Interview: Amy Ryan didn’t want to be the bad guy in ‘Breathe In’

Amy Ryan plays a wife whose husband (Guy Pearce) is contemplating an affair in "Breathe In." Credit: Getty Images
Amy Ryan plays a wife whose husband (Guy Pearce) is contemplating an affair in “Breathe In.”
Credit: Getty Images

Amy Ryan divides her time between three mediums: stage, where she’s racked up two Tony nominations; TV, including memorable runs on “The Wire” and “The Office”; and film, scoring an Oscar nod as a foul-mouthed mother whose daughter is kidnapped in “Gone Baby Gone.” But she tends to plays nicer characters.

In “Breathe In,” she’s a suburban wife whose bored musician husband (Guy Pearce) develops a fondness for their English exchange student (Felicity Jones).

This was made in 2011. Is it weird talking about a film you made three years ago?

Yeah, kind of. It’s like talking about an ex-boyfriend.

Your character is not just a token killjoy wife. How did director Drake Doremus (“Like Crazy”) pitch her to you?

I didn’t want to be the bad guy, so the audience cheers the husband to go off with the young girl. And he didn’t want that either. That’s just too easy. We didn’t want people revved up because the wife is mean. It was more about Guy’s character living a static life of his own making. He didn’t follow through on his dreams, and someone wakes that up in him.

Did you develop her along with him?

Drake is very open. He wants you to get involved. His outlines said my character is a cookie jar collector. He was like, “Do you want to do that? Are you OK with it? You want her to be something else?” I was like, “Keep the cookie jars because I really want to smash them at the end.” [Laughs] It’d be better than teddy bears.

Doremus doesn’t work with scripts, just outlines. Is that freeing?

There are certain pros and cons to making a film this way. One of the pros is it’s really fun to be winging it — being on your toes and really listening to your other actors, thinking about how you’re going to respond. Those are fun games to play. But there comes a time when I realize, “Oh, I’m not a writer.” [Laughs] You feel vulnerable. You know Drake’s going to cut around what you do, but I’m used to working with writers. I’ll improvise, but I don’t always want to improvise a whole movie.

Doremus is really, freakishly young. He’s only 30 now.

He has amazing confidence. We would tease him because he was so enthusiastic about everything. “That’s AMAZING!” After awhile Guy and I were like, “Was it, Drake? Is everything amazing?” But he’s so loving and smart.

You and Mackenzie Davis, who plays your daughter, have great chemistry. How quickly did that form?

You pretty immediately develop an intimacy with all actors. You have no choice but to create these relationships that are going to be believable. You have to work fast, but here it was an amazing group of actors. Felicity [Jones] had gone through this before with Drake [on “Like Crazy”], so we knew how beautifully it would turn out. We could trust the madness of it.

As an actor who started in theater, was it strange transitioning to film and TV, which have very different methodologies?

I went back to theater after seven years of being away from it. I would have to say the transition back to theater was harder. I forgot how physically demanding it is. I was like, “Oh, it’s a one-act play, I’ll be home by 9:30 every night.” But it’s tiring. The energy to play someone when you go onstage till when you step offstage — it’s like running a marathon. I forgot that. It was a good kick in the butt.

But with film and TV, you’re at the mercy of directors and editors. On stage, you have more freedom to sculpt your performance.

Whether you’re doing a play or a TV show, you always wish you did something better. Always. Even with a play, you can do it better the next night, but it’s never nailed down. There’s always something different: a different audience, or you lose your attention span, or there’s loud candy wrappers. If a director says, “We’re moving on,” you have to deal with it. You have to think, “Well, I’m probably not going to get it by the next take, so I have to live with it.” It will never be perfect.

It’s slightly strange that you were in “The Escape Plan.” I’m sure when you started out you never imagined yourself acting in a film with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It felt like being a kid, when you play. You blow up a car, you pretend that bad guys are coming. I had a good time. It was strange being on the set — it took a bit of adjustment. I was fascinated by Curtis [Jackson aka rapper 50 Cent]. That man is extraordinary. I spent a lot of time with him on set. It was fun to be inside arenas I’m not usually in.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


Turkey: Voting begins in country's first direct presidential…

Some 53 million people are able to vote in the election, including 2.8 million citizens abroad. Until now, Turkish presidents were elected by parliament.


Libya seeks ceasefire as south Tripoli a militia…

By Patrick Markey and Aziz El YaakoubiTRIPOLI (Reuters) - Black plumes of smoke marked shell blasts and bulldozed earthen barricades mapped out the frontlines around…

Breaking: News

Russia mad about sanctions, says U.S. contributing to…

Russia reacted angrily on Saturday to additional sanctions imposed by the European Union over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, saying they would hamper cooperation…


Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking


Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.


Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…


Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.


Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.


2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…


Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.


Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.


Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.


Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.