Her IMDb credits may stretch longer than a CVS receipt, but Judy Greer knows her face can still be hard to place—unless, of course, she’s had you gagging since Jawbreaker.
The 43-year-old I Don’t Know What You Know Me From author can currently be seen in Showtime’s Kidding as Jill Piccirillo, estranged wife of an unhinged children’s TV star played by Jim Carrey. She’s about to scare up more fans as Karen Strode, daughter of Jamie Lee Curtis’ iconic survivor, in David Gordon Green’s Halloween reboot.
But as Greer starts seizing control behind the camera, the perennial sidekick wants to give back to the audience that’s always seen her as a star.
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Sometimes fans slip me little notes when I’m out and about. I love them. I keep them. I put them in places so I can see them when I’m feeling down. Thanks Sean! You gave me this a year ago? I can’t remember. I wasn’t feeling super happy today, but now I’m feeling a little better. I hope you’re having a good day, wherever you are right now. ❤️
You wrote in your 2014 memoir, I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, about profiling fans to pinpoint which of your projects they’ve responded to. What does a queer fan most likely know you from?
Jawbreaker. That was the one that started this whole mess for me. I’d done a movie called Kissing a Fool while I was in Chicago, but then I came to L.A. a few months later, got Jawbreaker, and everything just kept going after that.
So queer fans do make themselves known?
Oh, god, yeah. I was waiting in line at customs recently when I went to the Toronto Film Festival, and this guy came up and said, “Gay Twitter loves you. I tweeted that you were on my flight and everyone freaked out!” I was so excited and proud.
In Jawbreaker you played nerdy outcast Fern Mayo, who gets a makeover and becomes bitchy cool girl Vylette. Why do you think that movie has become such a gay cult classic?
I don’t know. I once asked a fan that question. I think it has something to do with that element of reinventing yourself. Many of my gay fans were really young when Jawbreaker came out in 1999, and it seems like it was a safe place for them. It spoke to a lot of gay men at a time when they were just coming out.
Gay men also have a weakness for women behaving badly, which gay filmmaker Darren Stein clearly understood.
[Laughs] Well, there you have it. Yeah, Darren wanted to make his Heathers.
Speaking about you to Dazed, your Jawbreaker co-star Rose McGowan said, “I’ll tell you this, when I met her, she was a lot more Vylette with me than she ever was Fern Mayo.” Was that a read?
Wow, that’s funny she would say that. That’s actually a huge compliment, right? I was definitely feeling myself on that movie. I had just graduated theater school, so I was like, “I’m an actress!” When first starting my career, I was trying hard to play the part of a serious thespian, and I’m sure that was annoying to those around me.
Do you feel more like a Fern or a Vylette?
I think there’s a Fern and a Vylette in all of us, don’t you?
Truer words have never been spoken, Judy. Do a lot of fans still bring up Jawbreaker?
Yeah. As I get older, my Jawbreaker fans are getting older, and it feels like something special we have in common, you know? Jawbreaker has really stood the test of time, people still love it, and that makes me endlessly happy. I didn’t know that movie would have the effect that it has, but I’m so thankful for it.
When did you become aware of your gay following?
I’ve always had a lot of gay friends, so it wasn’t an overnight revelation. I do remember Alfredo, an old high school friend of mine who also lived in L.A., once telling me, “You know gay men love you.” After Jawbreaker came out, whenever I’d go out dancing at gay bars, I would feel the love—and never have to pay for a drink. If I was ever having a low self-esteem day, I could just go to a gay bar and it gave me life. I’ve felt that love and loyalty throughout my entire career.
When did you start going to gay bars?
I was sneaking into gay bars with fake IDs while I was still in high school in Michigan. I always had more fun hanging out at gay bars. It just felt natural, like, okay, these are my people.
You’ve played quirky sidekicks in rom-coms like 13 Going on 30, The Wedding Planner, and 27 Dresses. A meme circulated on Twitter earlier this year: “Getting older means identifying with Judy Greer in every rom com.” How does it feel to be so relatable?
A lot of friends sent me that meme. Isn’t that the goal as a storyteller to tell stories people can relate to? When you think of your favorite movie, it’s not one you saw last week; it’s the one you saw years ago and still watch over and over, the one you can’t turn off whenever it’s on TV. So being relatable is pretty awesome.
You recently made your directorial debut with A Happening of Monumental Proportions. Why didn’t you give yourself a part?
Because thankfully I got people way more famous than me to be in the movie, so I didn’t need to be in it. Also, it was such a relief not having to stress about my performance. I had the greatest time making that film, and it wouldn’t have been as fun if I’d been in it. I also loved not having to go through hair and makeup.
You cast many of your former co-stars, including Jennifer Garner, Katie Holmes, and Keanu Reeves. You must be well-liked by your peers.
Well, don’t forget that I’m very relatable.
Is being liked important to you? Are you the kind of actor who brings cookies to sets?
I’ve been known to rent a coffee truck or two. I’m Midwestern, so I can’t help but be nice and want people to like me. But I don’t necessarily try to make people like me. I genuinely like people, I’m interested in them and their stories—who they are, what they do when they get home from work. I love talking to everyone on set, and maybe that’s a likable quality? I do think you get back what you put out there, and I was definitely rewarded by all the wonderful actors and crew members agreeing to work on my movie.
Part of me wishes you were secretly a bitch like Tom-Tom, your character in 13 Going on 30.
I know. I’m sorry. Talk to my husband later and I’m sure he could tell you some stories. [Laughs] I love playing a bitch, though, because it’s so not who I am. When I’m being mean for a role, after they say “cut,” I’ll be like, “I’m so sorry! You know I’m just acting, right?”
After 20 years in the business, haven’t you earned the right to be a diva?
I’m dipping my toes in that right now, actually. I’m getting more interested in having certain comforts that weren’t as important to me before. I don’t think I’m a diva, but I am getting better at asking for what I want.
In 2015 you became the face of a conversation about talented women over 40 being underutilized in Hollywood. Did this so-called “Judy Greer Effect” have anything to do with your wanting to direct?
Yes. But I probably wouldn’t have equated those things if you hadn’t said something. My favorite thing to do is making movies. I love being on set, hanging out with actors and the crew. I keep getting these great supporting roles, but I want more of it all. I’ve been in so many movies where I haven’t even met half the cast. I was in a movie with Meryl Streep and didn’t even meet her, which is a bummer! When you’re directing, you get to be on set the whole time, and you have to talk to every single person at least once.
Do you see yourself directing more movies?
Yeah, but I’m not unhappy with where I am as an actress. I didn’t direct a movie with a eye toward advancing or pushing my career in a different direction. I did it because I wanted to, and I wanted to see if I could. I wanted a challenge, and I wanted to spend more time in a place that I love. But I did enjoy having more say in the final product. It was more fun and rewarding to use more of my brain and be a bigger part of the whole project.
What type of movie would you like to direct next?
I’d love to direct a romantic comedy because I love them so much. I love to laugh and I love making people laugh. I’d love to make a gay romantic comedy more than anything. I’m reading scripts right now, and I’m always looking for ways to make the stories more diverse—changing the gender or sexual orientation of the characters—without changing the dialogue. Because isn’t it all the same? If a movie is about a man and woman who fall in love, get into some big misunderstanding, and then get back together in the end, why can’t that be two women or two men?
While you’re at it, we could also use more gay horror flicks.
Okay. After shooting Halloween, I do think it would be fun to direct a horror film. It was way more fun than I was expecting. I knew everyone loves working with Jamie Lee Curtis, but I had no idea it would be so much fun trying to scare people.
There’s increasing pressure on Hollywood to cast LGBTQ actors in LGBTQ roles. What’s your take on that as someone who’s been on both sides of the camera?
I would love to see more LGBTQ actors playing LGBTQ roles, and that’s the direction we should be headed. I saw Love, Simon in the theater, I loved it, and I loved Nick Robinson—I’d worked with him in Jurassic World—but I was a little curious why they didn’t cast a gay actor for that role.
One might argue that he was simply the best actor for the job.
Absolutely, and that was probably the case. Also, if Nick Robinson, coming from a huge franchise movie like Jurassic World, can get a movie like Love, Simon made, then that’s the first step we have to take. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—my husband says that, and I think I’m getting the quote right, but I may need more coffee. In a perfect world, yes, Simon would’ve been played by a gay actor. But let’s start with getting more movies like Love, Simon in the mainstream, because those stories need to be told and need to be reaching people.
You played Lily Tomlin’s girlfriend in Grandma. You also guest-starred as lesbians on Portlandia and Two and a Half Men. Do queer characters come with a responsibility to represent the LGBTQ community respectfully?
Oh, yeah. But being honest and respectful is always on my mind with any role. People get in trouble when they act on clichés. I went into Grandma just being myself, which is kind of how I approach every role. I wasn’t trying to act a certain way because the character was a lesbian. The only difference for me, really, was that I was kissing a girl instead of a boy.
And not just any girl: Lily Tomlin!
Yeah, that was awesome. Honestly, that’s my favorite celebrity kiss. I don’t think it ended up in the movie, but I also got to grab her boob.
You also kissed Sally Kirkland in Brian To’s queer 2001 short film Audit.
I sure did. What a wild ride that was. I was recently moving and found so many pictures from that set with Alexis Arquette. I didn’t expect to have this reaction when I saw those pictures, but it was really heartbreaking. I feel so lucky I got to work with her.
Were you working with any lesbian subtext when you played gym teacher Miss Desjardin in the 2013 Carrie remake?
It’s funny you ask. I didn’t make a choice on that one way or another, because I just wanted her to be a compassionate, maternal figure. But when I watched the movie, I said, “Oh, I think she’s gay!”
Playing a lesbian’s sex-addicted sister in Addicted to Fresno earned you the 2015 Outfest Award for Best Actress. Belated congrats on an overdue honor.
Thank you. And trust that it broke my heart I was on location and couldn’t be there to accept it in person. People sometimes say, “Oh, you’ve never won any awards?” I’m like, “I have a ‘gay Oscar,’ actually, so everyone can suck it.”
Speaking of gay honors, you were quoted this summer in a New York Times piece about Lee Pace coming out because you two had been romantically linked by gossip blogs after attending premieres together.
He’s such a great friend, so I was happy to speak about him for that article. We recently hung out at Toronto Film Festival, and I’m glad he’s in an awesome place and in control of his own narrative. People talk about how hard Hollywood marriages are, but no one talks about how hard it is to stay friends with people in Hollywood. I love him so much. I’d still be his plus-one anytime he needed, but he doesn’t really need me anymore.