Interview: Amy Ryan from Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck and the wonderful cast of GONE BABY GONE have already received rave reviews and accolades for this provocative, gripping and heart-breaking story about the disappearance of a little girl and the search to find her. This gritty, fast-paced thriller is realistic and immensely poignant. All the performances are outstanding. Amy Ryan – not widely known internationally before this film – plays Helene, single mother of four year-old Amanda. As the film unravels, we discover that Helene is hardly the best kind of parent. She takes and deals hard drugs, she is neglectful, selfish and unappealing – yet on some level truly loves Amanda, her little girl. It is a powerful performance from Ryan.

Morgan Freeman plays Capt. Jack Doyle ) of the Crimes Against Children unit, leading the police investigation along with Detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris).

When the police fail to make inroads and seem no closer to finding the little girl, her aunt and uncle call in private investigators Patrick Kenzie, (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend and partner, Angie Genarro, (Michelle Monaghan). The pair find themselves embroiled in a complex case on the tough streets of Dorchester, a rough Boston neighborhood, in a grueling case involving drug dealers, hard criminals and child abusers. They try to find their way through a murky web of lies and violence. GONE BABY GONE is a gripping Police thriller, but it is also far more – at the heart of the story is a moral dilemma and some serious questions about the safety and welfare of children.

The film was directed by Ben Affleck who co-wrote the script along with Aaron Stockard. It was based on the novel by Dennis Lehane.

For Amy Ryan, this has been the movie role of a lifetime. She is receiving widespread praise, including her recent Best Supporting Actress Academy Award Nomination, for her realistic portrayal of this damaged mother and the grim, disturbing world she inhabits. Ryan has already won The New York Film Critics Circle and The National Board of Review awards for Best Supporting Actress (as well as several other American film awards.) She has also been nominated for a Golden Globe.

Ryan grew up in New York dreaming of becoming an actress and attended the High School for Performing Arts. Over the years she has had extensive experience in theater and television. She received two TONY nominations for her performances in UNCLE.


Slim, blonde and attractive with warmth and appealing openness, she talked about her passion for the film and her career in the following interview.

How exciting was it for you getting this role?

It was every exciting, absolutely, I didn’t know Ben before the audition, but I had received the script from my agent and I loved it right from the start; it was such a page-turner. Each character was so dynamic and you quickly realize, this is not like a ‘who dunnit let’s find the missing child police drama’, it is about how this event, this kidnapping affects each character’s life and I think that is so rare in a film. Usually one character is affected and we follow that person’s journey. The role was wonderful but I kept thinking ‘oh no, this part is too good, I’ll never get it’. I auditioned, the old fashioned way and had practiced a Boston accent. Ben actually said to me at the audition: ‘where are you from in Boston?’ and I said ‘I am from New York’. He said ‘I have never been fooled in my life before’. It was such a compliment that he thought it worked.

Were you surprised to get the part?

Those kind of roles never go to unknown actresses. There are so many incredible actresses with big names who could bring more money to a film. So I was greatly shocked that I got the part.

Was there a sense that this film was special?

I knew from the beginning that this was a rare, juicy, complicated part. And then on top of that it was Ben Affleck’s directing debut, so there was a real feeling of excitement. There was an electric feeling in the air. It felt like something new and thrilling was happening. Sometimes you are doing scenes in films that you know are not good and you are privately apologizing for, thinking ‘oh this is stupid I can’t believe I had to do that’. But in this film I would finish a scene and want to do it again because it was so much fun, there were so many layers. I loved the interrogation scene with Ed Harris. The whole film has a great quality.

What kind of woman is Helene McCready?

I think from my perspective, Helene is a drug addicted single mother who is trying to survive by very unsavory means, who is really a product of her environment. She is doing the best she can and the best is just awful. She does her love her child very much – she also loves drugs.

How did you portray her?

I do not think she is all bad. Maybe there are a couple of characters in history who are purely evil, the ones who twirl their mustaches! But I think most people are doing the best they can, but sometimes their best is just atrocious and that’s why it was so interesting to play a character like this. You have to put aside your own beliefs, your own life experience and stand behind the character without any judgment. As an audience member I can imagine watching and thinking ‘oh this woman is terrible’ and then when you are in the character you say: ‘this woman is very crafty but she knows how to survive in a community that is really rough, with no help from police or education or health authorities and look how well she has survived so far in her life.’ I am sure there was a point in time when Helene was the four-year old daughter (like Amanda,) herself, having a tough time and you have to look a the big picture. The film focuses on the question: How do you break the cycle of bad parenting and how will that end? That is what the movie offers up, because this is happening everywhere of course, not just in that area of Boston.

Did you do any specific research for the character?

No I did not do any research on addiction or anything like that. I just used what I know about the subject and have read about in books. And I took a lot from people I know or have encountered along the way in life, who have gone through that. But I haven’t known anyone that extreme. The research was on the job training while we were filming in Dorchester in Boston. Being on location in Boston helped a lot. It is very different having that reality rather than filming in Toronto or somewhere that is supposed to be Boston. The bar is raised much higher, but in one sense it makes it easier because all you have to do is be open to the environment you are in. You get the attitude of the place and people, the way they carry themselves physically. You observe everything they do: are they friendly to the cops? Are they friendly to the new person who walks down the block? It was such a luxury being on set there, the atmosphere starts to seep in.

What was it like working with Ben?

Ben was so supportive. He made such an incredible first impression at our initial meeting, he was so smart and he is also kind. His confidence and intelligence are great; he is very open to collaboration. He was wonderful to work with – I really believe this part was played by both me and Ben Affleck. He loves acting of course, which meant he could help a lot and he was very impressive. He has great enthusiasm and tireless energy; he kept on going and going. Ben is so many things, all good. I have had a lot of champions along the way, people who believed in me but Ben Affleck and (filmmaker) Sidney Lumet have been amazing.

When did Sydney Lumet become a champion?

He saw me in a play and invited me to audition for a television show he made with Alan Arkin called 100 CENTRE ST. I played three different parts over the two years of the series. And then this year I joined him in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU ARE DEAD. I have had a lot of people along the way who have said ‘you are so great you are so great, but I am not going to hire you. I am not going to take a chance’, and then there are people like Ben and Sidney who stood up to that and did take a risk and said ‘you are so great and I am going to prove it’. They really believed in me.”

What about Casey Affleck what was it like working with him?

He is incredibly talented and playful and relaxed and in a way that made everything much more loose and I loved working with him, he is funny and light, which helped because we were working with such dark subject matter.

Did the atmosphere get grim or dark or disturbing, you were dealing with a difficult subject matter in a pretty bleak setting with poverty and drug addiction and corruption?

Not really, we kept the atmosphere light. You know my mother was a nurse and growing up we always had ‘gallows humor’, you try to laugh or otherwise you start to think too much and you go home and you cannot emerge from it all. And it is the same idea. Doing a drama like this you can’t take it personally, you leave the scene at the scene.

What does the film say do you think?

I think the film works so well because it does not answer questions. You sit there eating your popcorn and go on a journey and watch the story unfold but it does not sum it all up for you. So you go away from the theater talking with friends, discussing it all and it spurs on conversation. I believe that is great because this is a real problem and ultimately it is all about ‘how do we take better care of our children?’ How do we take better care of our neighborhood because there are many mothers like Helene – not all of them. There are incredible success stories of people who have done well and shine though against the odds and there are inspirational stories from all walks of life, but there are many kids growing up in harsh circumstances and we have to find out how to break the cycle, how do we protect our children?

What is the overall appeal of the film?

I know a lot of people are afraid of watching a film about a missing baby or reluctant to watch violence. But at the end of the day this is a great story and I would watch this kind of movie any day over the bad films that come out. There is a level of great entertainment but it is thought provoking, it is really powerful.

How hard was it nailing that Boston accent?

Well I am from New York and I think there is a similar attitude, a kind of defensiveness. But the sounds are completely different. My accent improved simply by being in Boston and spending time talking to people from Boston. It also helped that Jill Quigg, the actress who plays Dottie my best friend in the film is from Boston and she never left my side. She very generously let me record her and she would keep listening to me and say ‘watch your ‘Rs’, there is no R there.’ The Affleck brothers also helped. Ben gave me a lot of freedom, he said: ‘ it doesn’t matter if a word is not exactly right, if one word pops out that sounds too New York we can fix it in post (production).’ He told me ‘that’s our job, we are working with the best camera crew and sound crew and we can fix that stuff, you just worry about the scene.’ There was constant encouragement and freedom and we did fix a couple of words here and there like the word ‘her’, but mostly it was fine.

Can you talk about the style of your character – did you contribute at all?

The Costume designer did most of it. I would say ‘make everything tighter so you can see the panty lines. Get me a smaller size so my stomach hangs out over my jeans. ‘ She told me I was very brave but I thought if I am going this far, lets do it, I am not here to look attractive lets keep going, why stop now? Helene thinks she looks good. They made my hair look greasy for the film, they muddied it up and put a brown rinse through the blonde and let the roots show. The makeup I described this way: it looked pretty good three days ago. I believe she hadn’t washed her face in three days, so that was the template. Ben Affleck picked the nail polish color: bubblegum pink.”

How has GONE BABY GONE changed your life?

It has changed my life and I would say the turning point was when I met Ben Affleck. Everything changed after I made this film in terms of better access to scripts, it is fantastic. I feel like I have been hanging out at the punch bowl and just got called out onto the dance floor. It’s been a whirlwind, but a very welcome whirlwind. The Golden Globe nomination and the awards I’ve received, it is all just incredible, it feels great and if it brings more attention to the film that is fantastic. It is good all around. I have been so busy; I have not really had time to celebrate. A lot of it has been reading the news on emails. I welcome it all with open arms. I think the beauty of waiting for this kind of success for a long time is that I have a lot of gratitude and patience. I think I appreciate it far more than if I was young and just out of high school, because I can step back.

Did you grow up dreaming of acting?

Yes from the time I was 11 years old when my parents took us to the theater a lot. I was the family clown making everybody laugh. My mother always tells me my career surprises her so much. She thought I would be in comedies and I am usually in dark dramas or in the theater wearing corsets. (laughs). I always loved performing – well I call it performing – but it was probably more like being an obnoxious kid. But from very early on I would imitate everyone in my family, I would impersonate my dad’s walk and everyone would laugh. The shift came when I went to high school because I was exposed to plays and teaching techniques. But yes – I always knew I wanted to be an actress.

Are you still interested in theater?

I am, I trained in New York theater. I grew up in Queens and studied at The High School for Performing Arts. I was enrolled in college but started working right away instead. I have worked mostly in theater, with great actors, in Broadway shows like UNCLE VANYA with Derek Jacobi and Laura Linney and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. But I have always had television work like THE WIRE. For the most part I have been involved with great writing whether it was Anton Chekhov or Tennessee Williams. I have been blessed in that way and the idea of having such a well written character in a film is amazing, I never imagined that I would be that lucky.

Will you do more theater?

I definitely hope to do more theater. I saw a play recently that reignited my excitement and passion for theater: AUGUST by Tracy Letts. There is so much theater in New York that is very commercial, movies turned into musicals. There is definitely an audience for that kind of thing but it was never my taste as an actress. But AUGUST is wonderful, phenomenal. It’s well written, acted and directed and so that is the kind of theater I would like to do. I loved it.

Are the film roles pouring in right now?

Yes there are some really interesting new things that I am so grateful for. Nothing is signed yet. People have definitely become more aware of me and they are saying ‘please come and join us for our movie ‘ and I say ‘that sounds nice, thank you’. It is getting a little easier, much easier than auditioning which is hard for an actor.

What are your interests when you are not acting?

New York City is a great interest for me. Some days I will have no plans and will call a friend and we will walk around the city. We walk the streets for miles and there is a new story on every block. I spend a lot of time with friends I take friendship very seriously. And when the weather is good I ride my bike.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

Well truly I am not thinking of much other than dealing with everything on a practical level. My desk is piled with bills. I don’t have an assistant or anything so I have cases that have not been unpacked since last week and bills that haven’t been opened and at the moment I am feeling: ‘oh my God there aren’t enough hours in the day’. I am trying to find time to make plans and see my friends but it is hard to manage everything. The career stuff is easy, it is just about saying: ‘yes I would love to come and do that’. But I have not cleaned my bathroom in three months. The movie stuff is fun. You show up and they take care of you and they pick you up in a car, but doing the practical stuff is the problem. Everyday ordinary life tasks like getting the groceries is hard at the moment.

Interview By: Emma Loggins


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