19 Awesome Minutes With the Awesome Amy Ryan
Honestly, I don’t know really how to set up this interview, so I won't, other than to say that, boy, it was a fun experience. Amy Ryan is currently promoting the excellent ‘Birdman.’ In it, she plays Sylvia, the ex-wife of Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson – a former superstar actor who starred in a string of successful superhero movies who is now attempting a comeback on Broadway. And the way director Alejandro González Iñárritu shot the film, it appears like it’s one long take, which makes filming a special challenge, as Ryan describes.
Anyway, when I met Ryan at a brand new Midtown Manhattan hotel, I explained this is the second time we had met (I always assume that no one ever remembers me) and, well, the memories of our last time together came back -- an interview that involved a misunderstanding over the phrase “America’s scorn.” (I had meant the scorn she might receive because her character from ‘The Office,’ Holly, was taking Michael Scott away; she thought I meant some sort of new project titled ‘America’s Scorn.')
The last time I spoke to Ryan, we titled the interview '15 Awesome Minutes with Awesomely Awesome Amy Ryan.’ Well, here are 19 more…
This is the second time we’ve met.
I think I remember.
It’s OK if you don’t.
I think we were making fun of each other about something.
It involved a misunderstanding over me saying “America’s scorn,” which led to a potential new series of movies for you as Natalie Scorn, co-starring Vin Diesel.
I swear I do remember that. I remember the room, too; it wasn’t as nice of a hotel room, but there was nothing in there but one desk and florescent lighting and bad office carpeting.
I’ve never been in this hotel before.
It’s only a month old.
Oh, that’s why.
No bedbugs yet. I don’t think anyone has died here yet. I can go off on a tangent about bedbugs.
Let’s hear it.
I’ve had scares. I caught a bug once in our house; it was a bedbug. They don’t hurt you, they are just creepy crawly.
But they bite you.
But there are no germs or bacteria.
So they are our friends.
Did you see the movie?
Because we could be talking about the scorn of Natalie and try to pretend how good that movie is?
Is this the most rehearsal time you’ve ever had for a movie?
No, actually. This was the sharpest. This was the most exact choreography. But, no, Sidney Lumet would rehearse more, because he shoots fast. So he said, “I want you guys to know what the emotional arc is, so when we shoot out of order, you’ll remember from the rehearsal this is where it belongs and you’ll have more confidence and we’ll all get our work done faster.”
When you come into a scene, how does that work? I know that sounds stupid.
No, I know what you mean. In any other movie, it works by, “Are you ready?,” then there’s hair and makeup doing final touches. This was “be in your hiding spot.”
What does that mean?
You first saw me when I was in the dressing room already. But Michael came in the first door and I was in the second. So I was actually hidden from the camera’s view, but I can hear Zach and Michael doing the scene just prior and your adrenaline starts going, “Oh, it’s going to come to me, it’s going to come to me, here they come, here they come!” And then you go into it. So, there is no taking an extra beat or clearing your throat. No, you need to be there in this moving part and become part of that machine.
Let me ask you a question...
Did you feel the momentum of the film pulls you along and pulls into Michael’s kind of psyche and his world? Did that work on that level for you?
Are you from New York?
I feel like New York is the other character.
That’s become a cliché, but it works here.
You’re right, it is a cliché, but it’s that thing where you can’t stop thinking and can’t go to sleep at night and the streets are pulsing … not since Gregory Hines in ‘Taps.’
[Laughs] ‘White Knights.’ Thank you. You pulled it out.
I believe ‘Taps’ was a Tom Cruise movie.
[Laughing] Yes. Oh my God. “Not since Gregory Hines in ‘White Knights,’ it’s Michael Keaton in ‘Birdman.’” Oh my God, they’d kill me.
That should be on the poster. Lionel Ritchie could sing the ‘Birdman’ theme song.
Oh my gosh. Forget it. There you go. We need a hit song, anyway…
You should be in more movies.
Well, OK! I’m going to be in some more stuff next year.
I see you’re in a monster truck movie. What is that? That could be the Melanie Scorn movie.
[Laughs] Oh, shit. It’s a movie for kids. I threw in some kid choices this past year.
I don’t think of you associated with monster trucks.
I want to keep people guessing. People didn’t think I’d be in ‘The Office,’ but there you have it. No, I’m momming it up in a lot of kids movies. And one of them is ‘Monster Trucks.’ I’ll do my whole part for you right now.
“Where are you going?”
What’s my line?
You’re my son.
“I’m going to the monster truck race.”
Then he saves the world, then he comes back at the end of the movie and I say, “I’m so proud of you.”
Now I don’t have to see that movie. You gave me a personal performance.
You know what I am excited about?
Is it a movie with Vin Diesel?
I can’t give anything away. He might show up. And I just wrapped last night Steven Spielberg’s next movie, which right now is called ‘St. James Place,’ but I don’t think it’s going to be called that. It’s a working title.
The press release I received referred to it as ‘Untitled Cold War Spy Thriller Starring Tom Hanks.’
They should call it the ‘Untitled Amy Ryan Movie.’
You should have fired off an angry email.
My people will correct that. Don’t worry. We’ll get that fixed.
I only brought up ‘Monster Trucks’ because I thought you might be driving a monster truck. Now I feel bad.
I’m not, I have my waitress uniform on … one affords the other. You do a ‘Monster Truck’ so you can pay for the other.
And ‘Birdman’ is also a movie about Hollywood.
I think what’s so fantastic about this film is that everyone has a Birdman on their shoulder. An ego saying, “Why didn’t you do this? You could have been this. You should have done this.”
What character of yours follows you around?
It would definitely be my stint on ‘Quantum Leap.’
The ghost of Scott Bakula.
He was such a nice man.
He’s on ‘CSI: New Orleans’ now. Is it Scott Bakula who follows you around?
He was in a dress. My man, my six-foot man with the big shoulders is wearing a dress. He time traveled to my sister’s body.
This should be your new movie.
None of my characters follow me around, but I like to picture them in the same room together and that makes me giggle.
What are they talking about?
They’d have nothing to talk about.
So Holly from ‘The Office’ would have nothing to say to your ‘Home Improvement’ character?
“You fucker.” Yeah, I guess she would. I was thinking more like I can’t imagine Holly and Helene McCready hanging out. Since you bring up ‘Home Improvement,’ I played a sister and it was my first job in Hollywood and “Oh, maybe I’ll come back as the sister.” And then like a year later there’s another sister. It’s like, is that me replaced? Or is it just a bigger family?
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.