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homeland security
status : TBR.
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in the land of women
status : in theatres.
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against the ropes
status : released on DVD
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Meg Ryan in Psychologies 2005

Meg , this is your first major interview for a long time. Where have you been and what have you been up to ?
I just took three years off work, and I've been through a huge period of change in my life. It was a very conscious thing. I had reached 40, I had got a divorce and I felt that I needed to look at my life and question everything. I was really ruthless about it. I changed everything - my agent, my manager, my money people- and looked at all my personal relationships, too. It was scary, because change always is. But now if the phone rings it's never anybody I don't want to talk to, and that's the ultimate luxury.

Three years is an incredibly long time in Hollywood - wasn't that a risky thing for you to do?
In a way, I suppose it was. But divorce is an enormous thing in a family and I really wanted to be with my son Jack. He's the most important thing in my life, and I wanted to give him my time. I just wanted to be there. Not to be in his face everyday or insist we 'talk' or have therapy or anything like that -but just to be present and to hang out and deal with his questions if he had them. Our kids should be able to take us for granted.

So your divorce was a very defining experience?
It wasn't just that - a lot of the change I went through was internal. You know people talk about the "mid life crisis"? But I think that does a disservice to what is a tough and scary, but actually very positive, transformation. Recently I visited a butterfly garden and they have a section there called "the emerging area" -which is the most fantastic name, don't you think? They explained that when the caterpillar goes into the cocoon - it's basically nothing, it's liquid. And then, when it hatches out, it's this beautiful creature. It's not as though a caterpillar stops existing and then a butterfly exists. It's amazing to watch nature reflect what we go through in our own lives at mid-life.

But not everybody experiences mid-life as a wonderful transformation - it can be a dark and difficult time...
It can be both! I just burst through the cocoon and it feels great but I know that's a hard process and, while you go through it, it feels as though you're in the middle of a Dali painting. You have to question everything -all your old certainties and plans. It seems as if everything is shifting and you don't know where to or why. Everything becomes chaotic and unfamiliar, and you can feel alone, even when you have good people in your life.

Isn't that because we don't talk about ageing very much- except the physical aspects, which we're obsessed with? It must help a lot of people that a woman such as you will talk about her experience so openly.
Well if it does, I'm pleased. You're right, we still don't really address this in public - There's no guidance. But I think it's happening a lot in private conversations, because this life stage has really changed for women.

What do you mean?
Life used to shrink for women when they moved beyond 40, but there's a new generation of women hitting this life stage who just will not have that. They won't be quiet, they won't accept being invisible. I see women all around me, and they're really coming into their prime -they take their intelloigence, their experience and their intuition, and suddenly they put them all together, and they're strong and beautiful and they don't accept labels & limitations. I'm not being simplistic - growing older can be a tough process but if you go through that you come out the other side and it is genuinely a great place to be. I'm absolutely at my best now. I feel strong and happy & very optimistic.

What helped you get to this point? How did you get through the hard and lonely aspects of this period?
Friends -of course, and Jack. I read a lot and thought a lot. I had some therapy, too -which helped. I'm not so interested in the kind of therapy that keeps you focused on the past and where all your worries or problems come from. I worked with a therapist who just said "OK, here's where you are, now how do we move forward from here?". I think it should be dynamic & quite practical. Just trust that this strangeness and upheaval is taking you somewhere, and it will be somewhere good. Don't fight it - just go with it. And I say that knowing that -if you're anything like me- "just going with it" is the hardest thing to do.

Three years on, you felt ready to go back to work. Are you looking for different kinds of roles or challenges now?
I've just finished filming In the land of Women which I loved because it's a romantic comedy, but it's also very dramatic and moving. I play a woman who has breast cancer and who has to go through a process of reappraisal in her own life, which of course I really related to. She comes face to face with herself, and deals with her circumstances with a lot of courage and humour. I know it sounds unlikely that breast cancer could be a subject for a funny movie but it really works. My character is also a mother with a teenage daughter and I loved playing that part. This woman has to face up with the fact that she's a negative mother. But she does this great thing and accepts that she's messed up and has to make it better.

You have often talked about how much you love being a mother. Jack is an only child while you had three siblings - do you wish you had more children ?
Jack is an only child so far. I'd love to have more children - and hope to have them. But more doesn't necessarily mean better. My own family was very dysfunctional -and dysfunctional is a nice way of putting it. My parents got divorced when I was 16, and we all went our seperate ways and never really came back together again. That's sad, but it has also made me very determined to create my own family of friends that's happy and healthy. For example, my mother and I don't have a relationship anymore but I've sought out the company and friendship of older women, and there's often a maternal element in those relationships. I've been really deliberate about it -Gloria Steinem said it's never too late to give yourself a happy childhood, and I absolutely believe that.

Although you've talked about your childhood being difficult, you were a very successful child and teenager - you were voted 'most charming' student in your school, you were homecoming queen... Charm and popularity have been hallmarks of your life and career.
When I was younger, that was my survival mechanism to some extent. I didn't ever take it so far that I was fake but I guess I wanted approval and affirmation. Charm can be a lovely thing, but the danger of it is if you end up depending too much of what others think or say about you, and then you become a people-pleaser and lose sight of yourself. And it's pointless because, whatever you do, you're never going to please everyone anyway. I did go through a phase where I got bored of always hearing myself described as a good girl and I thought I'd like to be a problem for a change, but that doesn't really work for me. In truth, respecting people and being nice is how I prefer to be. It still shocks me everytime someone turns out underhand or deceitful. I'm often the last to see it.

Sleepless in Seattle director Nora Ephron has described you as a "woman's woman". What does that mean to you?
I think it's a real compliment to be described that way. I don't know what makes me a "woman's woman", but I know what I love in other women -when they aren't afraid to be honest, to take risks, and to talk about their mistakes. You know, the big secret of life is that we're all the same - we're all trying to live as best we can and faliing half the time and I think that's inspiring and a relief when we see other people acknowledge that, and not try to pretend they have all the answers. If people see anything like that in me, then I'm honoured. I've been very involved in photography in recent years, and one of my favorite project was photographing the women I love and admire most. Women have always been important to me as friends -and in the past couple of years more than ever.

Was that connected to your divorce? Did you find , as many women do, that friendships get richer as you get older?
I was asking more and deeper questions about the kind of person I am and want to be, and where any of us are going in this life, so having friends to help me do that was important. They're the people I could have all these big, deep, fundamuntal conversations with, as well as the people who make me laugh the most. I guess that's my definition of the word " soul mate ". Any woman who values her female friends will know what I mean.

Every moth Psychologies features a special section called Dossier. This month our subject is the real you - How to live an authentic life. How do you feel about that as a subject?
I love the expression "An authentic life". That encapsulates all my goals now. Being ourselves should be the easiest and most natural thing in the world, but we all know how hard it can be. It sounds counter-intuitive but we have to work on ourselves to be ourselves, or at least live consciously and really think about it.

So who is the real Meg ryan ?
This is it. I'm completely myself now and that's what makes this, hands down, the best time of my life. I'm in great shape, my son is in great shape.

What about love? You've talked about wanting more children - is there a serious relationship in your life at the moment ?
I've learnt not to talk about my relationships with men, but all I'll say is that side of things is in great shape right now, too. Life is good and I'm just very happy. I'm really looking forward to whatever comes next.