Ten years ago, when a then-teenaged Ari Graynor was making her debut on TV’s “The Sopranos,” you’d have been hard pressed to convince her that within a decade she’d be the voice of big screen angst-at-turning-30. No way.
“I never would have seen myself this way, representing this on the screen,” she says.. “But that’s what I’m playing, at least in movies this year — women in their late 20s, taking stock, having regrets and wondering how to go forward.”
She managed variations on that theme in “Celeste & Jesse,” found herself as a comically love-lorn phone sex operator struggling stay above water in Manhattan in “For a Good Time, Call…” And in “10 Years,” she’s a mom married to a drunk and wondering where the decade went at her tenth high school reunion.
“It’s the most natural thing in the world to be nostalgic for your youth,” the 29 year-old Graynor says. “I’m a little nostalgic, every day. All these characters in this movie are still young. But they’re already looking back. My character, when she was 18, she probably envisioned a lot of this life she’s now leading. But when she gets there, things don’t feel the way she hoped they would. It’s different for every character in the movie, this not-quite-sadness thing of what might have been.”
Graynor herself doesn’t own up to any regrets. Ariel Geltman Graynor is a Boston-born child actress who worked years on stage before “The Sopranos” gave her a break. She has simmered in dramas (“Conviction,” “Holy Rollers”)) but has found comedies — from “What’s Your Number” and “The Sitter” to “Whip It” and “Youth in Revolt” — to be her bread and butter. But even in the funny stuff, there’s a serious subtext.
Writer-director Scott Linden wrote Ari’s role in “10 Years” for her, “targeted the part for what she’s really good at, what I knew she’d bring to the part. She is smart, intuitive, can be funny and dramatic, which is what you need when you’re playing somebody who has accepted the choices that she’s made, who she’s married to. No matter how embarrassing that choice can look, at times.”
Graynor says Linden cooked up her “10 Years” character after running into her at the premiere of the Emma Stone comedy “Easy A.”
“I was there with a friend who was drinking — A LOT,” Graynor remembers. “Jamie saw me ‘managing’ my friend, and tapped into that sort of positive side of co-dependence — the caretaker trying to make things OK. I was aware that was something that I tend to do, so we decided to work that into the character.”
Actors are always cast pretty close to their age, but Graynor finds herself particularly at home in that time-span where one first realizes that mistakes you make now, count.
In your late 20s, most of us “take those huge steps — getting married and having children, there’s a sense that you can’t step back from that. For better or worse, that’s what your life becomes — completely. Then again, there’s that melancholic sadness that doesn’t quite reach the level of regret. I don’t think Sam in ’10 Years’ regrets where she is. It’s just the occasional sad realization that this isn’t what she expected. Doesn’t mean she wishes she hadn’t gotten married and had kids. But she thinks about it.”
Graynor isn’t trying to think about where she expects to be ten years from now. She did a Woody Allen Broadway show last fall, and has another stage comedy, “The Performers,” lined up for this fall. After that, she’s looking for something dramatic, “more transformative, more surprising.”
And if she’s still “acting up a storm, maybe producing (she did that on “For a Good Time, Call…”). Maybe even directing.” She hopes to be “in love, happy,” in ten years. “But I can’t plan my life ten weeks in advance, much less ten years. I just hope I don’t have any big regrets, then.”