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Q&A – Amy Ryan on What Affleck, Eastwood, and the Green Zone Director Have in Common

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Green Zone takes us back to 2003, a time when the world believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In the film, that information is traced back to a single source, code name Magellan, who leaks the information to a journalist named Lawrie Dayne (played by Amy Ryan). The locations Magellan gives are searched by U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (played by Matt Damon) but come up empty. Ryan explains that her character represents every journalist who was duped, and how she’d like to be shocked instead.

Q: Now that you’ve played a journalist, do you look at members of the media any differently?

A: Well, right now I’m looking at your notepad! I had a little bit of a bigger one in the film that my character ended up not using. At least, it never made it into a scene. I mostly used it for doodles. The hard part was doing improvisation as a journalist. We had this one scene that didn’t make it into the movie, and I was supposed to go in and ask questions, and I turned to [CBS news producer] Michael [Bronner], whom we had on set as an adviser, and I asked him, “What do I ask?” It’s one thing to improvise feelings, emotions, but a vocation? That isn’t so easy to do. But luckily Michael was there, and later on Rajiv Chandrasekaran [author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City], and I also talked on the phone to Anne Garrels about her book, Naked in Baghdad, which was set during the time the movie takes place.

Q: The thing that surprises me the most is that your character was able to get her stories printed, in The Wall Street Journal no less, without a second source.

A: She put the cart before the horse, didn’t she? She really put her life and career on the line for it. She spent the last fifteen years writing about weapons of mass destruction, and she sees herself in this big career moment, where they might be found. But as Matt Damon says to her, this isn’t about Pulitzers, this is about the truth. The thing is, this kind of mistake happened, and it happened in a lot of papers, so that’s what she represents. Regardless, it’s still her own fault. She can’t point the finger: “Well, he told me to write that.” That doesn’t work, when countries are at war based on an article you wrote. But by the end of the movie, she represents the good journalist as well, who does get the truth out, who does go the extra mile, and double-checks and triple-checks a source.

Q: What’s Paul Greengrass like as a director, compared to some of the actor turned directors you’ve been working with lately?

A: He gets everyone in the same world very quickly. You’ve got to have a strong idea of the world you’re in. But each director brings out something different in me each time, depending on the circumstances. I find that all great directors, and I would include Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood in that, they have great confidence. And with great confidence comes great freedom for the actor. The ones who lack confidence, they get nervous and try to micromanage you too much. But the ones who are actors as well, they know the language in which we speak. Philip Seymour Hoffman would be wearing both hats while we were shooting Jack Goes Boating, so he’d be in character and then whisper a bit of direction, so we could stay in that world. We’d do a few takes, and then he’d go watch the playback to make any adjustments.

Q: You’re about to team up with Paul Giamatti, for Win Win. What interested you in playing his wife?

A: I was talking about the script for Win Win with a friend of mine who had read it, and he said, “She’s a really good mother. And she’s a really good wife. You haven’t done that yet.” Those are elements that are new to me. But I know what you mean. I call those parts “wifey poo,” if you’re just a soundboard for the man as he goes through problems and you say, “Of course you feel that way.” You want to find a wife part where it’s about a partnership. But mostly I just try not to repeat anything. Going from Gone Baby Gone to playing a professional woman like Lawrie Dayne, in Green Zone, that’s switching it up for me, and that’s a thrill, if I can keep doing that.

Q: Any kind of role or genre that you’d like to do that you haven’t yet?

A: I would like to wear a corset, and I would like to do a really good horror movie! Like a fun one. That would be two new worlds. Not a zombie or someone chasing you through the woods, as much as a psychological horror movie. You know that guy doesn’t live in the bottom of the lake with the hatchet and the ski mask. But the one that’s terrifying is the one that could exist.

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