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PRACTICAL, MAGICAL MEG RYAN TALKS MOTHERHOOD AND COFFEE.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Writer

Lisa Kudrow couldn't stop staring at her - for days. There she'd be on the set of ``Hanging Up,'' the new comedy from writers Nora and Delia Ephron, and Kudrow would look at her out of the corner of her eye, watching and wondering just how Meg Ryan does what she does.

``There's something about her, like some kind of light and energy that emanates from her,'' Kudrow says. ``And, you know, I wanted to find out where that all came from. She should know that if she ever wants to do a six-hour movie, we'll sit there and watch. She's just got this magic and you're compelled to look at it.''

Ryan, 38, bursts out laughing (``Ha! You're kidding, right?'') when told of Kudrow's fixation, wondering out loud, ``What? Did I have something between my teeth?''

It's but one indication of how lightly the actress takes herself and the fame that comes with being one of America's most-loved leading ladies. In person, Ryan is both down-to-earth and down-to-business, funny, charming and laid-back.

And Ryan has every reason for feeling relaxed these days. She limits herself to one film per year so she can have more time for her husband, actor Dennis Quaid, and their 7-year-old son, Jack.

``I really like my life, so not working really is an act of selfishness and not self-discipline,'' Ryan says. ``I work about three months a year and the rest of the time I hang out with the girls at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.''

Here, Ryan discusses ``Hanging Up'' and its themes of ``responsibility overload,'' how she managed to simplify her life and why a solo commute can be a liberating experience.

Q: You've said you made ``Hanging Up'' because you understand your character, Eve, and the avalanche of expectations that threatens to bury her.

A: Most days, I would just love to unplug all the phones. I mean, don't you wish you had a ``do not disturb'' button on your life, at your house and inside your car? There would be this operator with a calm, soothing voice saying, ``Meg's not taking calls right now.''

Q: Isn't that what an answering machine is for?

Ryan: With an answering machine, I constantly screen it. I'm like a Pavlovian dog. I hear the ring and I can't stand not knowing what I might miss.

Q: So where do you carve out time for yourself?

A: In my car. That's one of the reasons I love Los Angeles because that's when you get that uninterrupted time.

Q: And how do you spend that time?

A: I sing. I love to sing. And I make sure the car phone is off.

Q: Given your residency at your local coffee house, you must be doing something right when it comes to simplifying your life.

A: I made some big changes in my life about five years ago. Up until then, I felt like I was at everybody's beck and call and that my whole life was reactive instead of proactive. It's a common problem for women today because we've gone from having no options to having so many. And those options end up running your life.

Q: What did you do?

A: I had to sort of stop giving in to everyone else's dramas like they were my own and feeling like I can control things that I can't. I had friends that I don't have anymore because they just required so much caretaking from me. And once you have a kid, it's just impossible. You know who you're the primary caretaker of.

Q: And that would be Jack. I've heard a story that when he was born you couldn't stop staring at him.

A: For months! It was embarrassing. People were making fun of me. I just couldn't believe there was another person right there. My pregnancy had seemed like a condition, an illness almost. And then all of a sudden ... well, I couldn't believe it until I saw him. And then my whole life changed instantaneously.

Q: Did you worry about being a good mother?

A: All the time. I still do. Having a child changes everything and there's no describing the power. And there's nothing you won't do for him. You see how it's possible to think of someone before yourself. It is so cool.

Q: Sounds like you wouldn't mind having another.

A: I would love to have more kids. I would love to. Please. Sometime soon.

Q: ``Hanging Up'' is a little tougher than the other movies you've made with the Ephron sisters. Was that part of the appeal?

A: Definitely. This woman I play helped me see myself more clearly. And I'm now at a place in my life where I'm having these experiences - you know, responsibilities, marriage and family - so I'm looking for something to reflect that.

Q: No more romantic comedies?

A: You know what I'd like? A movie that deals with staying together, not getting together. Most movie romances are just about foreplay. And because I'm married, I'd like to find something about how people stay together over the course of a lifetime. I haven't seen a script like that yet.

Q: Do you see many serious scripts? People seem to like you best in the light comedies.

A: There's not a lot of great stuff out there. And, you're right, I don't think people see me as this ``serious'' actress. I had a hard time thinking of myself as an actress, period, for the longest time. I'd always think that I'd better have an out. You know, like, ``Keep that Peace Corp application at the ready!''

Q: What changed your mind?

A: When I got to ``When a Man Loves a Woman,'' I thought, ``Oh, I like this.'' I had some sort of emotional connection with that woman and really, really understood her. And I felt like we were sort of bringing a situation to light in a responsible and evocative way, and it was the first time that I was serving an idea that I respected instead of just doing an exercise of acting.

Q: That film was a good 10 years into your career. It took you that long to feel that way? A: Most of the time, I just feel lucky. And you know what? I am.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Saving the private Ryan

Meg hangs up on work and simplifies her life

(2) Meg Ryan (with Buck in ``Hanging Up'') makes only one film a year so she can be with her family and hang out at the coffee house.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 17, 2000
Words:1106
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