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Capone chats with the wonderful Judy Greer about THE DESCENDANTS and JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

As you'll see in my review of the new Alexander Payne film THE DESCENDANTS (that I'll post in a couple of days) part of the true strength of it, or any other Payne work, is the value of the supporting players. In this film, the always-reliable Judy Greer plays the wife of Matthew Lillard whose role in the lives of George Clooney and his now-comatose wife will change the direction of Clooney's character's life.

There's no way to conduct an interview with Greer about THE DESCENDANTS without spoiling story elements that you might already know, but consider this your warning if you want to preserve the film's plot points. I've interviewed Greer a couple of times in the past--once, in 2005 at the Bermuda Film Festival, where she was on a jury. It was a really fun interview because she wasn't there promoting a particular film, so we covered a great deal of her career up to that point. The second time was a couple of years back at the SXSW Film Festival, where she was promoting the barely released dark comedy BARRY MUNDAY, opposite Patrick Wilson.

Greer has effectively cornered the market in playing the "best friend" or "the sister" or "assistant" to all sorts of leading ladies over the years, while still finding plenty of odd-ball roles where she really gets to shine. Many too note of her when she played Kitty Sanchez on "Arrested Development." But most people first spotted her as the suicidal co-worker of Mel Gibson in WHAT WOMEN WANT, and she entered the Film Geek Hall of Fame for playing the waitress that turns down Charlie Kaufman in ADAPTATION.

She's also had high-profile parts in the last year is such films as THREE KINGS, 13 GOING ON 30, THE VILLAGE, ELIZABETHTOWN, THE TV SET, 27 DRESSES, THE WEDDING PLANNER, VISIONEERS, LOVE HAPPENS, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS. She also had a killer recurring role as the hooker Trixie on "Californication," and has recently part-time joined the cast of "Two and a Half Men" as Ashton Kutcher's ex-wife (ouch!). And I happen to love the insane work she's doing on FX's "Archer" as Cheryl/Carol. And what about that ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT series revival and movie? So many questions, so little time. And after all these years interviewing her, she remains a delight to chat with. Please enjoy the lovely Judy Greer…

Judy Greer: Hello!

Capone: Hello, it’s good to see you.

JG: You too.

Capone: We’ve actually met a couple of times before.

JG: That’s what I thought, yeah.

Capone: With the most memorable probably being the Bermuda Film Festival many years ago.

JG: Oh my gosh, I’m sure I had had many drinks at that festival. That was so fun.

Capone: It was at that party at that house. That’s where we talked.

JG: That was so awesome, so cool. I heard in L.A. they are going to have a big party that. Well in New York there was like a tastemaker party or something. This woman through a party at a restaurant and then I heard that closer to the award season some other person in L.A. throws a party at their house. It’s crazy, but that Bermuda one was so cool. It’s fun when you go to a new place and you get to see how people really live instead of kind of just going to restaurants and hotels all of the time.

Capone: Yeah, I agree. That was a lot of fun. And you weren’t there promoting anything, because you were on a jury, so that freed us up to talk about everything. So let’s talk about this movie. I’ve also seen JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME not once, but twice.

JG: You did? Thank you.

Capone: I do want to ask you about that, too.

JG: Please do.

Capone: I think it’s a great, great movie. So the couple of scenes in this film that you are in are probably the most high-tension moments of the film, because we are not quite sure how George Clooney’s character is going to relieve himself of his anger, anxiety. I don’t think he knows. What’s interesting with that first scene of the two of you on the beach is that on paper, if you just extracted that scene, it would be a very mundane normal scene of two people meeting. But in context, we're really kind of on the edge.

JG: Well I tried to just keep it as mundane, as you said. That was a good word. I didn’t really think too much about the movie, I just thought of a woman who's watching her kids to make sure they don’t die in the ocean, and this guy is talking to her and it’s kind of weird. I think that when he mentions that his wife is in a coma or in the hospital or whatever his line is, I think that would sort of appeal to this woman that that’s really sad and that he has two kids. I didn’t make a choice to play it anything, except for normal, calm, watching her kids, I mean I remember thinking “Should I be weirded out that this dude is talking to me?”

Capone: “When does he start hitting on me?”

JG: Yeah, like “What’s happening here?” What I did in my audition is what I think what I did in the movie, and it seemed like that’s what Alexander wanted. He was more specific…I should say my memory is not always awesome, but I remember him being more specific about that scene when we were shooting it than the other two.

Capone: Really? What was it he got specific about in that scene?

JG: I try as best I can to memorize my lines word for word and especially in an Alexander Payne movie, where he’s rewritten the script, and you just want it to be perfect, because he is someone that I trust. Yet in the moment with George Clooney, Hawaii, beach, working, scary, nervous, you mix things up. And he was so specific about the tone of my voice and the words that I said for that scene. I think he just always really liked that scene. The specific thing I remember is she says, ‘Like a motor boat?” I was mixing up “One with a motor” and “A motor boat,” and he was really specific about it being the way it was in the movie. I forget which one now, but I thought that was so interesting, and I was like “I love him so much.”

Capone: There is a turning-point scene, but it certainly doesn’t feel like one when you’re watching it. You realize that that moment determines the path of the rest of the film. It lays the groundwork for everything that happens after it.

JG: He is such a specific director, which I've learned even more having now done the other scenes and doing press with him now and getting to know him better. He’s curious, but he has an opinion, and it’s just fascinating. It’s really cool to be around him now too when we are not working together. I enjoy all of our Q&As, because I love to hear his answers to questions, because I really don’t know and I wasn’t there for very long. Shailene and George and Nick were obviously there for four months, so I didn’t get as much "AP" as everyone else. So it’s fun to hear how he talks about his films and filmmaking and to understand now when I look back on the movies that he’s made, the nuances are all him, having these pictures in his head. He just hears it and he sees it and he’s so prepared and he knows just what he wants, but he’s always great in that you feel like you are discovering it, not being told what to do by him, but it is ultimately him.

Capone: The first time when George an his daughter come to the house, that’s another scene where I suspect that your character is starting to think that she’s not being told something.

JG: Yeah.

Capone: For that whole sequence where the two men are in the house, and you and his daughter are in the background the whole time. That’s a really strange thing. It’s like “There’s the threat, right there. How bad does George Clooney’s character want to mess up this guy’s life?”

JG: I know, right on the other side of the wall. If I happen to go inside for anything, I could have overheard their conversation. I wasn’t trying to play that I was suspicious of anything at all. I feel like when I’m on vacation personally, I love meeting people; I would totally do what she did. If someone came by and was like, “Yeah, I do know your husband” or “I rented this house” or whatever, I feel like I would be like, “Oh my God, come on in. Have a drink. Have some dinner.” It seems like a Hawaiian thing to do too; there’s a lot of “aloha.” I unfortunately didn’t get to spend as much time in Hawaii, but like I said the other group, the main characters, they understand so much more about the Hawaiian culture, and apparently everyone is very welcoming and very easy, and I just didn’t really want to play that I was suspicious…until [George and I] kiss, then I’m like “What?”

Capone: You said you auditioned for this?

JG: Yeah.

Capone: I was wondering, because I know you worked with George in one very memorable scene in THREE KINGS. Did the movie come to you? How did you find out about the movie?

JG: The old-fashioned way, like my agent called and said that Alexander Payne was directing a script, and I dropped the phone and then picked it up and was like “Oh my God,” and then they sent me the script and they sent me the scenes, and I auditioned with all of my scenes from the movie. I think I did; I keep saying that I did, but now I wonder “Did I?” I feel like I did.

Capone: You’re probably saying it for a reason.

JG: I’m sure I did. I don’t even know how many weeks or months went by. I remember I auditioned just before the holidays and then when I got back in January to L.A., Alexander called me on the phone, which by the way is a classy thing to do if you’re a director. That’s happened to me twice in my life. Well actually three times: Jake Kasdan, M. Night Shyamalan, and Alexander Payne. They all called me. With Night, he called. I had already auditioned for [THE VILLAGE], but he called to ask me if I would read the script and think about accepting the role, like “Duh.”

Capone: So he gives it to you, like it’s your decision.

JG: Yeah, because we weren’t allowed to read the script, because it was a big secret. But yeah with Alexander, he called and left me a voicemail, and I saved it and I still have it saved [laughs]. So I called him back and he’s like, “I’d like you to be in this movie.” I was like, “Whoa, okay.”

Capone: So let me talk about JEFF just a little bit. Did you adapt pretty well to the Duplass Brother’s way of doing things, of directing and not blocking scnes, and all of the improvising?

JG: Oh yeah, that is so my jam. Yeah, I love that.

Capone: Do you get a lot of chances to do it?

JG: No, but you know they use these cameras… Did they shoot that on the Red camera? There’s a Canon too that people are way into right now. I don’t remember which camera, but whatever camera they shot, the DP of that movie. The thing is that those cameras and the way that we shot, we used a lot in natural light, and it’s just conducive to working quickly and changing things a lot, like to not having to hit a specific mark. We’re not being set up and lit for two hours, and I’ve been in movies where when they turn around you’re like, “I have four hours. I’m going to go shopping and I’ll come back,” and this was not that way, and you could hit different marks every time. You could do whatever you wanted, and they had two cameras going. There wasn’t like crazy lighting, and so it’s really fun, especially working with people like Ed [Helms] and Jason [Segel], it makes it really easy to work that way, because they are very much that way, and they're really prepared.

Capone: Most of your scenes with Ed--or should I say most of the scenes where you get to talk are with Ed, because you're in a lot of this movie where Jason and Ed are following and observing you. But the scene in the hotel room is so hard to watch. I think any couple who has had a huge fight or had long-lasting problems in their relationship knows a variation of that conversation. What were you pulling from for that discussion?

JG: I can’t speak for Ed, but I have a specific memory. Yeah, there was a relationship in my past that was pretty easy to draw on. I have to say, though, for me when I’m acting that kind of scene, I use that when I need it, but if something’s well written, I would say about JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, about DESCENDANTS, about a couple of other movies I can think of off the top that I’ve done, when something’s on the page, it doesn’t take a lot for me. Thinking of the actual situation, thinking of the situation of that woman in DESCENDANTS walked into in that hospital room, that was enough for me I would say for most of the day. Then I have to think about songs or drawing on other memories in my life, sometimes movies that I’ve seen that affect me, I can think of those things. But for JEFF, I just really understood, and maybe I understood because of the past relationship, and it’s all leading up to playing that scene and not having to think about my past, because it’s already in my cells, but not to be all artsy, but that seems very sad and confusing, and I understood where she was coming from.

Capone: With that hospital scene in THE DESCENDANTS, we hear about you confronting your husband finally, but I don’t think we see it, right?

JG: No, you don’t.

Capone: Did they shoot it and just not use it? Or did you just never shoot it?

JG: No.

Capone: Were you disappointed you didn’t get to lay into Matthew Lillard?

JG: No, I really liked the way it was dealt with. I always think back from theater school of Chekhov and how everything happens off stage. Alexander said something in a Q&A recently that one of the things about American movies is that in American movies, when you say “2 + 2,” the American movie says “4,” and he doesn’t ever want to say “4.” He’s like “You don’t need to say “4.” I think he’s quoting a book that he read by someone. What I think is cool about Alexander Payne is he never says “4,” like you don’t need the “4.” In this case, you get the “4” without the “2+2.” You don’t need the fight. It’s certainly not one of the main A or B storylines; it’s not necessary. But I think that her showing up at the room tells the audience everything they need to know about that confrontation. And that it’s still going on probably.

Capone: One last thing, and you’ve got to be sick of answering these questions after so many years, but they have finally said that…


Capone: And I wouldn’t even ask the question, but it sounds like they’ve solidified. Have you been contacted at all about being in either the movie or the episodes?

JG: I haven’t been contacted about it, but when people say like “Are you going to do the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT movie?” I always just say “Yes, I am,” because I’m putting it out into the universe. But, no, they haven’t talked to me about it, but this is something that I’ve been hearing for years and years, and I guess there was some press conference where they said they were doing it, so awesome. Bring it.

Capone: Yeah. Okay, well they are cutting me off.

JG: There’s more. All right. Nice to see you again.

Capone: It was great to see you again.

JG: Take care. Thank you.

-- Capone
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