Though the title of the book she wrote pokes fun at her career playing the best friend and for perpetually being “the girl from that thing,” Judy Greer is no stranger to readers of this site, as she’s won her way into our hearts with her portrayal of Kitty Sanchez on Arrested Development and for being the voice of Cheryl Tunt on Archer, among other things. Now she’s starring alongside Nat Faxon in the FX comedy series, Married, which premieres tonight at 10pm EST, and can also be seen in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In addition to participating in our UPROXX 20 series, Judy was nice enough to spend some time talking to us about Married, Archer, Arrested Development, her own marriage to Real Time with Bill Maher executive producer Dean Johnsen, karaoke and a host of other things.
(SIDE NOTE: A couple of weeks prior to conducting this interview, I randomly ran into Judy on the street in New Orleans, where she’s been filming scenes for the next installment of Jurassic Park, and I couldn’t help from blurting out something along the lines of, “Oh hey you’re Judy Greer!” She actually stopped and we talked for a while about life and mutual friends we have in common and she couldn’t have been lovelier. So there’s that!)
The title of your book is I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star. But in Married you’re actually the female lead. Do you have any anxiety at all about transitioning from being “the girl from that thing” to someone people recognize on the street and are like, “Oh hi Judy Greer!” like I did recently when I ran into you?
It doesn’t really feel like a thing yet, probably because the show hasn’t come out yet. Maybe ask me that question in a year. Because then I think it will be a different answer. But right now, I’m not nervous about the transition. I think, I don’t know, even though I’ve played mostly supporting roles in my career, I never really think of them as any different than the leading characters. I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of support within the projects I’ve worked on. So no one’s ever treated me like less than, you know? I never felt on the set like, “Oh I’m not the star. I’m just a lonely little supporting role.” I’ve always kind of felt like — I don’t know because supporting characters are really important to the project. Without (supporting characters) there would be so much less there for the leading roles.
So I got the chance to watch the Married pilot and I loved it. It’s obviously a show that will be something many people will be able to relate to, you know, the struggles of maintaining a relationship and all. Russ and Lina are trying to maintain love while juggling kids and debt and quarrels over sex — or the lack thereof. It just feels so very real. Is that something that drew you to it initially?
Yes it was. I’ve read so many pilot scripts about married couples where the eye-rolling wife is like, “Your keys are in your hand honey.” And then the husband’s like, “Oh!” I think I liked this one because the wife was just as flawed as the husband. They’re best friends, but they’re miserably in love.
Yes, miserably in love.
But they seem to need each other and want each other. I mean, at the end of the day they really do love each other and they really are so happy that they get to share all of these struggles together and they like that. She’s not the smart clever wife who has her sh*t together. She’s a train wreck too. Together they’re just trying to navigate the wreckage.
Yeah, which again, I think so many people will appreciate the way that the minutia of their marriage is mined for comedy. I think it’s done really expertly here by the writers of the show.
Thank you. I feel the same way. I’m somewhat of a newlywed still and it was interesting to shoot this with (Creator) Andrew Gurland and Nat Faxon because both of them have been married for ten years or more and both of them have three kids. They were always like, “You wouldn’t hold my hand right now.” And I’m like, “What?! We’re like walking down the street.” And they’re like, “Yeah, no you wouldn’t hold my hand.” And then they’re like, “You wouldn’t kiss him there.” I’m like, “What? But we’re cuddling!” There again they’re like, “You wouldn’t cuddle either. I’m like, “I wouldn’t hug and cuddle my husband and kiss him?” And they’re like, “No.” I’m like, “Oh my God!” Then one time the character was kind of drunk and I wrapped my arm around him. And they’re like, “Cut…you wouldn’t put your arm around him.” I’m like, “Okay but this time I’m drunk.” They’re like, “Yeah, no you still wouldn’t.” I was like, “Oh my God guys!”
So you have that to look forward to with your marriage, I guess.
Yeah, I know. So basically in seven years I’m not even going to want to touch Dean Johnsen, apparently. That’s crazy.
Well speaking of Dean Johnsen, while Russ and Lina’s situation is not atypical from that of your average American marriage, I learned from a mutual friend a while back that you and Dean don’t technically cohabitate, that you both have separate houses. I find that fascinating and unorthodox but also so very modern that you guys, I presume are just doing what works for you, tradition and conventions be damned.
Yes and no. I’d like to take credit for being super cool and modern. But our situation is more one of, I guess it’s not necessity necessarily. So, he has two kids and lives in Thousand Oaks, California. It’s really f*cking far away. In a normal city it would be like a 35, 40 minute drive. But in LA it can be a drive of up to two hours. So when we got married I had my house. He had his house. That’s how we did it when were dating. We got married and we were like, “Okay what are we going to do? Where are we going to live?” I was like, “You know, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Like, we definitely spend the night together just about every night somewhere — there’s probably in the last three years been only a handful of nights where we’ve spent the night apart, depending on work and hours and whatever. But it does seem to work really well to have two different places for us. I always say to people that we have two houses, but not in a fancy way. We have really mediocre houses.
I read somewhere that you pursued a role as an ape in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as a gift to your husband because he was a big fan of the original. Is that correct?
I did. Yeah. We were dating when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out and he was so excited by the movie, so into it. I got us tickets to the premiere and he was so happy and then he was like, “Oh my God they’re totally going to make another one and you have to be in it!” He was like, “I mean, I would give anything if you could be in it. What if you were an ape and, oh my God, oh my God.” I was like, “Okay, we’ll see.” So when they started to put together a cast for this movie, I called my agent and asked about it. Like, is there any role in there that I could do? My agent was like, “Well there’s one but Keri Russell’s already been cast in it. And then I was like, “Are there any ape roles available?” And he was like, “Really?! I’ll call.” So he calls me back and he says, “Yeah, there’s one ape role that would be a woman that they want to cast a real actor for it. I was like, “Great, when can I go in for it?” He’s like, “Seriously?” I’m like, “Yes!” So I did audition for it and I got the part. Dean was…I mean he was beside himself. When they announced it in the trades that I was going to be in the new Planet of the Apes as an Ape he got more phone calls and e-mails then I did. Everyone knew his obsession with the franchise so this was the end all, be all.
I have to ask you about Archer because our readers are big fans of the show. I’m curious, what’s the future look like for Cherlene, Cheryl’s country singing alter ego on the show. Is she coming back in the next season or what?
We just started recording the new season, season six, I think. She has not come back yet. The whole new season is so funny and in pure Archer style is completely different from last season. So yeah, it’s pretty great. But Cherlene, I don’t know — she’s not appeared again. But Carol and Cheryl are in full effect. So don’t worry.
Awesome. And correct me if I’m wrong, but they use someone else for her singing voice, no?
Oh 100% yes. You’re not wrong.
But don’t you have a singing background? Didn’t you do musical theater at some point?
No. God I wish. Are you kidding, more than anything I wish I could sing, but I’m terrible. Just terrible.
You can’t sing at all? That surprises me.
No. No. I’m going to sing karaoke this Friday night with a bunch of friends and usually I end up crying at the end on nights like that. All I want to do is be good, I just want to have a beautiful singing voice and I just don’t. For some reason I think when I go sing karaoke that I’m just going to find the perfect song. I mean everyone should be able to sing one song and I’m just terrible.
Absolutely. My go-to is “Don’t Disturb this Groove” by who is that, I can’t remember their name. But I worked on that one for a long time. I just thought I’d throw that in there.
I’ve got to work on one. I like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” ’cause I can play a character when I sing it.
Any others besides “Coal Miner’s Daughter?”
No, I don’t karaoke enough yet. But “Coal Miner’s Daughter” I always try to sing. Last time I tried to sing “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt, but it was really bad.
That’s a hard one to do.
Yeah, as it turns out, man. Even though my voice is like a little bit high-pitched and nasally, I actually have a deeper singing voice. So when it’s super high-pitched songs, I think it’s harder for me. Madonna’s my favorite, but I can’t sing Madonna in karaoke because it’s too high-pitched and whiny.
Anything about the future of Arrested Development you can share with us at all?
I haven’t heard anything about it.
Netflix has said that they definitely want to bring the show back for at least another season. No word on any developments there?
They never tell me anything.
So how did you find out about Netflix reviving the show in the first place? Did you know ahead of time or did you find out when the rest of us did?
I was really like the rest of you guys. Like, no one knows anything. It’s like everything lives in Mitch Hurwitz’s head, which is super fun ’cause you hear all these rumors and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Is there going to be a movie? Is there going to be another season? So yeah, I kind of find out when everyone else does. I mean, also I’m not one of the main characters. I’m sure that other people knew like Jason (Bateman) and Portia (de Rossi) and David (Cross) and Jessica (Walter) and Tony (Hale) — they probably all knew. But I saw Portia at a party not too long before they released the press release and I was like, “What’s up, dude?” And she was like, “I don’t know.” I’m like, “You don’t even know?” She was like, “No, I don’t even know.” Alright well then I don’t feel so bad.
Last question: how did the daughter of a Detroit auto worker and a former nun become an actress?
I don’t know. It’s so weird. It’s so weird! My mom’s like, “Well, you know in the convent I auditioned for all the plays.” My God seriously there were nun plays? Like I can’t even with that. I would do anything if they recorded them to see these nun plays with all these nuns acting in them. I don’t know how it happened. I guess, you know, when the time came where you had to pick something you wanted to be when you grow up it was like the path of least resistance. It was all so organic. It was like, “Oh I’ll go to acting school.” I mean I talk about it in my book but like, I’d been dancing for a long time and I was not good at it. I was very mediocre as a dancer, but I was on stage all the time doing recitals and stuff. So that was comfortable for me, to be on stage. I think part of it was also to have sort of fun high school existence. I was kind of a nerd and didn’t have a ton of friends so I would audition for musicals. I was like, “Oh I can dance in the chorus,” you know? Like, I’m not a great singer but I can dance in the background and have fun and be in these musicals. I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t do sports or cheerleading or anything like that. So it all really did happen like super organically. So I was auditioning to be in the chorus and then all of a sudden I got a part and then it was like, “Oh I guess I’m acting now” and then it was time to pick a college and I guess I was just like, “I’ll just like go to acting school.”
Then this girl sort of challenged me. She was auditioning for the acting school that I ended up going to and she was like, “It’s really hard and they only take like 10% of the people who audition. You probably won’t even get in.” And I was like, “Oh what a whore!” And then I told my mom and then mom was like, “WHAT?! No one tells my daughter she’s not good enough.” So my mom requested an audition. I go. The school’s in Chicago, which I fell in love with that city, obviously, and I got in. So I thought, “Well, I’ll just go here until I figure out what I want to do with my life” and it was just like that. It was super organic. It’s a really bad story to tell people just starting their careers. People are always like, “Tell me how you made it and how I can be an actor.” I guess I don’t know because everything just happened really pretty, thankfully, easily for me.
Yeah, which is rare in your industry. Count your lucky stars.
It’s so rare. I don’t know how to get an agent. I just got one. Like, I don’t know what to tell people when they ask me that. However, I do know that I never tried to pretend like I was anything other than what I was, which was a girl from the midwest. Maybe that’s why I’ve had success? You know, I was never like, “I’m going to be in Hollywood and be a star now.” I’ve always sort of been like a little bit self-deprecating and very midwestern. I’m really lucky, that’s all. That’s what it really comes down to.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for space.)