It can't be just that we're both from Michigan. Perhaps it's her voice on the other end of the line, which sounds too much like an old high school friend's? There's something about Judy Greer that seems familiar. No, no, I just see a lot of movies is all. It's merely the cumulative effect of her filmography, I tell myself, which often presents her to us as relatable sideshow: friend, sister, neighbor, co-worker, everywoman. Maybe she strikes casting directors this way, too. I can't imagine I'm alone in this feeling, though to our mutual amusement, this girl next door vibe she gives off turns out to be surprisingly literal. As we begin to talk the small talk stretches out and out as the revelations come. We lived 3 miles from one another as children! We went to the same dance clubs as teenagers! We were scared of the same freeways while driving!
"Anyway, hiiiiiiiiiii" she says laughing, as we reboot out conversation. We'd better get to talking about the movies!
After years and years in showbiz how does this sense of familiarity sit with her, strangers feeling like they know her. How uncomfortable must this 'Where do I know you from again?' sensation be?
"It happens to me all the time but I don't consider it a problem," she says, instantly getting the question. There was a time, she offers, that people would always actually think they knew her. At some point in changed. Now they know she's an actress but they can't quite place from where.
Eventually that signature role will hit and there'll be no mistaking the "who?" and the "were from?" The Descendants is definitely a forward step in that direction. Though it's another brief supporting role, her Mrs. Speer is a lynchpin character in an acclaimed Oscar buzzing film at that. She can already taste the difference and is "flattered" to be included in all the promotion for the movie for such a small role. The cast has already been nominated for Best Ensemble at the BFCA Critics Choice Awards. Judy herself will announce the SAG nominees on Wednesday where The Descendants is also expected to score.
Without spoiling the film, let's just say that George Clooney's Matt King befriends her character with an agenda; he knows something about her husband that she doesn't and he wants to get closer to her in order to get to him. She only has three scenes but all are opposite Clooney himself and all three are crucial to the emotional journey of the film.
Once we got to the movies, The Descendants was the only place to start.
NATHANIEL: The response to The Descendants. Does this one feel different for you?
JUDY GREER: [Emphatically] Are you kidding?! Everyone loves it and I hate to say it but that's not always the case. A lot of times I'll be in something that people see but then they always want to tell you why it sucks! 'You're really awesome in it but that movie sucks.' I'm like "okayyy" I don't know what to say to that.
Now you've worked with George Clooney before so how was that to be reunited?
JUDY: My role in [Three Kings] was really small, too. He is, I'm sure you've heard, the nicest human being ever. He has no hierarchy in his brain. There is no "I need to be nicer to the producer than to the security guard." There is none of that. But I will say that working with him a second time I was really excited to have meatier scenes than just jumping up and down on his lap.
It's so hard to be an actor in Hollywood, obviously, and in a lot of ways George Clooney knows it as well as anyone else. He tried for years to be an actor before he become George Clooney if you know what I mean. I was excited to see him. I kind of wanted to be 'Dude, I fucking did it. Look, I'm still here. I'm hanging on. I'm still acting. Remember all those years ago? I'm still plugging away!' I was excited about that. And truthfully I was thrilled that I'd already worked with him because I do tend to get nervous around celebrities and because I already knew him I could save all my nervousness for Alexander Payne.
Your character in The Descendants, she talks about complicated the emotions are for her and the three scenes are these odd situations. How much work did you have to do to prep for it?
JUDY: Well, I worked really hard on my audition for this movie. I think I auditioned with all three scenes. I worked harder on that audition than almost any audition ever. When I got the part I kind of just let go. I read the book which was really informative and I asked Alexander Payne 'what do you want to do to prepare for the hospital scene?' 'I just want you to do what you did in your audition.'
A lot of the time you have to do a lot of creative work in your mind when you have scenes that are not well written. But this is so incredibly well written and the scope of emotions that my character goes through in that last scene is vast so there was no right or wrong choice. I just made all the choices which is actually what Alexander wanted.
The first and second scene, I played it straight. I didn't have any subtext... I liked the idea that it was just a woman who was doing her thing.
And this stranger is talking to her on the beach.
JUDY: I didn't spend that much time in Hawaii but Hawaiians are cool. You can totally do that. They're all so easy so it seems like something that would totally happen in Hawaii. Someone would walk up to you.
Even so the comedy comes through. It's an awkward meeting. You're like "good luck with that."
JUDY: Look, I think they're weird scenes -- not in a judgmental way -- they were as weird as life is weird. I just tried to not think too much about it because I think then I would have been sort of winking at ideas through my performance which I did not want to do.
Before this you've played a lot of best friends, sisters, co-workers. How do you differentiate them and bring life? Do you think "Oh, I have to do this again."
JUDY: I have thought that. [The difference] is usually in the script. My character in 27 Dresses is snotty, lazy, stupid slutty and lame and that was really easy to do and I just tapped into that side of my personality. My character in 13 Going on 30 -- also best friend/co-worker -- is self absorbed and has no soul and I've been to that part of me. [Laughs]
I feel like we're all... there are so many versions of you, there are so many versions of Judy. It depends on where you put yourself. I act differently when I'm in Ohio with my family than when I'm at a Golden Globes Party, you know?
Nathaniel: If you had your choice of roles, what do you think you could show us that we haven't seen before?
JUDY: I would love to star in a romantic comedy. That would be a dream come true. I don't know that that's super far off the mark for me. If I did get to star, I don't think people would be like "wow. I didn't think she could do that!" but that's something I would love to do.
It would be fun to not to have interviews where they're like "how come your always the best friend, don't you WANT to be a movie star?" -- You didn't ask that by the way -- "WHY DON'T YOU CHOOSE A BIGGER PART TO PLAY"!???
JUDY: Yes, basically what happens is I get sent a script and I get to pick whichever part I want to play -- That's not what happens ! [Laughter] .
And just for my own career interest, I would love to be in action movie. I have never done that. I've never gotten to run away or towards someone naughty and try to kill them. I would love to try it.
Nathaniel: What are your three favorite parts? What are you proudest of?
JUDY GREER: Definitely The Descendants. Probably my role in The TV Set. I had such a great time making that film. I was really proud of that movie as a whole. I don't know, man, I really love this character I played called Becky Freeley in a TV show called "Miss Guided". We only shot seven episodes and nobody watched it and it was on for like a second but I really liked that character.
Nathaniel: Would you do a lead in a TV series again?
But then you wouldn't be able to do all these fun little parts in movies.
JUDY: I know. But maybe that's good. I'm not, like, probably the most strategic person when it comes to my career. Thankfully I am able right now to choose people a little bit more than chase money. I want to work with cool people and I don't care if it's television or film. At the end of the day, like, I have to make money and pay bills and sometimes the little roles in awesome movies don't do it. That's why you do other jobs so you can do it.
Archer... very funny show.
JUDY: [Delighted] I love Archer!
What's the biggest difference for you doing voicework like Archer as opposed to being on set and filming?
Well, Archer takes 15 minutes. I go into this awesome little room with this cool sound engineer and Adam Reed is in Atlanta on the phone and I get to spaz out for fifteen minutes to half an hour every couple weeks. It's so fun. IT'S SO FUN. It's so freeing. You can go in your pajamas. It exercises a different muscle and in a weird way I think it's helping my on camera acting.
In what way?
Because I'm all by myself in this little room recording this voice. I have to act it out a little bit. I have to be near the microphone but I get into it but I have to act it out in order to make it sound good and funny and real. Because nobody is really watching me -- except for Jody the sound engineer and he's used to it because we're in the third season -- I can really let go. There is so much vanity in my profession. Sometimes I think that when you start to get conscious of how you look then you start to think that's important. 'If I make this face in this scene I'll look ugly and I don't want to look ugly.' You know? When you get that in your head that can be dangerous, especially if you're a character actor. Sometimes you need to look ugly. Being in a tiny room and recording Archer is reminding me to let go and not care what anyone thinks or how I look when I'm doing what I'm doing. That's my hypothesis but I can feel it happening a little bit when I'm at work.
That's awesome. Usually people don't talk about their voice work in these terms.
I dunno. Maybe if it was a different show I wouldn't want to but Archer is so awesome, I love talking about it. I wish I could only do Archer sometimes!
A live action version of Archer?
That would be dirty [Laughs]
As we said our goodbyes Judy surprised me by returning to the subject of our hometown and we were off again briefly, leaving movie screens behind for memories. She's either auditioning to replace George Clooney's "nicest human" title or practicing for her next best friend role. But don't let her get in her own way, Hollywood. She can do that in her sleep. It's time someone gave her the lead in a good romantic comedy. She's earned it.