AGORA
: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.


CRITICAL WOMEN HEADLINES

2/14/11

Refusing To Play The Star Card: A Conversation With Amy Ryan


By Winnie Bonelli

Amy Ryan refuses to play the “star” card. Packing a lifetime’s worth of credits into the past quarter century, the “actor’s actor” or “journeyman” turns in a unique performance each time. Whether it’s capturing Michael Scott’s heart on NBC’s “The Office” as Holly Flax, the dorky human resources rep, or serving as Dr. Paul Weston’s therapist on HBO’s “In Treatment.”

This month finds her on the multiplex screen as a loving wife, who opens her heart and home to an abandoned teenager in “Win Win.” Her spouse is Mike Flaherty, a morally upright man, husband and father. Economical times are rough, so who could blame him for crossing the ethical line just once. That’s the setup for Tom McCarthy’s grownup comedy-drama that casts Paul Giamatti as the financially strapped, New Jersey suburban lawyer and coach for a losing JV wrestling team.

Pocketing an easy $2,000 a month for assuming guardianship of his elderly client, who he packed off to assisted living, Flaherty encounters an unexpected consequence. The oldest’s runaway 16-year-old grandson, Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer) turns up on the doorstep with no place to stay.

Kyle gets the basement couch. Mike gets a talented wrestler. However, “Win Win” is about much more than a championship season, it’s an emotionally honest tale about redemption, second chances, today’s parenting and marriage.

Penning the script with Joe Tibone, McCarthy always had Ryan in mind to play Mike’s feisty wife Jackie. Singing her praises, McCarthy stated, “She’s very direct and she can be sharp, but underneath that there’s always a great sense of warmth and caring – and at the same time she is naturally funny. I think in many ways she is the heart of the movie.”

Striving to add an extra layer of authenticity, McCarthy maintained an element of secrecy while filming. The attractive blond-haired 41-year-old actress explained during a recent interview at Trump’s Soho hotel, “Tom kept us in the scene. We only knew what the characters knew as we went along. It was intended to stay away from any sense of judgment or betrayal on my part.”

So convincing were Paul and Amy’s on-screen chemistry that several journalists actually inquired whether they were husband and wife. Laughing, she admitted, “I feel like we went to grammar school together. We have this naughty electricity between us and I don’t mean that in a sexual way.”

Setting the record straight, Ryan is engaged to Eric Slovin. The couple has one daughter, Georgia Gracie, born in Oct. 2009. Already a well-traveled 17-month-old, Georgia can usually be found on location, since she first trekked to Rockville Center, Long Island daily for the filming of “Win Win.”

Ironically, it was an entirely different approach to parenting that first pivoted Ryan onto Hollywood’s A list. Ryan’s sympathy-invoking portrayal of a drug-addicted welfare mom in Ben Affleck’s 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone” garnered both an Oscar-bid and Golden Globe nomination.

Offers followed, only Ryan refused to be pigeon-holed and completely shifted emotional gears, landing a guest star turn on “The Office.” Originally, a one shot appearance, it evolved into 15 episodes, including Steve Carell’s wrap-up departure.

The final episode was recently filmed and the actress was involved, but Ryan isn’t revealing any plot secrets. “It’s just a phone call. I did a conference call table read, when it was over it was very emotional. People are sad to see him go, but I hope Will Ferrell’s four episode story arch will help,” stated the Queens, NY born, Manhattan resident, who’s television credits include a five year stint as Port Authority Officer Beatrice “Beadie” Russell on HBO’s critically acclaimed series “The Wire.”

She can also be seen on HBO’s “In Treatment” as Gabriel Byrne’s unruffled therapist Adele. Extremely intense, Ryan compares sitting in a single room with Byrne for up to 12 hours at a time to playing poker without ever revealing one’s cards.

Winnie Bonelli writes for The Newark Star-Ledger, Life & Style Magazine, and Herald News. She is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.

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