A formidable character actress, Amy Ryan has built a career on dramatic supporting roles in everything from Before the Devil Knows You're Dead to HBO's The Wire, as well as Tony-nominated performances on Broadway. She is probably most famous for her Oscar-nominated turn as a distraught mother of a missing daughter in Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone. "I'm not a glamour girl and that's OK," Ryan tells ET by phone. Not confined to Hollywood's standards for leading ladies, she naturally gravitated toward these supporting roles. "It's what got me excited when reading scripts. The character parts are always so much fun."
While there's no doubt that Ryan can deliver scathing, emotional performances, she has a serious funny bone that's not often seen onscreen. "My mom always said to me, 'Your career really surprised me,'" Ryan says. The 48-year-old actress, who is currently earning laughs in Roundabout Theatre Company's limited run of Love, Love, Love, doesn't often do straight comedy. But when she does, it's hilarious, as first widely seen on NBC's The Office opposite Steve Carell. "She was always like, 'Amy, you were so funny as a kid. What happened?'"
Admittedly, Ryan did not have the best experience early in her career on a traditional sitcom. "That spooked me enough that I went back into an Arthur Miller play," she says. But years later, when The Office came calling, she was ready to try again -- this time with success. "I thought, 'OK, there could be a place for me here back in comedy.'"
While The Office didn't transform her career, Ryan says it did surprise a few people in the industry, allowing her to indulge her funny bone now and then. Most recently, she's appeared on two hit stoner comedies, Broad City on Comedy Central and HBO's High Maintenance. On the latter, she and her husband, Eric Slovin, appeared in an episode about an adult sex party gone wrong. "We jumped at the opportunity," Ryan says of taking up friends and co-creators Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair's offer to be on the series, which is now streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now. "It's such a gift."
But it's on stage in Mike Bartlett's Off-Broadway play, about a pair of boomers of the "Me" generation who start having kids of their own, that Ryan's striking a chord. Playing Sandra from age 19 to 64, Ryan hilariously embodies the narcissistic woman who turns to wine and cigarettes to cope with motherhood. The trick, Ryan says, is "playing it quite deadly serious."
"There's really strong base notes in there, on top of this hysterical drunkenness, that's real," she says of playing Sandra, especially in the second act's wine-fueled despair over her suburban life.
Love, Love, Love is unlike anything Ryan's ever done. "If you think outside the box, you're so screwed," she says the play's extreme precision. "We all joke if my right leg is crossed over my left and then the opposite happens, I won't know where I am."
"To breathe, smoke and drink is kind of hard," Ryan laughs.
For all its challenges, it's also creatively satisfying. The role is a rare find "because there isn't as much choice for women," Ryan says of being tired of just playing the wife. "That's not news. But you do need to be patient and creative about it." It's largely the reason why an actress like Ryan bounces between stage and screen so often, looking for gratifying work.
"High Maintenance is incredibly satisfying. This play is deeply, deeply satisfying," Ryan says. "But I always welcome more."