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Chatting with Amy Ryan of 'Win Win'

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

New York native Amy Ryan began her acting career on stages on and off Broadway, but the actress really made a name for herself with her Academy Award-nominated performance in 2007's "Gone Baby Gone."

Over the years, she has appeared in critically acclaimed HBO dramas "The Wire" and "In Treatment," but Ryan's hilarious portrayal of Holly Flax, the slapsticky love interest of Steve Carell's Michael Scott on "The Office," garnered the actress her most public attention to date and proved her comedic chops.

In her friend and "Wire" co-star Tom McCarthy's "Win Win," Ryan plays Jackie Flaherty, a no-nonsense yet quick-witted mother who serves as the strong, loving center of a family facing financial difficulties. We spoke with Ryan when she was in town for a screening of "Win Win" at South by Southwest.

Austin American-Statesman: You have a history of having done some heady work on the stage in dramatic roles, but comedy is obviously challenging in its own way. Can you talk about the difficulties of comedy?

Amy Ryan: I don't know if I can pinpoint it except to say that comedy is much more nerve-wracking because if it doesn't work, it's really obvious. And sometimes in drama if it doesn't work, you can at least have lengthy discussions that it was a different interpretation and not the real meaning you were getting at. But a joke falling flat is a joke falling flat. There is no need for translation there. I'm saying the obvious, so it feels silly, but they all need to be rooted in reality and character. That's why something like "The Office" was so appealing to me, because I thought that show was really character-based first before all the jokes were written in.

Speaking of characters, what did you think of this character when you first read the script?

At the core I always knew this was going to be a really strong woman and a woman who speaks her mind. She means what she says, and she says what she means, and that was really fun to play a character who's really unapologetic. These are the type of women who take the first step. If it's in a social situation, they're the ones who kind of cut to the chase and cut through the chitchat. They're unedited, and it seems fearless in a social way. There's a big freedom there. I like them. I appreciate their boldness.

You were a new mom during filming. How did that inspire your understanding of the character?

When filming began, my daughter was about six months old, and she was on-set. I was very protective of the other children on-set. I'd like to think I would be anyway, even if I weren't a mother, but definitely I had that in me, fiercely. There are lessons that life gives you that you just wouldn't know before. Certainly now as a mother I know how to do a lot of things at once: You can hold the baby in this hand and hold the phone with that one and kick the door closed. You use everything imaginable to get everything done in time. It is satisfying to be able to oversee everything and make sure everyone is good and safe and loved and taken care of.

modam@statesman.com