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Win Win - Amy Ryan interview

Win Win

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FORMER Oscar nominee Amy Ryan talks about working with one-time neighbour Tom McCarthy on indie drama Win Win and why the role of a sympathetic mother figure and wife made a nice change for her.

She also reflects on her Oscar nomination and working alongside Steve Carell on The Office.

Q. How flattering is it to have a part written with you specifically in mind, as the role of Jackie was? Does that happen often?
Amy Ryan: It’s happened to me once before, on a film called Marvelous, but it is rare and it’s pretty exciting. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do… work with Tom McCarthy. He was on my wish list of directors to work with. But then to actually see it happen was just great. He called me, I met him at the ATM machine and he handed me the script and it just went from there. It’s a very deep compliment.

Q. Weren’t the two of your neighbours at one time?
Amy Ryan: Yeah, we were both neighbours in the West Village and we have a bunch of fiends in common, so we had been in each other’s lives socially for a few years. We were also both on The Wire together without ever getting to share any scenes.

Q. And how was the reality of working with Tom? Was it as fulfilling as you’d hoped?
Amy Ryan: It was fantastic. Tom is truly collaborative from the very beginning. It’s the way he likes to work. He shows his actors the script very early on, which most people wouldn’t have the guts to do. But he’ll tell you it’s not finished yet and knows that you won’t hold that against it. But then he really asks for your two cents. With Jackie, for instance, we worked really hard on trying to get to the bottom of why, with regards to this happily married couple you see at the beginning of the film, she could not know their finances were in such a state. At one time, we thought about making her pregnant and relating that he didn’t want to place too much of a burden on her.

But I was pregnant at the time, so I said it wouldn’t work. Women aren’t so delicate anymore. That was decades ago when they were considered more delicate. So, we scrapped that and he went back to the drawing board. And then we decided that even the greatest partnerships sometimes have split responsibilities. So, this woman [Jackie] stayed at home and raised the children and his character was the bread winner.

Q. You’ve been described as ‘the heart of the movie’. Is that a nice responsibility to carry throughout a film?
Amy Ryan: It’s different seeing it than when you’re making it. I didn’t approach each scene like that but when I watched it with audiences it did feel nice… knowing that you’ll be the one bringing them back into the world. She’s the one who’s going to remind people of what’s right and wrong. It’s actually rare that I get this kind of role [laughs]! I’m usually being asked to do something more sinister!

Q. Tom told me that working with Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer was like directing two polar opposites. Paul would give you four usable takes and Alex might manage one out of four attempts. How was that to work with, especially when it came to developing that kind of surrogate mother relationship you have with Alex?
Amy Ryan: Alex is someone who never ever dreamt of being an actor before he was on the set in this leading role, so it was interesting to watch someone learn the technique and go through the steps of realising what a mark is and why you can’t have over-lapping dialogue, or why it was important to hold his bag in the same hand from take to take. But it was really a testament to his ability as an athlete that Alex was in no way ever intimidated by the process. He went in the ring and did great. It took a little longer sometimes but he had it. And Tom was incredibly guiding and always encouraging him to make it [the role] his own.

Q. And how did you enjoy building a relationship with Paul Giamatti?
Amy Ryan: Paul Giamatti is one of those actors I just felt like I’ve known my whole life [laughs]. He’s so easy to be around. Working, he makes it really easy… he’s just that good and he doesn’t ever make a meal out of anything. But he’s also kind of like the kid in the class because he gets you in trouble by making you laugh. I love him.

Win Win

Q. In a lot of your films, you seem to like working with actor-directors: Tom McCarthy with this, Ben Affleck with Gone Baby Gone and Philip Seymour Hoffman with Jack Goes Boating… is that something you particularly enjoy doing?
Amy Ryan: Clint Eastwood as well [on Changeling]! It is just a coincidence in that it isn’t planned. But I do like it. The quickest, simplest answer is that they understand the process and there’s a shared language [between you]. But the more important aspect is that there’s a compassion that comes with that. They know what it’s like when it’s 2am and you have to dig deep and go to a place that’s outside of your comfort zone. You get the sense that they would do it for you if they could. You know they have your back and that it’s not about getting the day done in time, or some of the less emotional aspects of filmmaking.

Q. Conversely, you also worked with the late, great Sidney Lumet…
Amy Ryan: I miss Sidney. He was an extraordinary man. He came into my life at a real crossroads for me as an actor because he was the first person I met who said you could do anything simply because you’re an actor. I had played three different parts for him on one TV series of his and I remember questioning him on why he was casting me again so soon, which is ridiculous really. But I said: “Won’t people know it’s me?” But he simply replied: “You’ll figure something out my love, you’re an actor!” I mean, who has that confidence!? It was really fun working with him and he taught me such a lot… he was the one that taught me: “You have permission to go and be other people.”

Q. Coming to some of your TV work, how was being part of such an integral part of the US version of The Office and working with Steve Carell?
Amy Ryan: I was such a big fan of the British Office… I remember thinking: “If only I could be in a comedy like that on TV where it’s really about behaviour and not just landing a joke.” But then when I heard they had made a US version I thought it was blasphemy [laughs]! I really didn’t think they could put it off. But obviously, it’s another great version of that show. And I leapt at the opportunity to be a part of it because I think I’m better suited for that kind of comedy. Working with Steve Carell is great, too. It’s like a master-class to be next to that man. He’s so playful and so quick, yet one of the most generous actors you could ever encounter.

Q. Were you there for his final episode?
Amy Ryan: I left three episodes before his departure unfortunately.

Q. But have you had chance to see his farewell?
Amy Ryan: I did and it’s very sad. I was crying my eyes out. I mean, it was still very funny but it was also sad and I think that’s what’s great about that kind of comedy. It allows you to drawn on a profound range of emotions. It also reminded me of the British show Extras in that way – and that made me cry as well during its final episode.

Q. How did the Oscar nomination you received for Gone Baby Gone affect your career? Did it change things for you?
Amy Ryan: It was such a welcome change. It meant I had access to filmmakers like Paul Greengrass [for Green Zone] and it allowed people like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom McCarthy to get me okayed for their film projects. It was a tremendous gift to be nominated.

Q. And how was Oscar night? Do you remember much about it?
Amy Ryan: Well, by the time you finally get to the Oscars, you’re exhausted! But I brought my parents with me and my fiancée and had a really nice evening. To see my parents experience something like that was really fun. I sort of realised by that point that whatever was going to happen was going to happen and there was nothing you could do to change it. So, I just enjoy being in it [the ceremony].

Read our interview with Bobby Cannavale

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Win Win is out in UK cinemas on May 20, 2011.