Actress Judy Greer was recently awarded the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award at the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival. On November 4, 2011, Denver Post film critic Lisa Kennedy conducted a Q&A with Greer after a clips program showcasing her prolific acting career in film and television.
Festival Director Britta Erickson said, the award celebrates Cassavetes's "maverick spirit and tenacity and this embodies Judy as well." Aside from another documentary filmmaker, Greer is the first woman and the first actress to win the award. Greer accepted the award with a humble personal note: "This is the first award I've gotten for anything."
Kennedy began with Greer's beginnings, musing about Detroit pride and that Midwest working class ethic she's carried into her career. Greer mentioned her break into acting isn't exactly the blood, sweat, and tears story ridden with hard knocks lessons. She was discovered by an agent literally walking down the street while in acting school in Chicago.
Greer appears in two films at the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival: Alexander Payne's "The Descendents" and the Duplass brothers' "Jeff Who Lives At Home." On working with Payne, the actress described the writer/director as "a master of tone."
Payne is a director who carries often tragicomic moods seamlessly, each scene weaving a tapestry of tone. You might call it mise-en-scene, but it is not as much stylistic as a mood evoked. Greer likened working with Payne to her experience working with Spike Jonze on "Adaptation." She recalled that both directors stay incredibly close to the camera during shooting; they are intimately involved in crafting the scene.
One mode of guidance in Greer's acting career has come from keeping the enduring principles of Robert Edmond Jones's book, "The Dramatic Imagination." She said, "I always think of it when I work." While known for her comedic roles, anyone who's seen "Visioneers" can attest to some of Greer's more powerful dramatic moments.
So much of Greer's reputation onscreen comes from supporting, often scene-stealing roles in romantic comedies. When asked what she would change about the genre, she raised a plea for them to be made "without women lip-synching songs." A humorous poke at the genre on the surface, but it certainly reflects a larger issue of stereotypical depictions of women. Greer praised recent comedies like "Bridesmaids" as an example of the genre's attempts "at smarter, female driven films."
Perhaps her wishes are a production credit away from influence, as Greer talked about a new TV pilot in development that she's produced and set to star in. It's based on her own life as a recently married woman who takes on two stepchildren. She commended what's been produced for cable over recent years, but expressed she is "excited for Network TV to get more sophisticated."
Greer closed the evening with two bits of advice for aspiring actors. Something she learned from working with George Clooney ("Three Kings, "The Descendents"): "it's important to be nice to everyone." From security to stars, gophers to gaffers, producers to peons, she always admired that Clooney genuinely treated everyone with the same kindness.The second bit of advice was to have hobbies if you're going to be a working actor. Not only does broadening your skill set expand your horizons as a thespian, it offers a creative fallback in downtimes. While mentioning only a few common hobbies, such as reading and knitting, Greer also mentioned going to a lot of kids sporting events. With this she's certainly gotten a lot of character material, as she adoringly said, "sports parents are kind of weird and awesome."
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- John Cassavetes