TIME: You've done Broadway, movies and TV, but this is really a great breakout role.
RYAN: You're right. An actor can only be as good as the writing, and I really lucked out with this incredibly well written part that Ben and Aaron adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel. I knew when I read the script: this is so rare. I thought, "there is not a chance in hell I'll get this part." I thought, "there are too many incredible actresses of note ahead of me."
Did you read the book after you got the part?
I read the book after I was cast. I don't know if it was necessary but I was certainly curious, and like any movie that's adapted from a book, just on account of the lack of time, so much is going to be left out. I read it for that. There were some great clues along the way and thoughts behind the lines, which is the work actors do anyway, but here were some of the answers right away. The scenes where she is staring into the TV, Dennis Lehane went into much more description about what she's really thinking. Stuff like that was a great resource.
Dennis Lehane wrote some scripts for The Wire. Had you met him before?
We never met during The Wire. We first met in Boston during the premier of Gone Baby Gone. He was working on The Wire this last season, he wrote one of the episodes I was in, so we were destined to meet sooner or later.
Your character, Helene, isn't on screen for very long. But even if we hate her in her darker moments, when she starts to break down, we're drawn to her. How did you make her sympathetic?
First of all, the actor needs to get out of the character's way. You follow the character without judgment or prejudice or preconceived ideas. Certainly, I wouldn't choose to behave that way or make those decisions, but Helene does. So then you go, okay, well, why? Well, she's strapped economically, she has no education and she's dancing as fast as she can. She's not helpful to the cops because she's hiding something bigger as her life might be in danger. When you start to do the character's map, as it were, it starts to make sense. It's not behavior one should condone but it can make sense in that world where someone is just trying to survive against every odd imaginable.