The Descendants' Judy Greer on Her Memorable First Meeting with George Clooney and Two and a Half Men

descendants300.jpgThere has always been something innately memorable about actress Judy Greer. The curiously beautiful actress with razor-sharp timing, a scene-stealer in everything from What Women Want to Arrested Development, carries an underlying melancholy behind her eyes that lends the sweetest characters deeper layers and the over the top ones an even greater sense of unpredictability, whether in comedies or, increasingly, in dramatic fare. So maybe she was born to be in an Alexander Payne movie like The Descendants, which flits back and forth along the painful edge between tragedy and humor in ways that feel completely, and achingly, human.

The Descendants (adapted by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from Kaui Hart Hemmings novel of the same name) stars George Clooney as Matt King, a lawyer and father of two in Hawaii caught in a crisis when he discovers his comatose wife's infidelity. Comedy and tears ensue and intertwine in classic Payne style as King discovers the bittersweetness of regret, understanding and forgiveness, aided by co-star Judy Greer's turn as Julie Speer, the unwitting fourth corner in this love quadrangle.

Movieline spoke with Greer about The Descendants, her memorable first meeting -- and love scene -- with co-star Clooney for 1999's Three Kings, her favorite theater and moviegoing habits, and why, after guest-starring on Season 4 of Two and a Half Men, she returned to the series in the wake of Charlie Sheen's departure.

It's fun to see you in The Descendants, because you share most of your scenes with George Clooney --

That's fun for me too, by the way!

And it calls to mind the previous time you and he shared a scene, in Three Kings.

I know! It was weird! It was fun to see him again and talk about that and how young I was at the time when I shot that scene. It was maybe 12 years ago?

It's a memorable scene.

And it's the first time you see his character, or are introduced to him. It's kind of amazing -- he's having sex with some girl! We talked about how I got the part and the first time I met him. I was like, I couldn't believe I met you and they literally said, 'You've got the part -- now you've got to come rehearse this scene with George Clooney,' where they were already rehearsing with Nora Dunn and Mykelti Williamson. They were like, 'Here he is -- now go in the bathroom and you guys are pretending to have sex and they barge in on you, action!' And I'm like, 'Wait, I got the part? And I go in with George Clooney who I've been watching every week on E.R.??' I was freaking out. We laughed about that.

You're mostly known for comedy; were you looking for anything specific when the role in The Descendants fell across your lap?

I got it from my agent, who sent me the script and said that they had set up this audition for me. Obviously we were all really excited about it. Maybe a year or two before I had mentioned it might be fun to try to look for some more dramatic roles... some smaller roles in either good-sized movies or independent movies, just so I could try to exercise that muscle a little bit. I'm not saying that's why The Descendants came my way; it might have come my way anyway. But that was something that I was actively looking to find.

Your role is incredibly effective, considering that we aren't introduced to you until well into the film. But it's such a potent part; she plays such a pivotal role in the resolution of Matt King's quest for closure. How do you look at a role like this and the function it serves?

Well, I didn't really think about its function in the movie when I was shooting it. I just thought it was so cool that it was in there, it was such a great role that was so well written and well-rounded, and in such a small amount of scenes. That's so hard to do! You can be number one on the call sheet in a movie and not have a role that's that well-written, you know? But after seeing the movie cut together and everything I see that one of my functions in the movie seems to be to get George to defend his wife, and to stick up for her, and to ultimately say goodbye to her.

For the length of time that we know her, she seems like the most reasonable human being around. Everyone else is hiding something, or angry, or struggling one way or another. And yet even her story is tinged with both comedy and sadness. When it finally comes out of her, it's hilarious and heartbreaking at once.

I think that's what is so amazing about Alexander's movies; they find the perfect tone. He's brilliant at creating both beautiful, poignant moments that end in laughter, that can start in tears and end in laughter or start in laughter and end with tears. And he never really tells his audience what to think about anything. He simply presents an option of a situation. He's not heavy handed with his music choices in movies, he's not heavy handed with the amount of words that come out of a character's mouth. Instead of showing a scene where the little girl, Scottie, says goodbye to her mom, he shows her walking into the room with her older sister. And you know what's going to happen. You get to use your imagination, or maybe even take a memory from your own life and put it in that place if it's something that you responded to or an experience that's actually happened to you. But he gives you the freedom to use your brain and I love that. I love that he makes me part of the storytelling because of what he doesn't show.

You're right. And that scene's lovely because the sound just fades out; the family's ultimate conversations are left private, and that amplifies the theme of letting go of your loved ones in a deeply personal way.

I know. It's about forgiveness and it's about letting go. I think that's a great way of putting it. It's also a coming of age story for a boy who happens to be 50 years old. Instead of being that Holden Caulfield character just out of prep school, we're getting a man who's lived half of his life and has to start over.

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  • Elias says:

    I love Judy Greer! Like a lot of folks I was first introduced to her through Arrested Development, and have been following her career ever since. Her voice work is one of the highlights of Archer, and her and Tyler Labine were the only bright spots in the one-season-and-out Mad Love, with the unfortunate Jason Biggs. Nice to see Ms. Greer getting more work!

  • blizzard bound says:

    Love her. Wouldn't it be great if there were a movie where Judy Greer and Patricia Clarkson played sisters?

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