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 prowess.

      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 Jane Campion. In a role originally slated for Nicole Kidman (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.



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