Back in 2015, Judy Greer did something shocking and relatively unprecedented: she spoke openly about the gender pay gap in Hollywood. While conversation over the topic has become somewhat more mainstream since then, at the time, Greer's Glamour op-ed made her one of few female actors to address the subject and demand more from the industry. Yet while equality in Hollywood is certainly still a cause the star is passionate about, she tells me, when I speak to her earlier this month at the premiere of her directorial debut, A Happening of Monumental Proportions, that she's not thinking about the pay gap's affects on her own life — but no, it's not because she doesn't think it matters.
"I’m a female director, but I’m a first time director, so I don’t know that I deserve more than I get right now," she explains, sitting down with me while at the Bentonville Film Festival in Arkansas. "I’m starting from the bottom of this field, so I’m not gonna say, 'well I’m a woman and I need to be paid equal to a guy.' If you’re comparing me to a dude who’s directed five movies, maybe not, maybe I don’t deserve the same as him. But maybe in time, I will."
"I think you have to be fair and everything can’t be a cause, because then all causes will be lost," she continues. "So in this way, I am working my way up the ladder... maybe if I’m playing a role in a TV show, I can say, 'no, I’m passing unless you pay me the same as him,' but this is a different ballgame."
Greer has a point; as an actor who's appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, she has every right to demand equal pay as her male co-stars. Yet as a first-time director of a small, independent movie, the situation is inevitably going to be different. Still, that doesn't mean Greer is content to let the pay gap stay as it is, or not expect more with her future films. She mentions a speech Ava DuVernay gave at Elle's 2015 Women in Hollywood Awards, where the director recalled learning that Colin Trevorrow, a filmmaker with a similar pedigree at the time, had been given the reigns of the $150 million-costing Jurassic World, while she was allotted $20 million for the much smaller-scale Selma.
"You’re like, what the f*ck?!" Greer says now, laughing at the memory. "How come Ava couldn’t have directed Jurassic World?... So I think yes, in that circumstance, things are still f*cked, but for me, I’m happy. I’m happy to put my time in and pay my dues."
Still, gender equality was never far from her mind while making AHoMP. A comedy about the parents, kids, and teachers at an L.A. private school during one, chaotic day, the film stars Common, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Jennifer Garner, and Katie Holmes, as members of an ensemble cast that's relatively equal in its division of male and female parts. As director, Greer took a lesson from her former co-star Sigourney Weaver, who told her, years ago, that she asked her agent to send her parts originally written for men, to prove she could play any role, regardless of gender. And so in making her own movie, Greer made the active choice to change several parts in the script written for men to be played by women. "Whatever you’re thinking," she says now about the way most scripts handle gender, "it can all be bent."
It's fitting, then, that AHoMP premiered at Bentonville, a film festival honoring movies with diverse cast and crew in both gender and race. Greer's debut earned two awards, including Best of the Fest, and while making the film may not have been an easy task ("I am a big proponent of saying you don’t know something if you don’t know it and asking for help, so I did that a lot," she recalls with a laugh), the final product clearly hit a nerve with audiences. Perhaps that success will lead to more, bigger projects for Greer — and give her the boost she needs to get the on-set treatment she deserves.