LOS ANGELES Amy Ryan jokes that friends won't let her baby-sit any more, that society will never let her have kids of her own.
That's what happens when you do your job as well as Ryan did in "Gone Baby Gone," in which she plays the mother of all neglectful mothers boozy, promiscuous, corrosively foul-mouthed and out either doing drugs or transporting them when she should be home with her darling 4-year-old daughter.
The role has vaulted Ryan from acclaimed stage performer and TV regular to movie star, earning her an Academy Award nomination as supporting actress among her many film honors this season.
Ryan dominated "Gone Baby Gone," Ben Affleck's directing debut. Coming out on DVD Tuesday, the movie features Ryan as Helene, a low-class mom who displays shocking callousness and duplicity amid a media circus over the abduction of her daughter.
Along with the Oscar honor, the role earned Ryan supporting-actress nominations for the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, plus prizes from many key critics groups.
Ryan grew up in Queens and attended New York's High School of the Performing Arts. She began working in theater, TV and film, landing recurring parts on such TV shows as "The Wire" and "I'll Fly Away."
Her big-screen career has surged since last fall, when she followed "Gone Baby Gone" with roles in Steve Carell's "Dan in Real Life" and Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."
Ryan, who is in her late 30s but declined to give her precise age, chatted with The Associated Press the day after the SAG Awards.
AP: How was your first big Hollywood awards show last night?
Ryan: It was OK. It's a little stressful, those things. The red carpets. I felt I was on the 1-9 downtown local at rush hour with just really well-dressed people. It was that crowded. It was trying to like, shoulder in. And I had hoped to see more friends, but everyone was off at their own table across the room, so I didn't really get to say hello to as many people as I'd wanted to.
AP: You've been to the Tonys twice. What's the difference between Hollywood awards and those?
Ryan: At the Tonys, it's a little more homespun. It feels more relaxed, but here, the ante has been upped, and there's more televised things going on.
AP: Do you feel the ante has been upped on your career lately?
Ryan: I do. And I'm glad for that. I feel very grateful for better material, and that continuing theme of working with great directors is happening. Because at the end of the day, that's the stuff that will be long-lasting. So that's been thrilling.
AP: You just finished working with Clint Eastwood.
Ryan: I learned a movie punch from Clint Eastwood.
AP: Really? Let's hear about that.
Ryan:We had a fight scene. I get slapped and I retaliate with a punch. Denis O'Hare, the other actor, he asked Clint, "Do you have a fight coordinator? How should we do this?" And he just had this small smile on his face. He's like, "I'll show you." So I got the slap and he showed me how to throw a punch. It was pretty bad-ass. I tell you, it's those small moments, that one exchange, that to me is magnified. Because growing up on his films and that one day, your heroes are your peers, it's an extraordinary thing that happens in this business. ... Watch out, Dirty Harry taught me how to punch.
AP: How disappointing would it be if you can't go to the Oscars?
Ryan: It would be disappointing, but I believe what the writers are asking for is far more important at the end of the day. These people's livelihoods are at stake, and without the writers, actors are nothing. But yes, I hope that a settlement happens before the Oscars. It would be a bummer.
AP: What if the Oscars don't come off, you wind up winning, and you miss that chance to thank people?
Ryan: Oh, gosh! What would you do? What would I do? I think I would sit in a big, beautiful gown on my couch and wear it for a week. ... Maybe the only benefit is if you lose and you take it too seriously, then you're home crying by yourself.
AP: What did you think of your character when you first read "Gone Baby Gone"?
Ryan: I thought it was incredible. All too often, you see two-dimensional versions of this character, the poor white trash or the drug-addicted character, but she kept surprising. She kept shocking and surprising, but it wasn't only for shock value. In her world, her choices made sense for what she's up against. Certainly, I can presume not in yours and I know not in mine would they make sense. But in her world, it made absolute sense that she would behave that way. So I like that my jaw kept dropping open with each new scene. It was like, oh man, don't tell me she's going to do that? She's going to say that? I couldn't wait to play it.
AP: Helene clearly loves her daughter, but she's a terrible mother. Did you find much redeeming about her?
Ryan: Yeah, in that she was trying the best that she knew how to. I could have compassion for her because I could see how a person in her situation is up against all the odds. No education or child care or health care, addicted. Really caught in a deep, deep cycle. I think she was the same 4-year-old, cute, blond, blue-eyed daughter once to someone else the same way. I'm sure her daughter will grow up into that, as well. So the question really is how do you break that cycle for the neighborhood at large or the community or for people who do need extra help?
AP: How do you wash away the taste of an unsavory character like this?
Ryan: When we wrapped this movie, I had to clean up my language. I was cursing like a sailor for about two weeks. I went home and I caught myself over and over. I went, oh my lord. So yeah, first I had to wash my mouth out with soap. You get drunk on the power of such strong language. But other than that, I've played really emotional roles in theater. With any job, you should leave your work at the office. Don't take it home with you. I took home the homework and the research, but not the emotional life.