Exclusive: Win Win ‘s Maternal Figure, Amy Ryan

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The first time ComingSoon.net spoke with Amy Ryan, it was for a spotlight piece right around the time she was making waves for her performance in Ben Affleck’s debut Gone Baby Gone, a role for which the New York actress received an Oscar nomination.

It’s now three-and-a-half years later and Ryan has worked with Oscar-nominated filmmakers like Clint Eastwood and Paul Greengrass, while at the same time receiving raves for her return to television with her role on “In Treatment” and “The Office.” People have been just as thrilled with her role in Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win opposite Paul Giamatti, playing the far more reasonable spouse to his neurotic Jersey lawyer and high school wrestling coach.

This time, ComingSoon.net got to speak with the actress in person while she was back in New York for the film’s junket a few weeks ago.

ComingSoon.net: I spoke with Tom earlier and I know you two have known each other for a long time, so how did he approach you about playing Jackie? Did he give you a script, did he just tell you about the character and story?
Amy Ryan:
Yeah, he called me one day and he said, “I’m working on this script and I’m writing something with you in mind,” and once he had the draft to send me… Tom works in a beautiful way. “I’m going to keep developing it, so let’s keep an open dialogue” and we did over Emails. I think it was about a year or maybe eight months from that time until we started shooting. So during that time, we kept Emailing back and forth because he kept thinking the character should go this way and we had a really open dialogue about it.

CS: Did you see a lot of drafts along the way or did you just talk and then waited until he had something that was ready to shoot?
Ryan:
I feel like it’s more like it’s the same draft then it was just added within. I mean certain elements of the character were changed here and there. There was a version where she was pregnant and that’s why she was removed from really what’s going on with Mike’s world, but we thought, “No, that just seems false that he would try to protect her because she’s in a delicate state. That’s too old-fashioned.”

CS: So you two talked a lot about the character before he had a final draft?
Ryan:
Oh, yeah. And then even while we were filming, there were scenes like the scene with Kyle and the tattoo, that was added. He knew he wanted to add a scene in which they do cement their bonds, but that wasn’t in the script. That was added while we were filming.

CS: Have you had that kind of relationship with any other director or filmmakers who write their own scripts?
Ryan:
Not on that level as the script is being written, certainly on set and that open dialogue I’ve experienced many times, but not in the developing of a script, that was new.

CS: This is a great character and I remember talking to you ages ago and I noted that you played a lot of mothers and you said that there were “many different stories about motherhood” and at least Jackie seems to be a good mother as opposed to the other ones you’ve played.
Ryan:
I know. I remember a friend of mine said, “You’ve never played a good mother, that’s exciting,” and I was like, “Oh, you’re right, you’re right!” And it was. It did feel good to play that strong kind of woman, very protective of her cub and also very much her own person with her own opinion.

CS: What did you tap into for that sort of thing because there were things like just looks which really were so note-perfect. Did you just get stuff like that from your own mother?
Ryan:
No, this character is not like my own mother, but I know of women like this, and I became a mother six months before we started shooting, so I certainly knew what it was like to suddenly be very protective of your brood and you’d do anything for them, and also extending that maternal instinct to other people. No, I don’t know. A lot of it is on the page and a lot of stuff that Tom pushed me towards saying, “You can go that big and you can go that hard on him, and you can do that that. It’s character-supported and there’s no judgments towards it. She earns it. Just don’t apologize for it.”

CS: Did you have any expectations of this movie, either from knowing Tom or from knowing his previous movies?
Ryan:
Yeah, he’s got such a great track record being two for two now (laughs), so it certainly helped, at the time, signing onto the project, it’s nice to know that to work with–as exciting as it is to work with a first-time director–but it’s great to see someone who really knows their world that they paint and their style and how they like to shoot films. It’s exciting to be led in that way.

CS: When you work on set do you see a very different Tom than you’re used to either working with him on some acting role or just knowing him as a person?
Ryan:
Yeah, somewhat, ’cause the Tom I know as a friend isn’t under the same pressure as when he’s in charge of a big budget and getting his film in on time and making his days and all that, but certainly, the things I’m not surprised by are his passion, his intelligent, his conviction to it. That wasn’t a surprise, but it’s just fun to see it on a day-to-day basis.

CS: You’ve worked with a lot of actors-turned-filmmakers…
Ryan:
Yeah, I like that. (laughs)

CS: And I think with “Jack Goes Boating,” that was the one time where you had the director acting in scenes with you, so how was this different, because this was similar to that movie where you had a lot of actors from the New York scene.
Ryan:
Yeah, Tom and I were actually in “Jack Goes Boating” together. Just technically, something like “Jack Goes Boating” takes longer because Phil would be in the scene and then would have to pause and he’d have to go watch it on the monitor after a couple takes, so obviously Tom was able to do that from the onset. Tom is such a good actor, but I remember the days when he was just walking through something or Paul wasn’t there so he just read the lines with me and he just sort of started cracking up. He was clearly like, “This is wrong…” It’s kind of fun to have fun with him on that.

CS: So Tom never imagined himself playing Paul’s character?
Ryan:
No, no, no. Maybe someday he’ll act in one of his own films, but I don’t know how any of them do it, quite honestly. That’s so outside my world.

CS: What about Paul? Did you know him for a long time as well?
Ryan:
No, I knew of him and we passed here or there, but not well at all. In fact, on the first day we did a table read, and we had rode the elevator down together and walked a whole city block and didn’t say a word to each other really, and I thought, “Oh, God, Paul’s really shy. How am I going to get in there? We’re supposed to be this happily married couple, I don’t know if I’d buy it.” The truth is that the minute we started working on it and filming, it’s as if I’ve known him for years and years. He’s so easy-going. I think we both found that we’re both shy and we needed the other one to keep the conversation going. He’s a dream to work with.

CS: He seems like a very generous actor, because in other movies, he’s able to steal scenes, but in this one, he’s really giving a lot of the laughs to the other actors which is very different from what he normally does.
Ryan:
Yeah, yeah, he’s great. That’s really well said, and he is that, he’s very generous, he’s very open.

CS: But you’re still the voice of reason in the movie where you have to be grounded in reason while everyone else is having fun and being man-child, so is it tough to take on that role and only have one real place where you get to laugh, which I guess is the tattoo scene?
Ryan:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, is it hard? No, it’s not hard. You get your turns here and there, but no, I loved playing this part so I never thought like, “Oh, I want to do what Bobby’s doing, why don’t I get to do that?” you know? (laughs) No, no.

CS: What about taking on the Jersey accent? Obviously being from New York it must be somewhat familiar.
Ryan:
Yeah, it’s within the fabric, it’s within the same tapestry, so it’s just a slightly different sound or the attitudes are slightly different, but it’s something that I felt familiar with and confident to do. I’ve been in and around it so much of my life growing up in New York. I feel like that world is easy for me to tap into, and again, it’s because of growing up, but I wouldn’t say it’s something that I had to listen to tapes or anything like that. It’s the force of the way they use language and just the boldness.

CS: Since I talked to you last for “Green Zone,” you’ve returned to TV in a huge way between “In Treatment” and “The Office” and doing the two series at once. Was it hard to decide to go back to doing TV?
Ryan:
No, I didn’t anticipate something like “In Treatment” happening but I got a phone call one day with an offer and I read the script and I was like, “Yeah.” That’s something I’d never done, played that type of character, and to be opposite Gabriel Byrne, it’s like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I didn’t care it was on TV or that I was doing this other TV show. It was just too good a part to turn down.

CS: Do you find that that’s where the best scripts and roles are these days, on TV? Or that there’s a lot more going on there than it is to find interesting movies?
Ryan:
Sometimes, but I say that and then I’ll give you five other examples of films, some great roles, but the thing with TV is that it could be a great role, but if you do it for too long you just end up repeating yourself, it’s kind of the same point of view that character represents to the show, you can never repeat that over and over. So something like just a shorter stint on “The Office” or one season on “In Treatment” is perfect, so you don’t just keep flexing the same muscles over and over again. I prefer those kind of quick visitations.

CS: It seems like Holly is pretty well a fixture in “The Office” now. It seems like the first time you were on the show, it felt like you were only there for a few episodes, but now you’re a regular. Would you stay on after Steve Carell leaves or are you just a part of Michael Scott’s story and there’s no reason for her to be there without him?
Ryan:
No, I feel like she’s there because of him. I can’t imagine her in that world without him.

CS: Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next after you finish those two shows?
Ryan:
I really don’t know. It’s such an open playing field right now I don’t know, but I hope whatever it is, it lets me stay in New York. (laughs) I want to go home at night.

CS: You haven’t gotten the bug to move to L.A, no? I certainly appreciate this group of actors like Paul and Sam Rockwell and Phil Hoffman, who stay in New York and have created this great community of actors and it must be harder in theory to be here just because there’s not as much shooting here, though I guess that’s changing.
Ryan:
But what’s shooting here is really good, so it’s what keeps us here and just the balance of life. For me, I should speak for myself, that’s what keeps me here. For me, New York City is one of the best teachers out there as an actor.

CS: Just watching people?
Ryan:
Yeah, there are so many stories under the street corners.

CS: When I spoke to you the first time, it was literally the day after you first appeared on Leno?
Ryan:
Oh, really? (laughs)

CS: So have you gotten more accustomed to the role of doing publicity? Do you enjoy it anymore?
Ryan:
I think I’m more present now, I think I’m more aware. In the beginning, it was just all new terrain for me, so I was just dancing as fast as I can in shock of it all, but yeah, I enjoy it as long as I enjoy what we’re talking about. When I get home, I thank God that I’m spending the day talking about a movie I really like. I shudder to think of the alternative (laughs).

CS: Is it harder being more high-profile these days then you were back then which I’m sure has to be the case now that you’ve been a regular on “The Office.” You must have a lot more people in New York recognizing you in the streets?
Ryan:
Somewhat, but not in any kind of obnoxious way. People say “hello” and they move on. I’m not being stalked or anything like that or paparazzi. I don’t have that kind of life or career, so it’s good.

That was it for the questions we had prepared but after we stopped “rolling tape,” we did ask Ryan about whether she might want to return to the stage–given her desire to remain in New York City–and she certainly has interest but hasn’t found any plays or roles that really have grabbed her as something she’d want to do.

Win Win is now playing in select cities and is likely to expand into more areas over the coming weeks. You can read our interview with the film’s director Thomas McCarthy here.