Judy Greer: Making Wilson With Woody Harrelson And More!

– by Edward Douglas

For almost twenty years, Judy Greer has been one of the busiest actresses in every medium, whether it’s appearing in popular comedies like 13 Going on 30, Oscar fare like Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, or even unrecognizable as the ape Cornelia in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and its upcoming sequel. Maybe Greer’s largest pop came when she was cast to play Will Arnett’s cross-eyed secretary Kitty Sanchez in Mitch Hurwitz’s popular show Arrested Development, and for the past few years, she’s also provided the voices for a couple characters on the popular animated show Archer.

Either way, it’s unlikely you haven’t seen Greer in hundreds of movies or TV shows over the years, as she keeps very, very busy, and yet somehow, despite that busy schedule, Greer has found time to put together a book and make her directorial debut with a comedy starring Common.

This year, she also appears in a bunch of new movies, including Wilson, in which Woody Harrelson plays the grumpy title character and Greer plays Shelly, his dog-loving friend who takes in his dog Pepper when he goes off to seek out the teen daughter he never knew he had.  It’s the new movie from cartoonist Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), directed by Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins), and it’s a great mix of dark comedy and heart-felt drama. The movie premiered at Sundance along with Janicza Bravo’s Lemon, which also has gotten a lot of buzz on the festival circuit.

LRM sat down with Ms. Greer at the New York junket for Wilson, and as with the past times we spoke with her, she was a ball of bubbly energy as she spoke about her latest movies and some of her other recent ventures. 

LRM: I really enjoyed reading your bio because I found out that you wrote a book, which I didn’t know about, and you directed a movie, which I didn’t know about.

Judy Greer:
Yes!

LRM: I also thought it was funny that the bio writer gave up after mentioning twenty movies you were in and wrote, “This is only a small sample…” He just thought, “That’s enough. They can go to IMDB if they want to know more.” So how did “Wilson” come about? Was it the typical, “Here’s a screenplay. Here’s the character. Can you do it?”

Judy Greer:
This is an old-fashioned read it, had to have it, begged to audition for it, auditioned for it, had a great audition with Craig (Johnson, the director). We worked together a while at that audition, and then I looked up anyone I could think of who might know him and emailed that person and asked them to email Craig and tell him to please cast me in this movie.

LRM: I’m really surprised, because I think the last time we spoke, you also talked about auditioning. Do people really need you to audition at this point? You have so many movies, shows and so much work out there to show what you can do.

Judy Greer:
It was strangely so flattering. We did a Q n A at Sundance--it was with the whole cast--and they were asking us all, “How did you get involved?” and I told them my story, and Woody Harrelson was like, “Are you f*cking kidding me, Craig? You made her audition? Why did you make her audition?” and Craig was like, “I…I’m sorry!” It was really cute.

LRM: Some actors seem to like the audition process because it gives them a chance to meet the director.

Judy Greer:
I love auditioning. I mean, I don’t go in for stuff I don’t want, but yeah, sometimes you go in and you audition and the director is kind of “meh” and you’re like, “Oh, I guess I don’t care as much if I don’t get this one, cause maybe we don’t really connect or I’m not feeling it,” but most of the time I think it’s a great opportunity to work with someone, and also, I really love acting. Sometimes you’re still acting when you’re auditioning, so it’s really fun.

LRM: You must be really good at auditioning because you get a lot of roles. You must have a secret that you probably won’t want to share.

Judy Greer:
I think my secret is that I do love to audition and that shows, maybe?

LRM: There’s a couple of great female roles in the movie, so what made you interested in playing Shelly in particular?

Judy Greer:
Well, I really loved her interaction with Wilson, and I think Shelly’s a real grounding character in the movie, and you know, she’s the one he ends up with, and I liked how was able to manage Wilson and not in a co-dependent way. She never let him get to her, and I think that was really good for Wilson. While I always root for Wilson and Pippy, I think he kind of needed Shelly, and Pippy needed to move on.

LRM: That’s a good point. Their first scene together I was trying to figure out what connects them besides their love of dogs…

Judy Greer:
Yeah, but what connects anyone to anyone sometimes, when you think about it. You meet someone…I met my husband on a blind date. We had nothing in common, but I don’t know. Sometimes that’s good. (laughs)

LRM: It’s also nice that Shelly comes back because we see her when she takes in Wilson’s dog and then we see Margo Martindale, and she has a little scene, and I thought, “Really? That’s all we’re going to see of Judy and Margo?” It’s also a strange tonal film because you’re laughing and you’re sad and angry at times at Pippy, and what happens with Wilson.

Judy Greer:
Yeah, it takes you on a real journey. It’s a real roller-coaster of emotions, and then you’re laughing through things that you realize are really heartbreaking, like the fight between the sisters is so incredible, but it’s also so horrible. 

LRM: Of course stuff like that you only see when you see the final movie. How many days did you actually spend on set doing your stuff, just two or three days?

Judy Greer:
Me, I was there for like three weeks, but you don’t always work all the time. You have days here and there, so I’ll work for a couple days and then have a couple days off and then work for a couple days then have a couple days off.

LRM: For some reason, I thought because it was all one location, it wouldn’t take as long.

Judy Greer:
Yeah, but there was changeover because my house had to change from before jail to after jail, not the actual location but the interior, and stuff like that. 

LRM: Tell me about this book of yours. If I knew about it, I would have picked it up a long time ago.

Judy Greer:
Oh, that’s so sweet! Well, you still should! It’s called I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, and it’s a collection of essays that I wrote, just about me, and we divided the book into three sections: my Hollywood life, my personal life and…what’s the third section?  I should know this. Maybe it’s two, and I just wrote…It’s not…everyone’s writing them. It’s like a collection of essays about my past and about work and about things I think about.

LRM: You also directed a movie, so what drove you to want to do that? You already shot that I assume…

Judy Greer:
Yeah, it’s just about done. We’re going to be screening it…I guess I’m not supposed to talk about that, but we’re finished with it, finally, and I had been wanting to direct. I can credit my manager for being aggressive about me directing. He’s way less lazy then I am, thank God!  He had been sending me scripts for a while, and then this one (A Happening of Monumental Proportions). I was kind of like, “I don’t know, I don’t know…,” and one of the things that was important to me was that I didn’t want to be in the movie I was directing, so I’m not in it at all. When I read it, the script really stood out to me, and I really loved the story it was telling and I thought, “This is the one!” It takes place in Los Angeles, and I feel really strongly about keeping film in L.A. and wanting to shoot something locally, and those things really worked for me. We ended up assembling an amazing cast, and I had an amazing time doing it. I think directing is going to make me a better actor, but also, it made me want to direct more because it’s really fun. One of the things I love about acting is being on set and being around people, and when you’re the director…

LRM: Everybody has to listen to you.

Judy Greer:
Yeah! Which was the weirdest part…

LRM: You have the last word in everything pretty much.

Judy Greer:
I know, but I hated saying “Action” so I made my first AD always say “Action.” I felt weird about it.

LRM: Clint Eastwood never says “Action.” He just rolls the cameras and says, “Okay, when you’re ready.” Obviously it works because he gets great performances.

Judy Greer:
I just worked with this great director named Janicza Bravo, she just directed this movie called Lemon.

LRM: I heard about it but missed it at Sundance.

Judy Greer:
Oh, it’s so good, and she would always come up to us and be like, “Whenever you’re ready,” and I loved that!

LRM: I think there is something about yelling “Action!” that unnerves actors.  There’s this director Martin Campbell who did one of the Bond movies and I was on set and he’d literally go…“3! 2! 1! Action!” Of course, it was an action scene he was doing that for so it made more sense. I imagine you’ve worked with so many directors, you must have made mental notes about what you might want to use later?

Judy Greer:
Yes, I think I would try that next time. “Okay, whenever you guys are ready.”

LRM: Did you know a lot of the cast that ended up in your movie or did you still go through the normal process of casting?

Judy Greer:
Oh, I called all my friends and was like, “Would you please do my movie?” The only person…it’s an ensemble comedy but I guess it’s centered around this one character that Common plays, so he’s someone I didn’t know at the time, but I reached out to him first, and he said he would do it, which is so amazing and I’m still like, “Oh my God!” and then everyone else filled in basically mostly my friends and people I’ve worked with and then some friends of the producers. We also have two kids in the movie that we auditioned, and we found two great kids.

LRM: What else do you have coming up?

Judy Greer:
I’m doing Casual right now for Hulu, and I did Lady Dynamite, and that was really fun. That’ll be out…I don’t know when my episode airs or is…I don’t know what you call it anymore.

LRM: Streams?

Judy Greer:
Streaming? I did War of the Planet of the Apes

LRM: Oh, I did want to ask you about, because I was curious about doing performance capture.

Judy Greer: It’s the greatest! It’s so fun, it’s so raw, and I mean I would do anything that Andy Serkis was doing forever, so… 

LRM: Isn’t he directing a movie as well?

Judy Greer: Mm-hmm. He’s an incredible human being. He’s just about the greatest people I’ve ever met, and so just being around him is super-inspiring, and it makes you feel like you’re doing something way more special than normal. Yeah, it’s just a really great way to act in a different, more physical way than I’m used to, and I loved it. That’ll be out…I did a couple of independent movies I’m excited to see--one called Public Schooled and one called Pottersville with Michael Shannon. They’re independents, so we’ll see. 

LRM: Did you have any scenes with Woody in the “Apes” movie?

Judy Greer: No, I only worked a couple days on it, so I feel like an impostor talking too much about it, but yeah it was a few days… 

LRM: You did two movies of the performance capture, so you obviously must have liked doing it on the first one to come back and do another one.

Judy Greer: It was incredible. 

LRM: I think the last time we spoke the Netflix “Arrested Development” wasn’t even a thing yet, but maybe there was talk of a movie…

Judy Greer: Oh, no, it wasn’t. It was right after, because after I left Carrie, I came here and did a play on Broadway, and I had to fly back to do Arrested 

LRM: Going back further, when we spoke for “The Descendants,” the “Arrested Development” movie was one of those mythic “Will it happen?” type projects…

Judy Greer:
And that’s this new round. It’s still, “I don’t know…maybe…maybe not!”  I don’t know. I think they want to do it.

LRM: I guess it’s up to Mitch Hurwitz to want to write more stuff…

Judy Greer:
Yeah, and it’s scheduling. It’s so hard to schedule with all of us.

LRM: That’s true, because everyone got bigger, more popular and successful… 

Judy Greer: Yeah...thank you, Mitch! (puts on a funny nasally voice) Thanks, Mitch, for my career!

LRM: I do think that one day you should bring your calendar to one of these things, because do you literally go back to work as soon as this junket ends? You’re literally working every week?

Judy Greer:
Yeah, I’m doing a lot of little things right now, so every week, I could have two or three different jobs, which is not how I love to do things, but it’s fine for now. It’s good. I’m happy to be working so much. 

LRM: That’s what Margo Martindale was like, too. I see her in so many different things and she always has three TV shows going on at once. How do you keep things straight? 

Judy Greer: It’s not my problem. My manager is the one who is losing hair over it. (laughs) He does my schedule.

LRM: As long as someone knows to fly you to the right place, and get you to the right set on the right day. 

Judy Greer: Exactly! 

Wilson opens in select cities. Look for our interviews with creator/writer Daniel Clowes and director Craig Johnson soon.

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Film, Featured, Interviews, LRM Exclusives Judy Greer, Woody Harrrelson, Wilson, War of the Planet of the Apes, LRM Exclusive, Interviews