In the Star’s Trailer: Amy Ryan in Jack Goes Boating

For years, Amy Ryan amassed a list of impressive credits, moving fluidly from  television to stage to movies. She was one of those ever-reliable actresses who possessed a chameleon-like appearance, comfortable in large and small roles, and adept in movies both serious and light.

Then—boom! Ben Affleck cast her in a big supporting part in his 2007 drama Gone Baby Gone. Cast as the drug-addled mother of a young Boston girl who has been kidnapped, Ryan turned in a tour de force performance that made audiences sit up and take notice. It also earned her several year-end critics’ awards and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

While Ryan lost the Oscar to Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton, she has no regrets. “It was a nice game changer for me,” she smiles.

With her recognition factor at an all-time high from that film as well as a recurring role as Holly, Steve Carell’s girlfriend in The Office, Ryan has still made time to delve into demanding parts for indie films, especially if they involve people she admires and trusts.

That was the reason she took the part of Connie, a put-upon woman with baggage in Jack Goes Boating, the directorial debut of pal Philip Seymour Hoffman. The 41-year-old Queens native had previously appeared opposite Hoffman when he won his Oscar in Capote and also appeared in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead with Hoffman.

“It’s a different experience working with an actor as he’s directing you,” says Ryan from a Philadelphia  hotel suite. “It’s taking a different focus because you have to really be with him because he’s focusing on 12 other things at once”

Jack Goed Boating Poster

Jack Goes Boating Original Movie Poster

In Jack Goes Boating, Hoffman plays the lead role, a New York limousine driver whose life needs a bump with a relationship with a woman. The woman he would like it to be is Ryan’s Connie, a friend of Clyde (John Ortiz), Jack’s co-worker, and medical officer supervisor Lucy (Daphne Ruben-Vega), a couple with skeletons in their closet and jealousy and anger about to boil over.

Staged originally for the stage with Hoffman, Ortiz and Ruben-Vega in its original cast, the film was adapted for the screen by its playwright, Robert Glaudini. Ryan says its translation from play to film was an interesting if sometimes surprising experience.

“We had the advantage of rehearsing it like a play,” says Ryan, who also had a stint as a Transit Authority officer in the acclaimed series The Wire and a key part as a journalist in Green Zone earlier this year. “The film was mapped out before, so there was the opportunity to keep a sharp focus. There were times when you’re not sure what Philip was thinking. Was he thinking about his lines or the lights? I waited for an invite into a scene. When he said ‘I want to tell you about a scene’—I said ‘That’s the director!’”

Ryan, pregnant with her first child when filming Jack Goes Boating, sees a difference working with a director who also acts. “There’s a real compassion when being directed by an actor,” notes Ryan. “Ben obviously wasn’t in the movie (Gone Baby Gone) with me. But there’s a real camaraderie about knowing what it’s like to go into darker places, being vulnerable or just private and public. It’s like ‘Here goes nothing! I may fail and you may fail miserably.’ They know what that takes. In the case with Phil, because he’s on screen with us, you know he’s not going to take us in a place he’s not going in the next scene. There’s an incredible trust and bond.”

Philip Seymour & Amy Ryan In Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes Boating is a quirky, edgy examination of New Yorkers and relationships between hopeful, damaged people like the reggae-obsessed Jack and introspective Connie. They look to Clyde and Lucy as role models for their slowly blossoming relationship, but eventually discover that the couples’ union is not a pretty as Jack and Connie perceived it.

In summing up the movie, which has a certain stillness to it as well as terrific New York location work, powerhouse acting by all and some unexpected plot turns, Ryan says, “This film depicts people who are real New Yorkers. It stays true to the moments (we found in rehearsals) and how awkward it is to find love or a deteriorating relationship. It’s not wrapped up neatly. And I think those pauses (in the film) are breathtaking and nerve-racking and so true to life. They are not wrapped up neatly in a bow with a montage and music. It just doesn’t lend itself to (traditional) storytelling.”

Ryan’s Connie, who survives a bloody subway assault in the film, is based on a woman that the actress remembered from her past.

“I remember a girl I went to grammar school with,” explains the petite Ryan. “I don’t know what her life story was, but every time she got called on, she would just go ten shades of red. She was just so socially awkward. I remember thinking of her a lot (during the film’s production). I haven’t thought of her since the fourth grade. I also have a couple of friends who are not unlike Connie.”

Ryan is currently filming Win Win with Paul Giamatti for director Thomas McCarthy (also a Jack Goes Boating co-star and director of The Visitor). She is also about to shoot several episodes of The Office in what will be Steve Carell’s last year on the show.  Asked who will be the new head of paper company Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton office, Ryan claims “I really don’t know, but I know it won’t be me.”

Ryan doesn’t seem to prefer one medium over another. She started her television career playing a teenage runaway in the soap opera As the World Turns, and later got regular work in such series as Fly Away Home, Law & Order and The Naked Truth as Tea Leoni’s stepdaughter. Her stage credits include plays by Neil LaBute, Arthur Miller and Neil Simon, and Tony nominations for Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, essaying the role of Stella Kowalski opposite John C. Reilly’s Stanley Kowalski.

Her take on the differences between television, plays and movies?

“With film you get the script up front and the same with a play. In some cases, like The Wire and The Office, you learn something new about the character four episodes later because the writer just came up with it. You say, ‘I wish I knew that before I would have played the character differently’ But there’s kind of nothing you can do about it. You have to assume everyone takes that for granted, it’s really more fly-by-night and seat-of-your-pants because (in television) you also film more pages in a day.”

Ryan is thankful her life doesn’t have too many parallels with the character Connie in Jack Goes Boating. “Fortunately, I have had more luck than Connie, she relates. “She’s been more picked on. But she’s an easy target. She’s just one woman, while Lucy is a more self-sufficient New Yorker and really the more dominant in that relationship (with Clyde).  “I like to think I am a stronger New Yorker than Connie. That’s what I really want to answer. Make sure you write that!

“There’s always a lesson to learn from a character you play. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said. ‘You should do the things that most frighten you.’”

Amy Ryan stands corrected. It was Joan of Arc who said, “I am not afraid…I was born to do this.”

“Oh, it was Joan of Arc, another good strong woman!” says Ryan. “To say ‘yes’ even though every pore in your body says ‘no.’”

Amy Ryan & Philip Seymour Hoffman in Jack Goes Boating

Amy Ryan & Philip Seymour Hoffman in Jack Goes Boating