The keys to success : Film festival gives Amy Ryan a Virtuoso award

Golden Globe nominee Amy Ryan will be one of five performers recognized during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award ceremony

January 28, 2008 7:30 AM

Few performers in Hollywood can claim overnight success. Amy Ryan isn’t one of them either — she paid her dues until a key minor role in the 2005 film “Capote” raised her profile.
Ms. Ryan played Marie, wife of Alvin Dewey, the Kansas Board of Investigation detective. The Deweys let Capote and Harper Lee stay at their home, and though these scenes are short, Ms. Ryan’s Marie is no background character. The actress makes her feel like a living being and not a plot device.
“I had casting directors calling me back after that,” Ms. Ryan told the News-Press. “They kept saying ‘I didn’t recognize you!’ But I had been here all along.”
Her tenacity has paid off with a breakout performance in Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone,” where she plays the complex Helene, the drug-addicted mother of the film’s missing child.
Now with a Golden Globe nomination, Ms. Ryan’s talent will be celebrated Wednesday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award ceremony, where she will share the honor with four others: Casey Affleck, Marion Cotillard, James McAvoy and Ellen Page.
Ms. Ryan says she’s getting used to the attention.
“I like the awards where they just announce the winners, like the NYFCC,” she says (that’s the New York Film Critics Circle, who awarded her Best Supporting Actress.) “You get a call and it’s, ‘Would you like to dress up and come to this party? We have an award for you.’ Sure! I’d love to.”
In between “Capote” and Mr. Affleck’s crime drama hangs her best-known role, for those with HBO, anyway: As Officer Beatrice “Beadie” Russell on “The Wire.” She became a central part of Season Two’s sex-trafficking and port authority storyline, a patrol cop who rises to the occasion when a great crime is uncovered.
That show’s gritty realism has been carried over to her work on “Gone Baby Gone.”
“In terms of creating the character, I started with the words on the page and the words in the book,” she said. “And then Ben and I talked a lot. I told him that she can’t be all evil; she truly loves the daughter despite what happens. But she’s a very guarded person, and very much into self-survival.”
And though Ms. Ryan hails from Queens, N.Y., (“born and raised, yeah,” she says stretching out the last word with an exaggerated accent for fun), she’s managed to disappear into every character’s voice and mannerisms, from “Capote’s” Kansas to “The Wire’s” Baltimore to “Gone Baby Gone’s” Boston dialect.
“I couldn’t have gotten the character right if we weren’t filming in Boston,” she said. “You can have a dialogue coach, but sitting down to lunch with these people is the best way to learn the accent.”
Not to mention that the role is, as Ms. Ryan describes, a collaboration with Ben Affleck. She has nothing but praise for this actor-turned-director.
“He’s the best,” she says.
“I think it’s his natural calling. He’s gracious and generous and knows to surround himself with the best, such as John Toll, his (director of photography). He’s also not shy enough to stop sometimes and say, ‘Hey, I’m lost.’ “
Ms. Ryan is wrapping up Paul Greengrass’ next film, tentatively titled “Green Zone,” with Matt Damon, and is looking forward to the premiere of Clint Eastwood’s “The Changeling,” where she shares scenes with SBIFF honoree Angelina Jolie.
Not a bad place to end up after 20 years of hard work.
“And right now,” she said, “I’m seeing where this path leads me.”

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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