It’s no secret the effect an Academy Award nomination can have on a career, and Amy Ryan’s is on fire. In late October, she’ll appear as a prostitute in Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling alongside Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, and, next year, she’ll play a New York Times reporter opposite Matt Damon in the Iraq thriller Green Zone. But her first major role after the success of Gone Baby Gone? Holly Flax, the would-be (and should-be) love interest of Michael Scott on last season’s finale of The Office. She’ll reprise her role in a six-episode story arc, kicking off tonight. Ryan spoke with Vulture about rattlesnakes, working with Eastwood, and Office hazing rituals.
So what have you been up to this summer?
I’ve been tackling critters in my family’s house. It’s like Dr. Doolittle. Lots of bats and rats and bears. All on the front lawn, so I’m in the house. But they won’t bother you, unless you leave the garbage out. When we were filming The Office, we had a scene where were on location at Griffith Park, and we had a rattlesnake handler. And just looking at the man, with the long metal stick and the rattlesnake in the bucket, that was enough for me. I was like, “I’ll take a Jersey bear any day than a Los Angeles rattlesnake.”
Your character, Holly Flax, was described by Michael Scott as “sweet and simple … like a lady baker.” Do you see her that way?
[Laughs] Yeah, she started that way in the finale. But TV moves so fast — obviously the timeline is compressed. So in one episode I think I went from “Sweet Lady Baker” to “Crazy Lady in the Neighborhood.”
She morphed into a goober.
She’s a goober. And quite frankly, I was so excited. I thought, This was the first time I have ever been cast as some romantic leading lady. And then as things went on, I was like, “Oh my God, you want me to do what? That’s not very ladylike.” But actually I prefer that; it was so much more fun.
Is it hard to negotiate giving your eye to the camera?
That was one of the first questions I had. Because obviously I was familiar with the show as an audience member, and I loved the British version. And I said to our director, Paul Fieg, “But what is my relationship to this camera?” We tried to find a balance, especially in the beginning. And it could change, as you got used to the situation, where cameras are following you around at work. I asked Steve [Carell], “When you’re on hiatus and go off and do these other movies, do you find yourself constantly looking in the camera?” And he said “Yes — it’s become part of a muscle in part of the thought process.” So he gets in trouble with that.
In the episode where you’re introduced, Holly goes through some hazing. I feel like there could have been some on-set hazing as well.
[Laughs] Yeah. They said more than once, “What the hell are you doing here? You were nominated for an Oscar and you’re on a TV show? Who’s your agent?” [Laughs.]
So, tell us about your role in The Changeling.
There is a part of the movie, and this is where my character gets introduced, that if you are a woman and you go against any authority, then you must be crazy — you must simply be crazy. So they would lock these women up. So I play a prostitute — but then, it was called a “soiled dove.” And I end up in this institution where I befriend Angelina [Jolie] and help her navigate her waters. When I read the script — it’s so hard to believe that it’s true; it’s definitely a moment where life is stranger than fiction.
How was working with Clint Eastwood?
Clint is incredibly economical in his filmmaking — in that it happens very fast. It’s incredibly well thought out before you get there. He doesn’t meet actors before you audition on videotape. Even Angelina — I had asked her, “You must have sat down and rehearsed, or talked about the whole arc of the story, right?” She said “No,” and thought that was funny. We were both talking about how it could seem like “Where’s our ship’s captain?” But it forces you to bring your own confidence and drum it up from somewhere. You must think you know what you’re doing or this man wouldn’t let you be there. So you make strong choices, because you only have one take to do it. Maybe two, if you’re lucky.