LOCARNO, Switzerland — Focusing very much on her new career as a director and producer, Meg Ryan is preparing “The Obsolescents,” a half-hour comedy. Developed from an original idea by Ryan, and turning on middle-age, the series is being written by Andrew Gottlieb (“Z Rock”). Ryan, who has sold the idea to NBC, will produce, may contribute to writing.
The scripts are at an initial stage. Ryan took the idea to Broadway Video Ent., headed by Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of “Saturday Night Live,” who introduced her to Gottlieb, Ryan said at Switzerland’s Locarno Festival where on Friday night she was presented on stage the Festival’s 2018 Leopard Club Award, following in the footsteps of Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow, Andy Garcia, Stefania Sandrelli and Adrien Brody.
Celebrating Ryan’s career, the Locarno Festival will screen “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) and “In the Cut” (2003).
In further projects, Ryan and book and screenplay writer Delia Ephron, sister of Nora Ephrona and co-screenwriter of “You’ve Got Mail,” are continuing to develop an adaptation of “The Book,” a romantic comedy set in the publishing world.
“This is a working title project and I’m very excited about that. I would love to direct it. It’s a romantic comedy in a very traditional sense in some ways – in a certain way the plot, and it’s talky, but it pushes the form too,” Ryan commented in interview at Locarno, adding that Delia Ephron is “in that great Ephron tradition” – a reference to Nora Ephron, who wrote “When Harry Met Sally” and co-wrote and directed “Sleepless in Seattle,” two of Ryan’s greatest hits.
But the Locarno Leopard Club Award finds Ryan more these days “in the director and producer mode, which is a lot about development,” she said at the Swiss festival.
“Right now I’m concentrating on being a director, which means throwing about 100 things at the wall and hoping they stick, right?”
And, while making the observation, Ryan lifts her arm and makes a vague basketball lob, illustrating the point. Ryan may be concentrating on being a director but there are still comic flashes as she talks, such as sudden moves of the head, turning it in to almost full profile, as if adopting a mini-pose.
As in her comment about throwing things against the wall, she also has the ingratiating habit of turning observations into seeming questions, as if asking for advice.
That trait colors her characters in both “Sleepless in Seattle” and “In the Cut.” They are miles apart as films, of course. But both feature characters who are in some ways ingenues: in “Sleepless in Seattle,” Annie attempts to learn about the nature of true love – can it be destiny, or magic? “In the Cut,” a far darker movie, has Ryan’s lead character, about the limits of her character’s own desire, which has an affair with a cop she suspects could also be a murderer.
For the movie’s director, Jane Campion, “the movie was about grief and about processing through the idea of romance vs. love.
She felt [at that time in her life] that the concept of romantic love was destructive. Maybe the knight in shining armor is really the killer.”
With “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle” enshrined Ryan as the queen of romantic comedy, and one of Hollywood’s best-paid actresses. But they also left hostages to fortune, pigeon-holing Ryan as the All American Girl Next Door.
So her sex scenes in “In the Cut,” a film which features an act of fellatio, were all the more shocking.
“Maybe, in terms of publicity and doing PR before a film, we should have prepared the audience for the fact that my role was really a departure,” she ventures.
That said Ryan defends both films. Of “In the Cut,” I loved the movie. And I loved doing it, and I’m really proud of it. I love that it is such a dichotomy and opposite to ‘Sleepless.’ I think any label anyone is given is a limit because ultimately it’s a label. But I don’t feel like it was a terrible limit,” she says at Locarno.
“I heard Mike Nichols say once that art is whatever makes you feel less alone. There are some times when a movie like “In the Cut” matches your feeling and makes you feel less alone. You go ah, someone understands me out there,” she said.
But she went on,” And sometimes something like “Sleepless in Seattle” makes you feel understood too because, however nutty, you have those same hopes.”
Tom Hanks, her co-star in “Sleepless,” supporter of her directorial debut “Ithaca,” and lifetime friend, once said: “The real Meg is not ‘pert’ or ‘perky’ or ‘soft.’ She is talented and tough.”
However cooky some of Ryan’s gestures remain, she sounds a note of unfazed resilience, even in a brief conversation. She has needed it. She was pilloried for an affair with Russell Crowe, told by some critics to stick to romcoms after “In the Cut.”
The Lepoard Club Award is for career achievement, and to bring the citizens of Locarno, who might not all warm to its core broad gamut of arthouse fare, the dazzlement and proximity of Hollywood stars.
When asked what her biggest career achievement might be, Ryan pauses for thought.
“Honestly, I think that I’ve had a really interesting experience of being a famous person. Most of my life. And it’s a condition that is an interesting position, a condition to have. It’s not a position, it’s a condition. I feel like I have somehow navigated that in my life in a very reasonable way.”
But now she’s moved on, is focusing on producing, and most especially directing. She left Hollywood some 12 years, moving back to New York. “I grew up in Connecticut and went to school in New York so I’m a New Yorker at heart. Once my son finished high school I got to go back to my roots.”
There she’s raising her now 13-year-old daughter. “She’s funny. [My Hollywood career] is so much a past experience for me and she’s always like: ‘What are these people talking to you on the street for?’