Meg Ryan has not had the easiest of years, with her much publicized divorce from Dennis Quaid and her brief fling with Russell Crowe. Plus her 40th birthday just hit, not that the actress looks it. But Meg has bounced back with a charming new romantic comedy/fantasy, Kate & Leopold, opposite Aussie hunk Hugh Jackman, in which she plays a modern career woman who falls for a 19th century British Duke. In this candid conversation with Paul Fischer, Ryan confesses that her ideal romantic evening is watching a boxing match, amongst other things of course.
You seem to have the romantic comedy market cornered. Do you get tired of being asked that or defined by that in some way?
I don’t know. I think this is a good one. I try to find the good ones, and I think Jim did a really good job. I feel like its kind of a swanky movie, you know. It has a kind of Henry Mancini kind of vibe to it, and somehow, I think he did a good job.
What sets this character apart from all the other ones?
All the other ones that I play? I don’t know. It seems in particular she’s somebody who changes through the course of the movie. She has to go from the head logic to a heart logic and mostly, I really wanted to work with Jim [James Mangold, director]. I must say, that I met Jim and I really liked him a lot and wanted to work with him.
He’s so smart and he’s so excited, and I liked his other movies which were all so different, you know. He’s never done anything like this but I really felt the way he talked about the material really elevated it for me, and then he took me outside after his meeting and he had me taking me all these different songs and he felt inspired in particular scenes and then he gave everybody a CD at the beginning. He just really tries to attract goodness and had a lot of good actors and the crew, and it was a just a really great group of people.
In a way, it’s really one of the edgier beginnings I’ve ever seen in a romantic comedy where you see this market research being done in a romantic comedy movie.
Yeah. I loved that so much. And, you know, he plays the director in that scene.
I know. The sentiments in that scene, do you think they’re true?
Yeah. Absolutely. It’s a vicious, terrible business that way, and they’re so cold. Thank god I’m not privy to a lot of it but you’ve been to those test screenings, I’m sure. I think they rip you apart and everything, and then they really do, very often, compromise the vision of the director.
Have you read those test screening comments, have they ever shown them to you?
They try to keep those away from us….
And so you haven’t been in a situation where a movie of yours has changed dramatically as a result…
I haven’t been in a movie where the film has been dramatically altered. I think many, many movies have met that fate.
You’ve played a lot of characters in a lot of romantic comedies, but honestly, what is your idea of the perfect romantic evening?
Romantic evening? Okay, well that's changing. But lately, here it is: The ultimate date would be that I’d want to be with someone fantastic, fun and great and then go the Lennox Lewis/Tyson fight. I really want to go to that fight, though.
Are you a boxer? Where do you get that from?
Yeah. I’m in a new movie about it. So, I started really getting into it.
Are you playing a boxer?
No, I’m playing the manager.
Of female boxing?
Yeah, of a real woman. She’s the only woman who’s ever professionally managed a middleweight boxing champion. But anyway, I have now been boxing and watching fights, and it’s a lot of fun, I can’t tell you. And to watch fights, like tapes of fights, like the Thrilla in Manilla and those, and watching with the right people, it is a really good time. I’m going to do whatever I can to get tickets to that Lewis/Tyson fight.
What is it about boxing that is so exciting?
It is a very primitive sport, and I like that, I do. I like that it’s a gutter sport. I like the whole world around it and now that I’ve tried to box a little bit, I know how hard it is, and I can’t believe that these guys are as great as they are. I like some of the personalities in the world. I love it. So, that to me is going to be the romantic evening…
Now in Kate & Leopold you get to play with another really unattractive actor in this movie. [Hugh Jackman]
That stinks I know.
It’s beyond me how you were able to kiss a guy like that.
I know, every woman is very empathetic with me, too. They were just like, honey, don’t worry. A lot of support around me. It’s almost too good to be true. He’s just fantastic and better than you would even think. I mean, he would do things like we would talk on Monday and I would hear what he did this weekend and he would have taken a philosophy seminar all weekend. What is that? When you’re in a movie. Everybody lays in bed and hopes to like, wake up at the right times so they can rearrange their clock and get to work early, but he’s into philosophy seminars and he’s in love with a fantastic woman, they have a beautiful baby and he’s just a terrific guy. You sense that all this great stuff is going on with him and you’re not going to like him because he’s so damn great but you do, because he’s wild, it’s great.
Your character is pretty driven, for the most part, in this movie. Can you relate to that?
Oh yeah. I think that she has taken just all of the energy in her life and put it into this career that she’s got to the detriment of the rest of her life and I can relate to that. I can relate to the fact that this is a woman who is alive right now and is a multi-tasker: a mother and a career person and I have all these things going on and I think that it’s really hard balancing them. I can see that sometimes I am out of balance, and Kate’s way out of balance so the universe really has to come in and fuse some illogical magic into her life to kind of wake her up out of it.
Speaking of Kate’s career, it seems like a pretty crappy day. What’s the worst thing you ever had to do before you got famous as far as jobs go?
Uh, I had some bad jobs, but they were significant, they didn’t seem so bad. I mean, I was a waitress at a salad bar girl at the Ponderosa, I was a grocery store check out person.
Is there a conflict between chivalry and women’s liberation?
Well, I think there was definitely a conflict between them because of how the gestures were received and in the beginning, some of those things were about being protective of a more delicate sex, right, and women were offended by that definition, and rightly so, but now that women have achieved a certain level in society, it feels like those gestures would be even more appreciated, because it makes you feel kind of cherished, and it’s just a way of smoothing social interaction that’s pretty fantastic. It’s an art, too. I think that in its heyday it’s something that people had to take the time to learn. There were books about it. There were coaches for it. There was, you know….
Your life has been dramatically written about in the past year or two in the tabloids. Prior to that, you never got mentioned in any of these publications. Was it tough to just read stuff about you.? I just want to know how you felt about the way that you were being treated…
I had so many mixed feelings about it because I felt like it was very painful, because I had never really read a lot of that stuff ever before but my lawyers said a lot of the stuff was really actionable. I would have to read it and decide whether or not, to sue or go on with yourself. So I think, just generally, it was a really Catch 22 situation that neither Dennis nor I are really ever going to talk about really, the divorce, and that’s just par for the course, I mean, it’s just the same thing.
Do you think they were particularly hard on you because you are America’s sweetheart?
I don’t know. I don’t know if they were particularly harsh on me. You know, but I think everybody kind of goes through a trial by fire in a way with things like that, it was truly painful.
Well, you’ve come through it really well and I guess your response is obviously….
Well, I have to say, I think really, truthfully, when all that was coming down I felt like if I had spent a lot of time previous to that being defined by everybody else’s definition of me, I would have been very devastated by what was happening, but because I never really have done that, I’ve never really taken anyone else’s definition of myself as myself, then I really kind of went through it, it wasn’t as devastating as it could have been because I never believe the stuff anyway, good or bad, so that was just it. And also I understood that I can’t go around to every person who has ever read a tabloid and say this is the real story, you don’t get it. I can’t make all those calls so you have to become somebody, what happens is your ego just gets, which is a pretty cool thing, you get very humble by it. You go, okay, this is just fine, there is really nothing that I can do.
How do you explain the real things to your family and friends?
Oh, my friends know the whole story. They do, they get entertained by it, some of them are entertained by it, but you know, I have the greatest friends, who are supportive, the people in my life are very true to me and I had a great community around me at the time.
And the work obviously fuels your energies, too, I mean, you’re working very hard.
Well, I was very grateful to do this movie at the time. I was really grateful because I was surrounded by really lovely people at a very hard time in my life, too. So, I was very grateful to have this job.
I hope this is not too prying, but are you seeing anyone now?
Oh man, I mean, there is no way I could talk to you about that.
What are you doing over Christmas?
I don’t know. I think I’m just going to be here. I’m trying to decide.