From TV comedies to iconic rom-coms, Judy Greer has been on our screens and in our faces for a long time, but it wasn’t until recently that her name began flooding the mainstream. In danger of being typecast for life as the go-to gal for thankless supporting roles (she’s buddied up onscreen with everyone from J-Lo to Kate Hudson), Judy’s career suddenly took a turn last year, ironically, soon after releasing her memoir, “I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star.” Her FX show, Married has successfully completed two well-received seasons. Her film career has also skyrocketed, with some roles in big-budget hits like Jurassic World and Marvel’s Ant Man. Paste caught up with Greer to chat about fame, escaping ballet and her favorite rom-com roles.
Paste Magazine: A big theme of your book is that you used to be known for being the supporting player—the star’s best friend in a lot of romantic comedies. People would recognize you in public, but no one would really know your name. Do you feel like you’re looked at differently now?
Greer: No, it’s pretty much the same. It’s great. I liked what it was, so I’m not complaining. It’s not like I can’t go to Target anymore. This was sort of happening a little bit before my book came out, whereas, before, maybe a few years ago people were like, “You look so familiar.” Now people think I look like that actress, so I suppose that’s a step in the right direction. Instead of saying, “Did we both go to the same—”fill in the blank”—people are like, “Oh, I know a person who looks like you from TV and movies.” Although, when I get asked that question, I just have to wonder what it is that I want, and what’s the desired outcome. It’s not that I want people to be like, “Oh my God, you’re Judy Greer!” because I like the way my life is.
The goal is that you ultimately want just to be able to get more work. The way to get more work is to be more recognizable. I’m so not into being a great big famous star. The people I know who are really big stars, their lifestyle is compromised because of it. At the same time, I just want to keep getting better work opportunities. I think you can deal with it. Either you get to be more famous, or you get to work more or on different or better things, or you just keep doing what you’re doing, which is awesome, too. Is that making sense?
Paste: Absolutely. If the idea is to try to just make yourself more recognizable to different people, at the very least do you feel like you’ve become a lot more recognizable to a different type of fan? Instead of the What Women Want audience, now you have Ant Man, and they’re recognizing you from Jurassic World. That’s probably a different demographic for you.
Greer: Yeah, it’s always smart in the business sense to get more people to want to buy your product, whatever your product is. Yes, having a wider demographic of fans is the best outcome. I’ve managed that so well since I started acting, like kind of stumbled upon by accident, although I credit my manager, and my publicist and my agent. I credit the people that help me for that as well, because it’s interesting how a diehard Two and a Half Men fan will never see the movie Fresno, which I won best actress at Outfest for in Los Angeles. You know what I mean? Definitely, I’m like in the zeitgeist of all these different demographics, so I’ve been really lucky that way.
Paste: I did some research and discovered that you have an extensive background in classical dance. Was that your original career choice?
Greer: No. I was a ballet dancer for a pretty long time, as long as a lot of kids probably played sports. It was my sport. I was never so good at it that I thought I would ever have a chance. When you’re a ballet dancer, there’s a point in your career where you really know if you have it, or you don’t. I think I was lucky that no one had to tell me that I didn’t… I just knew. It can be really heartbreaking when you have that realization. It’s just nicer to have it curled up in a ball on your floor, and your like, “Oh, I’ve been doing this thing for like 10 years, and I’m actually really shitty at it.” That was a lot of time wasted and parents’ money spent, but it’s cool. I have good posture now.
Even the greatest dancers in all the ballet schools in America, if they all became professional dancers, they’d probably all be like in the shittiest core of the shittiest… It’s just so specific and so focused. You just have to be so good at such a young age. I wasn’t like that.
The transition from ballet to acting in high school was really easy for me. I’d spent so much time dancing. I didn’t have a ton of friends that I’d grown up with or at school. In order to make friends, I was auditioning for musicals and stuff, just to dance and be in the chorus in the background, just to have something to do and have fun. I wasn’t like, “You know what, I’m not going to be a dancer. I’m going to be an actor.” It was a really natural transition, and it made a lot of sense at the time. And it was really fun.
Paste: Do you think starting out in dancing trained you to deal with an acting career—and the crushing blows to your self-esteem that sometimes come with it?
Greer: Yeah, I do, practically speaking. It definitely trained me for that, but it also gave me a comfort level on stage, and with being in front of people. I didn’t have to learn when I started acting, because I had already had it from being in ballets and in recitals. That made sense to me, being up there.
Paste: At that point, did you foresee long-term success for yourself?
Greer: Oh, I never thought I would be an actor. I was just acting in high school. It was fun. It was where my friends were. Then I accidentally ended up in like—what do you call it? Like an acting college, but it was like all acting, all the time. Again, it just seems like the hardest thing to ever do, so I figured after I graduated I would just go to grad school. My parents were really excited I was getting a bachelors degree in fine art.
I was like ”at some point, I’ll figure out what I really want to do, and then I’ll go to that school and do that.” In the meantime, I’ll just go on some auditions and see what happens. It’s fun, and I’m 21-years-old, and bartending, and making a bunch of cash and whatever, living in Chicago. Then I started actually getting acting work, and then it just kept coming. I kept thinking, “When it dries up, I’ll go back to school.” And—knock on wood—it just hasn’t yet.
Paste: Just a guess, but I don’t think you’re going back to school any time soon.
Greer: You never know (laughs).
Paste: Looking back on your history of being that supporting friend in different movies that have become classics, do you have favorite friendship?
Greer: We weren’t really friends, but my favorite movie to make out of those was probably 13 Going on 30. Jennifer [Garner] and I are friends, but in the movie we weren’t friends. It was just such a great working experience, so that one really has a special place in my heart. I also really loved my character in 27 Dresses because she was a train wreck, and it was so fun to play that. The director of 27 Dresses [Anne Fletcher] is amazing, and then there’s The Wedding Planner. Those three movies I really loved, because they all were when I first started acting, and I first got my career off the ground. I would probably say 13 Going on 30 was like lightening in a bottle. I was wishing it was a TV show, because I wanted to do it every single day.
Paste: If that movie came out now it probably would be made into a TV show next year.
Greer: Yeah, then maybe I would get a shot at it! (laughs)
Paste: Early in your career, people also got to know you for your role on Arrested Development, a show that was always loved by critics, but never really found it’s big audience. Did that make you wary of choosing projects that might be great, but too “left-field” to survive?
Greer: No, it doesn’t make me wary of it. It’s always frustrating when you do something that you think is so special and wonderful, and it doesn’t succeed. The cool thing about that show is that it was critically acclaimed. Sadly, it really came at a time when television was beginning to change. There wasn’t a way to really calculate who was watching it.
That’s one of the things I get stopped on the street for the most, still to this day. It is a bummer when it’s something that you feel like people aren’t watching. It’s like if someone watches something and they hate it, that I can’t really control. I’m just happy they’re watching it. It’s frustrating to be in something that you feel is really great, and when people do watch it they love it, but no one’s watching it.
Paste: Your current show Married has definitely struck a chord with a very defined audience. Do you feel like part of the reason the show is so genuine and relatable to married people is because it feels genuine and relatable to you?
Greer: Yeah, I do. There are parts of my marriage in there. We don’t have small kids. I have two teenaged step kids, so that’s a little different. The level of emotional intimacy that Russ and Lina share because they’re best friends, I can relate to. I think it adds a lot of the chemistry between Nat [Faxon] and I, because we are so close to our spouses, and our show creator is so close to his wife. There’s no lack of chemistry on any of our parts, whether it’s on set or in our personal life. We are drawing a lot from that. I think that people love the show, because it’s really honest, and it can be really hard to watch, but I think that we are all bringing so much of our own personal opinions and experiences to it, and that’s why it feels really intimate.
People who watch the show tell me they love it. I don’t hear people saying they don’t love the show, but there is like a little bit of a discomfort factor, where I think people like it, because it’s so real. I felt the same way when I started watching Louie. I was like, “Oh my God, he just flipped off his daughter,” but then yeah, I want to flip off my kids sometimes. It’s so honest. You’re like, “Are you allowed to do that and say that? Oh, cool, because that’s exactly how I feel. I didn’t know I was allowed to feel that way. I didn’t know I was allowed to talk about it.”