In the wake of Alexander Payne’s new film “The Descendants,” I had the opportunity to speak with actress Judy Greer, who plays a small but meaningful role alongside George Clooney in this movie. To discuss her role in “The Descendants” in full would require a lot of spoilers, so I will save the details for you to discover when you see this lovely film, which is a welcome return-to-form for director Payne, a master of the serio-comedy.
The line “Say goodbye to these!” will be forever synonymous with Judy Greer, who played Kitty Sanchez on the comedy series “Arrested Development” and uttered those words countless times throughout the show’s three-season run (did I even need to give that context?). “These” refers to her character’s botched boob job.
But Greer is not just a comic performer — she has starred in a number of more dramatic features including Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation” (2002) and the masterful “Marmaduke” (ha), and she has also worked with genre filmmakers like Wes Craven and M. Night Shyamalan. “The Descendants” marks a decidedly different role for her, as she plays a character grappling with a number of moral dilemmas as George Clooney’s character Matt attempts to put his life back together after his wife, of questionable loyalty, lands herself in a coma.
Greer sought more dramatic roles and, for her, the role of Julie is the one of a lifetime. “I would have played any character in an Alexander Payne movie,” said Greer. “For such a short amount of screen time, I got to do so much and it was so well-rounded. I really had a great journey, which is so rare, which I would know because I play a lot of supporting characters. Well, I play all supporting characters.”
Greer has been pigeonholed as a character actor throughout her career, but it’s a role she has no doubt come to lovingly embrace, as she is exceptionally good at playing these neurotic types on the fringe.
“To be in a movie onset with Alexander Payne was an all-time high for me. I had to make a whole new list of goals for my career,” Greer said sarcastically (with a squeeze of pseudo-seriousness). “There’s nothing left. I just wanted to work with him.” Greer described Payne’s direction with such adjectives as “old-fashioned,” “quiet and emotional and intimate, and it felt like we had all the time in the world to do what we needed to do.”
Greer described the reunion with George Clooney, with whom she worked alongside in the 1999 film “Three Kings.” “It was really nice to see him again,” she said. “You work with somebody at the beginning of their career and it’s nice to see them still acting. So many people drop away.” She said that, truthfully, she was more nervous to work with Alexander Payne than America’s favorite silver fox (more of a salt-n-pepper fox if you ask me).
In her supporting role in “The Descendants,” Greer said that she was wholly dedicated to telling the story. “It’s not really my job to stand out … It’s more the material than me, but I don’t like to go into a job thinking ‘how can I stand out?'” At least once in her career, Greer has had to choose one job over another, saying “I’m not that much of an artist. I needed money so bad.” Of course she is kidding — about the artist bit — or just being self-effacng, because Greer is one of the most ubiquitous, effervescent and playful presences onscreen anywhere.
Greer pondered some of her dream roles in the interview. “I would like to be Matt Damon’s love interest in a Jason Bourne movie,” she giggled. She said she has sold a television idea to ABC, and “that’s in development.” She said that, first and foremost, promoting “The Descendants” is a job. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never been in an Academy-considered movie, so this is something totally different.” One such perk is that she gets to wear a lot of different outfits.
In regards to shooting on location in Hawaii for this film, Greer said, “Yes, I was in Hawaii. I didn’t hear a lot of pidgin speak. I didn’t catch onto it. I can share nothing about it.” While shooting Payne’s film, Greer was back-and-forth from Hawaii to New Orleans, where she was shooting the Duplass brothers’ (“The Puffy Chair,” “Cyrus”) film “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” starring Jason Segel. “I didn’t get to enjoy Hawaii like everyone else did,” she said. “The Duplass brothers’ movie takes place in one day, so they were, like, ‘Dont get a fucking tan.’ So that was a bummer. I was eating and drinking all the beer and all the deep fried everything in New Orleans,” she said, “so everything was a little tighter.”
If I can throw my professional credentials out the window for a minute, I must say this is one of the most entertaining interviews I have ever participated in.
Image Courtesy of Hollywood.com