Actress Judy Greer calls it pure luck that she keeps landing smack dab in the middle of pop culture events.
First, Greer scored a recurring role on the beloved Fox comedy “Arrested Development.” More recently, she snared a gig on the revamped, post-Charlie Sheen “Two and a Half Men.”
Her latest coup had nothing to do with happenstance. On Nov. 4, Greer picked up the 2011 John Cassavetes Award
from the Starz Denver Film Festival. The acting honor typically goes to leading men – or ladies – but this time festival judges honored a character actress with an impressive body of work.
Greer is Hollywood’s go-to comic foil, the best best friend a romantic comedy starlet could have. She’s also an in-demand actress starring in one of the year’s most anticipated films, Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” as well as a key gig on “Two and a Half Men.”
Her career began with a role in the 1998 Chicago-based feature "Kissing a Fool." The film’s premiere was slated to be held in L.A., so she drove west in a car her father bought for her.
“My agent said she would send me on auditions while I was in Los Angeles,” she recalls, already plotting a Plan B in case the acting career didn't catch fire.
“When it stops, I’ll move back [to Chicago], I’ll go to grad school and pick a new career," she says. "Now I can't because I don’t know how to use computers.”
She worked steadily after the “Fool” gig, appearing in films like “Three Kings,” “Jawbreaker” and “What Women Want.” She also landed plenty of work on the small screen, including appearances on “Just Shoot Me,” “CSI: Miami” and a recurring gig as the dizzy, delightful Kitty Sanchez on “Arrested Development.”
“In the beginning I took every job I could,” she says, often auditioning five times a day during the television pilot season. She still auditions today, but her growing industry clout is making a difference.
“People say, ‘you still have to audition?’ Yeah, and if I told you who else was auditioning [with me] you would be like, ‘holy buckets!’ Who knew she had to audition?” she says.
Her "Two and a Half Men" gig didn’t require the standard audition process. Greer previously appeared on the CBS show back in 2007, but show’s creator, Chuck Lorre, rang her up to play new star Ashton Kutcher’s ex-wife.
“He said, ‘we don’t care if you were already on it, we just love you and think you’ll be perfect for it. How do you say no to that?” she asks. Greer arrived on set after the smoke finally cleared following Sheen’s departure from the show.
“Everyone on set was so happy - they got to go back to work,” she recalls of the atmosphere, one stoked by Kutcher's post-episode parties.
The actress is used to working under wildly divergent conditions. She shot “The Descendants” and the upcoming “Jeff Who Lives at Home” at the same time, shuttling from the former’s Hawaii set to the latter’s New Orleans locations.
“Alexander’s set is really calm and specific and calculated,” she says of "The Descendants'" director's style. That contrasted sharply with how “Jeff's” directors, Jay and Mark Duplass, approached their film. “That was like two cameras, fast set-ups, very real and naturalistic. They find the voyeuristic slices of life, very improvisational. They would say, ‘talk about your hair for a minute.’ The cameras are always moving, everything works and anything goes. Whey they see something they like, they hone in on that.”
Greer continues to find work in both film and television, and her confidence deepens with every assignment. But she's still skittish about the direction independent films appear to be headed.
"Independent film used to be such a great venue for first-time actors, first-time directors, first-time everythingers. Now, the independent movies don’t get made if there’s not movie stars in them," she says. "No one has any money, and no one's buying independent movies any more."
Greer is often at her best supporting stars like Jennifer Garner ("13 Going on 30") or Jennifer Aniston ("Love Happens"). She wouldn't mind seeing her name above the movie title one of these days.
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a shot at starring in movies. Of course I do! But I’m super grateful for what I have. I can go to Target or walk through an airport by myself," she says. "I have enough friends who can’t do that ... or at least a couple who can’t do that. The ability to walk around and experience life by yourself adds so much to your work."