The stage star shines in Ben Affleck's directorial debut film "Gone Baby
Gone". Earlier this month, Amy Ryan talked to The Popcorn Reel's Omar P.L. Moore
about her role as Helene, a not-so-likable film incarnation
She is known more for her acting prowess on stage, but audiences
are getting to see Amy Ryan's stunning big screen work in Ben Affleck's
directorial debut film "Gone Baby Gone", a film set exclusively in Boston,
Massachusetts, about a missing four-year-old girl who is being tracked by the
doggedness of Boston's police department, especially Casey Affleck (excellent in
the current release "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert
Ford") and his spouse and police detective partner Michelle Monaghan (also in
the film "The Heartbreak Kid".) The film "Gone Baby Gone" opened on Friday
(October 19) across the U.S. and Canada, and features a cast that includes Oscar
winner Morgan Freeman and nominee Ed Harris.
The charismatic, slender acting star is sitting comfortably, curled up in a
luxurious chair in a suite at a local hotel in San Francisco. Amy Ryan
wears a royal French blue blouse, and dark navy slacks. She indulges her
questioner's request for some water. She is literally in town for less
than a day before she has to fly to Los Angeles. One gets the sense that
it's quite a whirlwind tour for the actor, who is in town for "Gone Baby Gone",
which at the time Ryan was in Northern California, was being shown at the 30th
Mill Valley Film Festival. She takes the publicity for the film, of which
she is very proud, in stride, and does so with a smile.
Ms. Ryan plays Helene McCready in Mr. Affleck's film. This Friday (October
26) she appears as Martha in Sidney Lumet's new film "Before The Devil Knows
You're Dead". Helene is a grubby, foul-mouthed working class mother in
Boston who also dabbles in drugs and unsavory characters in the neighborhood.
She loved the acting challenge and when told by a journalist that a little
birdie has said that an Oscar nomination was in the works for her performance,
she responded playfully by saying, "who's that birdie?"
Says the actor of Helene: "It's quite a character on the page . . . I believe
an actor can only be as good as the writing. And so when I first went on
the audition and I read the script, I was like, 'Ho-ho-ho! This is good!
She's so bad, she's good! She gets to do it all!'" The actor is all
smiles as she describes the character she plays. Ms. Ryan, who won Tony
nominations for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Play in 2000 (for a revival
of "Uncle Vanya") and 2005 (for a revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire"), has a
wish that audiences who watch Mr. Affleck's film take careful note of her
character and raise questions about her when the film is over. "People who
may judge her -- it's because she can be scary. No one wants to take
responsibility for her. My hope is that at the end of the day if you're
talking with friends about this film, that you go, 'okay, but why is she like
this? Where did the cycle start?' She was raised this way.
Here's the single mom, drug-addicted, no healthcare, no childcare. Very
little education -- but why? Why? Hopefully, we'll take care of our
neighborhoods, take care of our neighbors. It's not enough just to remove
a mother from a child."
When watching Helene on the big screen and hearing her raw Boston accent,
many will not know that her creator, Amy Ryan, is actually from New York City.
She graduated from the New York City High School of Performing Arts and attended
the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center. Ms. Ryan has had a
number of television roles, including on such shows as "Law & Order", "Homicide:
Life On The Street", "The Wire", "100 Centre Street", "Chicago Hope" and "ER".
Though stage and television are her bread and butter, Amy Ryan has had a few
roles on the silver screen ("You Can Count On Me", "War Of The Worlds",
"Capote".) Movie goers will get to see her more frequently on the big
screen, and soon. In addition to appearing in Mr. Lumet's new film this
Friday, she will also be on the big screen this weekend in the comedy "Dan In
Real Life", with Steve Carell. She has finished filming roles in the
upcoming films "Neal Cassady" (she plays Carolyn Cassady) and "Bob Funk" (as Ms.
Wright). Ryan will be filming "The Missing Person" (which she is also a
producer on), and "The Changeling" (to be directed by Clint Eastwood, and
starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich and Colm Feore) over the next few
Amy Ryan as Helene in "Gone Baby Gone", Ben Affleck's directorial debut,
which is now in theaters across North America. (Photo: Claire Folger/Miramax)
Of her experience with Ben Affleck on "Gone Baby Gone", Ryan said of the film's
director that he wanted her to be free to explore her character in myriad ways
and also gave Ryan a framework from which to explore, building Helene and laying
out a texture of the environment from which the character comes. "He laid
down the challenge. He said, 'I want people to believe that you are from
Boston, and not from New York.'" She chuckles at this moment, recalling
the director's specific geographic origin request for Helene. "So just
starting with the external world. He showed me lots of photographs from
the community, and then we were filming from within the community. The
costumes were from the shops there, the clothing stores there. And (she
smiles here) you have a lot of lunches with Teamsters." Ryan recalls
one moment where her character Helene is so immersed that she had some trouble
getting on the set of the film. "The first day of filming I went to say
hello to everyone, and then I got sent away to do hair and make up -- they put
me under the make-up trailer," Ryan jokes. "There's a bunch of barricades
all lined up, and I made my way to the front of the barricades and I got
stopped." She spoke to a security person, using her character's Boston
accent. "I'm in the movie, I'm working with Ben Affleck," she says in her
re-enactment of Helene's voice. "He would not let me through!" She
said she had to watch some of the filming amidst a crowd of spectators and
locals. A producer recognized her in the crowd and escorted her back on to
the set. Ryan said of the skeptical security guard, "I shook his hand and
said, 'you have no idea of the confidence you just gave me!'"
"Gone Baby Gone" is based on Dennis Lehane's book. Mr. Lehane also
wrote such novels as "Mystic River", which was also adapted into a film, which
Clint Eastwood directed. Many will compare Mr. Affleck and Mr. Eastwood's
approaches to Boston, a city which Ms. Ryan indicated during this interview was
a huge character in Mr. Affleck's film. "I think Boston becomes the main
character of the film. It's great, because you don't see those faces, you
know . . . usually you see the romantic side of Boston, and Camden Yards, and
Ryan then quickly adds: "It is Camden Yards, right?"
Her interviewer is about to correct her, when she says, "no, it's Fenway Park!!"
And she has her interviewer laughing along with her.
Fenway Park, for those who aren't sports-inclined, is the home venue of the
Major League Baseball team the Boston Red Sox, who yesterday (October 21)
reached their second World Series in four years after vanquishing Cleveland, a
team that had a three games-to-one lead, and needed just one more win to beat
Boston and end the Red Sox' baseball season. That one additional win never
came, as Boston won three consecutive games, including the seventh and final
game of the seven-game American League Championship Series at Fenway yesterday.
They will play the Colorado Rockies of the National League, starting this week.
It is a safe bet that Ben Affleck, who is passionate about the Boston Red Sox,
will be highly visible this week at Fenway, and perhaps in Denver as well.
Neither Helene, nor Amy Ryan however, will be there.
Amy Ryan did not have trouble disengaging from Helene, even though she is a
character that is abrasive. "I think characters that are more subtle you
might carry around with you, because there's something more ethereal about it,
but Helene is like -- it's black and white. There's great method to her
madness. When you play a character like that you get to get it all off
your chest right away. I think if anything I didn't really live with her
emotion life as much as I lived the external parts, because I knew that that was
imperative to keep that going. I tried to pull off that Boston accent
going whenever I could," Ryan laughs.
"Gone Baby Gone" is now playing nationwide in the U.S. and Canada. Read
The Popcorn Reel review of the
Omar's audio interview with Amy Ryan of "Gone Baby Gone" (15
Amy Ryan (far right) with fellow "Gone Baby Gone" co-stars Michelle Monaghan
and Casey Affleck (in black), who flank Ben Affleck, the film's director, at the
film's Los Angeles premiere on October 8. (Photos: WireImage)