The elusive Judy Greer -- EW delves into the life of the character actress you haven't noticed in ''Adaptation,'' ''The Village,'' and ''Three Kings''

By Karen Valby
Updated March 03, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Photograph by Roberto D'Este

Judy Greer has a smoking resumé. The other day she was sitting in a production company waiting room, surrounded by framed movie posters. ”And I was in two of ’em!” she says, clapping her hands together with a giggle. ”Adaptation and The Wedding Planner.” After seven years in Hollywood, the 29-year-old actress, armed with the face of Anne Heche and the comedic chops of Joan Cusack, has made a career out of playing the best friend, the flight attendant, the waitress, and the assistant. Watch her sparkle and then too quickly fade so bigger stars can shine in 13 Going on 30, The Village, What Women Want, Three Kings, and now the Wes Craven werewolf thriller Cursed.

The Detroit native is used to the bit parts — ”Judy-sized” roles, she calls them — that demand heavy lifting. ”Being a character actor, you do get the goofy roles, but a lot of times they’re really underwritten and you’re expected to breathe life into them,” she says. ”People are like, ‘Well, you’re just so funny, if anyone can do something with this, it’s you, Judy!’ Well, what about the writer actually writing a decent role?”

Eager to book a steady starring gig, she’s on the hunt for a TV series. Taking a two-hour break from the rigors of pilot season at a Hollywood coffeehouse, Greer is refreshingly frank about yesterday’s crap audition. ”You can drive there and feel like a million bucks, but then you walk in a room and see this girl who you always lose roles to,” she says, laughing, ”or there’s no one there and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to nail this!’ and then you don’t. Or worse, the room is full of 21-year-olds.”

When she does book a pilot, like the 2004 NBC sitcom Nearly Nirvana, about a white girl married to an Indian man and his large brood, they tend to peter out and die before ever making it to air. ”I am the pilot killer,” she sighs. She has a routine ready for times of rejection. ”Taco Bell!” Last night, ego bruised, Greer and her actor boyfriend, Nick, walked their beloved bulldog, Buckley, hit the drive-thru, and flopped on the couch for three back-to-back episodes of Law & Order.

She has had her share of lucky breaks, like when the folks at Arrested Development called her up and asked her to come on for a recurring guest-star role. ”My favorite job ever, and I didn’t have to do anything!” she gushes. ”They were like, ‘It’s this crazy secretary and you’re sleeping with one guy. . .and your hair is really gross and your eyes go crossed. I’m like, ‘F— yeah! Sign me up!”’

This summer, Greer will edge closer toward the fame that continues to elude her. She’ll play Orlando Bloom’s sister in Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age drama Elizabethtown. ”Oh, man, she’s amazing,” says Crowe, who first fell for her after seeing Adaptation. ”Because she’s used to playing a supporting character, she knows she may not have a lot of takes or time, so she’ll just give you the whole rainbow right off the top.” When she was offered the role, months after the audition, Greer burst into tears in her backyard. ”It was the only time I cried when I got a part,” she says, tearing up again at the memory. ”Maybe I don’t get offered stuff all the time, but there’s something to be said for earning a role.”

Her dream is to one day ditch the sidekick status and star in a romantic comedy. Greer wants her Annie Hall. ”It shows this woman who’s not a bombshell. She’s weird and she’s quirky and she’s kind of nerdy, and you can’t blink when you’re watching the movie.”

Recently, a director called Crowe and said he was thinking about casting Greer in his movie. ”He said, ‘Yeah, I’m looking at Judy and I know she’s funny, but can she be dramatic?”’ Crowe recalls. ”And I said, ‘She’s so good and effortless, do yourself a favor and work with her.’ I feel lucky that I was able to get her to play a supporting part. The clock is ticking down to where those parts would never be big enough for Judy.”