SHE’S HERE BABY HERE
Ben AFFLECK’S directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” is filled with Boston locals who anchor the soulful crime drama with homespun seediness.
Actress Amy Ryan isn’t one of them.
Yet, the New York-based Broadway and television star so effortlessly slips into her role as Helene McCready, a wayward mother whose daughter becomes the center of a kidnapping plot, it would be easy to assume she too was plucked from the mean streets of Dorchester. She’s actually a seasoned stage pro who counts two Tony nominations and various television appearances on “Law & Order” and “100 Centre Street,” as well as a recurring role on “The Wire,” among her credits.
More recently, the actress has been turning up in plum movie roles. It seems that since appearing as the wife of Chris Cooper’s local lawman in “Capote,” Hollywood-based casting directors and film producers have come calling.
Ryan can also be seen in Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and Peter Hedges’ “Dan in Real Life.” She also recently landed a role in Clint Eastwood’s “The Changeling,” starring Angelina Jolie. In other words, Ryan is a real contender.
Your part in “Gone Baby Gone” is relatively small in screen time, but the role is extremely vital to the story. What struck you about the part when you first read the script?
I had seen lesser versions of this character. I think we see them a lot: a single parent, the poor, drug-addicted, alcohol-abusing mother. And I’ve seen very two-dimensional versions of those; I think I might even have played one on TV. I know I have. But I read this, and it is in no way a caricature. It’s written so beautifully. . . .
Later on, after I got the job, I read the book. I realized there’s so much more here. Just the humor of this woman. The bottom has fallen out for her, and yet she still sees humor, albeit biting and with a dose of arsenic. I just knew it was something extraordinary on the page. There are a lot of Boston locals in the film, which gives it a real sense of specificity. And you just blend right in with them.
One of my biggest fears on this movie was getting the Boston accent right. Ben and I had a long conversation about it before we started filming, and he said, “I’ve just never seen it done quite right and when it’s not, it can stick out like a sore thumb.” So the pressure was on.
He told me he was going to cast locals, and he cast this young woman, Jill Quigg, who plays my best friend. . . . That was an invaluable resource. No dialect coach could have given me what she did. I just pressed record and went home at night to the hotel listening to her stories. Also, she was really generous with me; she had my back the way people in Boston, in that neighborhood, do. She’d be like, “I heard your ‘r.’ There’s no ‘r’ there.” And having the Affleck brothers as well, they’d keep me from New York, where I’m from, and pull me back up to Boston. Without giving anything away, your last scene is just tremendous. For all Helene and others on her behalf have been through, she just doesn’t get it. And it really sets up the moral ambiguity of the ending, the hard choices that people leave the theater talking about.
For her, it’s a happy ending. She’s got a good thing there, in her world. I know watching it can be a little, “Oh, my God,” but if you add up the math on her little tablet, it’s pretty good. She’s got some new clothes, a nice hairdo. That’s the thing, always staying in your character’s story, so you don’t ever apologize for it, so it doesn’t have messy edges. That’s the way I had to keep that story in my head. I couldn’t ever play like, “This is maybe a bad choice.” It’s all good for her there. I really love the scene where your character is riding in the back seat of a car with Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan. Apart from the really tart, tangy dialogue exchanges, there are some shots of you just looking out the window. They are beautiful to look at and set up some sense of an interior life for Helene.
It’s funny to see the finished product of a movie, stuff that’s so beautiful, and to remember the particulars. They realized the car wasn’t big enough and they couldn’t tow us, so we only had room for Casey, Michelle, me and [cinematographer] John Toll, who put the camera on his shoulder. And then Casey smartly said, “John, can I go faster? I always hate in a movie when you can see real traffic going past at 60 miles per hour and the one car is going 30.”
So Casey floored it and John, with this 30-pound camera on his shoulder, is bouncing around the back seat. As I was leaning out the window, I was holding John’s leg in place. I also had the [remote] camera start [button] in the same hand. I was camera operator in that scene. It was really fun.
There is some talk of an Oscar run for you as supporting actress. You’ve been nominated twice before for a Tony. Is there any comparison between the Tonys and the Oscars?
The easy answer is it’s great to be recognized by your peers in any way. But certainly the Oscars are higher stakes. . . . The Oscars, I think, would be more terrifying -- of course, an honor and thrilling. But the Tonys, after two nominations, you realize your career doesn’t change so much because of that. You get free shampoo in a gift bag. Maybe with the Oscars you get shampoo and conditioner.