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Amy Ryan: From 'The Office' To The 'Green Zone'00:00


In the new Paul Greengrass thriller Green Zone, Amy Ryan plays journalist Lawrie Dayne, a Wall Street Journal reporter who is fed misinformation about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Though her character is fictional, Ryan says she based the performance on the real-life reporters who initially covered the war.

"[Judith Miller] is probably the most famous [reporter] and certainly her articles that were in The New York Times were ... one of the reasons we all said '[The weapons of mass destruction] must be there. We must go to war,' " Ryan tells Terry Gross. "So she was the one who came to mind [for my part], but ... my character really represents a bunch of journalists who got it wrong in the press — she could be from U.K. papers or American papers. It didn't really matter, as much as it mattered that I represented the failures in the press as a whole."

Though this is her first action film, Ryan has played a variety of characters on stage and screen. She was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar for her role as an unreliable mother whose daughter disappears in the film Gone Baby Gone. In the second season of The Wire, she played port authority police officer Beadie Russell, a role that eventually led to playing Holly Flax on the sitcom The Office.

"The writers on The Office are all huge fans of The Wire," she says. "And right after the Oscars, I knew the next choice I made would be a good one. And I was also well aware that all of the offers I was going to get would be single drug-addicted mothers [like her part in Gone Baby Gone]. That's what was on people's minds. So I wanted to keep a couple of steps ahead of people. ... I thought, well, what would surprise people? One would be a comedy, and two would be if I put on a skirt and brushed my hair. I thought that would work well."

Ryan also appeared in the Clint Eastwood film Changeling, as well as Capote and You Can Count on Me.

Interview Highlights

On preparing for her role as a journalist in Green Zone:

"I had the pleasure of speaking with [NPR's foreign correspondent] Anne Garrels before starting this film. A friend of mine put me in touch with her. You know, detail is important to me in a film or anything I do, and if anything is going to stick out like a sore thumb, I don't want to be around it. So I spoke with Anne on the phone one day and she went through ... her experience even down to the type of clothes she would pack and what she would wear and what her pad looked like and what kind of pens she had."

On maintaining continuity after part of the movie was reshot six months after the initial shoot:

"Matt Damon had gone away [from the 'Green Zone' shoot] to do both 'Invictus' and 'The Informant' ... Matt put on weight for the 'The Informant' [so] in between that [break] time, he was working out and trying to get back his military look. He had quite the transformation in between. I just didn't cut my hair. We all knew we were coming back for reshoots, so I didn't want to mess with it too much.

Actually, there's a scene I have in the movie with Matt — and it's so subtle — we did the first part of the scene, we shot in Morocco the first part around, [and] when the camera turns back around on him, we're in Morocco seven months later, and then when they turned around on me, we were in London two weeks later ... and the only difference is my forehead didn't have a bit of a dewy sheen because it was colder in London."

On how playing a port police officer and single mother in HBO's The Wire differed from her other roles:

"In the world of David Simon, story really does come first no matter what. ... It wouldn't matter which character was more popular on the message boards. ... If that character had to go because the story was going in that direction, they would get killed or die. I think David had a formula where every five episodes someone died, whether it was a main character or just a passerby on the street. So we all quickly assessed that right away. We, as a company, were really respectful and excited by that — that story was going to drive it and there weren't going to be any great stars. ... With David, the story is always the star, and I think that makes actors look better."

On playing Helene McCready — the mother of a kidnapped child with secrets of her own — in Ben Affleck's movie Gone Baby Gone:

"With any part, I try to humanize them. As much as [Helene] is a monster, there is a reason she ended up in this situation. I started with the situation that she was a child born to a similar mother and how do you break this cycle — where does it start, where does it end? I tried to think of it from her point of view. ... I could understand it. ... That is her best parenting. I'm happy to know I'm a better parent than she is, but that's what she knows. With any part, it's trying not to judge the character as much as just be them."

On playing Holly Flax in the comedy The Office:

"Holly Flax was the new head of human resources at Dunder Mifflin. [She was] quite serious about her job and shortly finds a kinship to Michael Scott, played by the great Steve Carell. I think Holly shares the same cornball sense of humor with Michael. He's more odd, but she's slightly odd, and I always like to say 'There's a lid for every pot.' "

Copyright NPR 2018.

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