Ari Graynor Learned to Love Her Curls — and Found Her Voice

Ari Graynor (Photo: Getty Images)

Ari Graynor has that beach look down, and she doesn’t need a single product to get it. The actress has a cascade of wavy, loose blond curls, and the lucky Bostonian was born with it. And yet, until she landed her starring role in Showtime’s series I’m Dying Up Here, she’d never let her tresses fly free on screen, opting instead to straighten and tease and flatten every cowlick into oblivion.

“It was freeing. I’ve worn fake tans and hair extensions in the past, and it was fun to embrace what I really look like,” Graynor tells Yahoo Style. “This was the easiest time in hair and makeup. I’d shower and come in with curly hair and brush it out before going on camera.”

Some might call it smart casting. After all, Graynor is playing a struggling standup comic in ‘70s LA, and big hair was part of the look back then; plus, her character hails from Texas, where oversized ‘dos are the norm. But Graynor calls it kismet.

“It’s all part of this magical coming together: of self-acceptance and taking the masks away and taking some of the layers away,” she says. “It’s me accepting who I am. I’ve had curly hair for years and I never wore it curly. I didn’t know what to do with it. I started embracing it in my life more and knew it would be Cassie’s look as well. It feels like a deep breath in a beautiful way, seeing myself feel and look like myself, after many years of struggling to accept how I looked.”

Ari Graynor as Cassie (Photo: Showtime)

For Graynor, getting up in front of a crowd and cracking jokes is nothing short of a nightmare. Her character is finding her voice, and has more confidence on stage then the actress playing her.

“It’s so scary. I mean, oh God, by the end it was slightly less terrifying,” says Graynor. “I’m playing a comic but when you’re playing a comic and you’re up on stage in front of 100 people, it’s terrifying.”

After a stint as Meadow’s college roommate on The Sopranos, Graynor’s breakthrough moment came in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a 2008 whimsical romantic dramedy that had Graynor playing the best friend who had epic attachment to a piece of gum. That led to another scene-stealing performance in the roller-derby comedy Whip It.

But success was a double-edged sword; it made people see her only as a funny sidekick, something Graynor is not: “Only one side had gotten a lot of play,” she says, of her acting range. She struggled to break out of that box and says she had to work hard on herself to find her own footing in Hollywood. That meant not taking every easy comedic role offered to her, but sitting back and really digging deep to figure out what she wanted to do, and how she could do it.

“It’s not about waiting for permission, whatever that thing is. Partly I had to see myself a different way. I couldn’t push through that until I acknowledged that in myself. You have to be willing to go there to come out of it. And part of what that means sitting in the dark and being alone and not going towards what’s easy,” she says. “You can only really hear the beat of your own drum if you give yourself the space to sit in it.”

Ari Graynor in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Photo: Everett Collection)

She had something to say, only she wasn’t sure what. So Graynor spent a lot of time writing, and a lot of time learning to be alone. The process, she says, was “uncomfortable” but also taught her how to express herself clearly. Now, she gets to paid to crack jokes for a living, on a show that’s tragicomic at best.

It’s also allowed Graynor to test out her own funny bone. She writes jokes, just for fun, to learn her own style and rhythm. But she has no plans to be the next Amy Schumer or Phyllis Diller.

“Every now and then I have that fantasy that maybe I should get up in one of those clubs and let it rip. It’s so fun to play that person on television. It’s not my natural form of expression. Never say never. But I’ll keep it primarily to the show,” she says.

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