The next few days have big things in store for Amy Ryan. Tonight’s highly publicized episode of The Office features her character, Holly Flax, getting engaged to Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Tomorrow, her newest widely praised film Win Win expands into a number of major markets across the U.S. She recently filled Collider in on both, along with news of whether she’ll be back on In Treatment. Hit the jump for our exclusive sit-down.
The nationwide recognition Amy Ryan gained for her recurring role on The Office as the Human Resources rep Holly Flax who falls for Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and Oscar-nominated turn in Gone Baby Gone as Helene McCready, the welfare mom with a questionable moral compass, came after a steady stream of seamless performances on stage and screen for two decades. Raised in Queens, Ryan landed professional acting work straight out of New York’s High School of Performing Arts (of Fame fame). After time spent off-Broadway and on episodic TV, she landed her first Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play in the 2000 Broadway revival of Uncle Vanya with Derek Jacobi & Laura Linney. A second Tony nod in the same category came for her work in the 2005 production of A Streetcar Named Desire as “Stella,” opposite John C. Reilly’s “Stanley.”
That success on Broadway was interspersed with memorable turns in critically acclaimed films and shows, such as: You Can Count On Me (with Vanya co-star Laura Linney), Sidney Lumet’s TV series 100 Centre Street and The Wire. Then, Ben Affleck offered her a part in his 2007 directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, and the Oscars extended an invite a few months later.
As her star continues to rise, her roots remain firmly planted in New York. She re-confirmed to Collider that her time on the LA-based set of The Office is over. “My character did come to a close … so once (Michael Scott) leaves, that’s it for me and The Office.” Since Holly Flax’s return to Dunder-Mifflin is officially not going to happen, we focused the rest of the interview on Win Win and her other work.
In Win Win, Ryan plays Jackie Flaherty, the straight-talking wife of Mike Flaherty (played by fellow Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti), an attorney and volunteer wrestling coach of a high school team that seems destined to lose. Jackie is forced to accept a teenager into her home after the boy’s grandfather has been taken under the guardianship of her husband, as part of a secret scam he pulled for extra cash. She’s the conscience of a first-rate screenplay by Oscar-nominated writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent and The Visitor). Ryan and Giamatti are part of a superb cast that features: 6-time Emmy nominee Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show), Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale (Will & Grace and The Station Agent), Oscar nominee Burt Young (the Rocky film series), Melanie Lynskey (The Informant! and Two And A Half Men) and newcomer Alex Shaffer.
As Amy Ryan leaves one show, we started with another series that recently wrapped up for the season: In Treatment. She played Dr. Paul Weston’s (Gabriel Byrne) therapist, Adele, in a brilliant performance that has gotten raves from real-life psychiatrists for its accuracy. December’s season finale left its lead character disenchanted with a future full of more questions than answers, so we began with her thoughts on the show’s future.
Click here for the audio or read on for the transcript:
AMY RYAN: My commitment to the show is just for that season and I don’t know if Gabriel is signed back on. You know, I know it’s an exhausting show (for him). He’s so brilliant in it, but it, it’s a big undertaking for him, so I don’t know. (Laughs) You know, I don’t think, you know, therapy never ends, really. It’s not like you hit the day one day when you go, “Well, that’s it. I’m done. (Are) we finished? Can I move on?” You know, but in terms of HBO’s commitment to it, I’m not sure if they’ve renewed it or not.
Would you like to go back?
RYAN: Um, I don’t know. I never think of things that way, it’s just like, ‘cause that’s just a setup, you know, for disappointment. You know, but I, I hadn’t thought of the show, when it was presented to me, you know, I never thought it was a possibility for me. I certainly would never have dreamed to, you know, take over for Dianne Wiest in anything. (Laughs) You know, so, um, so it was a nice surprise. But certainly I would love to work with Gabriel Byrne again. He’s a fantastic actor to sit one-on-one with. And I did that job right after Win Win and, you know, a lot of my scenes, not just speaking of Alex (Shaffer who co-stars with Ryan and Giamatti), but (were) with the young children in it and which, they’re fantastic, but it’s also a different dynamic of, like, especially I’m talking more, like the 2-year-old who only can work for certain hours of course, they want a nap and they want to have their food. It’s a very different thing and so to suddenly to go from that world to sitting like you and I are here today, with just dialogue, you know, was an incredible change of view and I really welcomed it. It was a nice challenge, too.
You know, and as an audience member, it feels like, I mean, I don’t know, but it feels like you’re going to therapy. I mean, (watching all) those (episodes).
RYAN: (Laughing) Exactly. I think a lot of people mistakenly use it for therapy as opposed to going on their own. Like, “Oh, I watch In Treatment. I’m fine. I don’t need to.” You know…
RYAN: You know, but it was tricky ‘cause, like, a lot of the discussions that I would have with him is like, there’s so much that I want to comment on or react to, like, so when, it’s orchestrated, when do you show them your reaction? When do you not? When do you add up- you know, to show you’re doing the math that you picked something up, something they said before and so, you know, it was tricky, just finding the musicality of it. You know.
You talked (at the press conference) about how biology was your favorite subject in school. Has that actually had any effect on your acting? (Actors) talk about all different kinds of things that (serve as) inspiration. There’s the acting exercise of going to watch animals in the zoo. Has biology had an impact?
RYAN: Not really. (Bursts into laughter) I was trying to like, as you were asking the question, I was like, “How can I say something clever so I sound smart?” (Laughing) But the truth is, no, that’s a really good case of I really liked my biology teacher and I enjoyed showing up. I enjoyed being in that room. I enjoyed learning something and, uh, so I think like with anything in life, in the schoolroom in an artistic endeavor, if you have just a really good teacher, it’s inspiring. I certainly use, in my work, I mean, I used to rely heavily on imagery. I was obsessed with this photograph that was in the NY Times of a fish engulfing a smaller fish and this smaller fish had this look in its eyes; it knew what was about to happen and, I don’t know how they ever captured such an image, but I’ve used that for a play I (did). It’s called “Saved.” This Edward Bond play. And that’s all I needed for, you know, so it can be an image or it can be- but I would say the greatest inspiration I draw upon is, is this city (New York) and riding the subway and watching people and I find that’s kind of like the best, the best acting teacher. You know, I wonder, like people who have huge celebrity, sometimes I feel bad, should this be one of their methods ‘cause I don’t know how they can observe life anymore, because they become the observed. So, I, I appreciate that New York can still do that.
There’s a teacher at (the acting conservatory at) Carnegie Mellon (University) who talks about being director-proof so that when (graduating actors) go out into the field they won’t have to depend on the director who often, will be worried on the technical end, especially first-time directors or early directors. How often is it that on a film set or on a television set where, where you have to rely on yourself?
RYAN: It happens a lot, but I also think of it as not so much like being abandoned by a director ‘cause they’re worried about a technical aspect, but I think actually that’s my job. You know, there are a lot of directors, like Clint Eastwood (on Changeling) is one where he casts you and you know in many ways that’s enough for him and so, you go, ok, well, he saw something. Ok, what is it that he saw? What is it that I brought to this and why am I right for this and not trying to double-guess it and get in your own way and get psyched out, ‘cause he trusts so much. You try to follow suit and the directors I work with, like Sidney Lumet (on film in Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and TV in 100 Centre Street) who thinks actors hung the moon, thinks they can do anything, but he also works really quickly, the same like Clint Eastwood, and so you better also do your homework, you know? So, (Laughs) ‘cause you’ll miss the train, you know? He keeps going, you know, so I just find it’s, just in general, it’s still, no matter who it is, if it’s a director, that is in your face for 40 takes, making you do it over and over and over, you still have to come with your side of the homework done.
You play so many different genres from drama to comedy and (in) Win Win you do both, sometimes at the same time (Ryan laughs) and very impressively-
RYAN: Thank you.
RYAN: It was Tom. I mean, I know him personally, but I’m such a fan of his films. He was a director that I had always hoped to work with. So when he called, I mean, I knew in my mind that I was gonna say yes, but he’s like, “I’ll send you a script, let me know what you think.” But I was like, “Oh, yeah. Of course, I’m doing this. I don’t even know what the part is” or what, and then, you know, to see it was this really good mom. This ballsy mom and there was great humor there and she was the real moral compass of it. I liked that. I liked the ballsiness of it and, and you know, quite honestly, I knew the movie had humor. I didn’t know how funny this character would be, until really we were in front of an audience, you know? I guess I was in her reality enough to not know. So, it was a nice surprise.
What was that experience like, seeing it with an audience for the first time at Sundance?
RYAN: It’s fun. I mean, it’s such a supportive, like party going crowd, anyway, so- but yeah, it’s great to hear a large group assembled to be in unison at something. You know, and you think, (laughing) “Oh, ok, that was worth being out in the cold ‘til 3 in the morning.” You know, and wherever we were filming and you know, late nights and it’s just nice to know that your work matters to someone, that it either just simply entertained them or it made them think differently and that’s a really nice feeling.