The publicist in Amy Ryan’s hotel room was doing her best to make a nice, formal introduction between Ryan and myself — that’s when Ryan made that “raspberry” sound one makes with pursed lips. The publicist asked if she’d missed something, Ryan responded, “We get in trouble.”
Amy Ryan and myself, perhaps it’s because of our last names, have developed this weird, almost shtick during interviews. It’s a fun bond that only exists in this context, we have never met outside of these moments – which there have been four of now. Earlier this year at Sundance, Ryan told me that when we met for Bridge of Spies we’d need to tone it down. After all, this is a Steven Spielberg movie. To be fair, we did try our best to tone it down. (The real problem here is that Ryan is incredibly funny – as you probably know from her run on The Office — and has a dry humor that hits me in the perfect way. I just can’t help but laugh when she makes a joke, which then eggs her on to keep going.)
In Bridge of Spies, Ryan plays Mary Donovan, the wife of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a lawyer who is tapped to defend a Russian spy (Mark Rylance) in court, then is tasked with brokering a trade for that spy with the Soviet Union for a downed U.S. U2 pilot. Ahead, Ryan talks about her dream of working with Steven Spielberg – she’s been afraid of sharks since 1975 – before the whole thing devolves into the two of us doing impressions of Tom Hanks and Paul McCartney. (As we start, Ryan is telling me about some advice she got from her Bridge of Spies co-star, Alan Alda.)
Amy Ryan: His dad was in burlesque as a performer and actor and he said his dad’s advice to him was, “always sit down in a scene because it’s a long day and you’ll be tired.” So he told me, “when I got M*A*S*H I sat down, then I put my feet up on the desk.” I’m like, oh my God, that’s such an iconic image.
For the rest of your movie career, if I see you at a desk with your feet up, I know you got that from Alan Alda.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. That’s where I get all my best moves.
Do you get nervous meeting someone like him or Steven Spielberg? Or is it, “I’m a famous person, too,” and it all evens out.
What I prefer is if I’m meeting them with someone else and that person has the guts to ask all the questions I feel too goofy to say – like, all the obvious ones. I worked with Arthur Miller once – what question would you ask Arthur Miller if you had a second? You know what I said? “How was your drive?”
That’s nice, it’s a normal question.
[Laughs] But you know what? He did describe the drive with the sun coming up over the hill and the country road. I was like, that’s not any old drive.
But it’s like this story I heard somewhere about Paul McCartney telling a dining guest who asked for a picture, “you’re either my fan or my friend, which will it be?”
That’s really cool.
That was a terrible Paul McCartney impression I attempted.
No, no, no.
I can’t believe I tried to do that.
I had a friend once and they said, “meet the person, not the personality.” Yeah, they’re just a person. But sometimes that’s hard. It takes a minute.
The most nervous I’ve ever been before an interview was Harrison Ford. A lot of my entire childhood of popular culture centers around this guy. If something goes wrong…
Well, I think with Steven, too, who is such a lovely, down-to-Earth guy who’s very present and remembers everybody’s names. You know, he’s so cool like that. But, at the same time, I feel like my childhood is shaped by him. I got disqualified from the Holy Family swim team because I touched the side of the wall during a meet because I saw a shark in the water.
Because of Jaws?
I was absolutely convinced there was a shark in the pool. Like, how much has he shaped my life through his films?
Is Jaws your favorite?
It’s funny, I can name — yeah, that was my favorite when I was younger – but then I saw Lincoln. That’s the thing, you can grow with him.
So you see Jaws and then you’re seeing sharks in enclosed water.
Yes, that’s how powerful it is.
That went away, right?
[Laughs] No, no, it stayed the same for a long time … I’m not sure why I was seeing that film when I was that young. I was the youngest of three, so I tagged along. Yeah, it’s powerful filmmaking.
The last two times we’ve spoken, we’ve discussed this movie. It was “Untitled Steven Spielberg Cold War Thriller.” Now it has a name.
That’s right, yes.
Now here we are. It’s the conclusion of a long series.
That’s true. Next time, we’ll still talk about it.
Do your expectations of what it’s like to work with Spielberg match the realities? Or do you not think about it once you’re there?
No, I am. I mean, I’m thinking about my job I have to do in the moment, trying to be focused and concentrated and whatnot. But here’s when it struck me: down to the PA — who with the boldest confidence asked, “Can I get you a coffee?” – every department has the boldest confidence. I feel like he hires the best and then he leaves them alone so people can do their job in confidence. It’s not, “Oh, God, here comes the boss, now let’s scramble and make sure everything is perfect.” And there’s this trickle down of fear, “Here comes Steven!” It’s the opposite. Because I’ve been on sets when there’s been an insecure director and that trickles down and everyone’s like, “they’re going to freak,” and scrambling and second-guessing their work.
You asked for Sweet’n Low in your coffee and they brought you Equal.
“How dare you!” And this might just be my experience with this one, but it’s the scene when we come out of the courthouse and I had no dialogue, but Steven said, “This scene is about Mary.” I remember Tom Hanks joking, “Ohhhh, it’s about Mary. It’s about Mary. I’m doing all the talking, but it’s about Mary.”
That’s a good Tom Hanks impression.
We should go on tour together with my Paul McCartney impression and your Tom Hanks impression.
[Laughing] Oh my God, we’d sell out.
People would love it.
So anyway, he introduces characters to it, that’s what he’s doing. This is Mary the first time in public and the fear the public is encroaching upon her family. So he had cameras literally in my face … so, that was interesting to me.
It’s a big week for you, you also have Goosebumps coming out.
It’s really fun.
I missed the whole Goosebumps phenomenon.
Yeah, I didn’t read them. So you didn’t read them or watch the series?
People about five years younger than me know everything about them. But the movie is really accessible.
Oh good, I’m glad you think so. I remember reading the script thinking, Yeah, I could see this movie.
It’s the month of Amy Ryan.
[Laughs] Oh, that’s…
That was bad.
You’d better work on that one. We’ll just stick with the Hanks-McCartney impression tour.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.