Actress Amy Ryan more than just a drug-addicted mom

Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:56am EDT
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By Jenelle Riley

LOS ANGELES (Backstage) - Amy Ryan had been a working actor on stage and screen for about 20 years when she became an "overnight success" in 2007, earning an Oscar nomination for playing the mother of a missing girl in "Gone Baby Gone."

Ryan disappeared so completely into the role of the hard-living Helene McCready that many on the set assumed she was a local actor discovered by the film's director, Ben Affleck. It was the highest compliment to Ryan, who says she prefers to "hide away in characters, rather than have them come to me."

Of course, critical raves and awards have a way of making the lauded actor more recognizable, and the attention she received for playing Helene altered Ryan's life in several ways.

"It definitely changed my career, without a doubt," she says. "I owe a big thanks for that. But it also brought on a bigger responsibility to make important work choices, not to repeat myself."

She noticed a similarity in the roles coming her way. "It was unimaginative casting," she says. "You felt they were saying, 'Look, a drug-addicted mother -- let's get Amy Ryan!'"

Instead, Ryan took on a role that was the complete opposite of Helene, joining the NBC comedy "The Office" for a few episodes as Holly Flax, the new human-resources director who, in the words of John Krasinski's Jim, is also a "major dork." Whether Holly was imitating Yoda or rapping for the camera, Ryan's fearless and funny work was a stark contrast to the traditional dramatic roles that had earned her the nickname "Crying Ryan" among her friends. And Holly's romance with clueless boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) proved there is someone for everyone.

Asked if Holly was always intended to be so geeky, Ryan laughs. "I don't think so," she says. "I feel like in my first episode they were sort of testing the waters and then saw they could capitalize on my true goofy nature and just ran with it."

Though Holly was shipped off to another branch, viewers have never given up hope that she might one day reunite with Michael -- and this season they'll get their wish, when Ryan returns for several episodes. This is Carell's final season with the show, but Ryan is mum on any plot lines. What she will say is that anytime "The Office" calls, she'll be there: "I could never resist; it's just too much fun. And I adore working with Steve Carell. I'll follow anywhere he goes."   Continued...

<p>Actress Amy Ryan poses for photographers as she arrives at the World Premiere of "Green Zone" in New York City February 25, 2010. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>