Boston native Ari Graynor says she “came out of the womb knowing she was going to become an actress.”
She had an agent by age 13 and landed her first big role at age 17 on the hit HBO series The Sopranos, followed by dramatic roles in MYSTIC RIVER and AN AMERICAN CRIME.
Then came a string of spunky supporting characters, including roles in NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER, WHIP IT, and the recent romantic comedy CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER.
This month the 29-year-old stars in FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL, her first lead in a major feature and one that The Huffington Post says “could launch Graynor into the same class of leading comedic actresses as Anna Faris and Drew Barrymore.”
In this edition of Questions Answered we checked in with Graynor to find out how she built a successful acting career from the east coast, and what she thinks about the quality of roles available for women in film these days.
WIFVNE: How did you get started as an actress?AG: I was fortunate to have very supportive parents, and I asked them to help me find places to act. My first play was “The Miracle Workers” with the Wellesley Players – I played one of the blind girls.
Over the years I worked my way up in the Boston theater community at the Boston Children’s Theater, Wheelock Family Theater, the SpeakEasy Stage Company, the Huntington.
Then I started commuting to New York for auditions and I did The Sopranos when I was 17. That was my first big job. My sophomore year at Trinity College the film piece started to pick up with MYSTIC RIVER and steadily on from there.
WIFVNE: Most of your recent roles have been comedic parts. Do you feel pigeonholed?
AG: I never set out to be a comedian of any sort. That’s just some of the work that’s come to me recently, but when I look at scope of my career so far it’s been very varied.
The work I did before Nick and Norah was mostly smaller films with incredible actors and directors, and a really diverse assortment of characters. I fought for so long to get into the studio world of bigger filmmaking, and as I got more of a foothold in the more commercial films, those characters have tended to be more comedic. I’m going towards the opportunity right now.
Even before FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL, I said wanted to break from comedy, but then I read that script and I loved that character so much there was no way I couldn’t be part of it. It’s definitely a fear of mine that people will forget all the work I did before, or all the work I know I’m capable of, but I’m pretty on top of it. I’m putting it out there as much as I can.
WIFVNE: What do you think of the types of roles available to women in film these days?
AG: It’s always an uphill battle to find rich, interesting female roles. Look at the majority of movies in the multiplexes around town; there’s usually one female role and typically she doesn’t have that much to do. Unless you’re one of the top few actresses like Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, where the richer characters go first, for the rest of us there’s not that much to choose from. A lot of it is exercising a certain amount of patience, and if you’re in it for the long haul you’ll get to do the things you might want to do.
WIFVNE: What are some of the most important lessons you learned along the way?
AG: The big one for me was a lesson in expectation. It’s easy to have lot of fantasies, hopes, dreams and expectations about how things are going to go. It’s really easy in this business, especially when you’re young, to say, ‘I’ll do this role, get nominated and win an Oscar,’ and of course doesn’t work that way.
When I was doing AN AMERICAN CRIME, it was such a dark setting and story but it felt really important. I hought, ‘OK, this is it. This will be my big breakout, I’ll probably get nominated for some awards and be all set,’ and of course that didn’t happen. The film ended up selling to Showtime, not lot of people saw it, and it was a good lesson for me in that you never know how something is going to reveal itself, or how people will respond.
FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL is the most “out there” that I’ve ever been. Being the lead in a film and an Executive Producer it’s so close to me. In many ways it has fulfilled a lot of those fantasies – we got into Sundance, Focus Features bought us, and now we’re having real release.
But because of what I’ve been through before I have this awareness of reality that things come and go. You can only do something because you love it and believe in it, and not because of how well you think it will do.
WIFVNE: What advice do you have for women who are just starting their film careers, especially those who are based on the east coast?
AG: I was so lucky because I started young and got a head start. I always knew what I wanted to do and could take lot of time getting there. I guess my advice is to just work as much as you can. Work locally, do theater, audition a lot. So much of this comes down to just doing it a lot and getting comfortable in all sorts of different parts.
It’s easy to feel like you’re just at whim of what’s happening around you, especially as an actor. But the thing about this business is that [success] is not just about whether you’re talented… A lot of people want to immediately be at the final place of their dreams, but I’m a believer that you have to start from the bottom to build something. There are also incredible opportunities these days to create your own content. You just have to take action.
Interview by Shannon Mullen