It's great to see Amy Ryan smile, since she rarely gets to do that at work. Onstage in Chekhov or A Streetcar Named Desire, as Beadie Russell in HBO's The Wire and surely in her multi-award-winning turn as Helene McCready in Gone Baby Gone, Ryan nails roles that range from glum to grim. Helene, a single mother whose child has been kidnapped, is a holy horror, a potty-mouthed drug addict. Her only redeeming virtue is that, thanks to Ryan's fearless commitment to the role, viewers can't take their eyes off Helene. You never know what catastrophe she'll cause or career into next.
People who do bad things don't picture themselves as villains, and the Queens-born Ryan pegs the Bostonian Helene as a cookie who made herself tough. "I think she thinks she's smart," Ryan says. "She knows how to survive in a world without a man. I don't think she trusts love, so she's happier without it. I see her as a product of her upbringing, someone who grew up with a mother like herself. So I pity Helene. I also fear her, because she could easily kick my ass."
Wouldn't Ryan like a break from inhabiting misfits and sewer rats? "I would love to play some character who discovers love or who's full of positive strength. Someone who combs her hair! But the darker side of humanity is one better explored in the world of make-believe than in my real life. I have a lot of love and laughter in my life, so it's a lovely trade-off." Besides, there's an upside to playing Helene. "The part is delicious fun. Imagine getting to do all that and not having to apologize for it!" That wicked fun, and all those awards, are enough to make a tough cookie smile.
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