The new CBS single-camera comedy series Bad Teacher, based on the hit feature film, tells the story of Meredith Davis (Ari Graynor), a hot, fearless and unapologetic former trophy wife who masquerades as a teacher, in order to find a new man after her wealthy husband leaves her penniless. Using a phony resume, she effortlessly charms Principal Carl Gaines (David Alan Grier), who is easily duped and oblivious to her agenda, unlike Joel (Ryan Hansen), her handsome former high school classmate turned gym teacher, who sees right through her.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actress Ari Graynor talked about what attracted her to Bad Teacher as her first TV series, Meredith’s underdog spirit, why there needs to be more of a variety of female characters, being more worried about the audience understanding where her character is coming from than always liking her, how much she enjoys the show’s character dynamics, just how far she’ll go for comedy, and how she would love to do another season. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ARI GRAYNOR: Both. I had been really hesitant about doing TV, for many years. I said, “No,” outright and wasn’t even reading things. And then, last year, I was like, “I’m not saying I want to do TV, but I’m open to knowing what’s out there.” I heard that this was around, and I heard that they were interested, but I thought to myself, “I don’t want to do a TV version of a movie. No way! Not with being compared to Cameron Diaz.” But then, I read the script and it was so funny and so smart and so fresh. I’ve read a lot of scripts. I started acting when I was seven, so I’ve read my share. It was great to see a female character like this, who’s the center of the show and who is so unique and so confident and unapologetic and isn’t a victim, but also isn’t too cool for school. I think there’s a trend sometimes now where people feel so cool and detached to me, when I read things. There’s a certain amount of soul that’s missing. And even though Meredith may try to seem like somebody who only cares about finding a rich guy to marry, she has a real underdog spirit. It’s part of her fighter nature that she’s going to stand up for things and she doesn’t worry about what other people think. So, seeing all of that in this script was something that I hadn’t seen before. I thought, “It would be really stupid not to do this.”
Meredith Davis is unlikeable, at times, and does some mean things, but she still can be affected by things and the people around her.
GRAYNOR: Yeah. Nina Tassler and I were talking, and we were talking about a study that was done this past year about women in entertainment, and specifically in movies. I forget if it was 15% or 19%, but either way, that’s a very small percentage. I think it might have been that 15% of all protagonists in the top 300 grossing movies in 2013 were female. Of course, because there are so few, there is a pressure to feel like every female character that is portrayed has to be some kind of ideal and role model, in whatever that means. Also, that means that there just needs to be more women characters. I do think that Meredith is a surprising role model, in some ways. She is unlikeable sometimes. Sometimes she does the thing that does drive you a little crazy, and that’s okay. When you look at all of the male characters on television and in film, it’s not like every one of them are the people doing the right thing that you can point to as your own moral compass. We need to have all kinds of characters represented. It’s not like she’s everywoman, but I do think that there’s a real dynamic in her that’s very special.
GRAYNOR: Yes and no. A lot of it comes down to the writing. Hilary Winston, our showrunner, is a really incredible writer and she has such a unique voice. She’s very funny and very smart, and we’re very in tune. If there was ever a draft of the script that I read, that she hadn’t done her notes on, before I would say the notes, she’s be like, “I know.” And then, I’d get it back and some of it would be tweaked. In truth, I think there is an awareness of the audience. We are doing a network television show. This is for CBS. This isn’t a piece of art that we’re making in film school. There is an awareness that it’s for people to like and to enjoy. So, I am sensitive to making sure that people understand where Meredith is coming from, but it’s not worry within a take or a scene of, “Did I do that in a way that was likeable?” It’s more about understanding her actions and where they’re coming from that is our concern, must more than the day-to-day minutiae.
How much fun is it to play the antagonistic dynamic your character has with Kristin Davis’ character?
GRAYNOR: It’s great! It’s really, really fun. I love Kristin. She is such a sweetheart, and such a support. This was all new for me. This is the first time I’ve done a series, and she’s had so much experience . She was really wonderful with advice and being there. Our vibes as people is so different, and our vibes as characters is so different. It was really fun to get in there and play ball in this totally different way. But, I felt that way about all the characters in this show. Meredith is really in her own world. So, when she’s interacting with everybody, she’s momentarily stepping into their orbit. The way she deals, interacts and communicates is so different. There’s something so special about the show. I’m also a producer on it, so I’ve seen all 13 episodes and I think the thing about a TV show that keeps you engaged for a period of time is how much you care about all of the characters. You have to care about all of them. As the series unfolds, it’s really exciting to see the different dynamics between all of the different teachers, and pieces of history that you wouldn’t expect or you are surprised by. What’s so smart about the story, that really sneaks up on you, is that all of them really have their own arcs. I know that’s what ultimately makes me care about a show. All of these characters and all of these actors have an incredible amount of soul. A lot of entertainment, and especially in a half-hour format, can be all jokes, all the time. And some of those jokes can be really, really funny, but what I respond to, as a viewers, is identification or caring about the characters. All of these characters are just really grounded with who they are, and with a full multi-faceted inner life. That’s what makes it dynamic.
GRAYNOR: The relationship between Meredith and Joel is a fun thread that’s throughout the season. One of the things I love, that Hilary Winston said to me when we first met on Valentine’s Day in 2013, was that for so many of these kinds of relationships, it’s the will they or won’t they for years and years and years, but she wanted that to happen fast. And I love that because that feels really true to life. They went to high school together, and Meredith claims that she doesn’t remember him, but I don’t think that’s totally true. They had this ease with each other. He’s somebody that she can really be herself around, but she has this idea of what she needs and the kind of person that she should be with and the validation that that would give her. He’s somebody that she can be herself with, but it’s not at all what she wants. Sometimes she dips into that thought process more than others. She’s mercurial, in that way, which I also think can be really true to life.
Will the friendship between Meredith and Irene (Sara Gilbert) become more genuine, as the series progresses?
GRAYNOR: Totally. One of the strong things about it is that people develop, but Meredith is still Meredith, throughout the season. Much like it is in real life, you grow, you change and you learn, but you’re still you. So, their relationship does develop. There’s certainly a lot that happens where because Meredith is not the most self-aware person, she doesn’t realize how her actions impact others, or she doesn’t really take other people into consideration, as much as other people would. But, that’s something that grows. And Sara Gilbert is the best. As soon as we met, we fell into such friend love. We make each other laugh so much on set. Her character Irene is so far from who she is. It just always kills me, whenever I see her next to camera, getting into her Irene mode before we start a scene. It’s fun. I love all of the dynamics on the show, but that’s a really fun one.
Your character is very fearless in her attitude and behavior. Are you the same way, when it comes to comedy? Are you willing to do just about anything for the laugh, if it works?
GRAYNOR: Yes. I feel like I can tap into that in my work life and in comedy, for sure. There’s a certain truism that you can’t be self-conscious in comedy. If I’m in it and if there’s a scene that has a great set-up, I will go as far as somebody will let me. But it’s funny and somewhat ironic that, in my own personal life, I can be so different than Meredith. I can be such a people pleaser, and so worried about what people are thinking or feeling insecure. Part of what’s really fun about her is that I get to dip into that world of hers.
Now that you’ve had a season of TV experience, are you hoping to do another season and live with this character a bit longer?
GRAYNOR: Yeah, I would love another season. So much of this, for me, was an avalanche of learning. A lot of the actors have done this before, but this is the first show that Hilary Winston has been showrunner on. It’s exciting to think about revisiting this, knowing what’s it like. There were so many unknowns to me, which is what made it so exciting and so fulfilling. I really hope we are able to come back and take everything that we learned and do it again, even better.
Bad Teacher airs on Thursday nights on CBS.