Judy Greer Is Ready for Comedy Actors to Get Their Due

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

Judy Greer knows you’ve seen her in something before. Maybe it was “13 Going on 30,” or “Arrested Development,” or “Ant-Man,” or “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” or “Halloween” and the upcoming “Halloween Kills,” or any of the other hundred or so onscreen roles she’s racked up during her 20-plus year career. You’ve probably heard her voice, too. She’s currently voicing Cheryl Tunt on Season 12 of FX’s “Archer,” a longtime job she feels has opened doors for her in the voiceover world.

The running joke throughout your career—you even mention it in the title of your book, “I Don’t Know What You Know Me From”—is that everyone knows your face from somewhere. Do people now recognize your voice?
Yeah, they do! Unfortunately, the pandemic really showed me how much people recognize me from my voice, because I’m always wearing a mask, so people can’t really see my face. And then they hear me talk and they’re like, “Oh, my God, are you Judy Greer from ‘Archer’?” and I’m like, “No way!”

How did you get your start in voice acting?
It was “Archer”! Voiceover acting is a club. It’s a weird club, [and] there are no instructions on how to join it or rush it, like a fraternity or sorority. You just keep trying to get into the club, and once you’re in the club, you’re good. But there’s also two clubs: There’s the commercial club and the voiceover acting or scripted club. It’s weirdly hard to break in. I would say, honestly, “Archer” is the thing that broke me into the club. I got two lines on this pilot that I read that was really nasty and dirty and naughty, and I was like, “What the hell is this?” And it was “Archer.” 

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to emerging voice actors?
I would just say if you have an acting agent, to start pressing them about voiceover gigs. If your agency has a voiceover department—I’m lucky mine does, but if your agency doesn’t—then I would say to find a voiceover agent or have your agent help you find a voiceover agent. Listen to commercials and try to hear what they’re doing. As far as scripted stuff, that would fall under an agent category, in which case you’re auditioning for that like you would a live-action thing. Just try to be persistent, and push your team to get you those auditions. 

“The pandemic really showed me how much people recognize me from my voice because I’m always wearing a mask, so people can’t really see my face. And then they hear me talk, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, are you Judy Greer?’”

How do you approach your voiceover characters? Is it a different preparation process than for live-action work? 
I know some people do think of it differently. I do not. I think of it as acting. And the truth is, you do still have a director. You’re not just in there talking. There’s a director who’s giving you notes and telling you how to adjust your performance. When you’re on set, you’re acting with another actor, and you really can guess this is what we’re all doing. Sometimes when you’re alone in the booth and you’re not reading with anyone but your director, you have to rely on that person to make sure you’re getting it right; and that’s their job.

What is your worst audition horror story?
It was an Ed Helms movie, [“Cedar Rapids,”] and Anne Heche [ultimately] played the role. They go on this business trip, and they have a wild night in this hotel. I had just gone through this horrible breakup, and I was really damaged. It was two days after my breakup, and I was like, OK, gotta hold my shit together. I was in the waiting room, and I saw a poster for a movie that [the] boyfriend I had broken up with had produced. I lost my mind and started crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop crying. I went into the bathroom and pulled myself together. I thought I had it together. I went into the room to do the audition, and I’m doing the scene, and I start crying. And the poor casting director was like, “I don’t think you’re supposed to get that emotional in the scene.” I finally just said, “I’m so sorry. I’m having an emotional moment, and I think I need to leave.” I left, and I remember calling my manager and I was like, “I fucking blew that, and I’m so sorry. And I feel horrible, and now I feel double horrible.” A few days later, I went back in, and at this point, knew I wasn’t going to get the part, but the casting director was so sweet and let me come back in and put myself on tape again. 

People can always say no, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you need in an audition room. This is our time. I had a college professor once tell us that they want you to get the part because [then] it can be done, and they don’t have to do it anymore. When I think in those terms, sometimes it doesn’t make me feel so [much that] they’re like, “OK, prove you can do this.” I don’t really feel that as much anymore. When I was younger, I certainly did. I felt like auditioning was constantly trying to prove myself. But it’s also an opportunity to act. How often do you really get to act? When you get a job. I think people need to look at the audition process also as an opportunity to act and do scene work. I actually love it.

What do you love about auditioning?
I love acting, and I love experimenting with a role. I love getting notes from directors and casting directors about how to make adjustments. I like the challenge of seeing if I can make those adjustments. If everything is feeling really natural, I can tell I’m right for this. If anything is starting to feel funky or weird, maybe I’m not right for this. Sometimes you only find those things out in the audition room. You can find out if the people you’re auditioning for are evil people. It’s different in different phases in an actor’s career, but you don’t have to work with evil people. Sometimes you do, but sometimes you don’t have to.

What’s the wildest thing you ever did to get a role?
In one flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans, I read “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” and I fell so in love with the book. I bugged my team: “Who’s making it?” Time passed, and they attached Richard Linklater. And when I found that out, I wrote him an email telling him how much I loved the book and what it meant to me. It worked! I got to be the therapist who tries to admit Bernadette. It was really awesome. I had great scenes with two of my acting idols, Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup. I got to work with Richard Linklater. You’re not being that vulnerable if you’re sending someone an email, but at the same, time it’s scary. It was worth it, clearly.

When you were reading the book, did you imagine yourself in that role?
I imagined myself as Bernadette, obviously! Of course, I imagine myself as the lead and I end up as the therapist—it’s fine. When I read the book, I was like, I’d like to be Bernadette, please; thank you. Then you find out, no, they’re actually casting a goddess to play that role, and you’re like, OK, that tracks. 

READ: How to Nail Your Voiceover Audition

What performance should every actor see and why?
A lot of comedic performances are very underrated. That’s something I wish I could change. I think [for] people, it’s like, Oh, my God, you have to see Charlize Theron in “Monster.” And yes, she’s amazing in that movie. Cate Blanchett in anything she does—yes, amazing. But comedic performances are often overlooked when we’re talking about those great performances. I was so happy when Melissa McCarthy got nominated for an Academy Award for “Bridesmaids.’’ How great was she in that movie? How much did you believe every second she was onscreen? That’s acting too, people! 

Why do you think it is that comedic performances are underrated?
Somehow, we got it in our heads that serious actors are serious, and they cry and are Daniel Day-Lewis. These actors are incredible, but you believe someone so much when they’re being funny. The movie “Step Brothers”—come on. You feel it’s somehow taken more seriously when people are in agony and they’re crying or they’re playing someone with an affliction that they don’t actually have. It’s somehow looked on as more respectable. They can squirt shit in your eyes to make you cry. They can’t squirt comedy juices into your body and make you funny. It’s hard to keep it hilarious and also grounded in a great performance. I get happy when comedic performances are nominated for awards and taken more seriously. 

How did you first get your SAG-AFTRA card?
It was called “Kissing a Fool,” and it was my first acting job. I was graduating from the theater school at DePaul University in Chicago. They were shooting there that summer, and I got a role in the movie.

What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s important to have other interests. I don’t mean a backup plan—I mean hobbies, things that you care about, so that you can distract yourself when it gets hard and frustrating and scary and your confidence is low.

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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