Ari Graynor was so busy in 2011 with four films and a TV series that she never got around to seeing the Cameron Diaz film Bad Teacher. That ended up being a good thing, because the new TV version of Bad Teacher is very different.
“The character I play even has a different name and backstory,” Graynor says. “Both characters are sassy teachers but the plot and other characters are very different. I know a lot of viewers who saw the movie will have preconceived notions about the series, but we are really going to be able to open up the story a lot more.”
The TV version has a former trophy wife, Meredith Davis (Graynor), finagling a job at a ritzy middle school where she hopes to meet her next rich husband. All she has to do is fake her way through classes, stave off the advances of a fellow teacher (Ryan Hansen) and keep fooling the school’s befuddled principal (David Alan Grier).
Graynor’s played a range of roles, from Caitlin Rucker on The Sopranos to a phone sex operator in the independent film For a Good Time, Call ... This series gives her a chance to take on a role that’s unapologetically strong and lovingly outrageous while still coming across as a person with a big heart.
The Boston native won’t be able to call on her own middle school days for inspiration to play the TV role. She describes her teachers as being “cool and lovely” people, but none came across like the fiery teacher’s she’s playing.
“It’s funny that I’m playing Meredith, who is a bit of a rule breaker. She doesn’t care what people think about her. I’m quite the opposite,” Graynor says. “My worst nightmare when I was in school was that I would get into trouble. I never got in trouble. I was a good student.
“I felt the pressure in middle school of being a kid who loved learning but that was not a cool thing.”
Graynor has loved acting since the first grade. She was cast to play a duck in How Yucky Duck Became Sir John Swan.
“We were assigned roles and I had tears of joy when I found out I was doing it,” Graynor says. “Then I started doing community theater and I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. I said ‘I am going to be an actress and I am an actress.’ Acting was the place where I could be free and feel confident.
“I didn’t feel supported by kids my own age, but everyone around me when I was acting supported me. Acting gave me a creative outlet and an inner confidence that I can apply now to playing Meredith.”
The supporting cast in Bad Teacher includes Sara Gilbert, Kristin Davis, Hansen, and Grier.
“They are not only talented people but also lovely human beings. David and Ryan were already cast when I became part of the show. Because I’m a producer on the show, I was involved with casting after. Everyone in this cast is so sharp and so giving,” Graynor says. “That’s what makes a series watchable over a long period time. You are engaged with every single person who comes on screen.
“It has to be about every single actor. It also has to be about an incredible, tight and smart script.”