Jami Gertz on The Neighbors, going joyriding with Bill Murray, and more
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Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: As a young actress in the ’80s, Jami Gertz defied the odds by earning roles in now-classic films like Sixteen Candles, The Lost Boys, and Less Than Zero without managing to be lumped into the so-called “Brat Pack.” Eschewing the party scene, she instead took the married-with-children route, all the while continuing to turn up in high-profile films on a semi-regular basis, including 1996’s Twister. More recently, however, Gertz has spent her time on the small screen. She can currently be seen dealing with an alien invasion in the suburbs on ABC’s The Neighbors.
The Neighbors (2012-present)—“Debbie Weaver”
Jami Gertz: Debbie Weaver and The Neighbors was an audition… the good old-fashioned way, which kind of makes it even sweeter. I read the script, and I’ve read a lot of pilot scripts in my close to 30 years in this business, and the fact that I found myself laughing out loud while I was by myself reading the script, I thought, “There’s something to this.” And when I realized who wrote it, and knowing that Dan [Fogelman] wrote Cars and Tangled for Disney and Crazy, Stupid, Love… He just had such a distinct voice. And the thing that I liked about it is that there’s also a sweetness to it. I think a lot of times, we’ve come to a humor that’s kind of caustic these days, and sometimes we miss a bit of sentimentality, which I kind of like in a world that’s getting tougher and tougher to navigate. It was just a lovely script, so I went in and read, and read again, and then read for the network and got the gig. So it was kind of the old-fashioned way, which does really feel wonderful.
The A.V. Club: It seems that unto every generation there must come a sitcom about aliens coming to Earth and learning about humanity. Did you have a favorite from the genre prior to this?
JG: You know what? I’m just gonna say this: I had never seen 3rd Rock From The Sun or ALF. I did watch Mork & Mindy and loved it. I was a huge fan of Mork & Mindy when that was around. But there was a good 10 years where I was having my children, and I realized that, in those 10 years, I missed a lot of television. [Laughs.] So, yeah, I guess there have been a lot of alien shows, but what’s funny about this one and what I think makes it a little different is that an entire community is stuck on Earth. We live in a gated golf community that is all aliens, and we are the only humans. So that’s kind of a little bit of a different twist.
AVC: How much have you been able to bring to the character of Debbie Weaver, and how much was already on the page when you arrived?
JG: I think she was already pretty well-defined. I mean, they’re high-school sweethearts, they’re from New Jersey, they’re just trying to get by in this world and raise their kids. They still love each other, which I adore about it. For me… Listen, I’m a married mom of three kids, so it’s pretty similar in that respect. And I still adore my husband. [Laughs.] So those are the things that are probably similar. But Debbie and Marty are kind of clueless on some level, and we feel we’re going to be able to create the perfect neighbors, because we can mold them to be whatever we want them to be. Of course, what turns out is that’s just kind of turned on its ear, and we’re constantly learning something about ourselves, about America, about our culture, how we live, how we consume in this country, how we love in this country. Dan uses aliens, but it could be people from another country who come here and are, like, clueless of our ways. And when you look at our ways, a lot of them are pretty silly! So it’s just a riff on that, which I adore.
Endless Love (1981)—“Patty”
JG: Endless Love was really the first time I ever did a movie, and I remember Brooke Shields just being so sweet to me. We were the same age, and I remember her just being very bright, very kind. I slept over at her hotel with her. And it was really at the height of her fame, and I think what I noticed at that time in my life was how kind she was and how smart she was. Brooke is a pretty smart cookie, and I think the world saw that afterwards, when she went on to college. I think she speaks French! [Laughs.] She’s just an accomplished lady, and to have all that foisted upon her and to see how beautifully she navigated it all is so impressive.
It was also [directed by] Franco Zeffirelli, and I had no idea who the hell Franco Zeffirelli was. [Laughs.] I was 15! I had no clue. But he was lovely! He had this accent, and he was charming. So, yeah, it was my first foray into film. And it was pretty tame, I think, for your first movie set.
Sibling Rivalry (1990)—“Jeanine”
JG: Okay, here’s what happened with Sibling Rivalry: My husband and I were building a home, and he was working at Drexel Burnham Lambert as an investment banker, and they, uh, shut down. [Laughs.] And I remember calling my agent—Toni Howard at the time—and I said to her, “I need anything. I need a movie, anything. I won’t take my clothes off, but otherwise I need anything.” At that point I’d been pretty particular about what I was doing, but he lost his job, we were in the middle of building a house, and we needed this infusion of cash. I went in to read for Carl Reiner, and he was just so sweet. I got the gig; I really needed it at that point, and it came at a good time, but I remember Kirstie Alley just being so funny. So naturally funny. And Ed O’Neill! Just really funny people around me. Carl… I have a particular picture of Carl and I together, where he’s showing me how to slurp spaghetti seductively. And I’m kind of looking up at him, and he has this long piece of spaghetti hanging out of his mouth, showing me how to slurp it seductively. So it was really a lovely opportunity to be around funny people and recognize how they were doing it. It just seemed so effortless for them.
JG: Solarbabies. Wow. What can I tell you about Solarbabies? [Laughs.] Well… Okay, there were some choices that were made purely because I needed to make a living. I mean, the script seemed fine, and I was like, “All right, I’ll do it.” Roller-skating in the desert seemed to be a silly thing to me. Of course, when I got in the desert and I was on roller skates, I tore a ligament in my knee. And I remember the last couple of weeks I had a full cast from my ankle to my upper thigh, and they had to put me on a crudely made… It was almost like a wheelbarrow, so that I could walk, and they’d go faster to make it look like I was actually roller-skating, because I had to finish the movie. Anyway, it was an odd script, and I don’t think anyone saw that movie. Maybe people did. All I really remember about it was the Bohdai. The lightning of the Bohdai. Oh, it was just so silly.
We were in this small town of Almería, Spain. We’d been in Madrid—it’s where I learned how to throw a football. Jason Patric taught me how to throw a football in Madrid. I remember just thinking that I was going out of the country; it was my second time out of the country, but the first time working, and I thought, “Oh, they’re not going to have shampoo, they won’t have tampons.” [Laughs.] So I brought just huge duffel bags of things from America, thinking that I just wouldn’t be able to get them in Spain. Of course, I was dead wrong about that. Jason and I were stuck in the airport. We flew in together, and no one was there to pick us up. It was before cell phones, so we had no one to call, and we’re sitting in the airport for hours. And I just looked at him and said, “I’m going back home.” And he said, “You can’t!” I said, “There’s no one here, we have no one to call. I’m going back home.” And finally this little man came in and had a sign. He thought that he was looking for little kids to pick up. Something like eight hours later, we connected and he got us. But I still remember talking to Jason, who I’d just met, and telling him, “I’m going home,” and him telling me, “Well, you can’t!” [Laughs.]
JG: That’s one that comes back to me often, and that’s where good writing stands the test of time, because people will always see that and say something to me about it. And, yes, there have been times when I’ve been in the bathroom and someone that saw me come in and says, “Can you spare a square?” [Laughs.] The biggest one, though, was when Vice President Gore was running for president, and I went to meet him at a fundraiser. And we’re in line to get your picture with him, meet him, and I walk up to him and he looks at me and says, “Can you spare a square?” And I’m like, “Huh. What are you guys doing in the Oval Office? Clearly, watching Seinfeld!”
So, yeah, that was about being around really great writing and just recognizing that. They were a well-oiled machine. And I remember Michael Richards wearing this very pungent cologne on the night we were shooting, and I was like, “What’s that smell?” He goes, “Oh, that’s my character’s cologne.” He was very much in character at all times. But it was just lovely, smart people.
Entourage (2009-2010)—“Marlo Klein”
JG: Well, I’ll tell you this: My husband got many calls after that—he’s not in the entertainment business—from people saying, “You’d better not piss Jami off. Because it’ll be ugly.” [Laughs.] I remember doing this scene in the office, where I walk in and want to know who’s screwing my husband, and I remember thinking, “Well, I know this is a comedy, but I think this is a woman who’s really scorned and who’s kind of fighting for her very existence.” So I really played it not with the comedy but really how she would act, and I left the comedy up to Jeremy Piven and his character, because she’s really desperate at that point. What forces a woman to go into her husband’s workplace and behave like that? She was really just a woman scorned. And kind of unraveling. I auditioned for that role as well. I think there were hundreds of other girls who auditioned for that one. That was a pretty good piece of film to have!
This Can’t Be Love (1994)—“Sarah”
JG: [Hesitates.] I don’t know what that is.
AVC: It was a TV movie with Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Quinn.
JG: Oh! [Laughs.] I’m sitting here going, “I have no idea what the hell that movie is!” Well, I got to work with Katharine Hepburn, but… I worked with Katharine very much later on in her life, and it was… a bit sad working with her at that point. I think I saw someone who kind of sacrificed everything for her career, and a man who wouldn’t marry her. So here she was, much older and kind of alone, it seemed to me. This is just my perception, obviously. And I felt like maybe she shouldn’t have been working at this point in her life. That it would’ve been better if she’d been surrounded possibly by children and grandchildren and maybe enjoying her golden years more than being up in Canada and doing this movie. I don’t think she really enjoyed it. So it was kind of sad for me, in a way.
But I loved Jason Bateman. I remember I had my son, my eldest, with me, and I was just being on location with my son. And my mother had come to help me, because it was kind of my first time on location with a child, and she was helping me navigate that. But Anthony Quinn was lovely. And such a presence. He was an older gentleman, too, but you could just tell what a presence he was in his day, because even then he was just charming. He just oozed charm, Anthony Quinn. Even the way he dressed. He always had on a blazer, and it was just kind of old-fashioned and delicious.
Dreams (1984)—“Martha Spino”
JG: [Hesitates.] Which one was that?
AVC: Oh, come on, you can’t have forgotten being in a band with John Stamos. And if you have, there are clips on YouTube.
JG: [Laughs.] Oh, man, you had to remind of what the hell that was, too! Dreams was purely about making a living as an actor. It was a fake band, as you said, that was put together. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t play an instrument, but I had a blast doing it. A blast! I think we even cut an album, didn’t we? And we definitely made videos. And it was the go-go ’80s, so the style was, uh, fun. That was really what brought me out here at 18. I got my first apartment by myself; I bought my first automobile. So for me, it was really a pivotal time. That was what really brought me out to Los Angeles on my own. I became an adult on that show, and we had a blast doing it.
Twister (1996)—“Dr. Melissa Reeves”
JG: Well, what comes to mind initially is that I’d had my second child six weeks prior to having to go to Oklahoma. [Hesitates.] Which was really tough. I had a 6-week-old and I had a 3-year-old. Again, my mother, God love her, came to help me. I had to rent a home in Ponca City, Oklahoma. What I remember was that we had to delay filming because of the Oklahoma City bombing, and how devastating that was, and how, when we came there, a lot of the people on the crew had gone to Oklahoma City to help in the recovery efforts. Which was so amazing, because it was really the first time you saw on our soil such devastation. And the people of Oklahoma, how resilient they were, and just…it’s kind of that middle-of-the-country, dig-in-your-heels, work-hard, help-your-neighbor-but-don’t-be-too-intrusive, just plain good old-fashioned values. That’s what comes to mind when I think of Oklahoma.
I remember this movie being much bigger than I thought it would be. We would have to stand behind 747 jet engines to re-create the wind. I remember days waiting for clouds, because if it was sunny, we were screwed. I remember the hail machine creating hail that would literally fall on our heads and cut our heads open so we’d be bleeding. Oh, and I do remember being in those cars all the time! [Laughs.] Chasing down roads. It was a tough movie to make. It was not an easy movie to make, and I think that my role in it was to be the voice of the audience, in a way. Like, “Why are you doing this? Why are you getting so close to tornados? Why are you chasing tornados to begin with?” To be the believable one who would be scared of this and make it plausible for the audience to understand why people do this, and how crazy it seems. And we got pretty close to some storms!
The biggest thing that I remember from when we were doing press for the film was that we went on Oprah. We came out individually, and we were talking about how tough it was to shoot. We would get debris in our eyes from the wind machines and we’d have to use the eye wash. And sometimes when we were in the makeup trailer, we’d have to turn off the electricity, because we were close to an electrical storm and we didn’t want to get electrocuted, and blah blah blah. And then she breaks for commercials, and then she comes back and says, “And now for survivors of real twisters!” [Laughs.] So here are all these actors, these dopey actors on stage, and now we have these people who area like, “I was burned, lightning hit me…” And we’re like, “Uh, no, that didn’t happen to us. Oooh. ” It was just so humiliating. Here are these real survivors of twisters, and we’re just the pretend movie version.
Gilda Radner: It’s Always Something (2002)—“Gilda Radner”
JG: Oh, that was probably closest to my heart. And what amazed me, No. 1, was that I took on the role, because I auditioned for that as well, and I think many people thought, “Oooh, why play someone so iconic?” But she had done her book on tape in her own voice before she passed, so I had her voice in my head when I was doing it. And I got to speak to her best friend, Judy Levy, who went to camp with her and grew up with her, and I got to speak to her husband, Gene [Wilder], who was just so kind. What a pioneer she was, and how interesting all of her characters were, and how she got SNL. But she was a troubled young gal. I mean, she had bulimia; she was kind of all over the place. But I think that’s what helped in her comedy. And I think the biggest thing that struck me was that, because she was so funny, no one believed that she was sick. She was a bit of a hypochondriac, so by the time she was diagnosed, it was Stage Four. Everyone was, like, “Oh Gilda, you’re fine. You’re fine!” But she wasn’t. And she knew it. And how devastating it was to not be taken seriously. But it was fun to be able to recreate her Roseanne Roseannadanna and her Lisa Loopner. That was really, for me, so much fun to be able to re-create. And I got one of my best friends: Jen Irwin, who played Jane Curtin in that, then played my sister on Still Standing.
Still Standing (2002-2006)—“Judy Miller”
JG: Oh, Judy Miller. I understood Judy Miller, because I came from kind of the sticks of Chicago. And that girl who loved sports and rock ‘n’ roll and got kind of, uh, knocked-up in high school. [Laughs.] I just knew Judy Miller. She was just that tough Chicago girl. And what I loved about Judy and Bill was that they could screw up all day long—their kids were much smarter than they were—but as long they’re not bleeding at the end of the day, it was a good day! I thought it was some of the best comedy I’ve done, and some of the best writing. We were on for four years, they switched our timeslot every year, but people managed to find us anyway. And to this day, people will say, “Oh, I watch reruns of Still Standing! It was such a funny show, and we loved it so much.“
I’m very proud of that show. We were not a media darling by any stretch of the imagination. [Laughs.] But we entertained people and made people laugh. It was like putting on a little play every week. I don’t think I had a cross word with anyone in four years. And Mark Addy, who is such a brilliant actor, he is from York, England, and he had to lose his accent every week, which is a very thick British accent. He was a classically trained British actor, playing this kind of lower-middle-class guy from Chicago, who was a toilet-bowl salesman, by the way. I adored him. I adored working with him. It was a privilege to play his TV wife every week. It was just a blast. I loved every moment of that show.
Square Pegs (1982-1983)—“Muffy Tepperman”
JG: For me, I think that’s the definitive moment where I became this actor. You know? There were little things I had done, like a week on Endless Love, but that was… First of all, it was the first time I saw women in such impressive roles. Anne Beatts was our creator; most of the staff were female writers, from SNL and other places, but just really brilliant women. Kim Friedman was a female director we had. It was the first time as a young girl—I was 16 when I did the pilot—that I saw such creative women all around me. And it had an effect on my mother as well, who came with me, because I was a minor at the time. But she got a job after Square Pegs was over. She decided to go out into the work force after being on Square Pegs and seeing all these women working and creating and just being creative. So I think it had a profound effect on my mother as well as myself.
I think it was a groundbreaking show at the time. It’s so funny, because our ratings were… We were canceled with, like, 22 million viewers a week. That’s how many viewers you would get for that show. And I just ate it up. I loved the character. I just adored Sarah Jessica Parker. We were very close on that show, and we lived at the Oakwood Garden Apartments, and her mother, Barbara, was just such a bright woman. I remember we would just listen to NPR all the time. Barbara would make sure that we listened to NPR, and Barbara and my mom would take us to museums and plays. It was just a magical time of working really hard, working with amazing people. Bill Murray played a substitute teacher on the show!
AVC: So do you have a Bill Murray anecdote? It seems like everybody’s got one.
JG: Well, he’s just such a character! Because I was from Chicago, he called me “Chicago.” And I had just gotten my driver’s license, so he threw me the keys to his car at lunch one time and said, “Let’s go!” And I got in the car, and we just started driving around. We went to In-and-Out Burger in Norwalk, California, and I think they started looking for us, because he had absconded with a minor! [Laughs.] But I was like, “Mr. Murray, I know how to drive!” So he threw me the keys to this, like, Mercedes convertible, and we were just driving around for an hour during lunch. We came back to, like, “Where the hell were you?” And he’s like, “She just learned how to drive!”
So, yeah, he became a friend of mine for a while there, and I did some improv with him back in Chicago, with Del Close. He really introduced me into the improv world and what improv is all about. In fact, there was a small time there where we were… well, he was trying to get a movie through improvisation, and he had put together a whole group of people, including Dana Delaney, Bud Cort, Bill Irwin, Brian Doyle Murray, and Bill. And for a couple of months there, he was trying to get a movie script through improv. I mean, it never happened, but for me, I think I was 19, maybe only 18 at the time. We went to study with Del at Second City, then we went to New York and studied, and we would just do improv all day long. It was very interesting, and it was like school for me. It was like a master class in improv.
ER (1997)—“Dr. Nina Pomerantz”
JG: Anthony Edwards comes to mind. What a lovely actor, what a lovely gentleman. Great writing. I remember going, and I was like, “This really looks like a hospital!” And… I’ve forgotten his name, but they had a doctor who was one of their producers. He’d actually been an ER doctor. And I remember just how real it seemed to me, that they really tried to get that precise feel of a hospital and what that’s like. And Abraham Benrubi also did Twister with me, so we had a little connection there. I think I did Twister after ER. I can’t remember!
AVC: You did.
JG: Okay. I am so bad! I’ve spent this whole interview realizing that I can’t remember shit! [Laughs.] But she was a wonderful character, because she was this psychiatrist who suddenly realized that there are crazy people out there. She was written well, and I loved that she got to kind of point out the crazies.
JG: Oh, wow. Well, Mississippi comes to mind. Rural Mississippi. I don’t think I had ever seen such poverty, because we were at the crossroads. If you’re looking on the map, we really were at the crossroads. And there were, like, shacks, and you think, “There’s no one who could live here!” And then you’d turn the corner and see laundry hanging. Just such poverty. I’d never seen such rural poverty like that, which was kind of devastating for me to see, I have to say. But Ralph Macchio was such a professional. He got that guitar down and knew his stuff. I felt like I had to keep up with him. It was kind of my first major role in a movie. And Walter Hill directed, who to this day is still a friend of mine. He says “action” like no one else. He kind of growls it. [Laughs.] And it was in the days before Video Village, and I long for the days before Video Village, because your director sat with you. He sat right by the camera with you. There was literally a chair that they’d hook on the camera for the director to sit there and watch you. It was very intimate, and I miss that intimacy of your director being right there as you’re acting, of hoping you have it and moving on with that hope that it’s in the can.
So that’s what I remember about Crossroads. I remember Mississippi being a beautiful place, a historical place, but a sad place as well. And the music. Ry Cooder did the music, which was amazing. And Joe Seneca… oh, my God, his face. Joe’s face, his beard, his eyes. I don’t even know how old he was when he did it, but to me, he seemed old. [Laughs.] Of course, I was pretty young and stupid. But it was a great experience for me to be on my own, in a different part of our country, seeing our country, and appreciating blues music.
The Lost Boys (1987)—“Star”
JG: First of all, I have to mention Joel Schumacher, because visually he’s so interesting. He has such style of film, and he had such style back then. I mean, he’ll tell the story that he did the window displays at Bendel’s. [Laughs.] So his eye and his taste are impeccable, No. 1, but he just created this movie that I think had such sex appeal, warmth, and humor. And it was scary! Which is not easy to do. Many movies can’t re-create all that stuff. I mean, we had humor, we had sensuality, and we had fear in one movie. I don’t think it’s done often. And Joel was able to get all of that in there.
Dianne Wiest comes to mind when I think of that movie. Oh, she’s a brilliant actress, and she also makes it seem effortless. Ed Herrmann, an amazing man. Such a great actor. Jason Patric literally got me that job. We had done Solarbabies, and then we happened to get a play together. We both showed up at this audition and got it. It was called Out Of Gas On Lovers Leap, and we did it at the Costa Playhouse. It was a two-person play about teen suicide. Very uplifting. [Laughs.] And Jason got the gig in this movie, and they were casting the girl, and he said, “You know, you should come in and read. I’m going to tell Joel. Would you be interested?” I said, “Sure!” And I think Joel had in mind kind of a blonde, pixie-ish girl, and I’m, uh, not that girl, y’know? So I came in and read with Jase, and all of a sudden she became this kind of gypsy girl, with this mane of hair.
Susie Becker did the costuming, and I just remember having the best time. She would go to secondhand clothes shops, and she found, like, these old cowboy boots, and the material of my skirt was sari material. She was just so knowledgeable about clothing, designers, and fabrics. So, anyway, I really have Jason to thank for that gig, but in the end, I have Joel to thank. I think we kind of paved the way for vampires today! [Laughs.]
JG: It was a period-piece comedy, we shot it on Ohio, and it was the first time I was ever on location by myself. We were at a motel where… [Starts to laugh.] It was a motel that kind of taught people how to be in motel service. Not hotel service. Motel service. So it was a bizarre place to be. We were kind of near the Appalachian Mountains, and I think there are some mountain people in Ohio. Either way, it was an odd location, a very small town. Kelly Preston was in that movie, and I just remember being fascinated with her beauty and her joie de vivre. She just loved life. Doug McKeon was a wonderful actor. I don’t know whatever happened to him, but he was so good in that movie. Being my first time on location, I was literally so happy to be there that even when I wasn’t working that day, I’d go to set anyway just to hang out. Do you know what I mean? It was just that much fun for me. I was so young, carefree, enjoying myself. And I got to play the ugly duckling who turns into a swan! C’mon, what’s better than that? I got to kiss the guy! So it was all good. I loved that one.
Sixteen Candles (1984)—“Robin”
JG: Well, it was John Hughes, but it was John Hughes before he was really John Hughes. I was so excited just to do a movie in Chicago. I had done Square Pegs, and then I got cast in Sixteen Candles, and I was just so happy to be able to do a movie in my hometown and not have to go on location. I could go back to my own house and go to sleep. I kind of missed out on part of high school. Like, my junior and senior year. And I didn’t go to college, really, so I kind of missed out on all of that. Sixteen Candles was just my way to be at a big high-school party. [Laughs.] She was a fun character. And he was an interesting director. I don’t have many memories of him, but he was a pretty serious guy for someone who did that kind of comedy. He was a pretty serious guy, but he was a great writer, and that film was kind of a springboard for so many actors. You know, I was never lumped in with the Brat Pack, which is interesting. But I didn’t hang with them.
AVC: It sounds like you were going down a different path all along.
JG: I went down a very different path. I kind of got married and had children much earlier, and I made different choices in movies. So, yeah, I had a very different path, yet people kind of still think, “Were you in the Brat Pack?” But, no, I didn’t even really know many of the people in the Brat Pack. Although, actually, Judd Nelson just did a little stint on The Neighbors, so it was nice to see him. I was never in a movie with him, but we’d just kind of run into each other every so often, and we’d have this… reminiscing. About, you know, “back in the day.” [Laughs.]
Modern Family (2011)—“Laura”
JG: Well, Steve Levitan has been a friend of mine for quite some time now. I’m so euphoric for his success and Christopher Lloyd’s success. I think they have hit the zeitgeist of family relationships, and I think that they’re giving America a look into what family’s evolving into in a very realistic, funny way. And even with this election year, which is so contentious, we can all come together and say we love Modern Family. Whatever your religious beliefs, political beliefs, whatever it is, people are watching and being entertained by Steve and Chris. And I think that Steve believes in me as an actress and as a comedian and kind of wrote this part with me in mind. And Ty Burrell, Ty Burrell, Ty Burrell. What can I say? The man is a comedy genius. And so humble. He is, like, the humblest man. It’s just… This is his day at work, this is what he’s doing today. A charming, lovely man. And Julie Bowen was just gracious to me.
It’s hard when you go on as a guest, especially on a successful show like Entourage or ER or Modern Family. Sometimes you can be made to feel very comfortable while you’re a guest, and sometimes you can be made to feel like you’re not comfortable. And the people who have been gracious to their guest stars, it’s really lovely, because then you feel that you really are a guest. You’re coming into someone’s home as a guest. You’re kind of nervous anyway, so when they make you feel as comfortable as possible, it’s really lovely. And as a series regular, I’ve learned when we do have guest stars to make them feel as comfortable as possible, so they’re able to be their best and perform at their best and feel that they can try stuff with us, that we’re not the end-all and be-all. We’re still here to play as well, and you can play along with us. So that’s kind of what I’ve learned from being the guest star on some of these really great shows.
Less Than Zero (1987)—“Blair”
JG: I remember that being a very difficult one to get. I remember that I had trouble getting in on the audition. They didn’t want to see me. I do remember that. Then I finally did get on, and it was a very rigorous audition. It was tough to get that gig. And then it was tough to film. That one was… well, it was practically all nights, which was exhausting. And it was the ’80s, and we were doing a drug movie. [Laughs.] So I, uh, don’t know if everyone was at their best. And I think that it’s just a sad movie. Even today, it stands up as being a sad movie.
I remember Robert [Downey Jr.] just being so good, and me kind of feeling like I had to keep up with him. He just… He had this character down. And I think he probably had some really rough days filming, as did probably a lot of other people. I had done a “Just Say No” campaign for the Reagan administration. [Laughs.] I was not a girl who partied. I just wasn’t. And I remember having to go out and party as part of what we were doing beforehand. I was doing a play, Come Back, Little Sheba, at the LATC [Los Angeles Theatre Center], and I remember them all coming to pick me up in a limo, and we were going to go out to clubs, and I was just so tired. I’m like, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t want to go out to clubs and this and that.” So for me, it was very different and probably a little scary. I was probably a little frightened, feeling like I was in over my head.
But Ed Lachman was our director of photography, and he did an unbelievable job of making that look so beautiful. Also, our sets were just amazing. I think they had high hopes, but I don’t think it made that much money. Yet it has really stood the test of time, and people still tell me how much they loved those performances. It was very stylistic, and I think that Marek Kanievska got that. But it was a tough shoot.
Jersey Girl (1992)—“Toby”
AVC: Is there any project you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
JG: I have to say Less Than Zero, because I thought it would do better in theaters. I just remember it not doing as well as expected, and I think it’s probably because of the subject matter. I think people thought, “These kids are rich! They shouldn’t have problems!” [Laughs.] But the book was so iconic and so many people had read it that I thought it should’ve done better. You know, though, I have to be honest with you: It’s so out of my hands how something’s received. I can only do what I do well, which is act. I do my job, and the rest is up to marketing people. I can’t really control the rest of it! So I don’t pay a lot of attention to it, but the one that I thought didn’t get the love…
Oh, you know what? I take it all back. [Laughs.] There was a movie I did with Dylan McDermott called Jersey Girl. And I don’t even know if it was released into movie theaters. But it was a wonderful movie, and to this day, people will say to me, “I loved that movie Jersey Girl!” It really is a funny, charming movie. It’s very sweet, and it’s a great romantic comedy. And no one saw it. I think they said they wanted to remake it with bigger stars! Which, I have to say, was both humiliating and devastating at the same time. But that’s one that I think should’ve gotten a little look, because I really do think that people would’ve found it very charming and sweet.