Meg Ryan used to be super famous and now she’s not. For her, that’s a win.
“I like the famous I am now,” the actress, recently engaged to John Mellencamp, told the New York Times in a new interview. “I walk into other people’s paparazzi photos, but I can also get a restaurant reservation.”
Once the queen of romantic comedies (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail) — and, at times, the tabloids — she said her separation from Hollywood was a “mutual” one. “I felt done when they felt done, probably,” she said.
Dubbed “America’s sweetheart,” Ryan had done dozens of films, but when she tried to branch out to other roles — specifically ones where she wasn’t the lovable good girl — there was backlash. For instance, In the Cut, which had — gasp — sex scenes. While she had done nudity before, including in The Doors movie, it was viewed as a departure and people were “vicious.”
Ryan admitted she was “surprised by the negative reaction,” and while doing press, was even more shocked when English talk show host Michael Parkinson asked her questions like, ‘How could you be naked?’ “I don’t think I handled it well. Since then, I’ve had publicists say to me, ‘You should’ve prepared your audience for your doing something different.’ In the Cut was a sexual thing, and sex throws people. I’d never presented myself like that before; it was so different from my assigned archetype,” she said. “Probably I had a very neutered image. Carrie Fisher was the one who said: ‘No, no, no. When you betray your archetype by doing a movie like that and by getting divorced — you can’t.’ Yeah, In the Cut felt like a real turning point.”
She added, “When I look back now, it was definitely easier to be the funny person rather than the pretty person, the sexy person. Not that I ever could be sexy, but I felt like that got into such a funky land. I didn’t want the problems.”
Nor did she want the problems that went along with fame. In 1999, as her marriage to Dennis Quaid floundered, she hooked up with her Proof of Life co-star Russell Crowe. The tabloids were brutal, she was painted as a cheater and the romance was brief. She and Quaid, who struggled with alcoholism when they were together, divorced in 2001.
“That was another big turning point in my evolution,” Ryan said. “I’d never felt like I was all that concerned with what people thought of me, but then that story” — of how she got divorced or the problems she had with Quaid — “never got told right… It’s a real gift when you know you can’t ever really manage an image or a story and you stop caring.” Ryan said she felt “like I was the bad guy or whatever the story was,” but it also meant she learned to let go of needing to correct anybody. “Divorce is hard. Love is hard. All those things were so personal. They weren’t for mass consumption. The complexity of a life or a marriage is never going to exist in a headline or a tabloid. That was a freeing thing to know,” she said.
Fame was always hard though, she said. “There a blankness required” to be a movie star. And while she liked acting and thought it was fun, “acting was a situation I was navigating.” And being a movie star made her feel “like I was behind a window looking at my life.” She explained, “That had a lot to do with working so much. The only people you meet are on the set, and you’re waiting in your trailer, and you’re memorizing lines — I remember thinking, I want to have my own thoughts.”
After deciding, “I wanted to live more,” she moved back to New York from L.A. when her son, Hunger Games actor Jack Quaid, finished high school. “I was burned out. I didn’t feel like I knew enough anymore about myself or the world to reflect it as an actor. I felt isolated” both in work and fame.
So she adopted daughter Daisy True in 2006. And she pursued her passions. “I’m lucky because I can go places like a TED conference,” she said. “I can go to Cambodia and travel around. I’m writing. I’m hoping to direct. I have a passion for design. I take pictures.”
And she’s fallen in love. After an on-again, off-again romance, she and Mellencamp became engaged late last year. “What’s great about now is that John and I are so free to have fun,” she said about their romance. “Maybe that freedom is about being a million years old. But I sometimes think relationships are for aliens. Who does it? Who can do it? I don’t know how any of us ever do.”
While she still gets offers for acting work, they are “not things I want to do.” So she’s writing her own romantic comedy, which she didn’t want to talk too much about for fear of jinxing it, and is working on a murder mystery/comedy with Saturday Night Live‘s Lorne Michaels. “I can’t believe NBC might do it, because it’s so odd. Right now I’d be producing. Maybe I’ll act in it. I don’t know.”
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