Ari Graynor did not want to be a TV star. The lead in CBS's Bad Teacher said she simply had no desire to do television. So what happened?
"I mean, for years I said I didn't want to do television. It was just a hard ‘no.' I didn't want to read anything, it didn't matter what it was, it was just ‘no,'" Graynor told E! News. "And then last year, for whatever reason, I decided to just be open to the idea. I wasn't going out looking for it, but I just said I'll see what's around."
With early roles on The Sopranos, Fringe and other guest star work before heading to the big screen with roles in films such as For a Good Time, Call…, The Sitter and What's Your Number?, Graynor said she was worried about being stuck and bored with a character...until she met her Bad Teacher character, Meredith Davis.
"I think for me too, part of being an actor is playing different kinds of characters, different kinds of roles to challenge and express yourself. I started acting because it was essentially the way I needed to survive and equalize my inner life," she said. "It's a place to explore your own sense of humanity and the greater sense of humanity and I was very scared TV could feel limiting and maybe it would typecast me and make it harder to play other roles or get stuck in something, I just thought this character and this show was really special, especially as a woman. There are very few exciting, meaty female characters, especially that are protagonists. This just felt like an opportunity that would be really silly to pass up."
On Bad Teacher, Graynor plays Meredith Davis, "a woman who had no intentions of being a teacher." But after she's cheated on, dumped and divorced, the cushy life she knew disappeared. "She becomes a teacher for the paycheck and in hopes that she may find another rich husband while she's at it," Graynor said. "That was sort of her goals as she entered into this world and then she, sort of against her will, becomes a part of this school community."
But Meredith isn't just your typical vapid TV gold-digger character.
"There's just so much that's alive with Meredith. Hilary Winston, who is our creator and showrunner, is so smart and funny and creative herself and really understands all of the characters on our show in a very deep and full way," Graynor said.
That's what drew her to the role in the first place.
"It's great because Meredith is such a fun and colorful character. She is unbelievably driven and completely unapologetic, she's a doer, she goes after what she wants," she said. "But what's really fun about her is she's a better person than she wants to admit. And I think even though she has this brash exterior, she herself is an underdog."
The show is based on the Cameron Diaz movie of the same name. They share the same setup, but that's about it.
"I met her a few years ago just with friends and had a really fun time out with her at a concert," Graynor said of Diaz. "She seemed to be everything everyone has always said: so down to the earth and fun, sweet, and a real girl's girl. We have not spoken about this character. Also, our show is its own entity. We share the title, obviously, and the setup, but we're playing two very different characters, quite literally. We have different names, different histories. I think that also made it easier for me, it felt like I wasn't directly trying to fill someone's shoes."
In CBS's Bad Teacher, TV newbie Graynor is surrounded by small screen veterans including Roseanne's Sara Gilbert, Sex and the City's Kristin Davis, In Living Color veteran David Alan Grier and Veronica Mars star Ryan Hansen.
"It was so fun, it was so, so fun. That's the other thing that's scary about TV. You could potentially be stuck with these people for a very long time. You just pray that you like each other and we all just hit it off immediately," she said. "And we'd screw around with each other and what's so great with everyone—both as people and actors—everyone is really funny, but also really deep and soulful. David Alan Grier could be making fun of you in front of the entire crew one second and then the next second we're all sitting around talking about love and relationships and walking really slowly to set to finish our conversations."
Like the mood on set, Bad Teacher is a mix of comedy and heart. Graynor, who also serves as a producer on the series, said there's something for everybody.
"I just think one of those things that's really surprising about the show is it can be outrageous and fun, but it's not raunchy or dirty and that's something that I think is really special with what's on TV right now," she said. "I think there's different ways of pushing the envelope and I like that this show is something that parents can watch with their 14-year-olds and no one would feel embarrassed. I think there's a lot of value in that."
Bad Teacher premieres Thursday, April 24 at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.