Ryan, Carell are kindred ‘Office’ spirits
Ryan, Carell are kindred ‘Office’ spirits
The Scranton Times-Tribune
BY JOSH MCAULIFFE
Published: Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Amy Ryan’s stock went way up this year after she received an Academy Award nomination for her tour de force performance in “Gone Baby Gone.”
And with that newfound clout, she decided her next big role would be … guest starring on a sitcom?
That might sound like a bizarre career move for an actress of Ms. Ryan’s caliber, but then “The Office” isn’t your typical sitcom. And Ms. Ryan isn’t your typical actress.
When the Scranton-set NBC comedy begins its fifth season Thursday night at 9, Ms. Ryan will be back as new Dunder Mifflin Scranton human resources representative Holly Flax.
Soft on Michael
Holly first turned up in last season’s finale, “Goodbye, Toby,” which found hapless HR guy Toby (Paul Lieberstein) leaving Dunder Mifflin to live the life of a beach bum in Costa Rica. Toby had been the longtime designated office nemesis of regional manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell), who automatically assumed those duties would be passed on to Holly.
Instead, Michael realized that behind Holly’s buttoned-up exterior was a playful kindred spirit who shared his goofball sense of humor. With that, the seeds of a potential office romance were planted.
“She’s like Michael-in-training,” said Ms. Ryan during a recent phone interview from her home in New York City. “She might be the perfect match for Michael Scott. This might be his best chance at a perfect match. They’re like kids who played on the block after school together, and it never left their lives.”
“I think she’s like Michael in that she’s totally game,” she continued. “They have a shared sense of humor, which no one else can understand.”
Ms. Ryan only signed on for six episodes, so it’s safe to assume the Holly-Michael flirtation will go awry at some point, especially with Michael’s wacky, pregnant ex, Jan (Melora Hardin), still in the picture. Then there’s the matter of office accountant Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), who Holly also took a liking to, mostly because she thought he was mentally challenged.
Going into her “Office” stint, Ms. Ryan’s said she was somewhat intimidated by the fact that she didn’t have much comedy on her resume. In the end, though, the hardest part was keeping a straight face on camera.
“With that group of actors and the writing, huge belly laughs all day long,” said Ms. Ryan, noting that, unlike the other characters on the show, Holly actually thinks Michael is funny, so her frequent guffaws around Mr. Carell, a famously brilliant improviser, weren’t that big a deal.
“She brought incredible talent, that’s the main thing. She could go in any direction,” said “Office” executive producer Greg Daniels of Ms. Ryan’s performance. “It was great to work with her.”
The role came to Ms. Ryan shortly after she scored a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role as Helene McCready, the horrifically irresponsible mother of a kidnapped child in “Gone Baby Gone,” the Boston-set crime thriller directed by Ben Affleck.
Though Ms. Ryan lost the award to Tilda Swinton, the part brought the then little-known actress enough notoriety to land meaty roles in upcoming films like Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” starring Angelina Jolie, and “Green Zone,” an Iraq-set thriller in which she’ll star opposite Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear.
Still, one of the first things she told her agent after getting the nomination was to get her a spot on “The Office,” which she had been a huge fan of since its 2005 debut.
“I love it. I think it’s one of the funniest, cruelest shows out there,” Ms. Ryan said. “You can’t peel yourself away from the car accident. It’s so shocking and so funny.”
As it happened, the show’s writers had just come up with the Holly character and had yet to cast it. Meanwhile, most of them were big fans of the HBO series “The Wire,” on which Ms. Ryan played Baltimore policewoman Beatrice “Beadie” Russell. Plus, she had worked with Mr. Lieberstein on the 1990s sitcom, “The Naked Truth,” and with Mr. Carell on the 2007 film, “Dan in Real Life.”
A lot of actors would scoff at a return to TV after hitting it big in the film world, but Ms. Ryan looked at it as keeping “a few steps ahead of what people think I can and can’t do.”
“I was kind of having my cake and eating it, too,” said the Queens, N.Y., native, a two-time Tony Award nominee for her work on Broadway. “‘The Office’ was the sharpest right turn I could see.”
Holly’s future on the show is still up in the air, but, judging by the time Ms. Ryan had during her stint, it appears it won’t take much prodding to bring her back.
“It was great,” Ms. Ryan said. “It was one of the best times I’ve had in a while.”