Amy Ryan just wanted to make Ben Affleck feel comfortable.
On the set of “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck’s first directorial effort, Ryan told the writer/actor-turned-helmer that he should spare no feelings for her if he wanted something specific in a scene and she was offering something else. I’m a big girl, she told him.
“If you tell me I’m not good enough, I can take it. My ego’s not that big,” Ryan recalls, laughing. “And then he took me up on it. We had this one scene and he went, ‘Uh …’ ”
Give Affleck credit for knowing what he wants from his actors, plus the ins and outs of Boston — both its characters and locales — where “Gone’s” missing-child story takes place. And bestow high marks to Ryan for making Helene, the drug-addled mother whose young daughter has disappeared, a full-bodied character who’s not shy about expressing an opinion.
“The character was as rich in the book as it was in Ben’s script,” Ryan says. “What was added was Ben’s encouragement in pushing it further and further. He told me Helene couldn’t be too big or too brazen.”
Ryan may be a newcomer to the occasional moviegoer but to stage and/or TV viewers, she’s been a rich commodity.
Twice Tony nominated, Ryan earned raves for her role as Stella Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway in 2005 and in 2000 for “Uncle Vanya.”
On the film side, she won over many critics in “Capote,” and she wooed TV scribes with her turn as cop Beatrice Russell on the Baltimore docks in season two of “The Wire.” She’ll reprise her role in the upcoming, and final, season of the stellar HBO series as the love interest of fellow cop Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West).
After working with Sidney Lumet on his A&E series “100 Centre Street,” the five-time Oscar-nominated director cast her in his latest film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” where she plays another Helene-type — living on the skanky side but quite sure of herself.
“Sidney loves actors so much. He has always told me to trust my instincts,” she says. “There’s no time to second-guess yourself.”
With Oscar talk circling around her role in “Gone” and plenty of projects lined up, including a major part in the upcoming Clint Eastwood film “The Changeling,” Ryan’s readying for a boost in her career.
“I don’t know what the difference is,” she says about the move toward being more of a household name. “Maybe better food. I just welcome it all now. It’s so new.”
AN ACTOR SHOULD ALWAYS: “Get out of their own way.”
I’M INSPIRED BY: “Great storytelling. I’m such a bad storyteller, so maybe that’s why I’m an actor. So I can tell other people’s stories.”
FAVORITE FILM CHARACTER: George Bailey (played by James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”)