My worst moment: Judy Greer once got fired from a movie — but it still appears on her IMDb
“On my bucket list is doing a play at the Steppenwolf,” said Judy Greer, who is a DePaul University alum. She hasn’t been able to carve out time for a Chicago play just yet, with film and TV roles filling her schedule since moving to Los Angeles in the decades since college.
She currently stars on FXX animated comedy “Archer,” voicing the clumsy assistant Cheryl Tunt to Jessica Walter’s abrasive honcho Malory Archer. The show’s return for its 12th season is bittersweet: It’s Walter’s final season, which she completed before her death in March. “I don’t want people to watch these episodes and be sad,” Greer said. Instead, she hopes audiences will take the opportunity to honor and appreciate Walter’s wit and talents. “She was like no other.”
In addition to “Archer,” Greer is best known for “Arrested Development” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” as well as playing the best friend in a slew of romantic comedies, from “13 Going on 30” to “27 Dresses.”
When asked about a worst moment in her career, she shared a story about working on the 2004 comedy “The Last Shot,” about a Hollywood filmmaker looking for someone to finance his movie, only to learn his producer is an undercover FBI agent.
My worst moment …
“Alec Baldwin was in this movie (as the FBI agent) with Matthew Broderick (as the filmmaker). OK, so: I auditioned for a role and Calista Flockhart ended up getting it, but because I had such a great audition and such a good time with the director (Jeff Nathanson), they were like, ‘We really love you so much and we want you to be in the movie — would you ever play this other character?’
“It was for this role of a studio executive who was larger-than-life and had all this personality and grit. I imagined her to be tough and the kind of person who smoked a lot of cigarettes. Kind of like a female version of Robert Evans. A jaded Hollywood executive who busts chops. And me at that age? No, no, no. That was not me. They had originally written it with Carrie Fisher in mind, I think. And this was in 2004, so not only was I not the right age, tonally we weren’t similar? But I was so excited and I was still just starting out, so I was taking any job I could get. So I was like, ‘Yeah! OK, I’ll do it! Great!’
“So I have this scene with Alec Baldwin and I’m so excited and nervous, because it’s Alec Baldwin. And we do the scene and it’s not working. It’s clunky and weird and I know I’m bad in it. He’s being so great and so nice to me. But I never felt like I nailed it. And it was such a frustrating drive home from work that day and I just remember thinking, this is not right. I felt so bad about myself. Like, maybe I’m a bad actor. Maybe I’m not good and this has all been a fluke and you spiral out of control because you’re a neurotic artist who thinks it’s all the emperor’s new clothes.
“So that was a horrible day, and I knew I wasn’t giving the director what he wanted. It was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And I wasn’t confident enough in myself yet to say, ‘That’s not who I am, and if you want a great performance out of me, I’m going to need to do it my way so it feels natural for me.’ But I didn’t have that kind of confidence. And since I didn’t audition for this role, none of us knew this was going to happen when I showed up for work, right?
“So I get home. I’m really upset about how the day went. And I’m sitting there tortured, probably eating a can of something, and my phone rings. And it’s my agent and my manager and they only ever call together when I get a job. So I was like, oh, what did I audition for recently that I booked?
“And they’re like, ‘Soooo, we have some bad news. They’re going to replace you in “The Last Shot,” they’re not going to bring you back for work tomorrow.’
“And I remember my initial reaction was: Thank God. Like, thank God I don’t have to go back and do that again. Thank God I don’t have to torture us all again, because I still had another scene to do. I can’t even tell you how happy I was.
“And then I hung up and my ego took over and I burst into tears: ‘I just got fired!’
“Looking back, but even at the time, I knew it was the right thing. But I felt so bad about myself. I thought: Well, that was a good run, Judy. Now you can go and get a master’s degree in something. Maybe you can teach. Or get a job in a store where you can get a good discount. I was already planning my next move, right?
“And then the next day, I got a bottle of Champagne delivered to my apartment from the director with a note that was like, ‘I’m so sorry it didn’t work out’ and that he respected me and to not take it personally. It was so sweet. So sensitive.
“I drank that whole bottle of Champagne, that was one way I got over the hump. And you just have to get back on the horse. For anyone who’s had a bad experience getting fired, they’re going to hate my guts because this is actually a great story about being fired.
“I love the audition process because I can tell if I’m right for something when I start acting and saying the words. When I can memorize something quickly, I know that I’m right for it. I think it’s silly when people say, ‘Well, I’m an actor, I can play anything.’ No, you can’t. You just can’t. I can’t. Not every role is right for me. And when you work with a great writer or director, sometimes they’ll make changes based on who you are and what your strengths are. So adjustments can be made. Actors are chameleons, but only to a point. And I think my best work is when I’m working off some tiny version of who I am.
“And sometimes it just isn’t the right fit. So Joan Cusack ended up playing the role.”
And yet the movie shows up as a credit on Greer’s IMDb page.
“Yes, I’m in the movie! So we shot that first scene in my character’s office. Then that same day, we shot the exterior of the movie premiere, which is at the end of the movie. And the studio executive, my character, was in the limousine with the star of the movie, played by Toni Collette. So I shot that scene as the studio executive, but when they fired me and replaced me, they obviously weren’t going to reshoot that scene with Joan Cusack. So they just turned me into ‘girl in the limo’ as someone who was part of Toni Collette’s entourage.
“I don’t think I have any lines in that scene, but I remember shooting it. I had just come from shooting the scene where I had that really bad acting experience, so I felt like (garbage). Toni Collete is a hero of mine and I’m sitting there with my idol and feeling so bad about myself and thinking: I’m in the wrong place doing the wrong thing. It was a very, very bad day.
“But yeah, I’m still in the movie, which is so funny.
“If they fire you, they do have to pay you, so that was good. I needed the money because I was working paycheck to paycheck. When I got the role, I told people I was going to be in the movie. This is why you have to keep your circle small so that if you get fired, you only have four people that you have to tell that you’re actually not in the movie. And it’s why, to this day, when people are like, ‘Oh, you’re going to be in this film!’ I’m like, ‘Well, we’ll wait until we’re watching it. Let’s just wait until we’re in the theater.’ I’m trying not to get ahead of myself anymore.”
The takeaway …
“At the time my takeaway was just: Get back up and get back at it.
“But looking back on it, I think more about how not everything is right for everyone. When you’re starting out, you need to go out for every audition you can get. You need the practice. And you need to put yourself out there a lot. It’s just the law of averages. If you do 10,000 auditions, you’re going to get one.
“But I do think that once you start working, you can ask yourself: Is this right for me? So my takeaway is remembering that time that I wasn’t right for something, when I got fired and it didn’t work out, and that doesn’t mean nothing’s ever going to work out again. It doesn’t have to be global. It’s just a job. I’m not messing up a brain surgery. It was a little small role, I was only going to work a few days anyway!
“It was a good experience to have early on. And it was humbling in a way that I probably needed at the time.”
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