You know you've seen her somewhere. She's funny, she's (usually) a redhead — maybe she's
Who is she? That actress who has been in a million romantic comedies? Always the sidekick? You must know her name.
Judy Greer knows this is what strangers think when they pass her on the street. Some end up discreetly pulling out their iPhones to
"I Don't Know What You Know Me From," is what she wants to say. That's also the title of her new book, in which the 38-year-old candidly describes what it's like to be a character actress in Hollywood — successful but not quite a star. Even though it's how many actors make their living, it's a career path that's rarely discussed, warts and all; playing supporting roles may pay the bills, but it doesn't make you famous.
"For a long time, I think my family thought I was living in a $3-million mansion in the Hollywood Hills," said the Michigan-born Greer. "I got the sense that they don't know what it's like to be a working actor — they know the pictures in the magazines. But having a job as an actor doesn't mean that you made it."
Apparently, not many people get what Greer does. In her book of essays, she chronicles the oft-ridiculous things she's asked in public. Why didn't she have a role in the 2011 hit
It's "not like there's an audition form with star and co-star boxes and I keep accidentally checking the co-star box," she writes. "Maybe I'm not good/funny/pretty enough?"
She's nothing if not honest — sometimes brutally so. When she arrived for an interview at La Brea Bakery last week, she was still heavily made up from a morning shoot for her Yahoo Web series, "Reluctantly Healthy."
"I never wear this much makeup," she said, eyeing the menu. She reluctantly decided to order the bread with her soup, admitting she only allows herself to eat carbs one day a week.
"The truth is," she continued, "if I was maybe better or funnier or prettier, wouldn't I have starred in a movie? ... I can see it objectively as a businesswoman — if no one's buying your product, then there's not a desire for it."
But to be sure, there is demand for Greer. She's appeared in more than 30 movies and over two dozen television shows, typically providing much-needed comic relief. As she puts it, she usually serves as the "blue-collar bestie" who makes impossibly beautiful leading ladies like
This wasn't what she set out to do. After getting a bachelor of fine arts degree from DePaul University's theater program, she moved to Los Angeles and began auditioning for lead roles. But she kept getting passed over for, as she puts it in her book, "Pretty McPrettyson," so she started reading for "Pretty's best friend/sister/assistant." As it turned out, her goofy sense of humor and approachable look made her the perfect supporting player.
It's a reputation that's been hard to shake.
"People in Hollywood want you to lead them to the water," said
In an effort to stop the typecasting, Greer said she still auditions for roles — something stars with bigger egos often refuse to do. She's even written letters to filmmakers whose projects she feels particularly passionate about, urging them to consider her.
"Sometimes you have to put it all out there," said Greer, whose dream role would be akin to Meg Ryan's in
Her enthusiasm helped her land a part in July's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," in which she plays a primate rendered on screen through performance capture technology.
"Somebody told me Judy Greer wanted to come in and I was like, 'You're kidding!' Because it's not a huge role, but it's an important role," said "Planet" director
Of course, when the red carpet is rolled out for the big-budget film's premiere this summer, Greer doesn't expect to be treated as a main attraction. In one bittersweet essay in her book — released earlier this month — she recalls posing in front of a step-and-repeat and being ignored by photographers. The shutterbugs were more interested in taking pictures of her
Sure, it can be upsetting, but she's used to swallowing her pride. She knew, for instance, that at the press junket for
"You just tell them what they want to hear," Greer said with a shrug.
"She's not afraid to be a real goofball, but she's not someone who is trying to take up all the oxygen in the room," Garner said. "She's smart at playing those best friends roles, but the reality is that she is a leading lady. And we're going to see that more. People say she's a character actress, but she's just an actress who has been smart enough to move around and do different things."