Say Hello to Judy Greer

Published October 17, 2013

ABOVE: JUDY GREER (RIGHT) WITH CHLOË GRACE MORETZ IN CARRIE

Judy Greer doesn’t know exactly why you think she looks familiar—and frankly, she’s tired of being asked. Having carved a Hollywood name for herself through a string of supporting roles, the self-proclaimed perpetual co-star is candid about her casting credits, even going so far as to pen an autobiographical account of her experience in the industry, I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star. Still, Greer is thrilled about her career trajectory, having worked alongside such blockbuster heavy-hitters as George Clooney, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, and most recently, Carrie lead Chloë Grace Moretz.

In the 2013 adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic thriller, Greer plays gentle and unpopular gym teacher Miss Desjardin, who serves as sole champion and confidante to school black sheep Carrie White. As the story goes, Miss Desjardin’s sympathetic efforts fail, sadly culminating in one of the most memorable bloodshed scenes in horror movie history. This time around, Greer asserts the film’s relevance in today’s bully-dominated schoolyards, having admitted she never felt “popular” throughout her own high school experience.

Prom queen or otherwise, Greer’s self-deprecating sense of humor and malleable acting chops land her among Hollywood’s finest talents—in other words, you should know what she’s from.

JAMIE LINCOLN: Before we get started, I just want to say that the scene from Arrested Development in which Will Arnett is trying to seduce you for the first time, is, in my opinion, the funniest scene in the entire series.

JUDY GREER: [laughs] Oh my God, that’s awesome! Thank you so much.

LINCOLN: Throughout Arrested Development, I feel like any scene you’re in with Will Arnett and Jeffrey Tambor—and any other cast member, really—they’re constantly making jokes at your expense. Was it hard being the butt of the joke all the time?

GREER: No, it’s fun! Especially because my character doesn’t see it that way at all, so I don’t really see it that way. So no, I think it’s hilarious. I feel like generally I’ve always been very self-deprecating in my life, so it doesn’t surprise me when other people do it. [laughs]

LINCOLN: [laughs] Right, I totally get that. Honestly, I was so excited to watch the new season that I signed up for a free Netflix trial and immediately cancelled it after blitzing through every episode. How do you feel Season Four compares to the earlier seasons of Arrested?

GREER: I think it’s pretty similar. Maybe just like, 3% more tame. The hard thing about the new season was coordinating everyone’s schedules. I spoke with Mitch—there were a lot of times he would call—and unfortunately, I was doing a play in New York at the time they were shooting it, so I scooted back to L.A. the few times I could, but sometimes they’d be like, “Hey, can you do a scene today?” and I’d be like, “No, I’m in New York.” But I feel like it’s pretty on par, I was really happy. I was really happy that Kitty had evolved ever so slightly, but that the crazy got to come out. There’s so many outtakes, there’s so much ad-libbing that goes on on set. I’m not even there as much as Jason and Will and Jeffrey and Tony—they’re all the funniest guys I’ve ever met. I can’t even imagine the things that don’t end up in the show, it must be so hard to edit because I know the way that we work is we just talk and talk and talk and Mitch just keeps feeding us lines and we just kind of never stop acting or talking. They must just die in the editing room.

LINCOLN: Let’s rewind a bit. I didn’t know you were working on a play in New York. Which play?

GREER: It was called Dead Accounts; it was on Broadway. Katie Holmes was in it. If you heard about a Katie Holmes play, that was the one.

LINCOLN: [laughs] Did you do any singing then?

GREER: No! No, no … no. I don’t really sing. I mean, I sing, but I sing loudly, I don’t sing well.

LINCOLN: [laughs] Just in the shower, type deal?

GREER: Or when I’m drunk. Or in the car with my husband and I’ll make him play either Madonna, or I really like the song “Airplanes” by Local Natives. It’s not a super sing-y song, but I like singing it. I also like singing “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in the car. I’m more of a car singer than a shower singer.

LINCOLN: I’m on board with that. You can roll the windows down; you can do your thing.

GREER: Totally. You’re just always in your car in Los Angeles, so it’s really when I get my best singing done.

LINCOLN: Actually, I was checking out your Twitter account the other day and it sounds like you’re having quite a few car troubles.

GREER: [laughs] Oh my god, that’s funny. I bought a used car, and I’ve never bought a used car before. It’s a 2010 Prius and I love it, it’s so awesome. But out of nowhere, I started it the other day and I felt like I was in a space shuttle about to take off. It was shaking and sputtering and clanking, and I was freaking out and I didn’t know what to do, and then it just mysteriously went away. The woman at Toyota was like, “Oh, you need to start your car more often because you probably travel a lot for work,” and I do, I mean, I’m out of town all the time and I’ve never had this problem. But it’s fine now; she looked at it and said it was fine, so I’m just deciding to believe her.

LINCOLN: [laughs] I kind of feel like it’s scarier when car troubles mysteriously go away.

GREER: I said the same thing to my husband! He was like, “But aren’t you glad that your car’s fine and you can drive it now?” And I’m like, “No!” I don’t want something to be wrong with my car, I certainly don’t want to spend any money on my car, but I’m like, “Is this going to happen again? Is it going to happen at a really bad time?”

LINCOLN: [laughs] Also from your Twitter feed, I was so excited to learn that you’re writing a book of essays (I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star).

GREER: Yeah! I turned it in, it’s so crazy. I wrote a book… what?

LINCOLN: Has anyone actually approached you on the street and asked you how they know you?

GREER: Are you joking?

LINCOLN: [laughs] That would drive me crazy.

GREER: Every day of my life. And you know, it’s not a complaint. I do not want to sound complain-y, because the reason that that happens is because I have an awesome career, and I’m very thankful for that. But literally every day someone comes up to me and is like, “What do I know you from? What are you in? What have I seen you in?” and I sometimes want to respond with, “Listen to the question you’re asking me. How do I know what you’ve seen? How do I know what you’ve watched?” When it’s kids—I mean, kids are different, that’s a whole different thing—sometimes I’ll feel so ugly, but if a kid wants their picture taken with me, I’ll usually do it. But sometimes if it’s a grown-up, I’ll be like, “Um, I just got out of a yoga class.”

LINCOLN: Do you have a background in writing? What prompted you to sign a book deal?

GREER: The literary agent at my agency, at CAA, her name is Cait Hoyt—I’d never met her before—but, I do a web series called Reluctantly Healthy, and she watched like all my episodes in a day and called my point agent and asked if it was something I’d ever thought about, so he set up a phone call. My whole team, we all got on the phone, and started talking about it. She was pitching that I should write a book because she thought I was really funny on Reluctantly Healthy, so she thought it could be a Reluctantly Healthy book, or a collection of essays, or both. Then she told me that lifestyle books are very expensive to produce, so they’re harder to sell. Then I decided I would take a crack at writing some essays and then give them to her, and that’s kind of what started the process. I just wrote a proposal—she and I went through it together—and then she edited it for me, and she sent it out and then Random House bought it.

LINCOLN: So is it like, each chapter represents a different stage in your career, or a collection of funny moments?

GREER: Every essay is a chapter, it’s kind of divided into three sections right now … I hope I’m allowed to say this. There’s a section about my past and who I am and where I’m from and my family, and there’s a section about my Hollywood life, and a section about my regular-normal-person-whose-car-sputters-in-her-driveway life. I don’t know which people will find the most interesting … probably the Hollywood part. [laughs]

LINCOLN: I love hearing what actors were doing before they “made it.” I was reading your IMDB biography the other day, and it mentions you were an oyster shucker prior to landing your first acting gig.

GREER: That’s funny that that’s on there. I was, for one day… I quit on the first day of that job. I got hired to be an oyster shucker, which is incredibly difficult to do. Have you ever tried it?

LINCOLN: Honestly, I don’t even really know what it means to shuck an oyster.

GREER: You have to like, jam this thing in between the oyster and like, pry it open, and not fuck up the oyster so that it looks pretty when you serve it at a restaurant. It’s really hard, and they opened up this oyster bar in Chicago, and I think I was finishing my last year of college and so a friend of mine got me a job there. I went there and worked one day. My manager was such a douchebag, I walked out.

LINCOLN: [laughs] Good for you that you walked out!

GREER: Yeah! First, he was a douchebag, and then he walked up behind me and untied my apron and it fell to the floor. I just took off my gloves and walked out of the restaurant. [laughs] I had a girlfriend who was in town from Detroit to visit me, and I really wanted to hang out with her and was really resentful that I had to work anyway, and then this guy was such a dick, so I was like, “Fuck this, I’m leaving.”

LINCOLN: I’m going to steer us into Carrie territory now. First of all, I have to ask, have you read the Stephen King novel?

GREER: I read it when I was a kid, and I reread it when I came on to do the movie.

LINCOLN: And what did you think of it?

GREER: I think the book is amazing. I mean, it’s a classic. It’s so well written. You know, I think that was his first book, and he threw it in the garbage and his wife pulled it out.

LINCOLN: Really? I had no idea.

GREER: Don’t quote me on it, but I read a story about it. It actually might have been in the introduction of the copy I bought. He wrote it—and maybe he didn’t finish it, but it was almost done—and he had the manuscript and thought it was such garbage that he threw it in the garbage, and his wife pulled it out and was like, “You need to finish this.” It’s something like that. It’s so crazy, it’s such a beautiful story. I mean, obviously it’s terrifying and scary, but it’s a beautiful story about this girl who gets her day. I mean, yes, she dies, and she has to kill everyone, but I feel like in a way, Carrie’s an angel.

LINCOLN: Remakes are always tough, because critics will often pit two films against each other—the original versus the remake. Because Carrie is such an iconic film, are you concerned about how it will be received?

GREER: Yeah, I mean, I’m concerned about how everything is going to be received. I agree with you, when you do a remake of something, you’re setting yourself up for comparison. It’s bad enough when people are comparing your movie to just other random movies, but when you have another Carrie to compare it to, it’s rough. But I don’t know, I think the story is very relevant today with bullying, and so, I think we have maybe a bit more of a vulnerable take on it.

LINCOLN: Speaking of bullying, I would love to hear about your own high school experience. Did you identify with a particular clique?

GREER: No… I mean, I guess when I first started acting in high school I became friends with the theater people, because that’s what you do and you spend your whole time with them. It never felt very cliquey, but I don’t know, maybe it seemed that way from the outside. I never felt popular in high school… I was very unattractive. I finally got a boyfriend my senior year, but he didn’t go to our school. No boys liked me. I don’t know, I have really good memories of high school because of the theater community there, but I never went to a football game, I never went to any of the dances, I was never invited to any of that stuff. Now I feel like I wish I would have tried a little harder.

LINCOLN: It’s sort of hard in high school because you don’t really know who you are yet—nobody does—so it’s a large group of kids who don’t know who they are, and for whatever reason feel the need to be assholes while they’re figuring it out.

GREER: I feel like a lot of high schoolers are assholes. To this day, I’m very nervous around high schoolers. I have a stepdaughter who’s a senior in high school, and her friends scare me in groups.

LINCOLN: What was it like watching Chloë Grace Moretz get tormented day after day on set?

GREER: It was hard. I mean, the famous shower scene with the tampons was so much, I really didn’t like it. I come in at the end of it, so they shot for one day—the shower stuff—before I got there, and so, they showed me playbacks of the scene and it made me cry, because it was so hard to watch them be so mean to her.

LINCOLN: That’s awful! Although I guess it’s a good sign you had such a strong reaction to that scene.

GREER: Yeah, definitely. She just seemed so tiny and vulnerable and she was covering herself up with her towel, and it just broke my heart. It reminded me of when you see those terrible abused puppy commercials, you know? And you see the puppy chained to a fence and they’re emaciated and scared and cowering, and you’re like, “How could anyone do that?” How is it that in that group of girls not one of them said, “No, stop”? Would they do that to a puppy? It’s disgusting. Sorry… I’m remembering it now, it’s really bothering me.

LINCOLN: I always wonder what it’s like to walk away from the set of a horror film. How do you just brush that off and go about the rest of your day?

GREER: That’s a good question. I don’t know … wine? It feels sort of like work … but you have to take your make-up off if there’s blood or dirt on you, or anything. You have to go to the hair and make-up trailer and get them to remove it. It’s usually loud and there’s music, and everyone’s kind of dancing and it’s super fun and we’re all joking and so happy to be done working for the day. For me, I was able to walk away from it pretty easily. It was just the end of the day. But one day, I fell at work in a scene and I hurt my back, and that day I was like, “Ugh, I feel like a hundred-year-old person!” I’m fine, but that night I was really reminded of what I was doing.

LINCOLN: Are you a fan of the horror genre in general?

GREER: Yeah, I am. I am, but I don’t seek it out as much. I’ll watch it on television—you know, on cable. I don’t always go to the movies to see them unless I have a friend in one. But, I like being scared.

LINCOLN: Do you have a favorite scary movie?

GREER: Probably Alien. I think it’s sort of the ultimate horror film, even though it’s not gory, it’s pretty much the true definition of horror.

LINCOLN: I agree. Definitely a classic choice.

GREER: I like that one a lot. Honestly, I probably would have said the original Carrie too. Rosemary’s Baby … anything Satan-y works on me.

LINCOLN: I’ll let you go, but I have to ask: Have you ever exited a room by saying, “Say goodbye to these”?

GREER: [laughs] That’s so funny. Can you believe no?

LINCOLN: Really? If I were you, I feel like I would do that all the time. Maybe I would need to be drunk, though.

GREER: [laughs] You know how a lot of people ask me what they know me from? People come up to me all the time and say, “Say goodbye to these!” or, “This is the last time you’re going to see these.” I get flashed a lot. Girls will pretend to flash me, but guys will actually flash me and say that to me. That’s so weird, I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to do that.

LINCOLN: You should do that on set today. Show everybody what you’re made of.

GREER: Say goodbye to these.

LINCOLN: Because it’s the last time.

GREER: It’s the last time, Michael. It’s the last time.

CARRIE IS OUT IN THEATERS TOMORROW, OCTOBER 18. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW ME FROM IS DUE OUT IN APRIL 2014.