Ari Graynor's Hit Her Stride

Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
For such a tiny person, Ari Graynor has a huge personality. It's a wonder why her extensive résumé, up until now, consists primarily of supporting roles. Luckily, someone over at CBS saw a leading lady aching to reveal herself.
Now, audiences can get their weekly dose of Graynor Thursday nights on Bad Teacher. Adapted from the 2011 movie of the same name, the show centers around Meredith Davis (Graynor), a gold-digging divorcée who turns to teaching as a means of finding her next rich husband. Davis is far and away from Graynor's manic-depressive Sopranos character, Caitlin Rucker, but the contrast serves as a testament to how adaptable the actress is.
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In person, Graynor wears her charm on her sleeve. The wit of her often bawdy characters is definitely there, but she's soft-spoken and extremely polite. And, she's fun. Ahead, the 31-year-old budding Hollywood multi-hyphenate muses on everything from the proverbial glass ceiling to what it takes to be a truly, truly good teacher.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Let’s start with Bad Teacher, your first true leading role. Can you speak to the trials that come with the role? The press? The publicity?
“Well, I’ve been working as an actor for many years now. I started acting when I was seven. I took my first big TV job on The Sopranos when I was 17. So, I’ve been around for a long time, but the majority of my work, up until a few years ago, was supporting roles. [It's] different when you’re the lead in something. It's something that I've felt ready for, for some time now. For A Good Time, Call was a film that we premiered at Sundance three years ago. (I also executive produced that film.) That was the first time that I was front and center. There were two of us; there was me and Lauren Miller. (She also cowrote it.) That was the independent film world, though.

"This is kind of a perpetual birthday-party syndrome; the fear. What if nobody comes or what if nobody watches? What if everybody hates me? There's a different feeling about all of that, for me, being this titular character in a big TV show. It's a different type of vulnerability. It’s sort of like showing up at a bar, by yourself, in a bright red and tight dress. Like, ‘Hi!’ Because you are putting yourself out there in that way. You really hope you leave with a bunch of guys asking for your number and asking you out on a date. If not, you might leave feeling really stupid and bad about yourself.”

And, if one of those guys does call, you hope he is "The One." You hope he is the one who will take you up to a new level.
“Yeah! That’s it. It feels a lot like you are putting yourself out there in such a public way. It feels like that bar, in a red dress, alone.”
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
I understand you're a producer on the show. Can you speak to what it's like being a female producer in the television world? Do you find there are levels you want to get to, but there's a kind of glass ceiling. Hell, do you even believe in that phrase?
“I don’t feel aware of a glass ceiling, really. I think that I’m so new in this world of producing that I’m still figuring all of it out — especially what it means in TV. For A Good Time, Call was more clear because Lauren Miller and Katie Anne Naylon wrote the script and came to me. At that point, it was basically the three of us and the director. The four of us rewrote the script for ages together. We were learning together. With this, however, a lot of the first season was me figuring out what being a producer meant. How many pies do my fingers have to be in? Was it just a title? I still don’t necessarily know the answers. The responsibility of it all really took me by surprise. That was something I took seriously. In every company, or in any social gathering — whatever it is — you need to have an energetic leader. It was really important for me, as a producer and as a person who is number one on the call sheet, to set the right tone on set — set it as a place of warmth, positivity, and energy. My role was to be a watchful eye with it all."

Do you know where you want to go with it?
"I’m not quite sure where I want to go with it, but I do think that it’s incredibly important that I continue to take a power position behind the camera. I think it can help to affect what people watch and the kind of stories that get told."

Do you mean so-called female content?
"I don’t mean that in a ‘you need to be telling strong women’s stories’ kind of way. That’s a part of the narrative of female power in Hollywood. Women in Hollywood shouldn’t have to be an issue. It shouldn’t have to be about creating 'female content.' It’s just simply a thing where you should have points of view out there, and it doesn’t have to be female centered. It has to be the way any individual sees the world. It’s different from person to person. Women should certainly be behind that and doing that. I’ve been really inspired by the recent movement, especially in the last few years, with actresses taking a different kind of lead and a different kind of charge: Kristen Wiig, Rashida Jones, Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham. That didn’t exist in the ‘70s or beyond in the same kind of way.”
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson; Chair from Patina Vintage Rentals.
Not even in the early 2000s.
“Yes! There wasn’t that multi-hyphenate in the complicated web of economics and entertainment, how things get made and why, all of that. I think there is this new sense of people taking a certain kind of control. They're saying, ‘I’m tired of waiting for something that I’m never going to find unless I create it myself.’ That is something that has really hit home a lot for me, in the past year. It is something that I’m trying to push myself over and get past some of my fears. I want to start writing and show it to people.”

That’s so great. What would your dream multi-hyphenate be? Actor-producer? Actor-director? Actor-producer-director?
“You know, it’s a new sort of redefining myself, for myself. In a lot of ways, I think we can accidentally limit ourselves by the way we label ourselves and what we do. On the one hand, because I started acting so young, I think I was incredibly lucky because I knew what I wanted to do from such an early age. I think something happened when I turned 30 last year, because so many of the things I had imagined and hoped for — along with so much of my childhood — actually came true, both in work and in life. I had this sort of panic of, ‘Now what?’ I think it scared me. I thought, 'Am I fucked now? I can’t think about what else I want because I’ve been so locked into this definition of myself.' I started to get a real sense of wanting to produce something, though. But, like I said, I didn’t really even know what that meant. It's only been in the past few months that I started writing, and I got over my fear about putting pen to paper. I realized that I have aspirations that I have never even really thought about before. I never thought I wanted to be a director. I never thought I would want to create a show for cable that I would write, direct, and produce. There are ways that I want to challenge myself in bigger ways, in addition to acting. I want to take bigger and different risks.”

What’s the best advice your favorite teacher ever gave you, that has stuck with you and you've grown with?
“You know, it’s funny because I’ve never had a mentor and I’ve never gone to acting school or grad school, so I’ve never been able to connect with someone through that. There have been many, many, many different conversations and lessons over the years, with a plethora of people. But, I think, rather than hanging on to this one truism that someone said to me one night, I think there is an overwhelming sense of people telling me to embrace what makes me different and embrace what makes me, me. That's what will provide. It’s so easy to compare yourself to other people, which I still find myself doing all the time, saying, ‘Well, they’re doing this. That’s so great. They are navigating their career this way; I should be doing that. What I’m doing is shitty.’ That’s where you get in trouble. That’s where you get stopped. That’s where you get fueled by ego, rather than the real part of who you are.

"Anyone who has ever done anything valuable in this world, comes from being different and following their unique idea, or voice, or instinct. I think that is the biggest thing and why so many people now are trying to make their own material. People don’t have a creative outlook on life very often. They don’t have that outlook in art and entertainment, unfortunately. You have a cultural archetypal chest of characters and similar types of stories, which prove to do well, so you keep bringing them back. I think a lot of it comes from a lot of women feeling that they can’t fit a lot of these molds. None of them are particularly interesting to them anyway, so you forge your own path. That can be true for anyone in business or anywhere, all over the place.”
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson; Chair from Patina Vintage Rentals.
That’s the thought I’ve been having almost every day. Everything is either reblogged or retweeted. You favorite it, fudge it a little bit, and move on. Where is the true originality? My thing, that I would love to know, is how do you keep yourself original? How do you keep yourself in check?
“You know, I think, for me, a lot of it has to do with the people around me. I have always been a people person. I know, with some people, the place where they go is art or music. For me, I am inspired by the people around me who challenge how I look at the world and myself. As I have opened up my world of people to those who think differently, it has given me less patience with the small ways of living that don’t benefit me. My friends are not people who are on social media all the time. Friends of mine are those who are really engaged and curious about that question you're asking; about inspiration, about originality, about history. They know things, and as a result, takes me out of myself. I think that's a really important piece.

"We all have to be in touch with ourselves to be able to do anything good and valuable because it all has to come from a grounded place. I think it’s a balance of trying to spend time with myself. Some of my best moments, with the truest sense of who I am, come from when I just pick up and leave for a day or two. I’ll just rent a car and go. I’ve done it in New York, and I’ve done it on the West Coast. There will be a certain breaking point about something, and I will just get away and go see something beautiful or somewhere different — not knowing where I’m going and not having a plan. I think there is something really great about relying on yourself to make your own adventure. That always makes me feel really full and clear at the end of it.”

That’s great. Speaking of people in your life, how has Bad Teacher's Meredith influenced you?
“One of the biggest things about Meredith is her confidence. She is unapologetically confident. She's not at all concerned with what people think. She's a doer. There's no victim mentality at all, and she says what she thinks. Those are all parts of her that I really love. That was a very special place for me to live in for a while. In the pilot, she tells the little girls to walk in and own the place. Sometimes, you have to fake it ‘til you make it. I think that's really true. Sometimes, you just have to pick yourself up, and put your face on, and go. There's a lot of strength in her that I have taken with me. I’ve been caring a little bit less about what people think.”
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