chat room

Judy Greer on Her Most Memorable Roles and What Makes a Judy Greer Character

Photo: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Judy Greer is nothing if not lovely and gracious. Why, then, are so many of the characters she plays high-strung and eccentric? In anticipation of the second-season premiere of FX’s Married, Greer sat down with Vulture at the Austin Television Festival to talk about some of her more memorable characters and where the roles begin and her personality leaves off. Plus, a frank discussion of the California property-tax situation.

The thing I love about Married is how it showed love as projected through annoyance. I feel like there were a lot of people who didn’t get that when they first watched the series.
I think that the first episode of Married was so shocking to people that they didn’t fall in love with it. We were giving them something that was so outside the box, or at least showed the things you never talk about. All my friends have talked about that, and they’re all joking, that their spouse can go have sex with other people. They just don’t want to know about it. And I think that was really jarring to have the first scene of the show (which is why my parents refuse to watch it) be him jerking it next to me in bed, which I think is amazing and hilarious and probably realistic.

And if you don’t get that, then you’re living in a fantasy world.
Right, because you don’t want to talk about what’s really happening out there, what it’s really like to be married. Because sometimes it’s hard and sometimes you’re like, “You know what? Have at it.” What drew me to the show in the first place was the incredible friendship that Russ and Lina Bowman had, and that was something that, at the time, as a newlywed, I wanted to make sure to keep in my relationship. And what I saw working so well for my parents, who had been married for over 40 years, is just that they seem to really like hanging out with each other because they’re really good friends, and they’re not competitive, and they’re not resentful, and they really make each other laugh and have fun. I felt like that is the truth for Russ and Lina, and that’s what was interesting to me. It wasn’t like they were so in love or they were so lusty — they were still good friends, and I think we managed to get that point across through the first season. And [in] the second season I think you’ll see it a lot more.

So what makes a Judy Greer character? Are there certain elements that seem to pop up more than others?
I don’t know. That’s a good question because I feel like my characters evolve as I do, and I’ve been doing this now for about 16 years. I always wonder what it would be like to go back in time and now play a character from earlier in my career, and how that character would be different and how she would change, because I really just try to be honest and use whatever’s happening for me emotionally in my life at the time. And yeah, sometimes characters in certain scripts and plots dictate other things. Like maybe I wouldn’t chase down a gunman, but maybe the person I’m playing would, but I don’t really get cast in roles like that, what am I talking about? I think it’s just [that] my characters change as I do, and I find that to be the easiest, laziest way to do it.

Can we talk a little bit about Love Monkey? That was such a sweet and good show.
I really loved that job. I was so sad when it was over. I know it was really good and it was such a great group of people. We had so much fun together. It reminded me a lot of Married in that it was just really well-cast. Like personality-wise, we all loved each other, I miss it so much. That was one of the best years of my life.

It was so fantastic, and it was one of the first times that I was really distraught that something got canceled, that it couldn’t find its audience, because it’s almost something that would do much better now because it was a little … not CBS-y.
I know, it wasn’t CBS-y. It was an hour long, and I wonder if it should’ve been a half. Now it probably would be a half-hour, single-camera. And cable would be the right place for it because we could have done more. There was a lot of “networking” that happens when you’re on one of the big networks, but I really loved that job, I miss it so much, and I feel like it was a really great character for me to play. I think that she was more of a grown-up than I was at that time, so in one way, playing her caused a lot of things to settle down in my head, and I really liked the effect that playing her had on me.

That’s really cool — it’s not always that they’re mirroring you but sometimes that you’re mirroring them.
I feel that way, like, what do I bring to the character, what does the character bring to my life? And sometimes if you play a bad person, that can be really influential, too, you know, like I played a character in 13 Going on 30 who was a real double-crosser. I like that character, she was a double-crosser and a terrible friend, but I also learned from her how to stick up for yourself, and she was like, eye on the prize, man. This is about me.

And that’s something that especially women are kind of told not to do, lest you be a bitch.
Be quiet, don’t be a bitch. Its like, I’m not a bitch, sorry if I’m asking for the actual dish that I ordered. That doesn’t make me a bitch because you fucked up in the kitchen.

Tell me about Cheryl/Carol on Archer.
Oh yeah, she’s so crazy. I want to do, like, I don’t know if they’ll ever do a live-action Archer sometime. I love her, she’s crazy and she’s so fun. When they sent me the script for the pilot and I recorded it, Cheryl/Carol was a weepy sad-sack of a secretary pining for Archer, and they called her Cheryl/Carol because Archer could never remember what her name was, and then he fucked her and then was like, “Eh, fuck it, I don’t like her anymore,” and she was just sobbing and weeping and pining for him. I’m just so thrilled with the turn that character has taken.

I was always like, “Adam, when did you end up making her so crazy?” He was like, “Well, you.” I’m like, “Thank you?” He was like, “Well, when you came on to do it, then I knew that we had to beef up the character but make her somewhat interesting, and you’re just so weird and crazy.”

It’s just the thing, you feed into the characters …

Can you tell me about season two of Married? What are you doing?
Well, in season two we have jobs and a tiny, little bit more money. We have a new house, which we’ve been kicked out of. This is not a plot point, we literally got kicked out of the house we’ve been shooting in.

So I’m like, “Does that mean if we get a season three we have to move again?” They’re like, “Yes.”

Oh my God.
I was like, “Oh, I really liked our new house,” and they’re like, “Well, don’t get used to it.” The neighborhood was in revolt. In season two we have jobs, we have a little more money, we seem to be getting along maybe a little bit better. We’re a little bit more physical with each other, and yet Russ has got a lot more obligations at his work because he’s got a real job now, so he’s getting pushed and pulled more than he’s used to. There’s like a little bit less arbitrary socializing between Russ and his friends. Which, during the first season, my real-life friends were like, “My husband would never be allowed to go out and drink as much as you let Russ go out.” I was like, “I don’t let him, it’s a TV show, first of all.”

Brett Gelman is amazing in this season, AJ has become sober and celibate. John Hodgman has a bigger role, thank God, because he is the secret weapon. We no longer have Jenny Slate, but, thankfully, we have Sarah Burns, who is playing the role of Abby, who is amazing, and she’s acting also as my friend, so Lina has a friend, finally, and a love interest for AJ.

That’s been really great, and I love having her around and our scenes are always fun. She’s a total weirdo, which is great. She fits right in. Our girls are older, and she turns 40 during season two and she’s really fighting with, “What is my life? Did all I really do is get married and have kids? Is that it?” She’s like, “Who am I, anyway? Am I my lack of résumé?” She is having that moment that I see a lot of women have who stopped when they had the babies to take care of the kids, and now the kids are kind of older and she’s like, “Oh, wait.”

That all sounds really cool. And actually, getting kicked out of your house every year sounds like a fairly typical L.A. experience if you have a terrible landlord. That’s actually something I loved about the first season, it really embraced the economic difficulties of trying to live in Los Angeles.
I genuinely don’t know how civilians do it. One of our executive producers, Jamie Babbit, who has also directed a lot of our episodes, he’s like, “You basically have to have $160,000 to buy a house in L.A. because that’s going to be 20 percent for a down payment. Any house is going to be around $800,000.” I’m like, “Who? How?”

You don’t. You get it left to you, or …

Your parents, or …
There’s so many people I know in Thousand Oaks, well, it’s cheaper there and the schools are public and they’re good, so that’s another thing.

That’s good!
Yeah, but a lot of them live in the house they grew up in.

That’s exactly right, because California messed up the property tax to the point where if you inherit property, you don’t pay the inflated tax rate. I’m sure Vulture’s readers will be really interested in the California property-tax situation.
Everyone’s interested in real estate. Everyone.

Especially in L.A., I think it’s so relevant. There are a lot, especially sitcoms, that were digging into that when I was growing up. With Roseanne and Grace Under Fire, they worked in factories.
Yes, Roseanne’s a great example of a blue-collar family and what their house looked like and what their lifestyle was like.

And I think that as the middle class has disappeared, so has their representation on TV. That’s why I think Married even touching on those issues at all is very interesting and a real credit to the first season.

That said, it’s also realistic to have those upturns, too, at least before being summarily kicked out of your second house.
Well, we really needed to get jobs. That seemed very important to our viewers, and I heard it a lot.

So Nat [Faxon] came by your room earlier to have you pick out what he should wear tonight? That’s so crazy because it literally sounds like having a second husband.
I feel like a good wife, like a TV wife.

It’s like he’s full Method with this whole process.
So they bought us a camper to sit in between takes, and I decorated it like a Mexican fiesta. It’s called the Jamboree. I knew we were good when we could sit in the Jamboree and not talk to each other and just like read and dick around with our phones and stuff.

That’s the gauge of a good relationship, how long you can sit silently in each other’s presence and not feel weird about it. You don’t have to say anything or apologize.
Yeah, 100 percent. We’re good.

Judy Greer on What Makes a Judy Greer Character