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The veteran actor sounds off on the Halloween sequel, a traumatic audition for TV's Kidding, her directorial debut and gradual changes in Hollywood
I was lucky enough to talk to Judy Greer after Halloween made its Midnight Madness premiere at TIFF, rather than before. I don’t think either of us expected the response that movie would get – and how essential she is to one of its best moments. (Which I will not spoil here, because I’m not a monster.)
Sitting down in the Bell Media offices a couple of days later, ostensibly to promote her role in the new CraveTV series Kidding, but also to talk about Halloween and Driven and her upcoming directorial debut, the ensemble comedy A Happening Of Monumental Proportions, Greer is still riding the high of that screening. So am I, to be honest.
So Halloween had a pretty good screening, huh? I’ve been covering TIFF for 30 years and I have never seen someone get as much love as Jamie Lee Curtis got that night. That was just electric.
I know! And that’s everywhere she goes, by the way. Walking around the streets of Charleston with her when we were shooting the movie was… I’ve been around plenty of famous people, but the kind of fans that you have, I think, says a lot about you, and the kind of celebrity you are. Her fans are so great. They just fucking love her, and they want whatever she has to give. I forgot how many amazing movies she’s done, and how great she’s been in all of them. We think of her from Halloween – and yes, it did break her – but she’s such an amazing actress.
It’s just become such a powerhouse role for her. She started out as a terrified teenager, and fought back and survived, and now we get to see what survival really means. She’s spent 40 years making sure it never happens to her again.
All you have to do is be mugged once and you’ll never probably walk down that street again or walk down the street in that way, you know what I mean? You do spend the rest of your life preparing for that to happen again.
We also get to see how Laurie’s prepared her family, which gives you – as her daughter – a hell of an arc in the new film. And the crowd seemed to be on board with it.
I was shaking onstage at the Q and A [afterward] because I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I love horror movies, but it didn’t really sink in until that screening that you can make people so happy by giving them a kick-ass horror movie. The cheering and the laughter and how excited people were? You don’t get that making indie dramas. [laughs] It’s just a whole different thing. I was like, “I’ve been doing this wrong. Why am I not doing more horror movies? This is great!”
Well, you were in Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s werewolf movie Cursed a while back. You even played the monster! But that’s not one anyone remembers too fondly.
It got really crazy. There was a lot of drama behind the scenes with the script and [makeup artist] Rick Baker and [executive producer] Bob Weinstein. I obviously am not privy to all that stuff, but I do know that the highlight for me of that film – besides working with Wes Craven, if you’re going to do your first horror movie it probably should be a Wes Craven movie – was when I signed onto it, Rick Baker was going to do a full werewolf transformation makeup, and that was what I was going to go through with his team.
Oh, that would have been something.
We did a test! I got to do it with him and his then-assistant, and it was incredible. It was just, like, six hours one day in his studio in the Valley somewhere, but it was a really incredible experience. And yeah, it sucks we didn’t get to do that in the movie – we ended up doing a CGI transformation – but I got to do it. I got to do it!
I had no idea you were a makeup nerd.
You know, you think of An American Werewolf In London and just what a genius he is and the work that he’s done. Maybe my work with Rick Baker didn’t make it onscreen, but it’s in my heart.
This is possibly how Judy Greer looked after she auditioned for Kidding.>
You’re also here to talk about Kidding, where you play the ex-wife of a traumatized children’s TV star played by Jim Carrey. Their marriage collapsed after they lost a child, which is an awfully grim starting place for a dramedy. How did you come to the project?
I have a funny story about Dave Holstein, the creator. I went in to audition, and I did the first scene and he gave me a note and then I did it again. And when I did it again, he was sitting right next to the camera and he went like this. [shakes her head slowly] And in my brain I was thinking, “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re shaking your head?” So I did the whole thing, my audition, and then I got in my car and I was just like, that sucked. And I cried. I was like, “I want to go back, I think I’m so right for it. It felt so right to me and that was so awful!” And then I got the role and I was like, “… What?”
Did you ever figure out what happened?
I had dinner with Dave before we started shooting, and I was like, “Why did you do that? Why would you do that?” And he said, “I was shaking my head because I was like, ‘We finally found her! We’ve seen so many people and we found her!’” And I said, “Oh, okay. Well, as an actor I’ll tell you: it doesn’t translate when you do that while we’re auditioning!” And then we were laughing. That’s so awful and so funny.
I mean, I can see why it would take a while to cast that role. You have to be sympathetic and cold at the same time. She understands her husband well enough to know he can’t get past this awful loss they’ve both experienced, and that the only way she can survive is if she leaves.
I thought it was so well written, so subtly written. The scripts just kept getting better. I mean, she loves him. If he had his breakdown, if he had his moment, they could maybe be together. But she can’t watch him pretend anymore. It just got better and better and weirder and weirder in the best possible way. It was such a wonderful experience.
It’s also a show that has a lot of room for performance in it, which is also something I noticed about your directorial debut, A Happening Of Monumental Proportions. You give your cast some space to breathe.
Well, I like watching actors act. I do that too – I remember getting advice in acting school where my professor was like, “Judy, you need to act while you talk. You’re taking a lot of time between the lines.” But that’s how people are! You have to think! I enjoy that, and I’m glad you felt that, because that was something I really wanted. I wanted there to be a little bit of space between things.
The movie takes place in and around a middle school in Los Angeles, as various parents and children try to manage a series of minor crises over one day. It’s modest in tone but there are a lot of moving parts.
It was the kind of movie that I would like to watch. I like day-in-the-life things, and I really liked the idea of showing a day in the life of Los Angeles that had nothing to do with the entertainment industry. There’s this amazing city of people that don’t work in Hollywood, and I think that’s sometimes forgotten.
Can we talk about how you teased a West Wing reunion with Bradley Whitford and Allison Janney, but never gave them a scene together? That felt kind of perverse.
[smiles] How ’bout that? Yeah, that was really funny to me.
And you cast Common – fresh off John Wick Chapter 2 – as an overworked office drone and single father, which is a role I’ve never seen him play before.
Which is what I really wanted to do. I really wanted to see him play this role. He was my first choice and he said yes, and after that everyone kept saying yes. “Sure I’ll do it!” “Sure I’ll do it!” And I was like, “What is even happening?” So I can say that Common is real actor bait.
I mean, it could be that people like you, too.
Well, I don’t discount that possibility. But I am a first-time director. And the role that Common played, Daniel, in the script it doesn’t say, like, “African-American” or “Caucasian.” It just says “Daniel,” and his age. So I actively said to myself, “I may only make one movie in my lifetime, so if I’m going to do this I’m going to make it a diverse cast and going to change the sexes and put in women where I can, which I did in two roles. And I’m going to shoot it in L.A. That was where I put my foot down. “If I’m just going to get this one opportunity, if the gods are going to part the clouds for that, I’m gonna do those three things. And I was able to do them all! I changed the role of Lenny, played by Lola Glaudini, to a woman, and then the role of Brick, the security guard played by Mary Birdsong, was also written for a man.
I will say that there were a few roles where I did reach out to other diverse actors, and they were all busy working. So that’s excellent. And I had a female DP and a female producer. We did our best behind the scenes as well.
The momentum seems to be gathering, doesn’t it? Like the snowball is finally starting to roll.
We’re going, but we have a long way to go. And I do think that until we get more women in executive positions and even higher up than director positions – you know, as studio heads – it will be a minute. But we’re getting there, and the conversation is happening, so that’s something.
It’s just about creating the opportunities so that women are as experienced as men, so when a man and a woman are up for the same job they’re both getting looked at for the same reasons, because they both have the experience. My girlfriend was a partner in a law firm, and it was like a boys club. You know, “Men are out there and they’re generating more business for the firm, so that’s why they get to be promoted farther than you.” And she was like, “Yeah, but you’re taking them on these golf weekends, and I don’t play golf. So how is that fair?”
At the top we need women running things, and at the bottom we need more equality so that people can work their way up in an even way, and then when it comes time to get the job like the right person will get the job not because of their sex but because they’re right for the job and they have the same experience because that’s where it gets frustrating.
I just want so badly to believe the world is getting better about this stuff, not worse.
I’m from the Midwest, and it was really difficult for my gay friends in high school. And now when I talk to my step kids – granted, I’m now on a coast so it’s a little bit easier – it’s nothing to them. Like, it’s not even a blip, it’s not like, “Oh, he’s gay.” So I think if in the last 25 years we’ve come this far in that area, maybe in another 20 years we’ll be this way in terms of parity. That’d be awesome. But we’ll see. I’d like to die seeing things be, like, a little bit better.
See our review of Halloween here