There's something about the way Amy Ryan, as Holly Flax on The Office, looks into the camera and smiles a little sheepish smile that simultaneously breaks your heart and lets you know everything is going to be all right. Holly is a perfect match for Steve Carell's Michael Scott—a goofy soulmate in human-resources clothing—and many fans are hoping, since both Ryan and Carell are due to depart the series in the coming weeks, that their characters will ride off into the sunset together. Though Ryan is mum about how either character's storyline comes to a close, NBC promos have been touting next week's episode as "The Proposal." And yet, their characters' final episodes are weeks apart—the mystery remains.
Ryan once again plays the love interest to a complicated, mistake-prone man in Tom McCarthy's Win Win, coming off a successful showing at Sundance. The comedy, set in New Jersey, finds Ryan married to Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a struggling attorney who, in becoming the legal guardian of an elderly man in order to get some extra cash, ends up becoming saddled with his grandson as well. Don't let the comedic roles fool you though. Ryan is also a fierce and ferocious dramatic actress, garnering critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Gone Baby Gone, as well as roles on HBO's The Wire and In Treatment. We sat down with Ryan to discuss her work on The Office and Win Win, as well as to see what's next for this chameleon of sorts. Musical? Probably not. Costume drama? Well, if she had it her way....
SAM BELLIKOFF: With Win Win, what brought you to the role?
AMY RYAN: Tom McCarthy, who is a friend and is also a filmmaker that I'm a big fan of. I had hoped to one day work with him, and I got a call from him, saying he's writing a new script, and there's a part he had in mind for me to play. It was kind of a no-brainer. I read it and loved it, and about eight months later, we started filming.
BELLIKOFF: Yeah, and it went to Sundance. It's coming out—it's pretty exciting.
RYAN: It's fun to hit all these spots along the way, kind of gauge the reaction. [laughs] A very slow burn, but everyone seems to be really taking to it, so that's a relief... There's great humor in it, but it's also the kind of humor that comes through character. It's a real look at these people in Jersey. It's humor that comes from not making fun of them. There's something very genuine about it. I think people can highly identify with this movie.
BELLIKOFF: A lot of the characters you play are very complex, shaded women. Is that something you actively seek to imbue into your roles?
RYAN: You know, it's probably not a very conscious thing, like I'm going to work to get this. It's actually probably the script I'm drawn to, the characters I'm drawn to—they're all varied, like you say, and thank you for saying that. I always just try to find the human element. I don't think anybody is just one thing, so it's fun when you can find things that aren't so cliché, that surprise even myself. Sometimes that will come from the director pushing me a little harder. You think, "Really? Can I be this mean? Can I be this goofy?" and they're like, "Yup, go ahead." Sometimes I can figure that out on my own—it's just pushing the boundaries as far as possible.
BELLIKOFF: Speaking of being goofy, is any of your work on The Office improvised or ad-libbed?
RYAN: Yeah, some of it is. Mostly, that show is really tightly written, but we may do an alternate line here or there that the writers are testing out, so it's something they want us to improvise. But mostly we wait for Steve to kind of start the ball rolling. When he goes off track, we just naturally follow.
BELLIKOFF: I assume you're done with that role now?
RYAN: Yeah, I finished filming a few weeks ago.
BELLIKOFF: Can you give any hint as to how your storyline ends?
RYAN: [laughs] No, I can't. I can't. I think it's going to be on next week or something.
BELLIKOFF: Are you happy with it? With your resolution?
RYAN: Yeah, I had a blast. It was a nice way to end the show.
BELLIKOFF: Are you close with anyone on the set, still? Do you talk to them or do you talk to Steve?
RYAN: I texted a lot with the cast this week, because [they filmed] Steve's last episode. It was pretty intense for them all. There were lots of big tears, as you can imagine. It's such an epic ending—being part of a show for eight years, and they're your family and friends, and then it's over. But Steve, is going to make more films, I suppose, which is a great thing.
BELLIKOFF: It's such a unique circumstance. How do you feel about the show moving on without him?
RYAN: Well, it will be different. It'll be strange, I'm sure, at first. Already they have Will Ferrell in for this changeover part. He's there for about four episodes. That's going to be pretty awesome, but it will be so different, so hopefully they can keep that caliber of actor going after Will leaves. I'm hopeful and I'm hoping for the best.
BELLIKOFF: Would you come back, if they asked you to?
RYAN: I think it would be strange to be in that environment as Holly without Michael. So my inclination is to say no, at this moment...
BELLIKOFF: So, what do you have planned next? Do you have anything lined up?
RYAN: I actually don't. No. It's an open playing field. It'll be nice to be home and hang out in New York for a while and see what happens.
BELLIKOFF: Is there anything you haven't done yet, professionally, that you'd like to do?
RYAN: I'd love to do a costume drama movie. For no other reason, except that it sounds fun to me. And I would like to get back to do a play. It's been a while now, getting nervous. [laughs] I understand it is like riding a bike, but just for my own sake, I'd like to get back on the stage.
BELLIKOFF: I guess this could be a weird question, but bringing it back to the plot of Win Win—Paul Giamatti's character, is low on money and becomes the legal guardian of this older man just to get some income. Before you made it, did you ever find yourself doing something you wouldn't have expected just for the money?
RYAN: No, I was actually fortunate that I never had to have any other job than being an actor. I don't have those odd stories of having to make some money here or there, but certainly there are some credits on my résumé I wish I hadn't done. It paid my health insurance, and I say that just from a creative standpoint, shows I'm not that proud of, things like that. But nothing like Mike Flaherty gets up to.
BELLIKOFF: You're talking about things you aren't proud of, but in the past few years, when people talk about Amy Ryan, they say your big turnaround was with Gone Baby Gone. What was that like? You had been working for so long as a working actress and then your career just takes a turn and explodes.
RYAN: It was just a great gift. First, it's very staggering and hard to believe it's happening and all that stuff. But then, I quickly learned and saw the results of what a gift it is. To be certainly more familiar to better directors and writers, it broadens the world in the creative sense. I'm so grateful for that and continue to be.
BELLIKOFF: It was such a great role. I don't know if you see any parallels between your role, which was Oscar-nominated, and Melissa Leo's in The Fighter, which won this year.
RYAN: Yeah, certainly similar terrain, for sure. I feel like a lot of those women are grown in that neighborhood. It's a way of survival.
BELLIKOFF: Do you do anything, in terms of research, to get into those characters, or to learn the accents?
RYAN: They're all very particular. The accent I do in Win Win was kind of an easy come to me, just growing up in New York, even though they're slightly different. It's an accent I hear a lot. Boston I wasn't that familiar with, so I had to work hard at it every day. I'd sit with Teamsters, or I'd listen to tapes, things like that. I had to physically change. My jaw would drop on these words, so a sound would be wider, things like that.
BELLIKOFF: So you sang a song in concert a few weeks ago. What was that like?
RYAN: [laughs] Terrifying. Stress-inducing. But it was one of those things. I think a lot of people feel this way—to sing in public is one of the scariest things, and I like to do the things that scare me. Todd Almond is the composer, and he's a friend of mine. He asked, and I think I got swayed by flattery. The next thing I know, the ball was rolling forward, and I was like "Oh my gosh, what have I done?" It's one of those things that I'm really glad I did, but I don't know if I need to do it again.
BELLIKOFF: So no musical in your future?
RYAN: I don't think so, no. I would need serious training before that happened.
WIN WIN IS OUT IN THEATERS TODAY. THE OFFICE AIRS THURSDAY NIGHTS ON NBC AT 9 PM.