Actress Judy Greer Grabs Lead Roles
by michael ventre
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It’s a splendid time to be Judy Greer. Actually, when you get down to it, there hasn’t really been a bad time. The 36-year-old Detroit native has built a robust acting career on a gallimaufry of both film and television roles, a significant portion of which were of the best friend or assistant variety.
But a shift occurred in the past couple of years that finds Greer standing on more prestigious and challenging terrain. Her turn as the wife of a cheating spouse in the Oscar-nominated The Descendants placed her in the company of director/writer Alexander Payne and opposite George Clooney. And this month she’ll hit screens with Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon in Jeff Who Lives at Home, an indie comedy from brothers Jay and Mark Duplass.
Sidekick roles paid the bills, and Greer was more than grateful. Yet this newly charted course is the result of the actress being proactive. “There was a time a couple of years ago when I said to my agents and manager, ‘I would like to try to go after some smaller roles that are not the best friend,’” she says. “Then a ton of them started coming up—ask and you shall receive.”
She reached the apex of giddiness over her role in The Descendants, because Payne has been one of her heroes ever since his big-screen breakthrough, Citizen Ruth, in 1996. “My main goal was not to get the part,” says Greer, “but to impress Alexander so he would remember me.”
It worked. Payne called her personally to inform her she’d won the role, and she was so euphoric she figured out a way to save the message even when she switched from a BlackBerry to an iPhone.
And working with Clooney, she says, was bliss. “I always thought George was an amazing actor, but I never got to really act with him,” she says. “I did Three Kings a hundred years ago, and I pretended to have sex with him on-screen. But [in The Descendants] I got to do scenes with him. He’s a director, too, so he knows it’s hard to get there sometimes.” The experience gave her a fresh perspective on her work. “Acting is my job,” she says. “This movie made me feel like an artist.”
Greer shot The Descendants in Hawaii at the same time she was doing Jeff in New Orleans. “I would say both movies felt completely collaborative, but [the Duplass brothers’] style is totally improvisational,” she says. “We felt we were making this small, secret movie together. I had no idea what it would be like when I went to the screening—they had a million stories they could tell.”
Back in LA, she has another new leading man: husband Dean Johnsen, coexecutive producer of Real Time with Bill Maher. Last December the couple married in LA, then honeymooned Descendants-style on the Big Island of Hawaii. “He didn’t text,” she says of their 18-month courtship. “He got my phone number and called me like a real man does and asked me out on a date, old-school. He’s a total grown-up.”
Just one more reason why it’s good to be Judy Greer.
photography by brian bowen smith; hair by gregory russell for the wall group; makeup by sage maitri for the wall group; manicure by beth fricke using o.p.i for artists by timothy priano