It’s been about a year since Ari Graynor retrieved a wad of gum from a vomit-filled Port Authority toilet in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, nearly stealing the show from the film’s stars. For her latest role, in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, Graynor plays another hard-core party girl, Eva Destruction, captain of a hell-on-wheels roller-derby team. She spoke with Lori Fradkin.
For Nick and Norah, you got into character by drinking a bottle of vodka and taping yourself. Any special preparations for this?
Just immersing myself in the Detroit derby community, which does include drinking. We went to a couple of house parties hosted by derby girls, and you were expected to throw back a few. I also had this naked-lady tattoo on my arm that helped me feel pretty badass.
The very open lesbianism in the real derby world is kind of soft-pedaled in the film.
I was pushing for Eva to be a lesbian seductress, hitting on all the girls. I tried to push the envelope a little on stuff that didn’t end up in the film.
When was the last time you were on skates?
Never. Wait, I take that back. There was one roller-skating birthday party in sixth grade. For the film, it took me two days before I could even stand on skates on the flat part of the track, let alone move.
So you must have gotten pretty beat up.
It was the most physical pain I’ve ever experienced. There was crying. But then you’d feel so good about falling and then getting back up and doing it again.
You’ve talked about how you learned to be funny because you were a chubby kid who wasn’t good at sports.
Showing that little Ari, who was always picked last for teams, could be fierce and athletic was a great motivator for me. There were moments when I thought, I can’t wait for those boys in school who made fun of me to see me now! In fact, I was still the worst skater in the group.
Drew Barrymore apparently hasn’t got a mean bone in her body. Please tell me that she was a taskmaster on set!
I’ve never been to an overnight camp, but it felt like what I imagine that to be. Drew was just one of the girls. We’d skate and then go to the break room and talk about boys. She makes everyone feel like the most important person in the room.
In January you’re reunited with Nick and Norah’s Michael Cera in the film Youth in Revolt. How did that go?
I play Lacey, the girlfriend of Michael’s character’s father, played by Steve Buscemi—at least I can die with that to my name. Anyway, Michael’s character comes to stay with us. Playing this motherly figure to him after being fellow high-schoolers was kind of hilarious—especially when you see Lacey. She’s fresh out of beauty school and has incredibly long blonde hair, a spray tan, pink acrylic nails, and boobs and tush out to there. It didn’t take much to get into character with that outfit.