Judy Greer talks 'Arrested Development,' '13 Going on 30,' 'The Descendants,' 'The Wedding Planner,' and more...
The 'Married' actress looks back at her most memorable roles.
Judy Greer is everywhere: On the small screen, she spars with Nat Faxon as one-half of the titular married couple on FX’s Married and just guest-starred opposite Josh Charles, Lizzy Caplan, and Michael Sheen on Showtime’s Masters of Sex. In film, she wrapped two indies — Grandma and Addicted to Fresno — and had a blockbuster summer this year, appearing in Jurassic World, Ant-Man, and Tomorrowland.
This week, Greer stopped by the EW offices to chat over coffee for National Coffee Day (she partnered with Lactaid on their “No More Dairy Envy” campaign) and spent some time revisiting her most memorable roles (as picked by the staff). Below in her own words, Greer talked what it was like working on rom-coms like 13 Going on 30 and The Wedding Planner, stealing scenes in Arrested Development and The Descendants, and going off-camera for Archer and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:
The Wedding Planner (2001)
In the rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, Greer played Penny, Lopez’s character’s best friend, who slyly sets up a date for the central pair.
That was my first big job out in Los Angeles. I’d done Jawbreaker, which was a relatively big movie and it was certainly a big role, but this was just a huge movie, and Jennifer Lopez was becoming a giant star at the time, so it was exciting to watch all of that unfold. I thought that the role was really good for me at the time. I mean, it was just such a great confidence booster for me. And Adam Shankman, who directed the movie, was so cool. He was always like, “Give me one that’s like the script, and then just do whatever you want.”
I always wonder, like, I have a fantasy about if we do these movies again now, all these years later, and everyone did the same role and the same performance and the same script, what would be different now, 15 years later? [Laughs] It would be interesting! And rom-coms are coming back. Trainwreck, Sleeping With Other People, I saw them both in theaters. I was like, “I am going to the theater to support these romantic comedies because I want my tickets to show that people want these movies!”
Arrested Development (2003–2013)
Greer played Kitty Sanchez, the former assistant and mistress of Bluth family patriarch George Bluth. She had penchant for telling Michael and the Bluths to “say goodbye to these!” (“These” referred to… you’ll see.)
[Showrunner] Mitch Hurwitz had called and asked if I would just do this one day of work on the show, and that was my first day, [the scene] with the “hair up, hair down, glasses on, glasses off,” in the copy room with Gob [Will Arnett], and that was just supposed to be one day of work, and then they kept bringing me back. [Laughs] It was so great. It’s hard to say [which Bluth I liked the most], but I just love the character of Buster. He was always kind of in the background, lurking, and that just made me really happy. But that whole show was just so fun and everyone was so happy to be there. Everyone knew they had something really special on their hands.
And I think that people who love that show are lovable people. In the beginning, when not many people knew about it or had watched, it was a barometer for me, like, if you liked Arrested Development, then you’re smart and funny, so I’ll like you no matter what. I kind of still feel that way. It’s rare that some jerk comes up to me and says they love Arrested. I don’t know, people who are fans of this show are okay by me.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
In the coming-of-age rom-com, Greer starred as Jenna Rink’s (Jennifer Garner) nemesis-turned-best-friend Lucy Wyman, who, despite wanting the top job at Poise, the fictional magazine where they worked, still danced alongside Jenna to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Jennifer Garner taught me how to text message on the set of that. I had a flip phone with the numbers and the three letters on each button, and then I saw her, and I didn’t know what she was doing when she was texting her assistant, so I was like, “What is that?” And she showed me how, and I was like, mind blown.
And the “Thriller” dance, oh my gosh, it was so fun. We had to learn it a few weeks before we started shooting, and it was just so fun on that day. The place where we shot it is this big, beautiful building in downtown LA, and we walked in and Jennifer was like, “I think this was a Swiss bank in an episode of Alias!” [Laughs]
Greer reunited with her Arrested Development co-star Jessica Walter on the animated series, in which she voiced Cheryl.
Archer has just been a wonderful gift. When I got cast in it a long time ago, I think that it was again supposed to be a one-off [role] but they added the character to the whole series. I thought in the pilot script that it would never get picked up because it’s too naughty. And it has found an audience, I mean, it’s been so huge. I’ve just seen it grow. The first year at Comic-Con, I think there was 500 people, and we were like, “Whoa!” And then the second year, I think there was, like, 2,000. It was amazing to see, and the guys who make it are such good guys. [Laughs] They have a dark sense of humor.
The Descendants (2011)
After a string of comedic roles, Greer turned in a dramatic performance in the Hawaii-set, Oscar-winning film as the wife of Brian (Matthew Lillard), who had been the lover to George Clooney’s character’s wife. (Yeah, it’s complicated.)
I had been wanting to work with [director] Alexander Payne since the beginning of my career, and so to do it and do it with George [Clooney] and in Hawaii was kind of a triple whammy. It was really fun, even though my scenes were kind of dramatic. [Laughs] Like, it just felt like a small family, and Hawaiians are so incredible as a people. I thought they were going to hate us for being there and shooting, but everyone was so cool, and it added a real character to the movie. And I loved the choice of Alexander’s to use all Hawaiian music in the movie, and not to score it or anything. I think that added a lot.
I knew [George] for a really long time, I’d done a movie a long time ago called Three Kings with him. We don’t hang out or keep in touch, but whenever we’re at a thing and we see each other, we always catch up a little bit. It was fun to work with him, but it was also fun during the process of awards season. I really feel like he deserved that Academy Award, still. [Laughs]
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
To portray the ailing chimp Cornelia, Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) wife, Greer donned a motion-capture suit.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was awesome. It was so much harder in some ways. It’s all about your body and about physicality. In acting school, when I was in college, we would do, like, movement exercises where you act like an animal. I was like, “This is so lame, when am I ever going to do this?” And then all of a sudden, I’m a chimp, so I am actually literally getting paid to act like an animal many years later.
Greer’s Lina Bowman may fight her husband Russ (Nat Faxon) all the time, but the two do more than quarrel in the comedy about the trials of being, well, married.
Yes, Married, my current obsession! It was a script that hadn’t been picked up, that my TV agent and manager both found, but the showrunner Andrew Gurland had liked me for something in the past, but that I was unavailable for, and Nat Faxon was already cast in it. Nat and I know each other from The Descendants so it was a natural fit. I had lunch with Andrew Gurland, but I didn’t have to audition and they didn’t make me do a chemistry read with Nat or anything. Nat and I have just, like, we have a really easy working relationship, so it’s always been so fun. It’s been such an easy job in the sense that everything has come really naturally, with the characters and the scenes and the storylines.
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The second season finale of Married airs Thursday, Oct. 1, at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
13 Going on 30