Even if you’ve watched TV sparingly over the past couple of decades, you probably recognize this beautiful blonde with a thousand-watt smile. Meg Ryan, who most will remember as Sally from the 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally, is an actor and producer who graced the silver screen in the 90s and early 2000s.
Soon after the success of When Harry Met Sally, Ryan was a household name who went on to deliver brilliant performances in several rom-com, many of which were leading roles. Considering Ryan’s success at the box-office, fans often wonder why she disappeared from the limelight. If you don’t count the reruns on TV and lesser-known productions, the last thing most of us saw her in was the 2001 fantasy rom-com Kate and Leopold.
The early 2000s was a period of hits and miss for Meg Ryan, with small-time roles gaining critical acclaim or box-office success, but rarely both. In contrast, the last ten years have been mostly misses rather than hits. Ryan even turned to direction to expand her resume, but as luck may have it, it didn’t pan out.
Without further ado, let’s go over why Meg Ryan disappeared from Hollywood and other lesser-known facts about the queen of rom-com.
She Didn’t Always Dream of Becoming An Actor
Born in 1961 as Margaret Mary Emily Hyra in Fairfield, Connecticut, Ryan did not originally have plans to become an actor. Instead, a young Ryan wanted to pursue a career in journalism, which she studied first at the University of Connecticut and then New York University. As a means to financially support herself during college, Ryan started doing TV commercials and small acting gigs.
It was during this time that she landed her first gig in As the World Turns. The side hustle quickly became the main gig when Ryan started doing exceptionally well in the field. Eventually, she had to forgo her last semester at college to pursue acting full time. The actor adopts her grandmother’s name Ryan as Meg Ryan when she joins the Screen Actors Guild.
Her First Serious Gig
CBS’s soap opera As the World Turns turned out to be Ryan’s first serious part, where she played Betsy Stewart Andropoulos during 1982-84. While Ryan had participated in plays at school, the experience on set wasn’t easy for her. She confesses that a simple scene where she had to walk down the stairs and get a future love interest to open a jar of peanut butter was so confusing for her, they had to do some 37-38 takes to get it right.
Ryan also claims she struggled to remember lines, which makes it all the more shocking that she stuck around with acting. All said and done, her character in As the World Turns was well-loved; in fact, the episode where her character marries the onscreen love interest Steve garnered one of the highest viewer counts in soap opera history.
Although it’s a stroke of luck that Ryan ended up pursuing a career in acting despite planning to become a journalist, what’s funny is not only did she become a mainstream actor who portrayed lead roles in several commercial films, she even went on to direct and produce. Ryan’s directorial debut not only stars her but another close family member; can you guess who? Continue watching to know more about the film and how it did at the box office.
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What Came After
Ryan’s role in As the World Turns paved the way for opportunities on the bigger screen. She did several small roles in movies, such as Promiseland, Armed and Dangerous, and Top Gun during the 80s.
In 1989, Ryan bagged her first leading role in the 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally, which gained much critical acclaim and box-office success. To date, it regards as one of the funniest films ever made. Ryan, who plays Sally in the film, nominates for a Golden Globe for her performance.
The next few years were not as successful but weren’t an entire failure either. She appeared in Joe Versus the Volcano in 1990, which tanked at the box-office, followed by The Doors, which was reasonably successful, and Prelude to a Kiss, which was again a flop.
Sleepless In Seattle
Luck favoured the actor again in 1993 with the huge success of Sleepless in Seattle, a rom-com in which she plays the leading role opposite the legendary Tom Hanks. The duo seemed to cast magic on screen with their chemistry. Their first film together, Joe Versus the Volcano, was a flop but later developed a cult following. In a 2018 interview, Ryan attributed their perfect onscreen chemistry to Hanks, saying he is easy to work with and roots for others around him.
While Ryan was a huge star in her own right back then, her filmography may have had another phenomenal success. She receives an offer the leading role of Clarice Starling in the 1991 epic psychological horror film Silence of the Lambs. But the actor turned the offer down since it was too gruesome. It may just have been for the best since so far, all her roles were sugary good in charming plots.
Things were going well for Ryan on the personal front as well. She married Dennis Quaid in 1991. The pair, who had met on the sets of Innerspace a few years ago, was an audience favourite in real life as well.
Stepping Away from the Typecast
The 90s was an era of success for Ryan all around. She had the pick of the crop in terms of rom-com scripts and ingénue characters. Some of Ryan’s most notable films during this time were the social drama When a Man Loves a Woman, the rom-com French Kiss, and the rom-com You’ve Got Mail, which once again featured Meg Ryan opposite Tom Hanks.
The turn of the century proved to be a major turning point in Ryan’s life, both personally and professionally. Ryan took up more diverse roles in almost anything but rom-coms. One such production was the 2000 action thriller Proof of Life. While the film was reasonably successful, it was mostly spoken of for another reason altogether.
Rumours were abuzz that Ryan and co-star Russell Crowe were an item off-screen as well. At this time, Ryan was still married to Dennis Quaid. The same year, Ryan separated from Quaid, which created quite the controversy. Hollywood’s good girl was now the villain.
Ryan And Crowe Didn’t Stay Together For Too Long
In a way, all of this was for naught considering Ryan and Crowe didn’t stay together for too long, which wasn’t for the lack of trying on the Gladiator actor’s part. Crowe was reportedly smitten with Ryan and wanted more from their relationship. Unfortunately, she was in a different place and Crowe’s persistence overwhelmed her.
Of course, the whole episode cost Crowe’s image as well; he was labelled a homewrecker. Much later, in a 2008 interview, Ryan cleared the air by saying Crowe wasn’t responsible for the failure of her marriage. She was in a bad place and, in the end, she hurt Crowe too.
On the professional front, audiences were not ready to see Ryan stray too far from her good-girl image, and while some of her experiments worked out, one experiment could well have cost her her career. Her role in the 2003 erotic thriller In the Cut was a step too far as per fans. The film, which features Ryan opposite Mark Ruffalo of The Avengers fame, includes a steamy scene that many felt didn’t fit well with Ryan’s image.
In the Cut
Ryan’s gamble didn’t pay off, as In the Cut failed to impress critics as well as fans. When asked why she opted for the racy role when it was obvious her image was more conducive to the �good girl’ roles, Ryan said only seven of her thirty films were rom-coms, so the image was not something she consciously developed or recognized.
In another interview, Michael Parkinson grilled her about her choice but he crossed a line. Instead of questioning her, he seemed to be berating her, and Ryan was clearly offended. In most cases, audiences and the industry sign off actors, but in Ryan’s case, it was both ways. She said she was unfairly typecast, and she was just as done with the industry as people were with her. But in a later interview, Ryan conceded that she had anticipated the aftermath of playing a darker role in In the Cut, although not to such an extent.
Fame Wasn’t All She Thought It Would Be
Ryan started acting from a very young age and tasted success early in life. Obviously, hectic schedules took a toll on her and she was constantly tired. She confesses she struggled with the growing discomfort that came with popularity.
In an interview with the New York Times, the actor said fame puts one at a disadvantage because one can’t be sure who is honest and who isn’t. She did add that fame does have many advantages as well, but they came at a cost to your mind, body, and soul.
After the harsh criticism Ryan faced for her relationship with Russell Crowe and her role in In the Cut, she decided to step back. In an interview with Jane Pauley, Ryan said she had turned down roles because she felt like doing other things and making new experiences that were not related to acting.
Ryan took the time to be with her son and in the process, she matured as somebody who wanted to dictate the terms of her life rather than just letting life happen as it may. But even staying away from the silver screen didn’t spare her from criticism. People went out of their way to comment on her looks, claiming she had work done. Ryan never confirmed or denied these claims, but she retaliated on the vitriol by saying so many people have the time to spread hatred but it’s so stupid. She added that she rather valued meaningful conversations.
Her Directorial Debut
In 2015, Ryan tried her hand at directing with the drama Ithaca. In an interview with Good Morning America, she said it felt like she was ready to get behind the camera after having been in front of it for 30 movies. Ryan starred in Ithaca opposite Alex Neustaedter. The film also features her son Alex Quaid in the supporting role of elder son onscreen. She even convinced her friend Tom Hanks to make a guest appearance in the movie. The film received mixed reviews, but it wasn’t an entire failure.
Currently, Meg Ryan is a producer. In 2018, she sold The Obsolescents to NBC. When asked if she had any advice for her younger self, she said shouldn’t have taken things too personally and it’s best to not try to follow what everyone is saying about you. The actor remains shy of fame and says one needs a thick skin to handle the pressure.
Although the bigger picture shows Ryan has delivered as many box-office hits as flops, her performances prove excellent examples of quality over quality. Most of us can only remember a few of her films, and yet, she’s regarded as one among a distinguished league of performers. If you haven’t seen any of her films yet, we suggest you fix that right away with a tub of popcorn for a movie marathon, starting from Kate and Leopold, followed by When a Man Loves a Woman.
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