Over the past dozen years, Judy Greer has been a consistent presence in film and television, amassing more than 80 credits as a recurring guest star, supportive friend and cheeky comic relief.
This year she co-stars in Alexander Payne‘s “The Descendants,” which is wowing critics and awards commentators as it slowly builds buzz for awards recognition in the coming months. Judy plays a woman caught up in the main storyline as the main protagonist, played by George Clooney, learns that his wife (Patti Hastie), who lies in a coma, was having an affair with another man (Matthew Lillard), who is married to Judy’s character.
It is a departure for Judy, as she is called on to display a range of emotions as the betrayed wife. For Judy, working on the film was a joyous experience. “I never felt like I was shooting a drama or a comedy or aiming for a certain genre,” she recalled in conversation with Chris Beachum and Rob Licuria. “The mood on set was fun and light, even in those dramatic scenes.” Judy credits the director for this, saying “Alexander is calm, he’s cool, he’s in control. It felt real, which is I think what the movie felt like to me when I saw it the first time.”
Judy has been a longtime fan of the director, revealing, “When I first saw ‘Citizen Ruth’ I [said to myself] ‘I have to work with this man’, so going into the room for the audition was reward enough because I got to meet Alexander Payne and I got to act for him.” And, as she recalled, “It was the most insane thing, when I got back from Christmas vacation, he’d left me a message on my cell phone; which I’ve saved – it’s been a year and a half, almost two years! – [telling me] that I got the part. That was one of the best days of my life.”
Judy has been taken aback by the raves she’s received for her performance so far. Manohla Dargis (New York Times) noted recently that Judy, “makes a strong, poignant impression in a handful of scenes” and “shifts the film’s center of gravity and alters its emotional chemistry: Ms. Greer reminds Mr. Clooney’s character and the audience mesmerized by his star power that it is not all about him.”
Judy’s role is relatively smaller than that of some of her co-stars. “I wasn’t in a lot of scenes,” she says, “but the scenes I was in, I felt really connected to, and I think that was because everyone was so perfectly cast … and that’s one of the great things about Alexander Payne as a director … it’s just so interesting the people he chooses to play these roles and everyone feels really authentic.”
Anyone watching Oscar races over the last few years knows that small roles cannot be counted out if they stand out. In 2008, Viola Davis was recognized with Oscar, SAG and Golden Globe nominations for her few powerful scenes in “Doubt,” while Michael Shannon was a surprise breakthrough that year in the Supporting Actor Oscar race despite his relatively brief appearance in “Revolutionary Road.” And Judi Dench won an Oscar in 1998 (and was nominated for a SAG and Globe) for her eight-minute appearance in “Shakespeare in Love,” making an indelible mark with a standout performance that overcame a lack of screen time.
Judy is now preparing to help promote the film as it opens, and also for the gruelling awards season ahead, perhaps maybe even for her own performance. “I feel lucky to even be a part of it … it’s a dream come true to work with Alexander Payne, and anything that comes out of it … it’s just so cool to be a part of something so beautiful.”
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