Boston native Ari Graynor sat on the floor of the swanky new cinema at the Revere Hotel in the Theater District a few weeks ago.
The actress’s face flashed a range of emotions in just two minutes — excitement, then panic, then anxiety, and finally relief as she watched a local audience react to the end of her new movie, “For a Good Time, Call . . . ,” which opens here Friday.
As soon as she heard laughter, she relaxed. She turned around to make eye contact with her costar, Lauren Miller, who stood behind her at the back of the theater. They both beamed.
Graynor and Miller not only star in “For a Good Time, Call …,” a female buddy comedy that should appeal to the “Bridesmaids” audience. They also produced the film and have plenty on the line.
This is Miller’s first high-profile writing project to hit the big screen. She and her longtime pal and writing partner, Katie Anne Naylon, could wind up following in the footsteps of funny people like Kristen Wiig and Miller’s husband, Seth Rogen, if this little film turns a big profit. This is also Miller’s first attempt at starring in a film. She acknowledges that it was a risk to cast herself, an unknown, opposite Graynor in this comedy, but, as she told the audience at the Revere, it was now or never. If she had to produce her movie as an indie, she might as well take advantage and put herself in a leading role.
For the blond and brash Graynor, who has been a magnetic sidekick and source of comic relief in films such as “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” the Boston comedy “What’s Your Number?,” and Rashida Jones’s new movie, “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” this is a rare chance to be a leading lady — and it’s a first try at producing. She’s about to hit Broadway opposite Cheyenne Jackson and Henry Winkler in “The Performers,” and has a role in Channing Tatum’s upcoming ensemble comedy, “10 Years,” but “For a Good Time, Call . . .” is her pet project.
“We have all been so invested in this process,” Graynor said in an interview the morning after the Boston screening.
“This is like the birth of a child,” Miller added, eyes wide.
The story of “For a Good Time, Call . . .” is somewhat true, at least for writing partners Miller and Naylon. The movie is about two young women who start a phone sex line to pay their bills. In real life, Miller and Naylon were roommates at Florida State University when Miller, who was 20 at the time, realized that Naylon, 19, was doing something strange in her room — something sometimes noisy . . . and perhaps profitable.
Naylon was running a phone sex line.
“We used PayPal,” Naylon explained during an interview after the local screening at the Revere. She joked that the job wasn’t exactly erotic, at least not for her. “I was, like, doing my homework and watching ‘Dawson’s Creek’ [during calls],” she remembers.
Much like her character in “For a Good Time,” Miller was the straight man of the future screenwriting twosome. She put up with — and was secretly fascinated by — the business, especially because her roommate, despite her sexy phone persona, was actually a virgin.
“I said to her, ‘Keep it quiet. Keep it in your room. I don’t want to know about it,’ ” Miller said, laughing.
Years later, their story would become perfect fodder for a comedy script. Miller and Naylon looked into getting the film produced by a big-budget studio, but they realized that if they wanted it done, they had to make it happen themselves.
That’s when Miller turned to Graynor, an actress whom she had dreamed of working with since seeing “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” in which Graynor plays Norah’s scene-stealing best friend. Miller decided to write Graynor a fan letter that asked her to be in the film. The flattery worked.
Graynor, who got her first big acting gig on “The Sopranos” while attending Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge (“I almost missed my SATs,” she says of her career as a teenager), dived into “For a Good Time” and wound up co-producing.
She brought “He’s Just Not That Into You” actor Justin Long into the mix to play the women’s best friend. Another fan note from Miller resulted in Nia Vardalos, of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” joining the cast. Jamie Travis, who had made award-winning short films and commercials in Canada, was drafted as director. Suddenly, he had plenty on the line, too.
The group shot for 16 days and got the project to the Sundance Film Festival, where it was picked up by Focus Features.
Graynor said that while it’s always nice to be a part of a big, bankrolled feature, such as “What’s Your Number?,” in which she starred opposite Chris Evans and Anna Faris, this shoot was like a slumber party.
“Just the tone of it and the writing and the jokes and the journey,” she said wistfully.
It’s been a bit of a dream, especially for Miller and Naylon, who once joked that they might be able to write a heart-warming movie about a phone sex line, get Graynor to star in it, and then take it to Sundance, where they would pick up a distributor.
Now Graynor, Miller, Naylon, and Travis, all of whom are waiting for doors to open because of this project, are preparing for their big opening day. At the end of their Boston trip, they strategized about Washington, D.C., and how they would get larger audiences at future screenings. They discussed their website and how to draw attention to all of its bells and whistles.
“Every journey in this business is relative,” said Graynor, wearing her producer hat, her eyes excited and a bit nervous. “It makes you want to get to the next step.”