Memories from the Set: Ari Graynor Talks Jobs on The Sopranos, Fringe, Numb3rs and More
Graynor was still a high school student when she debuted as Caitlin, Meadow’s hot mess of a Columbia University roommate, during Season 3 of the HBO drama. The part was her first big TV role, and her naivete about how long a shoot actually takes almost affected her own collegiate future. She was on set on a Friday in New York and had plans to take the SATs in her hometown of Boston the next morning. “As I was walking in, one of the crew guys said something like, ‘Oh, beautiful day. Too bad you won’t see it again ’til tomorrow morning’,” she recalls. After a wave of panic broke over the young actress – the shoot was going to go all night! Boston and New York are more than 200 miles apart! – “My poor parents and school went into crisis, problem-solving mode.” The shoot went until 4 am, at which time Graynor’s mom drove her directly to the test site, where she barely made it in time to be eligible to take the exam that day. “I was running on pure adrenaline,” she says, laughing.
Sometimes, the little things about a gig stick with Graynor, as is the case when she thinks about her part as Jessie Doyle, the daughter of Season 2’s ill-fated bus driver. “I just remember Kristin Bell being the sweetest human being on the face of the planet, which remains true to this day,” Graynor says. “And I remember being in a hotel room in San Diego. It was one of the first times I had even been put up in a hotel for work.” Plus, Mars castmember Ryan Hansen is now Graynor’s Bad Teacher co-star, “So that’s a fun little full-circle.”
The decision to play out-of-control pop star Elvina – who’s essentially a fictionalized, head-shaving era Britney Spears — on the CBS procedural had Graynor torn. “I felt very morally conflicted about doing something that… didn’t have any judgment on that moment of Britney Spears’ life, but it obviously was a reference to that,” she says. “There was a part of me that felt icky about being a part of that.” Yet, practical considerations held a certain sway, too. “At the same time, I really needed a paycheck, so I decided to do it. Everyone was so nice, but that was the one really conflicting moment I’ve had in my career.”
“Numb3rs is one of those [roles] that I almost forgot about!” Graynor says. At the time, she was in the process of being cast in Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist – a film that ultimately would gain her critical acclaim – but the one-episode job as the CBS drama’s kidnapped heiress brought its own rewards. “Numb3rs was a wonderful gift, because I had not worked in six months,” she says fondly. “It was so fun to be on that set, doing these crazy things. I learned how to shoot a gun for the first time.”
Some of Graynor’s friends had had good experiences shooting on the Fox drama, so despite not being a “big sci-fi person,” she happily signed on for a recurring gig as Olivia’s younger sister Rachel. “It was a really great set,” she recalls, adding that star Anna Torv is “lovely.” “I didn’t do as much crazy stuff as a lot of people on that show did. I got to be the emotional life anchor for [Olivia], which was very fun.”
After the Fox comedy’s casting director Linda Lamontagne saw Graynor in a play in New York, she started bringing her in to supply the voices of various animated characters. Graynor’s been back multiple times (for Stripper, Girl, Drunk Girl – you get the gist). “I would love to be doing more voice-over work,” she says. “It’s such a fun and free playground to take risks, play around and get sort of ridiculous… I haven’t been back in a while, but I’d like to.”
Graynor, who’s also an executive producer on CBS’ newest comedy, says it is decidedly not in the vein of envelope-pushers like 2 Broke Girls. “It’s very modern and very fresh, and it has this very unique voice. But at the same time, there’s a certain quality about it that reminds me of older, classic TV comedies,” she says. “I’m nervous to use the world ‘wholesome,’ because that also might connote a certain kind of bland sweetness that isn’t this either, but one of the best things I can say about it is that parents and kids can watch it together… The dynamics of the relationships are what’s funniest about it.”