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Monday, Oct. 4, 2010

Jack Goes Boating

Amy Ryan shines in Hoffman's directorial debut

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To lend verisimilitude to the film, the makers of Gone Baby Gone cast many non-actors in supporting roles. So it would have been understandable if you didn’t recognize Amy Ryan as the mother whose daughter had been kidnapped. You might have sworn that they had trolled the streets of Boston to find an actual drug-addled skank to play the part. The riveting performance earned an Oscar nomination for Ryan.

The 40-year-old actress has been similarly convincing in a variety of performances, including as the investigative journalist in Green Zone and recurring television roles as the head of human resources in “The Office”and a hard-nosed detective in “The Wire.” In her latest cinematic role, Jack Goes Boating, she appears opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in the latter’s directorial debut. Ryan and Hoffman play a pair of socially maladroit New Yorkers who fumble their way into a midlife dating relationship.

“When I read the script, I was confused by the character,” Ryan concedes. “For me, this is someone who is introverted, uncomfortable with people, lives alone, and obviously doesn’t have much luck at love. But her language is so bold. She doesn’t keep that part of herself in.”

Bob Glaudini adapted the film from his off-Broadway play and was present during rehearsals. On occasion, Ryan turned to him for guidance and posed questions about her character.

Often, she says, “He would just shrug his shoulders.”

But Ryan took it as a vote of confidence. “It was his way of giving me permission to make the part my own,” she says. “He was giving me the freedom to figure it out. I was very touched.”

Ryan’s résumé includes films made by two of the most senior directors in Hollywood, Sidney Lumet and Clint Eastwood. However, two directors on their respective maiden voyages also elicited strong performances from her. In both of those instances, Ben Affleck in Gone Baby Gone and now Hoffman in Jack Goes Boating, her directors were fellow thespians.

“I have found that there’s a real compassion, being directed by actors,” Ryan says. “There’s a camaraderie from knowing what it’s like to go to dark places and be vulnerable.”

Ryan has displayed an uncanny capacity to disappear into the characters she portrays. “In a weird way, I think that it’s about being shy,” she says. “For me, it’s much easier to go hide behind someone else. I'm just the translator or the medium. Then, there’s the kid in me that likes playing dress-up and to trick people.”

Jack Goes Boating opens Oct. 8 at the Downer Theatre.