on “Three Kings.” Be honest: Then or now, how many of your friends asked you what it was like to kiss him?
Everyone asks me what it was like to kiss him. Every single person I talk to. I don’t remember! It’s work. It’s weird. You’re shooting and it’s strange. … We [bleeping] shot that kiss so many times from so many angles and set-ups. I was like, I thought George was punking me, [to use] Ashton’s term. Because George makes practical jokes all the time. But I also knew that in shooting a movie it’s so expensive and it was a night shoot so I was like, “They’re not going to play that joke on me. It’s too expensive of a joke to play on just me.” But we did shoot it over and over and over and over. So, that was awesome.
So what do you tell your friends when they ask?
I say, tough day at work. I was in Kauai, I had to kiss George Clooney. It was funny, I’m actually getting married, but I was sort of just dating my fiancé at the time and he was like, “I’m fine with it. I mean I’m totally fine with it.” And his friends back home were all like, “So, Judy’s like making out with George Clooney all day? That seems awesome. You really honestly think she’s going to come back and still want to date you?” But, I did. [Laughs.]
When taking a supporting role, how much do you consider the broader film, as opposed to just the character you’re playing?
I would say that 75 percent of the time, OK, 50 percent of the time it’s about paying my bills. Because I have friends that I consider them to be more artists when taking work. And I always just think of myself, and maybe it’s my Midwest mentality, but I have to work. It’s my job. And at this point I’m not qualified to do anything else ‘cause I don’t know how to use computers and you have to use computers now all the time.
Admitting that is very much Midwestern-style honesty.
Like, I need money ‘cause I have to live, and I have a giant dog who eats nonstop.
What kind of dog?
American Bulldog. Uhh, he’s so awesome! Anyway. So he is a big eater. But I also look at who is in the movie. I do read the script before my auditions. And that to me … it depends on the movie. An Alexander Payne script isn’t going to change that much. A movie like “27 Dresses,” we’re going to have writers on set. We’re going to be doing punch-ups. We’re going to be doing jokes. They’re going to let me make it funnier if I need to. So I know this in my head having done a bunch of romantic comedies. But for the most part I get to have more freedom in those situations so I don’t worry so much if it’s not always on the page. I wish it always was on the page, but sometimes it’s not and sometimes it’s OK … “Is it going to take me out of the market for other things that are going to be potentially better? Is this a movie that’s going to come out? Is it a character I’ve played before? Is it a character I want to play?”
I asked people for questions I should ask, and more than one wanted to know if you’re tired of playing the best friend role. Is there a point at which you’d say, “I’ve done this; I don’t want to do it again.”
I say that a lot to myself, but then I keep doing it. The truth is, the best friend role has been always like my bread and butter … I’m not going to say I don’t want to play a best friend role. But I did consciously say to my agents like two years ago, my manager who’s awesome, like, “Let’s look for tiny parts in movies that aren’t the best friend. Let’s try this angle. I’m not going to be a movie star yet or ever, so I don’t know. But let’s see about movies like ‘The Descendants.’ There’s a tiny part in it. I play bigger parts than that sometimes but this is so great, it’s so different.”
I did this movie with Keanu Reeves called “Henry’s Crime;” it’s a tiny role. I’m playing his wife; I have like two or three scenes in the movie, but I get to do something different. I didn’t know if that was going to come out, but it was good for me to do it. Another little indie called “Peep World” where that’s I think on demand right now. That I got to have these amazing scenes with Michael C. Hall that were dramatic. I’m kinda like fulfilled creatively ... And the best friend role by the way, it pays really well and it’s super fun and you’re the person, you’re like the pinch hitter. You’re the one that comes in and everyone’s like, (high voice), “Oh my God, you’re so funny,” but that’s just because they’re used to [someone] else all day. I come in for three weeks and I get to be a star and make everyone laugh and then leave. So it’s fun.
You mentioned that when “Arrested Development” comes back in any form, Kitty’s boobs should have gotten bigger.
[Laughs.] I think that’s a good idea, yeah!
What else should she be up to these days?
You know, I have no idea. I’m hesitant to say. I’d love for her to be pregnant with a Bluth. We don’t know which one. That would be fun. Or have a Bluth baby. I don’t know anything about anything. Where the script takes place, where it starts, if we’re picking up, having been how many years it’s been, I don’t know. But I think it’d be funny.
Are you thinking comically huge, double-J breasts?
I think I’d fall over. I don’t know. Yes? Sure. What would my fans like? Let’s ask them. We should have a website. They can pick the size.
That sounds like a fun interactive experiment.
Yeah! Maybe I’ll tweet about it. I tweet now. I’m a twitterer. I was like, “Maybe I’ll Twitter about it,” and my girlfriend goes, “I think it’s tweeting.”
I have to ask for an update as of today about “Arrested Development.”
Yeah, I don’t know. Sorry. I think they don’t tell me anything on purpose. I do have a big mouth.
You’ve had a lot of experience with TV, some shows that didn’t last …
Some shows? [Laughs.]
A lot of shows. How do you avoid being disillusioned, going through that process over and over?
Eh, it’s my job. I don’t know. Television pays really well so I feel like honestly my shows have been so unsuccessful, “Arrested Development” aside, it feels like doing a movie ‘cause I just do it for a couple months and then I’m done! [Laughs.] Like, “Cool, what’s next?” There’s pros and cons. If a show’s not working, it’s better that it’s canceled because then I don’t have to go to work every day doing something that no one’s going to watch and I can free myself up to do something different. But I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and I get really involved with my castmates. So for “Mad Love,” which was something that was recently canceled, that was really heartbreaking for me because I loved those people and I loved going to work every day. And I don’t know if we were making a great show or not, I guess we weren’t, but I loved that job. And was like, “This is a job that however the show ended up being, I would have loved to have done it for five years because these people were great. It’s so much fun.”
Do you feel like you get recognized for specific things more, or do people come up and say, “You’re that girl from …”?
A lot of “Arrested Development” in I want to say the coasts, but I would include Chicago in that ‘cause it’s like super metropolitan here. So big cities would be “Arrested.” And cool people. I could always tell by looking at the person what they were going to say they recognized me from. But everyone seems to be watching “Arrested Development” now. I get still tons of “You look so familiar…” which is by the way kind of awesome. I used to be like [groans] but now I’m like, “This is great ‘cause I can go and do whatever I want and I can fly coach when I’m buying my own tickets on an airplane.” It’s not a big deal, it’s great.
How often do people leave a conversation by saying, “Say goodbye to these!”
Many times. Mostly I get people coming up to me, going like, “Say goodbye to these! [This is] the last time you’re going to see these!” I’ve actually become friends with a woman who said like, “I say that to my husband all the time.”
On fulfilling her dream to work with Alexander Payne: “I try really hard to trust that he cast me for a reason, but of course I’m an actor so I have like low self-esteem so I’m like, [crying noises], “What if I suck? What if I go to work and I’m the worst and I’m in the one bad part of an Alexander Payne movie and he fires me? [whimpers]”
Her “Descendants” character is named Julie Speer. Has she tried to say “Judy Greer as Julie Speer” five times fast? “No, I don’t like to twist my tongue. [Laughs.] No. I thought that [similarity] was really weird.”
On missing Chicago weather (it was gloomy and rainy on the day of the interview): “I don’t live here, so yes it’s fun to come and visit like this. … The humidity is really good for your skin, so that’s good. And I miss cloudy, rainy days. You only get to do it for like a month in L.A. And I’m from the Midwest so I’m like totally used to this. And in L.A. it’s really easy to have like 15 years go by and you don’t even know it because this weather almost never changes.”
Her favorite spots when she lived here: “I don’t know if any of this stuff is still here. I used to go to Map Room all the time and Le Bouchon and Margie’s Candies. I lived right by there when I moved to L.A. I was at Fullerton and Western, I moved a little farther away from the lake, west off of Fullerton though. But yeah that was my last apartment before I moved to L.A. I loved Shoes Pub on Armitage, that was my favorite after-school haunt. I loved going to Potbelly’s of course on Lincoln. And even though I have like five minutes of free time here I was like, [whispers], ‘We have to find a Potbelly’s.’ We flew into O’Hare, I was like, ‘I want to fly into Midway ‘cause then I know I can get it.’ Do you want me to stop talking ‘cause I can still [name more]?”
On her iPod right now: “Oh my God, I love this question! No one ever asks, but I’m like, ‘I love talking about music!’ OK. I just downloaded the new Girls. We’re really into vinyl right now, I know all the kids are. So we’re all about buying records and then you get the free download when you buy the record. So we’ve just only been buying records, which has been great. So we got the new Girls record which I love, I got Real Estate which I love, I heard the M83 record is awesome but I haven’t gotten it yet. And I love Cults so much, I can’t get enough. I’m trying to think of what else I recently bought. Local Natives I bought, I really like, it’s really mellow. Real Estate’s really mellow. Girls is super fun. Yeah, I guess that’s pretty much the last purchases I made.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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