Meg Ryan says a single moment ended her stellar acting career (2023)

Meg Ryan was one of the greatest leading ladies of the ’90s.

Quirky and beautiful and beguilingly funny, Ryan was the undisputed romantic comedy queen for more than 10 years from the late ’80s through to the beginning of the 2000s.

But Ryan seemed to disappear from movie screens in an instant and in a recent interview with New York Times Magazine, the former America’s sweetheart said a single role as a schoolteacher in a racy R-rated film was enough to end her career.

She said shocking audiences, who were used to her good-girl archetype, with her In The Cut character marked the end of her career as an actress.

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But despite being happy with her life out of the spotlight, Ryan said she was “shocked” at the vicious reaction she endured for being “naked”. She said the more broad experience of being in the public eye made her feel “isolated” and like an “incomplete person”.

Ryan starred alongside Mark Ruffalo in In The Cut in 2003 after more than a decade of stellar hits including You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless In Seattle and When Harry Met Sally.

A racy, erotic thriller with a hypersexual plot line, In the Cut centres on Ryan’s character, a schoolteacher, having a torrid affair with a detective. The two meet after Ryan’s character sees a couple performing oral sex in a bathroom and later finds a severed arm in her front garden. The movie continues on in a similarly violent and sexual manner.


Ryan was 41 at the time of the film’s release and the nudity to her was “no big deal”. She said she faced other challenges, like playing a character who didn’t talk much.

Her co-star, Ruffalo, who played a kinky detective and her lover, told the press that during filming the director shouted at him to play a confident lover, saying: “You’re not in school anymore!”

The critical reaction to the film was negative and focused on Ryan’s performance and nudity. Entertainment Weekly’s headline was: “Meg Ryan bares all, makes leading man nervous”.

At the film’s premiere, reporters asked whether she was uncomfortable with the “skin” scenes and her departure from her role as “America’s sweetheart”.

“I’ve done 30 movies and I’ve done seven romantic comedies,” she told reporters.

“So I don’t know what the typical Meg Ryan movie is.”

But the film was poorly received by critics and reviews focused heavily on the nudity.

The Entertainment Weekly report said Ruffalo had “performance anxiety”, quoting him saying he was “really scared” and feared being compared to her previous partner Russell Crowe.

Ryan tried to defend her performance, telling critics it was not the first time she appeared nude. She said typecasting her as a “sweetheart” when she’d done so many films was hasty.

In an infamous interview, she was challenged by veteran talk show host Michael Parkinson about being naked. He suggested she was defensive about being interviewed because of a highly-publicised divorce and the poor box-office performance of the movie.

“How could you be naked?” Parkinson asked her, along with a line of questioning about why she was an actress.

“You should’ve prepared your audience for your doing something different,” Parkinson chastised. Ryan said she found his reaction shocking.

In the interview, the actress appears increasingly anxious and angry. When Parkinson asks Ryan where she thinks the interview should go next, Ryan suggests he wrap up it.

The actress acknowledged the film marked a fatal point in her career as a beloved Hollywood star.

“In the Cut felt like a real turning point,” she said but maintained she liked doing the movie.

The public had been turning on Ryan for some time since she split with her husband Dennis Quaid in 2001. Rumours circulated she cheated on him with Russell Crowe, her co-star in the movie Proof of Life.

Ryan did not address the cheating rumours at the time and speculation she was unfaithful only worsened.

She addressed the rumours in 2008, eight years after she and Quaid called off their marriage, clarifying Quaid had been unfaithful to her for a long portion of their marriage. She described the experience as being “very painful”.

“I know that when I did In the Cut, the reaction was vicious,” she said.

“I think the feeling with Hollywood was mutual. I felt done when they felt done, probably.”

Ryan hasn’t starred in a movie for over a decade — the 2008 comedy-drama The Women her last significant role. She is staunch a return to acting isn’t for her, saying the experience of being on camera stifled her ability to live her life fully.

“I have so much admiration for actors who have incredible imagination for life or have life experience that they can then bring to the audience,” she said.

“I don’t think I was one of those people. I felt like an unformed person.”

Ryan said she was a “terrible celebrity” who found the media cycle of baring personal details to promote movies unbearable. She said she wouldn’t be able to find fame in the current landscape.

“If I started my career today, I wouldn’t have a chance,” she told Vanity Fair. “Social media has changed things. It’s so vast and big. I couldn’t handle the constant attention and judging.”

Meg Ryan says a single moment ended her stellar acting career (1)


Ryan didn’t grow up wanting to be a performer, saying despite having 30 or so films behind her and being one of the most recognisable faces of a decade, she is disinterested in acting and found fame exhausting and disabling.

“I felt like I was behind a window looking at my life,” she said.

“I remember thinking, I want to have my own thoughts.

“Also, it was hard to walk around anywhere. It was never about people being mean; it’s that I couldn’t move. I would sort of duck and cover, and that wasn’t what I wanted.”

She explained her team of lawyers and handlers would often leave her alarming messages telling her there was an “emergency” that would turn out to be related to business.

“I’d say to some of the people representing me at the time, ‘Guys, don’t leave me messages that say it’s an emergency. If something’s wrong with (my son), that’s an emergency. The deal didn’t close isn’t one’,” Ryan said.

Ryan studied journalism in the early ’80s at New York University and was working part-time as an actor when the film offers just kept coming. The lucrative offers to be on screen turned into such a flood of opportunity Ryan decided to drop out of college.

But Ryan was still uncomfortable with acting, celebrity and fame — she found acting “fun”, but it was more a situation she found herself navigating than a dream she chased.

“I don’t feel like, naturally, I’m a performer,” Ryan said.

She said while being young and famous had many benefits, fundamentally it “disadvantages … a part of your brain, your self, your soul”, explaining her life experience was limited by her career and success.

She said when you’re famous, you never know who is telling you the truth.

“I felt in a crazy way that, as an actor, I was burning through life experiences,” Ryan said.

“Somehow I was a helicopter pilot or a journalist or an alcoholic. I was living these express-lane lives.”

At the end of her career she felt churned out and exhausted. “I was burned out. I didn’t feel like I knew enough anymore about myself or the world to reflect it as an actor. I felt isolated,” Ryan said.

Meg Ryan says a single moment ended her stellar acting career (2)

Meg Ryan says a single moment ended her stellar acting career (3)


Ryan said she was now free to be happy with her partner, musician John Mellencamp, and their daughter Daisy. The family lives together in New York City where Ryan works as a film writer. She also hopes to get into directing.

She has just had the green light for a romantic comedy film she wrote and is also working on a sitcom with Saturday Night Live boss Lorne Michaels.

She said the secret of her happy relationship with Mellencamp might be about being free and older, but she retained some of her rom-com quip when she commented: “I sometimes think relationships are for aliens. Who does it? Who can do it?

“I don’t know how any of us ever do.”

Meg Ryan says a single moment ended her stellar acting career (4)

— Continue the conversation with Phoebe Loomes on Twitter @dollyybird


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