Judy Greer mentions the old fable of the tortoise and the hare when describing her career.
"Slow and steady wins the race," said the 35-year-old actress. "That has been my goal."
For the last 12 years, Greer, a strawberry blond Michigan native with an agile comic mind, steadily has been making a name for herself in Hollywood with a variety of supporting roles in such films as 2001's "The Wedding Planner," 2004's "13 Going On 30," 2008's "27 Dresses" and 2009's "Love Happens," in addition to appearing as the batty assistant Kitty in the Emmy Award-winning TV series " Arrested Development."
Now she finally has a chance to play the lead. In the off-kilter romantic comedy "Barry Munday," which opens Friday, Greer plays Ginger, a frumpy virgin who becomes pregnant after a drunken one-night stand with a would-be Don Juan named Barry ( Patrick Wilson). She demands that Barry step up and take care of the baby, and he agrees — but confesses to her that he no longer has testicles (they were crushed by the father of a teenage girl Barry had been sitting with in a movie theater).
Greer said she loved the quirkiness of the script, but she was also excited to have the chance to carry a film opposite Wilson.
"It felt very indie to me, sort of a '70s romantic comedy, and the character has a real journey in the movie," she said, speaking by phone recently. "I love that in the story falling in love doesn't suddenly turn you beautiful. The [characters] are not Hollywood hot, and they don't get there by the end."
"Barry Munday" is the first film for writer-director Chris D'Arienzo, who was excited to work with Greer, whom he describes as "incredibly hilarious."
"Ginger is a really hard and abrasive person, and I think you have to have somebody who in their DNA is likable in order to get an audience to stick around to fall in love with her," he said.
The character was actually the thing that most excited D'Arienzo about adapting Frank Turner Hollon's novel. "It's very rare that the female drives the comedy. Usually it's male-driven. The female is kind of relegated to the role where she shakes her fist and says, 'That nutty boyfriend of mine.' This was a real opportunity for the female character to drive the film, and when you put it in someone's hands like Judy, it was so great."
Though she loves those pinch-hitter parts — she can soon be seen in director Ed Zwick's romance "Love and Other Drugs," the black comedy "Peep World" and Alexander Payne's next feature, "The Descendants" — she's comfortable in the lead too.
"I hope to get more roles the size of Ginger," Greer said. "It was so rewarding to develop a character like that and work so closely with another actor."
"My overall goal is to work as often and as long as my body lets me," she added. "I have been working steadily since I started, and I think that's good. I just try to keep on going."