Entertainment & Arts

Ginnifer Goodwin, of ‘He’s Just Not That Into You,’ embracing rejection

LEARNING: “I really wanted to find the truth with Gigi over the course of filming,” Goodwin says of her key character.
LEARNING: “I really wanted to find the truth with Gigi over the course of filming,” Goodwin says of her key character.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

It was the line that launched a thousand talk shows. “He’s just not that into you” was first heard on HBO’s “Sex and the City” to explain a man’s confusing behavior toward Miranda. The sentence resonated so strongly, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo turned it into a bestselling self-help book of the same name.

Producer Nancy Juvonen went even further. Envisioning a movie, she brought the idea to her producing partner, Drew Barrymore, at their company, Flower Films. Barrymore recalls, “When she told me she wanted to do this and she told me the title, she said, ‘But I never am going to say the sentence in the movie.’ And I knew that was her way of using it as a springboard to discuss relationships, without being weighed down by the line.”

“He’s Just Not That Into You,” opening Feb. 6, explores the lives of nine men and women in Baltimore as they puzzle over romantic entanglements. The script attracted a slew of stars, including Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Barrymore and Scarlett Johansson. But the ensemble piece is anchored in the story of Gigi, a young woman whose intense pursuit of love is hindered by her inability to read the signs men are giving her. She evidently never read the book.

Neither did Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays Gigi. In preparation for the role, the actress steered clear of the source material until after the film wrapped. “I don’t think you can read the book without it making you stronger and more confident and maybe a little less tolerant” of foolishness, she asserts. It didn’t make sense to acquire information that her character desperately lacked. “I really wanted to find the truth with Gigi over the course of filming,” she says.

If that truth required making a fool of herself, so be it. Goodwin, 30, had no interest in playing Gigi as stupid or naive, thus excusing her many mistakes. “In real life, we all humiliate ourselves every day. And it’s not because we’re idiots,” Goodwin says. “I’m so tired of watching actresses fall gracefully.”

Juvonen notes that during casting for Gigi, most of the actresses they saw seemed too knowing for the role. “She has an innocence that we latched onto immediately,” she says of Goodwin. “She was game for everything and really loved and understood the character.” Barrymore agrees, adding, “I’m really proud of her in this movie.”

In person, styled for a photo shoot, the brunet, green-eyed Goodwin looks more glamorous than the benighted Gigi but sounds just as passionate about the search for love. “We’re so, so, so afraid of rejection that we waste insane amounts of life making excuses for other people’s actions or even our own,” she says. “I embrace rejection, but I also recognize that I’m an actress and therefore I get rejected on a daily basis in a way that most human beings will never experience.”

Born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., in an “artsy-fartsy family” who encouraged her love for acting, Goodwin studied theater at several conservatories including London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Before graduating from Boston University, she already had an agent and a role on an episode of " Law & Order.”

The day after graduation, she moved to New York, adamant that she would take only roles she cared about. “I’m honestly one of those people who’s just fine with being broke,” she says earnestly. “I would rather do church basement theater than so many of the film and television projects that my agents would talk to me about.” Fortunately, a TV role appealed to her, and two months after moving she booked a recurring role as a shy student on the TV series “Ed.”

Juicy supporting roles in the films “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton” and “Walk the Line” followed, as did a move to Los Angeles. “And, yes, I have gone broke a couple of times,” she points out. “But happily, proudly, with integrity.”

She returned to television on the HBO series “Big Love” as Margene, the fresh-faced third bride in Bill Paxton’s character’s polygamous family. The show’s third season begins next Sunday. Goodwin notes that Margene shares Gigi’s optimism and open heart. But of all the work she’s chosen, and loved, “Gigi is the closest character I’ve ever played to myself,” she says.

Her fearless take on relationships does sound a bit like Gigi, with a dash of confidence thrown in. “A broken heart has never killed anyone in the history of the world, so why not dive in, why not be that open and put all of our eggs in one basket? Because, yes, the basket may fall, the eggs may break, but we will always be able to pick ourselves up again and move on, and we can only learn and grow from those experiences,” Goodwin posits.

“I fell so in love with Gigi’s resilience and the fact that she will not let rejection make her jaded. She knows the right person will love her for her openness and her bravery in throwing all of her eggs in one basket.”

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