In the dark comedy Lucky, actress Ari Graynor takes on her first co-lead role as Lucy, the object of affection for Ben (Colin Hanks), who just won $36 million in the lottery. Ben has been crushing on Lucy since childhood, but she marries him strictly for the cash. Just as she’s beginning to have genuine feelings for him, Lucy discovers that he’s a serial killer whose victims all resemble her and, as the newlyweds try to make things work, she learns that covering up for him is not as easy as it seems.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Ari Graynor talked about how ready she was to take on more responsibility in a film, the crazy ride that her character takes, how great the whole process of working with this cast was, and why she finds herself drawn to comedy. She also talked about her upcoming roles in The Sitter, opposite Jonah Hill, What’s Your Number?, opposite Anna Faris, Celeste and Jesse Forever, with Rashida Jones, and My Mother’s Curse, with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How did this come about for you?
ARI GRAYNOR: This was a script and an audition that just came my way. I didn’t know (director/writer) Gil [Cates, Jr.] or Colin [Hanks], at the time, so I just went in and audition. And then, I went in a second time and read with Colin, and it was great. That was it. It was a really simple audition story. It was and is such an exciting opportunity for me. I’ve been a part of such amazing movies and worked with such great people, all in a very supporting way, which has been great, but it was really exciting to co-carry the film with Colin. It’s just a very different way of working, when you have such a huge character arc, and you get to work every day and really go through it.
Lucy goes on such a crazy ride that it was such a creative challenge to figure that ride out and figure out how to make it funny, but ground it at the same time. The script stayed pretty much how it was. Gil and Kent Sublette had written a great script, and me, Gil and Colin went through it a bit when we got to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where we shot. We went through everything to make sure we were clear about what was going on, and really figure things out, tonally, but basically the script stayed the same, from start to finish.
You’ve played all these great, memorable supporting characters in your career. Had you actively been looking to take on more responsibility in a film and felt like it was something you were ready to do?
GRAYNOR: Definitely, and I still am. It’s something that I felt really ready for, by the time Lucky came along. I did my first movie, which was Mystic River, when I was 19, and we shot Lucky two years ago, when I was 25. It took me a solid four or five years to feel really comfortable in front of the camera. I had been doing theater since I was a kid, so the stage really felt like home to me. It felt like the place where I trust myself the most in the world, and felt the most confident. I was learning how to do the same in front of a camera, so by the time Lucky came around, I felt like, “Okay, I know how to do this and have so much that I want to express. I’m ready for this kind of challenge.”
They’re making fewer and fewer movies these days, especially when you’re still coming up. I’ve worked so much, but it’s that weird chicken or the egg thing, where it’s hard to carry a movie when you haven’t already carried one before, and have that cache or following or “foreign value.” So, to have someone like Gil Cates, Jr. believe in me and be willing to give me that kind of opportunity was such a gift. Now, while I’ve been working a lot, I’m still hitting the pavement, holding up a sign and asking people to let me carry a movie.
What was it about this character that made her somebody you felt like you could get a handle on?
GRAYNOR: I did this really intense dream work, based on Jung’s philosophy of dreams, to help me connect more with the deeper level of why she was doing what she was doing, and where I found that in myself, so that she didn’t feel so far away from me. When I read it, I loved her. I loved her spirit and I loved her spunk. I thought she was so funny and weird and unique. There was something both really hopeful and sad about her, at the same time. I just wanted to make sure that I got at it, at a place that felt real. That was the scary thing for me. I looked at her and thought she was such a wonderful creation that I just wanted to make sure she seemed like a real person. The dream work was so helpful to me, and really broke down a lot of why she does what she does, her need and desire for life and for some kind of stability, trying to make everything be okay, trying to look on the bright side of things too much, and anxieties that she has about money, stability and family. I just started looking at all of that stuff, which sounds deep and pretentious for a crazy black comedy, but the hope was that looking at some of those things helped in a way that people won’t notice, to just make where she’s coming from feel real.
How much of her look and behavior was a collaboration between you and the director, and how much of it was already in the script?
GRAYNOR: It was implicit in the script that what happens by the end of the movie is that she hasn’t slept for days and days. It was something that, without too much conversation about, we knew it was going to go in that direction. And, I thought the costume designer did such an incredible job. We had a brief conversation where I said, “I think it just needs to be bright, colorful, vintage-y and crazy, and she got the most amazing clothes. A big key into her look was talking about the scene where I’m in the snowsuit. Originally it was a running outfit and I said, “I just feel like it has to be one of those big, old school, ‘80s snow suits.” When we got that look, it all came together as this odd amalgamation of this childlike woman. It’s an interesting mix of being very childlike, in a lot of ways, but then also very take-charge, serious and strong-willed, and she knows how to use her feminine wiles. It’s an interesting dynamic. And, Gil Cates, Jr. was so amazing with me and really let me go there. He really let me run with ideas. Not in the way that the script was changed, but really gave me the freedom to be creative and give her a weird walk and a weird laugh, and really go for it. You can only do that when you have the support and trust of your director and the people are you.
You have some great moments in this film, with both Ann-Margret and Jeffrey Tambor. What’s it like to work with actors like that, and what sort of dynamic did they bring to your scenes together?
GRAYNOR: The whole process with the cast – with Colin, Jeffrey and Ann-Margret – was perfect. Colin and I hit it off like gangbusters, right from the start. We just had an ease between us that felt like playing tennis, just lobbing it back and forth between the two of us. We were also there the whole time and spent a lot of time together and got really close. And then, Jeffrey and Ann-Margret came in and they are exceptional at what they do. Ann-Margret is legendary and Jeffrey Tambor is arguably one of the funniest people out there right now. I think part of it is that Jeffrey has this great ease about him, and he’s so grounded in who he is and how he works. He can be making jokes to you one second, and then the camera turns on and he’s just right there for you. And, he appreciates a short shooting day, which we all appreciate. Ann-Margret was just the classiest, loveliest presence on set. She knew everybody’s name. She was so creative in her own ideas, but also so respectful of Gil and all of us. She would try so many different things and was just so present. If you lock eyes with her in a scene, you are locked in. It’s a pretty amazing thing. When you’re having a good time working on something and you all like each other, it shows, in ways that you don’t even realize. I like that a lot about the movie, and I hope people enjoy what we did. We had such a wonderful time making it. Comedy is funny when it comes from truth, and that’s always the rule of them. It’s about how far you can push that boundary. It was exciting for all of us to figure out where that line was and how to make it so you really cared about their relationship.
What is it about comedy that you find yourself drawn to, and how confident are you with improvisation and following your own instincts?
GRAYNOR: I think the good news for me in life is that I really trust my instincts when I come to work. Maybe less in life and in love, but in work and in comedic beats, I feel pretty confident. There is nothing better than a laugh in life. There just isn’t. Life is hard enough, so when you can get any joy out of it, whether it’s something you do on a day-to-day basis, or the people in your life, or going to see a funny movie, there’s just nothing better. That’s what life is about. Also, as an actor, so much funny comes from pain. So many of the funny beats in this movie come from heartache, death, murder and loneliness. Underneath all these jokes are these really intense things. What’s so beautiful about comedy is to spin it on its head and make it funny and light. It’s just a general gift in the world, and it’s also just really fun. As an actor, when you’re doing comedies, you’re around fantastic, funny people and you hopefully have a really good time doing it, which I certainly have. And, it’s fun to not have to take yourself so seriously. There is no room for being self-conscious or being super-serious. You’ve got to check that shit at the door!
You also have The Sitter coming out with Jonah Hill, who is another actor known for his comedy. What was he like to work with, and who are you playing in that film?
GRAYNOR: I love Jonah so much. We also had an amazing time together. I play his very reluctant, would-be girlfriend. The movie opens with us at the end of a certain sexual act, and he would like for me to be his girlfriend, but I’m not so into it. He goes to babysit these kids, by doing his mom a favor, and I basically call and ask him to go pick up some coke for me and come over to the party, and he brings the kids with him to the coke dealers, played by Sam Rockwell and J.B. Smoove, and craziness ensues. That was really, really fun to shoot.
What’s also exciting is that, the more people I work with, it’s so interesting and exciting to see how different people work. Jonah’s mind works so quickly. His ideas are always coming, with different lines and different takes. He can be both very free and in the moment, and also have an awareness of the technical aspects of a joke and the rhythm of it. And, (director) David Gordon Green is incredible, too. That was such an exciting, collaborative feeling where everyone just wanted what was funniest and what was the best. However that gets there – whether it’s sharing ideas with each other in the middle of a scene, or David calling out from video village and throwing in a line idea, or us riffing and seeing what happens – it was very fun. I think the movie is going to be fantastic.
How was David Gordon Green, as far as being a collaborative director?
GRAYNOR: The best and most talented directors – and I think it goes for people too – are the most confident in giving room to their actors and trusting them. It’s the people that ultimately are less talented or have less confidence in what they’re doing that then try to micro-manage, which lends itself to a less than ideal film.
Who are you playing in What’s Your Number?
GRAYNOR: Anna Faris and I play sisters. I love her so much that I feel like we’re sisters now, although I wish it was official through blood. It’s funny because Chris Pratt and I, her husband in real life, played husband and wife in a movie I did this past winter, called 10-Year. Now, we’re all one, big, happy family. So, I play Anna’s sister and I’m getting married, and “what’s your number?” is a reference to how many people you’ve slept with. She reads this article that essentially says that, if you’ve slept with 20 guys, you’re a slut who’s going to end up alone. She doesn’t have a date to my wedding, so she goes through all the people she’s slept with in the past, to see if any of them might be the one. So, for the first time, I’m actually playing a little bit of the straight man to her crazy one. I don’t drink, I don’t do any drugs in the movie, I have a wedding dress and I’m not throwing up. That was a score. I also got to shoot in my hometown, which was amazing.
Are you doing Celeste and Jesse Forever?
GRAYNOR: I did just finish shooting that, and that was amazing. It’s so special when you get people together that are passionate about a project, not because of anything besides the love for the project and the love for each other. It was one of those experiences where it was all friends. I knew Rashida Jones and Will McCormack and Lee Toland Krieger, the director, peripherally, but then we came together and totally fell in love. It’s funny, but it’s also heartbreakingly real. For anyone that’s ever been in love or gone through a break-up, it will ache, how true this movie is. I know it did for me. We just wrapped that. I just shot my movie wedding for that. And then, I also just finished up My Mother’s Curse. I got to work with Barbra Streisand, which was my dream. I now have a picture of her and I on my phone, and I inappropriately show it to every person I meet.
What are your characters in both Celeste and Jesse Forever and My Mother’s Curse?
GRAYNOR: In Celeste and Jesse, I play Rashida’s best friend. We went to college together. And in My Mother’s Curse, I don’t know how much I can say, but I meet Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand along the way. They go on a cross-country journey and I meet up with them. I come into the picture at a certain point.
You’ve played some really interesting and unique characters, and always make the most of the roles that you do. When you’re reading for projects and looking for things to get involved with, is there something that you look for?
GRAYNOR: I think that I just want there to be some kind of meat to get into and something that I can play around with. All different kinds of characters appeal to me. I just want to play somebody who has substance and has a point of view. A huge part of the work that I’ve done and am doing is about who I get to work with. For me, it’s so much about continuing to learn and work with the best people I can and be inspired by them. Through working with amazing people, the bar is always raised to do your own best work. I want to be a part of unique stories that are smart, heartfelt, funny and sad, and have a general sense of good quality.
That’s sort of vague, but you can feel it. When you read enough scripts, you get a sense of what feels truthful. Even though Lucky is so outrageous, there are human issues in there that I really responded to. That’s a huge part of it, too. I want to feel and know whatever it is that people are going through, and that people are going through real things. That’s what I respond to the most. While it’s very easy to want to play some kind of game in “Hollywood” and try to be strategic and place yourself in a certain way, it can seem that that can lead to something, but I just can’t do it that way. It’s just not who I am.
All I can to, and the only sense of control I have over this crazy business, is to pick things that I like with people that I love and respect, and then just hope everything else works out. It’s exciting to look back at the work that I’ve done and not have a single regret about a job I’ve taken. I feel really proud of every film I’ve been a part of. Big or small role, I feel like it was the right choices. I hope I can hang onto trusting my instincts about stuff, as I continue to get older.