Taking the lead

Judy Greer on working with dogs in Wilson.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Judy Greer as Shelly with Pepper in Craig Johnson's Wilson
Judy Greer as Shelly with Pepper in Craig Johnson's Wilson

Having just wrapped up her directorial debut A Happening of Monumental Proportions, written by Gary Lundy, starring Bradley Whitford, Katie Holmes, Common, and Allison Janney, Judy Greer talked about her work on Wilson.

Greer plays Shelly, professional dog sitter, who takes care of Wilson's (Woody Harrelson) fox terrier called Pepper. Wilson is a man without many friends because he always says what he considers to be the truth. While his life begins to spin out of control, with an ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), a furious former sister-in-law Polly (Cheryl Hines), and the discovery of a daughter named Claire (Isabella Amara), Shelly remains a calm - if half-forgotten by the story - port in his storm, until all comes full circle and we return to her with a surprising vengeance.

Judy Greer with Isabella Amara: "I'm a real dog lover and I work with a rescue in Los Angeles called Wags and Walks …"
Judy Greer with Isabella Amara: "I'm a real dog lover and I work with a rescue in Los Angeles called Wags and Walks …" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Shelly is one of the few people who is able to put up with grumpy Wilson's prodding. As is the case with many of the people who populate his world, she seems to have a life we glimpse but know little about. The frames into her life, as created originally for the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, open and close and we are left to wonder what she is all about.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Could you talk a bit about the scenes with the dogs?

Judy Greer: Yeah!

AKT: I found the scene later on very touching, very surprising.

JG: The cemetery scene?

AKT: Yes. The requiem.

JG: Yeah, it was awful. I mean, it was a great moment to have. That was my first day of work. Nothing like jumping in head first. Well, I'm a real dog lover and I work with a rescue in Los Angeles called Wags and Walks where I got my little creature. She's wild and crazy and I was supposed to only foster her but then I kept her forever. I'm a foster fail. Hi, my name is Judy and I'm a foster fail.

Claire (Isabella Amara) with her parents Pippi (Laura Dern) and Wilson (Woody Harrelson)
Claire (Isabella Amara) with her parents Pippi (Laura Dern) and Wilson (Woody Harrelson)

Working with animals in movies always seems like it's going to be really awesome if you're an animal lover. The truth is, it's not. It's not not awesome, okay? Don't quote that. But it's not like going to your friends' house and hanging out with their dog. It's like, the dog is there to work.

And as much as I might try to get it to fall deeply in love with me and as much as I told my husband I might bring it home after the movie is over, like there's not a huge connection.

An animal is there to listen to its trainer. And the trainer is, like, holding treats. And it knows that the trainer has food. I've never been told, don't interact with animals. Like, they don't care and you're supposed to touch them and hang out with them and stuff…

AKT: Some directors [Christophe Honoré for Métamorphoses and Cédric Kahn for Wild Life (Vie Sauvage)] say that animal handlers are the worst part about cinema.

JG: They're special. They care about their animals and thank god that they do, because if they weren't so protective of their animals, I think that the animals would get really overworked. And I understand why a director would say that but I would also sometimes say that about parents of minors in television and films as well.

Judy Greer for Alexander Payne's The Descendants at the New York Film Festival
Judy Greer for Alexander Payne's The Descendants at the New York Film Festival

There's some that you're like "whoa." I directed my first movie and I have two kids in my movie and I was like: "Can I, in addition to auditioning kids, also meet their parents too?"

AKT: What is it called?

JG: We're just finishing it now. It's called A Happening Of Monumental Proportions. Hopefully, I'll be talking to you about that in like six months.

Read what Woody Harrelson had to say on Wilson, the presidential election of 2000, and Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss.

Coming up - Wilson director Craig Johnson, screenwriter Daniel Clowes, and Laura Dern, more on dogs, tattoos, Hitchcock, and Oakland's Fairyland in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Wilson comes out in the US on March 24.

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