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Q&A: Judy Greer of 'The Descendants'

(Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
November 15, 2011|By Matt Pais | RedEye movie critic

Judy Greer knows she’s played the “best friend role” in what feels like countless romantic comedies. But she’s not going to swear them off.

“I see actors making decisions like, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore.’ Like, ‘I don’t want to be on a television show anymore. I want to be a movie star,’” says Greer, whose new film, “The Descendants,” opens Nov. 18. “Then it’s like they never do anything again, and you see them back on television.”

Fortunately, the Michigan-raised DePaul grad—who has appeared in many films, including “27 Dresses” and “The Wedding Planner,” but is probably best known for her role as Kitty Sanchez in “Arrested Development”—sometimes gets to stretch. Two years ago she asked her agents to find her different, small roles, and Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” is a perfect example of what Greer was looking for: Appearing as the wife of the man who’s been sleeping with George Clooney’s character’s now-comatose wife, she has only a few scenes but exudes real warmth and vulnerability.

At the Public Hotel, the L.A.-based 36-year-old talked about kissing Clooney, the benefits of pinch-hitting for the star and how large Kitty’s breasts should be when “Arrested Development” returns.

You previously worked with George Clooney on “Three Kings.” Be honest: Then or now, how many of your friends asked you what it was like to kiss him?
Everyone asks me what it was like to kiss him. Every single person I talk to. I don’t remember! It’s work. It’s weird. You’re shooting and it’s strange. … We [bleeping] shot that kiss so many times from so many angles and set-ups. I was like, I thought George was punking me, [to use] Ashton’s term. Because George makes practical jokes all the time. But I also knew that in shooting a movie it’s so expensive and it was a night shoot so I was like, “They’re not going to play that joke on me. It’s too expensive of a joke to play on just me.” But we did shoot it over and over and over and over. So, that was awesome.

So what do you tell your friends when they ask?
I say, tough day at work. I was in Kauai, I had to kiss George Clooney. It was funny, I’m actually getting married, but I was sort of just dating my fiancé at the time and he was like, “I’m fine with it. I mean I’m totally fine with it.” And his friends back home were all like, “So, Judy’s like making out with George Clooney all day? That seems awesome. You really honestly think she’s going to come back and still want to date you?” But, I did. [Laughs.]

When taking a supporting role, how much do you consider the broader film, as opposed to just the character you’re playing?
I would say that 75 percent of the time, OK, 50 percent of the time it’s about paying my bills. Because I have friends that I consider them to be more artists when taking work. And I always just think of myself, and maybe it’s my Midwest mentality, but I have to work. It’s my job. And at this point I’m not qualified to do anything else ‘cause I don’t know how to use computers and you have to use computers now all the time.

Admitting that is very much Midwestern-style honesty.
Like, I need money ‘cause I have to live, and I have a giant dog who eats nonstop.

What kind of dog?
American Bulldog. Uhh, he’s so awesome! Anyway. So he is a big eater. But I also look at who is in the movie. I do read the script before my auditions. And that to me … it depends on the movie. An Alexander Payne script isn’t going to change that much. A movie like “27 Dresses,” we’re going to have writers on set. We’re going to be doing punch-ups. We’re going to be doing jokes. They’re going to let me make it funnier if I need to. So I know this in my head having done a bunch of romantic comedies. But for the most part I get to have more freedom in those situations so I don’t worry so much if it’s not always on the page. I wish it always was on the page, but sometimes it’s not and sometimes it’s OK … “Is it going to take me out of the market for other things that are going to be potentially better? Is this a movie that’s going to come out? Is it a character I’ve played before? Is it a character I want to play?”

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