Meg Ryan explains why she took an eight-year acting break: Film is 'a job and not a lifestyle'

Meg Ryan is posing for photos while wearing a black suit with a white shirt and black tie, with a relaxed smile
"What Happens Later," Meg Ryan's upcoming romantic comedy with David Duchovny, hits theaters Nov. 3. (Richard Shotwell / Invision / Associated Press)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Meg Ryan, one of the most prolific romantic-comedy actors of our time, wants you to know she is more than her performances.

The "When Harry Met Sally" actor, 61, is in the midst of her return to acting after an eight-year hiatus. She is the director and co-writer of the new film "What Happens Next," in which she stars opposite David Duchovny. It is her first movie since her 2015 directorial debut, "Ithaca," and her first rom-com in more than a decade. Her last was 2009's "Serious Moonlight," which tanked with critics and at the box office.

She has since been more selective with her work and has largely avoided the public light and focused on other parts of her life, People reported.

Read more: Meg Ryan returns to rom-coms to show that 'old people' are 'still romantic and sexy'

“I took a giant break because I felt like there's just so many other parts of my experience as a human being I wanted to develop,” she told the publication. The production signed an interim agreement with SAG-AFTRA, the union representing Hollywood actors, to allow its stars to promote the film amid the guild's ongoing strike.

“It's nice to think of it as a job and not a lifestyle," she added. "And that is a great way of navigating it for me."

Read more: After years out of the spotlight, Meg Ryan's ready to claim a spot behind, and in front of, the camera

While coming off her previous return to film, after taking a six-year break, she told The Times in a 2016 interview that she had grown a lot as a filmmaker during her periods of not creating.

“I had the big ride,” Ryan said. “I went to the moon. I had all that. I don’t need that anymore. So I have a real freedom, a real free operating principle. It’s about what’s interesting. What is a story I want to share? What environment do I want to be in? Who do I want to be around?”

With "What Happens Next," which is based on the play “Shooting Star” by Steven Dietz, Ryan is returning to the genre she helped define throughout the 1990s.

Read more: Meg Ryan makes first public appearance in months to support Michael J. Fox

"It came to me during lockdown," she told People. "The essence of it is these two people who are stuck together. I just love that idea that we’re held in a space, even if it feels conflicted, maybe for reasons that heal them."

The film is set in an airport where Ryan's Willa and Duchovny's Bill, ex-lovers, are trapped amid a "storm of the century."

While stranded, they begin to hash out why their relationship didn’t work.

Ryan also found inspiration in her former collaborator, Nora Ephron, the accomplished playwright and filmmaker who directed and co-wrote Ryan’s classic 1993 rom-com “Sleepless in Seattle.” Ephron died in 2012 at 71.

Read more: SAG-AFTRA and major studios delay bargaining session to Thursday

“Ephron used to say about rom-coms that they were really a secretly incredible delivery system to comment on the times, and we do that in this movie,” Ryan told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year, before the actors' strike.

But unlike clear-cut romances, in which the female protagonist typically ends up in love with a male counterpart, "What Happens Later" leaves more space for questions and tension, she said.

“Will they be together? Will they not be together?” she continued. “For that reason, [‘What Happens Later’] sort of evolves the rom-com genre just a little bit."

The film is set for a Nov. 3 theatrical release.

Sign up for L.A. Goes Out, a weekly newsletter about exploring and experiencing Los Angeles from the L.A. Times.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.