Meg Ryan's always been more Gap than Gucci, the heroine of fluster films
about befuddled love, those with a beginning, muddle and hopeful ending,
and consequently her image is of an old-style Hollywood dizzy dame.
Her severe, square, black reading glasses do nothing to deflate that
bubbly blonde image. Rather, they add to it. She's even cuter.
Almost as alluring is her movie balance sheet.
At 36, she has made 22 films and her comedies have made magical box office
arithmetic of more than $850 million dollars in America alone. Surprisingly,
she is changing the rules.
Her uniform of sun-bleached jeans, white T-shirts, trademark round sunglasses,
cowboy boots and crazy cropped blonde hair that matched her naughty, lopsided
grin is now stashed irrevocably in her off-duty wardrobe. She is now Miss
Previously she was content to simply sell her services to the movies
but she's now a working mother and having triumphed domestically -- much
to her surprise -- she want more control of her professional life.
Her new, more mature attitude is visible at breakfast time in the penthouse
suite of a Beverly Hills hotel. Previously with Meg Ryan it was casual
wear, coffee, cookies, giggles and throaty laughs. She was always serious
about her work and her life but a remarkable metamorphis is clear. Ironically,
by her reservation.
Her hands and arms don't jump around the place. Mostly she sits with
them clasped as she makes her points. The hair is expensively cut but
casually worn. The charcoal Armani suit over a beige Donna Karan blouse
spells power lady. As do the dark suede heels. She grins:
'When I wear high heels I have a great vocabulary and I speak in paragraphs.
I'm more eloquent. I plan to wear them more often.'
There's a hint less confidence when she admits: 'It's scary to change
a formula which has worked but it was time at work -- and at home.'
She says her new look reflects not just a spicier view of life but her
need to be in control. Privately, she has always been tough and helped
actor Dennis Quaid conquer cocaine addiction before she agreed to marry
him eight years ago. Ryan, who made her screen debut at age 15 , a funky
adolescent with a wistful, faraway, safe smile, has grown up. But not,
as many thought, to become just another Doris Day, a fluff in a lithe,
dancer's body, the perennial girl-next-door star.
Nora Ephron who wrote Ryan's breakthrough film 'When Harry Met Sally...'
(1989) and directed her landmark movie 'Sleepless in Seattle' (1993) believes
she knows what has made Ryan a major power player today.
She is liked by both men and women on and off screen. It helps her box
office and her present production arrangements. Ephron said:' She has
no vanity. The women that women love are women who don't walk around full
of their own self-love. You absolutely know when you see Meg onscreen
that if you found yourself next to her you might become friends.'
Cinemagoers are at present watching the new Ryan in 'City of Angels'
which is based on Wim Wenders' already critical classic 'Wings of Desire'
which was made a decade ago. In this version she plays a heart surgeon
who cracks up after a patient dies. Unlikely angel Nicolas Cage appears
to comfort her and it's confused and difficult love rather than heavenly
choirs. Her secular boyfriend is played by Colm Fiore who said:' Meg knows
that tousled hair sells tickets but she's done that. Now she's trying
to redirect the focus to other facets of her talent.'
Ryan is pragmatic. 'A l lot of films I've done are essentially about
women who are finding their voice, women who don't know themselves well.
In romantic comedies it takes the form of:Who should I marry?.
But I can't do that anymore. I've kid of gone as far as I can go with
Well, not quite the whole way. This summer (June/July) Ephron and Ryan
are completing their hat-trick making 'You Have Mail' in which she and
Tom Hanks (who else?) fall in love on t he Internet. Of this 21st Century
romance the director laughed:' Meg understands that writing a funny line
is only the beginning of what has to be done to get a laugh.I'm embarrassed
at how often I write scripts hoping that Meg will be in them.'
Ryan is certainly box office friendly -- for Ephron. Last year she severely
changed her image in the dark move 'Addicted to Love' in which she played
a leather-clad, motorcycle riding New Yorker intent on destroying the
life of the man who loved her and left her.It was riskier but didn't click
with audiences but she still maintains stronger stuff was necessary. Unlike
her orgasm ('I'll have what she's having') in 'When Harry Met...' you
can't fake it anymore:
'The whole genre has to get reinvigorated every few years. You can't
rely on just romantic comedy rhythm. That was a mistake many movies made
for a long time -- they just got into a bapada-bapada that Carole Lombard
or whoever else had. It's gotten beyond that. You've got to make it new
all the time.
'It's like marriage. I've found it much better -- and happier -- if you
just suddenly get away from the routine. I'm not talking about romance
or sex or any of that -- I mean, all your life. We all get in a way of
doing things, organising our days -- and working mothers do have to be
organised -- but you have to indulge in breakouts. Just be silly at times.
I just love it that we can still drive around in the car and just crack
up about stuff.
'Dennis and I can still do that which is terrific.It means a lot to our
being together. And the happier we are the better off our son is. What
brings people down is the same thing over and over. It's dull and downbeat..
'There's always a place for change and I needed it in the my work and
in my life. It's working for me.'
The change was dramatic on screen last year for audiences who know her
as sexy Sally or sleepless Annie not this rather threatening woman 'Addicted
To Love.' Ryan looks the part in a black leather motocross jacket and
brown suede bellbottoms with leopard print baby T-shirts ( bra straps
showing). Her hair -- done by Sally Hirschberger who has done the famous
hair on all Ryan's recent movies -- was cut ' one piece a time, from day
to day' to give it a 'wrecked' look. 'It was a change from the all-America
look.It was getting boring.We decided to really push it up.'
With pale lipstick and sooty eyes Ryan appeared like Andy Warhol's favourite
model Edie Sedgewick. 'It was really extravagant, flamboyant -- a real
change. I'd never been anybody like that before. I really liked the black
The screen look this year is more conventional but she says there is
no confusion about her professional roles , 'the difference between what
you're supposed to do and what you really feel like doing.'
There is certainly no confusion in her life.
She married Dennis Quaid on St Valentine's Nearly 14 months later their
son Jack Henry was born. And a year later she created her own company
Prufrock Pictures named for one of her favourite poems, T.S. Eliot's 'The
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.'
'Meg's dedication to the company is very pragmatic,' said her business
partner Kathryn Galan adding:' It has to do with her wanting to control
her destiny. She hears her instincts very clearly about what and doesn't
The busy hyphenate -- like Jodie Foster her future is all wrapped around
being an actress-producer-director -- explains:' Becoming a mother helped
give me the confidence to move into other areas. I felt so capable as
a mother which is something I never thought I would be. And that invaded
other parts of my life. I felt like: Listen I can do this.
'Motherhood change me because it is so fundamental what you're doing
for another person. And you are able to do even though it takes a lot.
I wouldn't have thought of myself as a person who could guide anybody
and then it turned out that I can. Not that I'm perfect but it turns out
I have answers to some of the questions. I guess I did feel I was a little
bit over my head but I finally feel like I have experience I can call
on, that I can be a voice of experience in the room.
'Why shouldn't I be able to do that thing -- and how come people are
underestimating that part of me? Personality changes? Well, I can be very
relentless when I'm making a point and sort of alienate people. I really
have to catch that. ' She applies much pressure on herself and, apart
from 'Sleepless in Seattle' which she says she was 'forced' to see, she
has avoided her other films. ' I always think I could have done things
better or won't like how I look.'
The vanity, of course, is professional. Although she admits to being
somewhat intimidated once when filming in Paris :' I felt a little out
of my league. The average women on the street dress and look like catwalk
models. Before I had just accepted that fashion wasn't my forte in any
way. But French women are just confident in themselves and that gives
them that ''look''.'
She is well aware that a 'look' matters before and behind the cameras.
And this has helped her turn out films like a popcorn machine. Her company
has a string of projects in development including 'Antonia and Jane' which
charts the friendship of two women and 'Best Friends' which is about what
the title says.There is also 'Sirens' about a mother and daughter who
devise a seductive plan to gain a large divorce settlement. And 'Jump'
which is about two people who agree to meet on a bridge and...
Whether Meg Ryan appears in all films, directs them or just produces
she will be The Boss. And that is the reason she is playing-- and dressing
-- by the mogul Method and leaving Brando types to the white T-shirts.
'In You Have Mail my character is living a small life and
she wonders whether she likes it small or if she just hasn't been brave
enough to be big about it. And I wonder that about me.
'I think there's an ongoing effort involved in trying to get a bigger
perspective , trying to let go of things that limit your capacity to love
and be loved or your capacity to hear and to really speak.
'I used to beat myself up because I wasn't a good celebrity. Other people,
like Madonna or Demi Moore or Roseanne Barr, are great celebrities. They
know what to wear and how to present themselves. They're aware of the
absurdity of celebrity and they play with it. I am concentrating on not
being my usual raggedy-assed self. I got advice from my sister-in-law
who is a great shopper.
' She said:'' Stick with black and you can't go wrong.''
That is easier than understanding Hollywood:' I've been in this business
for years and I'm still befuddled by the ways of this town. Sometimes
a studio will send me a script and say would I like to produce with them.
Or would I like to be ''attached'' to the project. Or can they ''sneak''
me a script. I know that as soon as I put down the 'phone they'll be trying
to '' sneak'' it to someone else.
'I like to understand the logical progression of things but this business
is just too convoluted.'
So is the situation with her mother Susan who got the daughter she calls
'Peggy' her first role in 1981's 'Rich and Famous' in which -- in director
George Cukor's last film --she played Candice Bergen's daughter. Soon
after her mother left the family home in Connecticut. She remarried a
journalist called Pat Jordan who wrote attacking articles about the family
relationship. American tabloid television took up the emotional tale of
a Family at War.
Meg Ryan has stayed mostly silent about it ('I don't want it to be my
story, it's done') other than to say:' I'm just really happy to be away
from them. It's the only peaceful way for me to be. I just want to make
clear it has nothing to do with something that happened when I was 15.
I'm over it. It's a long-running personality, character thing.'
Quaid calls his wife 'positive' but quickly qualifies:' She doesn't come
from a shallow place. She's vibrant and positive in spite of having gone
through a lot of hard things in life.'
Her own difficult childhood is reflected in her family.Pop couch jockeys
would tell us she is providing for her son what she didn't get growing
up. All she says is:' I still look at Jack and can't believe he's so happy
and well adjusted and respectful of people. I know that's not all me --
it's Dennis too -- but it's really helped the other parts of my life too.'
Ryan, Quaid and Jack live in an 1917-built bungalow in Santa Monica,
California, or on their 200-acre Montana ranch. Her life revolves around
the men and places in her life. And, of course, Prufrock.
'My family responsibilities don't conflict with my career. Not at all.
I'm not tired. I like the fact that, finally, I have a home where I can
stay for a long time. And I like that Jack has a routine, which I never
had, and now because I have one -- because of him -- I realise I thrive
As she does in her marriage with Quaid. They met making the film 'Innerspace'
in 1987. For a long time Quaid was the bigger star
'Dennis and I have a theory about success. It comes in waves. Sometimes
your famous, sometimes your not. I never felt that had any bearing on
was going on between him and me. It's easy to be in a marriage with someone
who does what you do if you respect him a great deal and Dennis is an
amazing actor. I don't think it will ever be a problem for us. Acting
is what I do. It's not what I solely define myself as. It's not something
to die for. I like my job. I love my son.
'After Jack was born I'd think about how when I was younger I used to
wonder if I was living life the way I should be. I used to worry that
I was off on the wrong tangent, that the road I should be on was over
'Now I look at myself, at my life, my marriage, our child and I say with
some disbelief:'' You are doing OK.'' '