Q&A: Amy Ryan

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Armando Gallo / Retna Ltd.

Amy Ryan

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What do you think Helene would say are her strong points?
If she was sober long enough to answer, I think she thinks she is smart. It's why she doesn't help the police — if she told the whole story she'd be in jail. To her, that's smart, even if the child is in danger. She knows how to survive in a world without a man. Without love. I don't think she trusts love so is happier without it. She knows she's funny.

Is she to be pitied or feared or stayed away from?
I pity Helene. I see someone who most definitely grew up with a mother like herself. The cycle wasn't broken so here she is, a product of her upbringing. The same fate will most likely happen to her child. But to remove such a mother doesn't fix the bigger problem. The neighborhood is most likely full of similar stories. So how do you break the cycle on the bigger social scale? That's what I think of when I see Helene. I also fear because she could easily kick my ass.

How tough was the Boston accent?
I worked at the accent. I did listen as much as I could. I sat with teamsters at lunch or between breaks or with Jill Quigg who plays my best friend Dottie. She's a Boston native. That's the first time she's ever acted in her life. Isn't that staggering? Jill was the main source. She let me record her voice.

Are you ready now to play a nice, smiley heroine?
Yes, I would love to play someone on the upswing of life! Someone discovering love, or some character full of positive strength that helps others. Someone who combs their hair! No such luck in Clint Eastwood's next film [The Changeling]. But the darker side of humanity is one better explored in the world of make believe than my own life. I have a lot of love and laughter in my own life, so it's a lovely trade off.

Of the three different genres you work in — theater, television and movies — which is your favorite?
There's nothing like the thrill of live theater, but sometimes telling stories to a larger audience is a separate or a different reward. So many people on the street stop me to talk about The Wire, what it's done for TV, for Baltimore in general, unearthing all these problems. It's a thrill for me to be part of something that big and important. It's just different, but I wouldn't say one is better.

What was it like working with Clint Eastwood on The Changeling?
He's so very approachable and conversational and deeply kind. He hires people around him. He knows what he wants. He knows what he likes. My favorite moment of that movie was a fight scene, where Clint Eastwood showed me how to throw a movie punch. It was a golden moment.

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