Asked how she connected to Franny, a lonely writing professor embroiled in a stormy, kinky affair with a cop (Mark Ruffalo) investigating a series of murders in her neighborhood, Ryan considers the question a moment, then replies: "She's a brave character. Whatever there is that's quiet in her, I understood."
Best-known for playing starry-eyed heroines in frothy comedies like "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "French Kiss," Ryan insists she wasn't consciously trying to change the way people think of her when she auditioned for this startling role. But the 41-year-old actress does admit she was intrigued by the fact the film required her to explore a side of herself audiences have never seen before.
"I don't know what people think (about me,)" says the Connecticut native when questioned about the "Meg Ryan mystique."
"If I might be Meg for a minute," Campion interrupts, "since I seem to enjoy being Meg more than Meg does. Everyone has a persona they cope with. but it's not the whole of you."
Ryan reflects: "It's been a year since we shot (the film) and thinking about the movie and talking about it, I've played characters before who really do perpetuate a romantic mythology and what was fun about this is it is absolutely the flip-side of it. The shadow aspect of it in that this character is a little bit of a victim of those expectations about 'happily ever after.'"
Having recently endured her own romantic heartbreaks in the form of a divorce from husband Dennis Quaid and a now-ended love affair with New Zealand hellion Russell Crowe, Ryan points out there is an odd symmetry between life and art, noting her personal disappointments may have informed her performance, even if she is still unraveling precisely how they did so.
"This movie is still a little beyond me. The character is a little beyond me," she confesses. "What's interesting to me is that (Franny) has that remoteness and that she for whatever reason she's walled up. She does this subtle move, but I think it's one of the biggest moves we can ever make --to reach out to someone in real vulnerability. That's terrifying and dangerous and it's woven into the movie. We have a tapestry of love and fear."
Told by a journalist it is obvious by the artful way sex and violence are handled in the film that it was directed by a woman, Campion laughs and remarks, "Our worst fear was that a man might get hold of it!"
But Ryan says it wasn't that the film was directed by a woman that gave her the courage and strength she needed to play this dark new role; it was that she totally trusted and believed in Campion, a distinguished filmmaker whose credits include "The Piano" and "The Portrait of a Lady."
"I don't think it's really about gender," Ryan contends. "I think it's about Jane. I was able to see how she has treated sexuality and eroticism in her past films and that made me very confident."