Amy Ryan has played such a wide range of roles in her long career. She played a drugged out mother in Gone Baby Gone, a psychiatrist on In Treatment, and a human resources representation on The Office.
Now she's playing a doting wife and mother in the Win Win opposite Paul Giamatti. The film follows a family who takes in a runaway teen who shows up at their door and they take him in. It's about the relationship between Mike Flaherty, moonlighting as a wrestling coach and a young athlete.
Ryan talks about what a pleasure this film was to do and working specifically with Alex Shaffer, who is appearing in his first film.
Check out the rest of the interview below.
Tell me about your character in Win Win:
I play Jackie Flaherty, the mother of the household, the wife to Paul Giamatti, a New Jersey surbanan couple who are deeply, happily married, but have a bunch of economic strains as many people do these days. One day, a runaway teen shows up at their door and they decide to take him in, but they are a little in conflict over whether that’s a good idea or not.
In the film, you play a very strong woman, she’s a strong force. What attracted you to this role particularly? Do you like playing strong characters or characters with a lot of flaws?
I like shifting it up as much as possible. But it’s very exciting playing strong women and especially a strong mother and wife. I find in a lot of film, the parts can be marginalized and really just act as a sounding board more for the man’s problems, but Tom McCarthy can definitely get around that in any of the characters and I knew that going in, so that was a big attraction. And also just a good opportunity to play a really good mom, which I haven’t had experience with on film or TV, it was a fun challenge. I like that she’s the moral compass of the film, that was a nice thing to play as well.
What was it like working with director Thomas McCarthy?
Before we started filming, Tom – he writes with actors in mind, most of the time, so before we started filming, he had offered me the part, so there were a lot of e-mails and meeting for coffee in the neighborhood, where he would really ask for my input. He would show me stuff he had written and working on for his character Jackie. He would say, do you buy this or do you think this is the direction we should be going? There were a bunch of different versions. He’s very open-minded. He’s talented, he’s very creative and it helps that he’s such a good actor. But he’s done such an extraordinary thing in that he’s represented this family in New Jersey without making fun of them. I think New Jersey and suburbia are often punchlines to jokes and he doesn’t do that with this world he’s evolved and he manages to make a really humorous film and very touching film without leaning on sentimentality. And the humor is never pounded on and it’s there and it’s so genuine, so it takes a lot of guts to allow that to happen. Just kind of go for the results of it, and he has a lot of patience and confidence.
What was it like working with Alex [Shaffer]? Did you give him any acting tips since it was his first film?
Tom was amazing with him, he was just so clear. To direct someone who has never acted before, but even more so had never even thought of acting before. Alex got wind of an audition, his friend told him to go on it, he did, next thing you know he’s in the film. So I don’t think he had any time to fantasize about what it would be like to be an actor. He is such a good student and I think it’s his commitment and his drive that makes him such a good athlete. Right before we started filming, he won the New Jersey state championship in wrestling, so he definitely knows how to focus, so I think he took that same approach as he does to wrestling. I was deeply impressed by him.
How do you get ready for a role? You play such diverse character, especially your role in Gone Baby Gone, which was very different than this role. Do you research?
It depends on the role and what’s expected of me, but sometimes I reply heavily on script and story and the situation that the character is in. And sometimes I rely heavily on costume and what the character looks like and sometimes that can bring me in – that’s definitely what worked for Gone Baby Gone. In the case of Win Win, just getting the accent, that’s kind of a familiar sound to me being in New York. New Jersey has a bit of a different sound, but it’s always in ear shot when you’re in Manhattan, so I wouldn’t say there was as much preparation needed as say learning that Boston accent. When we started this film, I had recently become a mother myself, so I kind of has a whole new understanding of what it is to be exhausted and just kind of have that maternal instinct that spreads. I found myself very protective of all the kids on the set and that’s something I wouldn’t have had as forceful an idea of before I became a mother myself.
What is the biggest difference between working in movies and working in television. What are the different demands within each?
Well, for example, I just finished up work on In Treatment, it’s time, time spent on a scene. On a film, if you shot 6-8 pages on one day, that would be considered an extraordinary day, that would be a packed, heavy day. And in the case of In Treatment, we shot 12 pages a day. I would say it comes down to time where you would shoot a whole episode in five days. A film will take two months to do, if I’m lucky. There’s just more time to find nuance and kind of drop into that world. Sometimes it’s much more complicated because there are various locations.
Do you find that television is more stressful because of the time constraint?
There I just take it case by case. I think The Office was one of the most stress-free jobs I’ve ever had in my life. You show up laughing and leave laughing, but something like In Treatment was totally stressful, in a good way too, it’s a challenge. They’re all different, that’s kind of the beauty of it. I always find too if it’s really well written, a lot of the stress is taken away, you can really lean on the story and the dialogue you’ve been given.
What is next for you? Are you done filming The Office?
I’m done The Office for good now and I don’t know what I’m going to do next. My schedule is wide open, so I’m just going to sit back and see what my options are. But it is definitely a great time now, I’m back home in New York and get to spend time with my family.
You’re next off to SXSW now? What are you up to down there?
We’re promoting Win Win there. We’re out there having a screening for the festival and then we have our New York premiere next week and then the film opens on March 18.