Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Meg Ryan Doesn’t Regret What She Didn’t Take
This is a beautiful theater you guys are in,” Meg Ryan said, as she looked around Argyros Theater for the Performing Arts.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019


If you liked the memorable fake orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” you have Meg Ryan to thank.

She not only acted out the orgasm in the booth at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York but she suggested it.

Ryan described how she, directors Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner and others sat around a coffee table  for two weeks talking about the movie that would go on to be ranked as AFI’s 23rd top film. And she suggested that Sally should act out a fake organism as she was such a behavioral character.

 “Rob was a wreck because it was his mom who said, ‘I’ll have what she’s having!’ “ Ryan said of the film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Ryan, 57, regaled a full house at the Argyros Performing Arts Center Sunday morning as she took part in the final Coffee Talk of the eighth Sun Valley Film Festival. Ryan had been honored by the film festival the evening before with the Vision Award in a glamorous affair at Sun Valley’s historic Roundhouse Restaurant on Bald Mountain.

The Vision Award honors industry icons who provide keen insight, influence and initiative to see their creative visions come to fruition.

Born in Connecticut, Ryan studied journalism—not filmmaking or acting--at New York University. She  never wanted to be an actress—she said she was more interested in writing about the movies.

But she made commercials for Burger King, deodorant manufacturers and others to pay her way through college. And, next she knew, she was made her acting debut in 1981 as Candice Bergen’s daughter in “Rich and Famous,” a study of the jealousy that develops between lifelong friends.

 “I was surprisingly calm in auditions because I really didn’t care whether I got the roles or not,” she said.

“Rich and Famous” was the final film of George Cukor’s long career. Cukor made a long line of films, including “The Philadelphia Story,” “Gaslight,” “Adam’s Rib,” “Born Yesterday,” the 1954 version of “A Star is Born” and “My Fair Lady.”

But Ryan remembers best the way he’d take his teeth out and scream at everyone in the cast.

“He actually had a good thing he said to actors: Don’t act,” she recalled, explaining that Cukor wanted his actors to act real, not as if they were acting. 

Despite screaming sans choppers, Cukor was well respected, Ryan said.

“His power came from the respect everyone had for him.”

Nora Ephron, who wrote many of the romantic comedies Ryan starred in, including “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve got Mail,” took that page out of Cukor’s playbook.

“She was strong, very well spoken. She had the power of language, the power of words, and she wanted to make people laugh” Ryan said. “If you said, ‘uh’ instead of ‘the,’ you’d have to cut. She was meticulous about the proper use of a word.”

Nora Ephron said often that comedies are a type of social commentary on their time with the intention of delighting the audience, Ryan said.

“She’d take us to lunch and give us advice,” she recalled. “She’s say, ‘Just because you’re in movies doesn’t mean you don’t have problems,’ ” Ryan added, describing how Ephron used to give her advice on everything, including her marriage.

One director Ryan would have liked to work for is Mike Nichols, who received an Academy Award for Best Director for “The Graduate.” Ryan recounted attending a dinner at which Nichols was asked, “What is art?”

“Art is whatever makes you feel more alive,” she recalled him saying. “It’s so beautiful, so true.”

Ryan became engaged in November to rock and roll legend John Mellencamp, who recently won the ASCAP Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award for his efforts to end hunger in the United States and around the world. He’s been in the news recently for taking a knee to demonstrate his views on the society’s treatment of minorities and the poor.

Mellencamp was showing Ryan’s 14-year-old daughter some of her mother’s movies—something Ryan had never done--when they reached the famous scene Ryan did opposite Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally.”

“I was in the kitchen doing dishes and I heard a silence. Then, ‘Meg??’”

Ryan’s son Jack, by contrast, didn’t see the movie until he was 24.

“He said, ‘Mom, I didn’t know you were any good,’ ” she recalled. “He started crying because he thought that I was so brave to do the scene.”

While known for her sweet spirited romantic comedies, Ryan starred in a handful of critically acclaimed dramas.

Among them, “Courage Under Fire,” in which she played a Army captain recommended for a Medal of Honor after she is killed in action when her Medevac unit attempts to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter.

It was so cold in the desert that the cast had to wear wetsuits underneath their clothes, Ryan said.  “There were a couple times that I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ ” she added as she described the helicopters overhead.

“I remember Matt Damon stepped on a mortar by mistake and his ears rang two days.”

Ryan also received critical acclaim for her portrayal of an alcoholic in “When a Man Loves a Woman.” But she withdrew from public life after her 2003 erotic thriller “In the Cut,” seen as an attempt to erase her wholesome image, flopped.

In 2015 she directed “Ithaca,” about a boy who delivers bicycle telegraphs in his small New York town in the wake of his father’s death in World War II. The film stars her son Jack, along with herself, Sam Shepard and Tom Hanks.

She is currently writing a romantic comedy and a TV murder mystery comedy with Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.

Ryan said she’s never had any regrets about the roles she turned down.

“I turned down all kinds of movies that were perfect without me,” she said. “Sometimes, my son needed me at the time. Or I had other offers. So, no regrets. I never regretted turning down anything.”

Ryan said that Hollywood had a self-perpetuating strata that didn’t alert newcomers to problem in the past. But she never had a man in power play sexual politics with her—“I always figured a way out of the room.”

Asked what she would tell young women going into Hollywood today, she said

“Know yourself. Relax. Stay curious. And pay attention to your gut instinct.”

Ryan said her gut has served her well.

She described 2011 went to Cambodia as part of Nick Kristof’s PBS documentar6y series “Half the Sky,” in which she did a segment on human trafficking in Cambodia.

“I didn’t like the woman we followed around. It turned out a year later she had not been trafficked herself—she had made the story up. She was doing good work—why did she feel she had to concoct a story? It just goes to show: Life is not black and white, right?”

Ryan acknowledged that she got branded as likable. But she chafes at every character having to be likable.

“It’s fun to not like people on TV and in the movies,” she said, offering as an example Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon.” “So, what’s that called?”

Ryan said there’s no going back when it comes to diversifying the distribution platform for films. And that’s a good thing, she said.

 “I’d never see some films if they didn’t appear on airplane screens.”

Ryan said she still enjoys watching romantic comedies with Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable. She was binge watching a few with her daughter, when her daughter noted that they made her “tingle.”

Such movies are the perfect antidote when you’re sick or can’t sleep, Ryan said.

“Nora Ephron made these movies that made you feel great by the end—and there’s something to be said for that,” she said. “I love movies that make me feel comforted.”


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