The Connecticut-born former homecoming queen made her
film debut at age 20 as Candice Bergen's
daughter in Rich and Famous (1981)
before turning to TV. She was a troubled teen
in Amy and the Angel (ABC, 1982),
and soap opera cultists embraced
her as Betsy Montgomery
on As the World Turns (CBS, from 1982-84).
After the premiere of Charles in Charge (CBS,
1984) and the short-lived Western series Wildside
(ABC, 1985), Ryan pretty much abandoned the medium, though.
First registering in features with a
small but memorable role as
Anthony Edwards' wife in
Tony Scott's Top Gun (1986),
Ryan went on to play a journalist
in the Joe Dante sci-fi flick Innerspace
(1987), opposite Dennis Quaid,
whom she later married. The pair then headlined
the unsuccessful noir remake D.O.A. (1988).
Ryan garnered some positive notices
for her atypical performance as a tough,
desperate drifter in Promised Land (1988)
but her generally bubbly, accessible persona has
been best served by romantic comedies.
Ryan gained fame with her first
leading role in Rob Reiner's
romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally...
(1989), opposite Billy Crystal.
Ryan's vociferous faking of an orgasm in a NYC delicatessen has been hailed as a modern comedy classic.
She has been paired with
some of Hollywood's most charismatic
leading men in comedies and dramas:
playing multiple roles opposite Tom Hanks
in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990);
with Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison's
spacey common-law wife in The Doors
(1991); and as Alec Baldwin's bewitched
bride in Prelude to a Kiss (1992).
Ryan has also re-teamed with Hanks
as his long distance love interest in Sleepless in Seattle
(1993), directed by Nora Ephron.
The trio once again reunited with You've Got Mail
(1998), an update of the 1940 classic
The Shop Around the Corner.
Although nearly typecast as a lightweight
performer, Ryan has offered several change-of-pace dramatic performances; several of the films, however, proved to be disappointments
at the box office. She starred opposite Quaid
in the moody Texas-set romance Flesh and Bone
(1993) and Andy Garcia as an alcoholic
wife and mother in When a Man Loves a Woman
(1994). In Michael Hoffman's
long-delayed Restoration (1995), Ryan
undertook the pivotal role as an Irish patient
in a Quaker hospice who becomes romantically involved
with a doctor (Robert Downey Jr.)
and acquitted herself nicely although her
brogue had a tendency to come and go. She was better served
as the US Army captain whose actions
during Operation Desert Storm come under investigation
in Courage Under Fire
(1996), as a surgeon romanced by a heavenly
creature in the person of Nicolas Cage
in City of Angels and as a drug-abusing
go-go dancer involved with a second-rate
actor in Hurlyburly (both 1998). But
regardless of whether she is playing at being the
queen of screen romance or essaying far more interesting
and dramatic characterizations, Ryan holds the screen.
One senses that her full range and potential
remain untapped. Perhaps if she ever undertakes
her dream role to portray poet Sylvia Plath,
audiences may see her at the real peak of her
After yet another turn as a cute
romantic comedy lead with her male
cute romantic comedy counterpart Tom Hanks
in You've Got Mail (1998), Ryan
next starred in the disappointing Hanging Up
(2000). Also in 2000, Ryan
starred in the thriller Proof of Life with Russell Crowe.
While the movie was of little interest to moviegoers and
critics alike, it spawned the highly interesting
love affair of Ryan and Crowe
which would result in Ryan's
eventual divorce from Dennis Quaid.
2001 found Ryan consistantly in the
gossip pages following her highly
publicized split with Crowe
in December of 2000. Reports of his abrupt
ending of their passionate affair put Ryan
in a rather uncomfortable spotlight. She
starred in the lightweight romantic
comedy Kate and Leopold
(2001) opposite Hugh Jackman and sported a
sexy, revamped post-breakup look on
several magazine covers. Feeling her image as
America's Adorable Sweetheart growing a bit
shopworn (and her box office clout
diminishing) Ryan--always a tad edgier than
her established on-screen persona--relished the opportunity to take
some chances with her choice of roles: she
starred opposite Mark Ruffalo in
the thriller In
the Cut (2003), directed by
In a role originally slated for
(who produced the film), Ryan stretches as a dark,
alienated woman with masochistic leanings,
entering into a potentially troubling
relationship with a police detective
following a violent robbery. Baring the darker corners of
her soul on screen as never before, Ryan
also bared her body in controversial full
frontal nude scenes that were both a Campion
trademark and a radical
departure from previous Ryan fare.
She next took on another non-cupcake role
as hard-hitting real-life female boxing
promoter Jackie Kallen in
Against the Ropes
(2003) for actor/director Charles Dutton.