15 Awesome Minutes with the Awesomely Awesome Amy Ryan

amy_ryan_office630.jpgStrange things can happen once fatigue sits in for an interviewee. In the worst of cases it leads to rushed and phoned-in answers. In the case of Win Win and The Office's Amy Ryan, however, it leads to a delightful, almost slaphappy experience -- accelerated by a simple misunderstanding of a question that leads to a new project starring Vin Diesel.

First things first, though: In Win Win (opening today in limited release) Ryan plays Jackie Flaherty, wife to Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) -- a lawyer and part-time high school wrestling coach who, to earn extra money for his family, becomes the court ordered guardian for one of his wealthy elderly clients (Burt Young). His client's grandson, Kyle (Shaffer), turns out to be a champion wrestler who not only winds up competing on Mike's team, but also moves in with Mike and Jackie. Movieline met with Ryan to discuss the film, accepting America's eventual scorn for taking Michael Scott away from The Office and a few memories from her 1990s TV guest appearances (including Scott Bakula in a dress).

[Upon entering her room, the publicist made sure to note to both of us that we had the same last name.]

Yes, it's true, we have the same last name.

Where did you grow up? Are you from New York?

Not originally. Originally from St. Louis.

OK... the Ryans of St. Louis!

I'll just pretend that you're well aware of us. By the way, I like this movie a lot.

Thanks. I do, too. [Laughs]

Oh, good! This would be a completely different conversation if you didn't.

That would be a great way to start a conversation: "Enh, it's not so good."

Was it first presented to you as a movie about high school wrestling?

I know Tom [McCarthy], our writer-director, for years. We've been friends and neighbors in New York and he said, "I'm working on a script that I want to send you." And that was the first I had heard of it. And in my head I already knew that whatever it is, I'm saying yes. Tom is someone I've wanted to work with for a while; I've been a big fan of his two films prior to this one. So it was about a year or so from the first conversation we had until the time we started shooting. So he said, "The way I work, I write with actors in mind so once it's at a draft, I want you to see it and I really want you to have input [and to know] what you think of this character." And she had gone through a couple of transformations; we took certain elements out where we grew tired of something or thought it was too contrived. But he's so open about that. And it's not just casual conversation, he really means it. Like, "I need you to comment on this." I've had collaborations on set, but to have something from the beginning is very new to me.

What aspects were taken out?

There's a version... I guess we were trying to figure out how this couple is so healthily and happily married for so long, how could she not know, you know, what he was up to? A decision he makes to do something that's not so on the up-and-up. And there was a version where my character was pregnant. And, therefore, he didn't want to upset her. And, at the time, I was pregnant and I said, "You know, Tom, now knowing... I'd know." It's not so much "women are delicate, don't talk to them!" And we both agreed pretty quickly to take that out and just let it unfold the way it had in the film, which I think is more dramatic. I think it's so realistic; I think there are so many couples where like one will just take care of the books and one takes care of the kids' education and that's the way they partner. They don't make 50/50 decisions about everything.

That's a good point, there does seem to be an "I'm pregnant so I'm oblivious to everything" meme in some films.

Yeah! No, if anything, women are sharper. [Laughs] They're more in tune and they want to make sure what they are bringing this child into.

The wife of a high school wrestling coach pulling a scheme could have been written as a thankless role.

Yeah, I agree. Because I feel that we've seen that so often. Thankless wife... "Yes, dear," and "Thank you, dear," and "You're wrong, dear."

Oh, I thought for a second that you were actually talking about the television show, Yes, Dear. Amy Ryan with the slam!

Oh! Yeah, I'm just putting it right out there! No, no. OK, yes I am. [Laughs] And I knew, also, going in, thinking back on Tom's other films, the women are so well thought of and written. And they're multi-dimensional and I enjoyed playing this good, good mother -- that she had all of this gusto and heart behind her and really had her own opinions separate from her husband. So that was a big draw to me.

Speaking of thankless roles, are you in a position now where you don't have to take anything like that?

Yeah, I've been really lucky and fortunate that they haven't been thankless, at all. Be it something even if it's on television like In Treatment or The Office, just to have these very different characters. I like to imagine all the different characters that I've played sitting in a room together. You know? [Laughs] It would be a very good party; I don't think anyone would get along with anyone else.

I sense a one-woman play in your future.

Oh, God... How horrifying would that be? All my different... hats I'd wear. [Laughs] But I try to keep that. If I'm not sure of what to do next, I'd say, "Well, do they fit in that room? Or "Are they already in that room?" I think sometimes, too, I love this phrase "the body doesn't lie." And so when I read a script, if it's a page-turner and I can't stop thinking of it, it's very different than the scripts that I can't get through -- where I'm falling asleep or "I'll get to it later." So sometimes a make decisions based, literally, on gut instincts.

I'm assuming it's not... but is the Jon Bon Jovi tattoo real?

[Laughing] I'll never stop! [Lifts up pant leg] Yeah, let me show you!

Well, you could have been a huge fan?

That's why Tom cast me! Because he knew I had that. [Laughs] No, that scene was added, actually, later on. Tom knew he wanted to add this other scene between my character and Kyle -- just to have something where they really were connecting. And I remember he showed me the pages one day while we were filming and I thought, "Oh, that's really good." And we wound up shooting it later that day -- I was just thankful that I shaved my legs that day.

Did you get to choose your own band?

No, we knew we were using Jon Bon Jovi's music -- he'd been very generous. So, no, we knew. And it was right: Tom had actually asked because he was not sure if it should be Bruce Springsteen or if it should be Jon Bon Jovi -- both are like these New Jersey heroes. He turned to Alex's mom -- they're from Jersey -- and she's like "Jon Bon Jovi, of course!" She never hesitated.

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  • NP says:

    That was fun. I want to hang out with loopy Amy Ryan.

  • Scraps says:

    I get the feeling that if she had done one of her passing Yoda impersonations like her character does on The Office, our faithful reporter would have jumped her bones.