NBC News
updated 12/10/2003 2:40:13 PM ET 2003-12-10T19:40:13

By now, you’ve probably heard about the new Meg Ryan movie. There’s a lot of buzz about the sex scenes and seeing America’s sweetheart wearing nothing, not even her trademark smile. This most private of stars talks about what it was like filming those intimate scenes and much more. The price of fame? The pain of divorce? The prospect of dating? Will she marry again? Meg Ryan talked about it all when she sat down with NBC’s Stone Phillips in New York.

Stone Phillips: “What surprises you most about your life right now?”

Meg Ryan: “That I still live in L.A., stunned about that. I don’t know how that happened.”

Phillips: “How long have you been there?”

Ryan: “A really long time. [laughter] I don’t know how that happened either.”

Meg Ryan may not feel at home with the flash and glamour of L.A., but wherever she goes, even a side street in New York City, fame seems to follow.

Ryan: “I know that person. [laughter] Several people up here I’m going to know. Just be ready for that.”

Phillips: “Okay. And they’ll know you somehow.”

Ryan: “Somehow. It’ll be very convivial and fun. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Not knowing what’s gonna happen is just fine with Ryan these days. In fact, if her latest role is any indication, she’s more than willing to take some chances in uncharted waters. After 15 years as Hollywood’s quintessential “girl next door.”

Ryan: “I always thought, ‘the girl next door?’ The girl next door to what?”

The hair. The eyes. That smile. Fans came to adore her as this generation’s “Doris Day.”

Phillips: “When did you realize you were good at this?”

Ryan: “I don’t know... I have a facility for comedy, I know. It’s not— it just came with the birth. [laughter] It came with the package I don’t know. But it took me a long time to like doing any of it.”

Phillips: “Any of it?”

Ryan: “I still don’t really know why I do it. It’s weird, man, and doing interviews like this, you know, I really— I’m a very private person and the fact that I, you know—”

Phillips: “But you also have—”

Ryan: [laughter] “I’m naked in a movie is hilarious, number one. The fact that anyone knows, thinks they know anything about my life is also hilarious. It’s a perverse gig.”

Phillips: “Are you getting to like it better?”

Ryan: “I like fame less and less. It has not value in and of itself, I don’t think.”

Phillips: “What’s the biggest price of it been for you?”

Ryan: “Isolation. And not that I don’t have a lot of company or I don’t have a lot of friends or anything like that. But, you know when you’re meeting people for the first time you’re put in a place and named something until you spend 20 minutes, half and hour kind of and then they go, ‘Oh. Well, there’s a real human being there.’ And that feels isolating.”

While celebrity may not hold much magic for Meg, it has its benefits. At 41, her box office appeal along with her media exposure have enabled her to pretty much pick and choose her films.

Her latest, a soon-to-be-released erotic thriller, is titled, “In the Cut.”

Phillips: “The first thing you hear in this movie, is a kind of spooky rendition of ‘Que Sera, Que Sera.’”

Ryan: “Yeah, it’s a-tonal and really screwed up. Eerie.”

Phillips: “Kinda signals to the audience...”

Ryan: “It’s not going to be comfortable.”

Ryan plays a repressed English teacher in search of passion and seduced by danger.

Ryan: “When I read the script there was something very, very familiar about her and I didn’t really know why. And I guess I wanted to investigate why.”

Gone are the signature blonde locks, the blue eyes, and the bright smile. This character cuts starkly against her popular image.

Phillips: “‘When Harry Met Sally’ and ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘You’ve Got Mail.’ I mean, they have reinforced a certain image.”

Ryan: “Yeah.”

Phillips: “And a certain romantic myth.”

Ryan: “Yes. Definitely those are movies that have perpetuated a certain western romantic mythology of happily ever after. And this character that I play, Frannie in this movie, is somebody who’s a victim, who’s very heart broken partly because happily ever after has really passed her by.”

Phillips: “A lot of emotional damage in this character?”

Ryan: “Yeah, she’s had a rough experience. I think that she’s somebody who’s been shrinking farther and farther back into themselves, becoming sort of more and more isolated until this detective comes along.”

Phillips: “Whom she falls for.”

Ryan: “Instantaneously.”

Though the movie is a taut murder mystery, what attracted Ryan to the film was that, at its core, “In the Cut” is a love story, less about violence and more about intimacy, including some very un-Meg Ryan-like sex scenes.

Phillips: “How do you get comfortable with those scenes?”

Ryan: “For me, and I don’t think that anybody, we were never comfortable. I mean, it was hilarious for the most part because it’s absurd what you’re doing.”

Oscar winning director Jane Campion says Ryan knew when she auditioned for the part that the sex scenes would be explicit. But Campion did something directors are often reluctant to do. She offered her star veto power.

Jane Campion: “I said that if, by the way, Meg, you don’t like the way it’s depicted, or you know, when it’s filmed, you can throw anything out that you like.”

Phillips: “Is it true you offered to take off your own clothes if it made them more comfortable?”

Jane Campion: “I meditated deeply on the subject, and then offered to. And they said, ‘Oh, please don’t.’”

Phillips: “This film was written, edited, produced, directed by women. Is there a woman’s sensibility reflected the way that it deals with violence, sex?”

Ryan: “Yes. The most violent thing that happens on camera in this movie is a car accident. But you see the emotional, the real consequences of violence. And I feel like women are tuned into that.”

And Ryan says there’s also a woman’s touch to the film’s sensuality, both visually and verbally.

Phillips: “The dialogue in this film is as sexy as the—”

Ryan: “It’s really sexy.”

Phillips: “—as the images.”

Ryan: “Yeah, Detective Malloy in this movie, what he says, how he says it, is so erotic.”

Ryan praises director Campion for the film’s frankness and the cameraman for his up close, yet unobtrusive style of shooting.

Ryan: “I’ve done something like 30 movies and I’ve never been on a set like this. There was no conventional shooting whatsoever. So, I didn’t know if he was shooting my eyelash or my fingernail. So, I was surprised.”

Phillips: “Or some other part of you?”

Ryan: “Oh that’s right. [laughter] But I knew about those scenes.”

Phillips: “How carefully were the lovemaking scenes choreographed?”

Ryan: “Oh, extremely carefully. We knew where every angle was going to be. We negotiate body parts. There was no stone unturned. Sorry.”

No stone unturned and no emotion untapped. Ryan says she dug deeply inside herself to deliver this performance.

Ryan: “I’m proud of it because it’s a portrait of a complicated woman, and we don’t get to see those very often.”

Phillips: “Do you think you could have played this role this well earlier in your career?”

Ryan: “No.”

Phillips: “What’s changed?”

Ryan: “Well, I’ve lived and learned.”

In the last few years, Ryan has had to deal with some difficult and highly publicized complications of her own. In 2000, there was the short-lived, but headline-grabbing affair with her “Proof of Life” co-star, Russell Crowe. Soon after came the break-up of her 10-year marriage to actor Dennis Quaid. The two had met on the set of the 1987 film, “Innerspace.” To this day Ryan refuses to talk about the details of the painful divorce.

Now, as a single mom, she’s focused on spending as much time as possible with her 11-year-old son, from her marriage with Quaid. And she told us, she feels more at ease with herself and her life than ever.

Ryan: “It comes with experience. It comes with hard knocks. It comes with great beautiful adventure. And reflection, I think, that is necessary.”

Phillips: “You talk about reflecting. Some tumultuous times for you over the past few years, the breakup of your marriage and the pain of that. Few people go through it as publicly. How have you dealt with it? How has it changed you?”

Ryan: “It was awful but also great. It’s everything. I think anyone who’s been through that understands, you know, what it takes to dream a new dream, you know. It’s fierce. But in terms of the publicness of it, I was very able to look at the story being told and understand, you know, a lot of things about fame and how you’re not really a person. You’re an idea that people tack a lot of their projections onto. And that’s just, that’s the job.”

Phillips: “So, it’s kind of an out-of-body experience?”

Ryan: “Yeah, you try to watch this play going on and these characters and they seem sort of familiar to you but they’re not.”

She remains as private as she is popular. But Ryan did confess that when it comes to dating, she’s about as perplexed as everyone else.

Phillips: “You’re a movie star. You’re a mom. You may be the most eligible woman in America. I have to imagine that dating for you is different than it is for other people.”

Ryan: “Is it easy for anyone? Maybe we can ask some of the people here [laughter] if they are— if it’s easy for anyone. I don’t know. I’m having some fun.”

Phillips: “Do you see yourself getting married again?”

Ryan: “I don’t know, maybe. I like the idea of marriage.”

Phillips: “The partnership.”

Ryan: “Yeah, I like that. I like that idea a lot. But I don’t know if it’s in the cards for me. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, that’s probably going to be great, too.”

Phillips: “Do you want more kids?”

Ryan: “Yeah, because I love being a mom. Oh, we’ll see. We’ve got a lot to work on, Stone.” [laughter]

While there’s a serious side to this actor, she has a way of reminding you that lurking just beneath the surface is the same Meg Ryan, who played one of the sexiest scenes in film history for a laugh. Fully clothed. In a diner.

Phillips: “Are romantic comedies behind you for good?”

Ryan: “No, no. I love doing them and I hope I always get to do them.”

Phillips: “Comedy feels comfortable for you?”

Ryan: “I love it, yeah it’s fun.”

Phillips: “It’s great to see the ‘Meg Ryan’ smile.”

Ryan: [Laughter] “Oh God! Now I can’t smile.”

Her closing lines came right on cue when we asked her what was the hardest part of doing comedy.

Ryan: “There’s a lot of dialogue and then there’s a lot of hitting the marks and there’s a lot of all this technical things going on and you’re trying to— that’s technically that’s the tough stuff. And, you know how tough is that? Much tougher things happen to people, Stone.” [Laughter]

Phillips: “Just getting to the right mark.”

Ryan: “Just getting to the mark, man.”

Getting to the mark, getting to where she is today, Meg Ryan makes it seem pretty effortless. By the way, she said that doing this new film and working with director Jane Campion had such a profound effect on her that she hasn’t worked since. She has no idea what her next project will be. But she’s got her eye out for roles and directors like Campion that encourage her to hold something back on screen. She calls it “the cultivation of mystery.”

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