A Fin RomI

In Sleepless In Seattle, the low key hit of the year, MEG RYAN proves I that she is a modern-day comedy star cast from an old-fashioned mould. Alan Morrison, Envious In Edinburgh, ponders the nature of romance with her and director Nora Ephron.

he breezy smile. the bounce in the

step. the wave, the casual ‘Hil’:

everything is just as you hoped it

would be. For, without doubt, no one

is as perfectly girl-next-door cute as

Meg Ryan. Even in real life, she exudes all the feelgood elements that lifted When Harry Met Sally to the highest levels of romantic comedy. Maybe other actresses could have handled the oh-oh-oh so hilarious histn‘onics of its famous mock-orgasm scene. but no one else could have rounded it off with that distinctively cheeky smile across the deli table.

As Annie Reed in US summer smash hit Sleepless In Seattle, she stars as a happily engaged journalist living in Baltimore, who accidently tunes into a phone-in radio show and hears widowed father Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) tell how much he misses his wife. Casting her ordered life aside on a romantic whim, Annie tries to overcome the countless obstacles that lie between them not least of which is the entire land mass of America in order to meet the man in Seattle whom she believes is her destiny. Sleepless In Seattle is a wonderfully warm-hearted comedy, an immediate classic of the genre that embraces old-fashioned movie conventions without becoming corny or dated. Even hardened cynics will sniffie as the final credits roll.

‘lt really is an anomaly, and it sticks out as odd in this day and age, but there’s no sex in the whole movie,’ enthuses the 31-year-old actress. It’s not that sex and Ryan wouldn’t go together who can forget the skimpy nightdress she wore for most of D.().A. while superglued to Dennis Quaid? - it’sjust that her best roles have shown that she is better than her contemporaries at handling the verbal witticisms that are the essence of a romantic courtship from the old school (Bringing Up Baby, she claims. is her favourite film). Much of this comes down to the scripts and. in particular, to Nora Ephron, writer of When Harry Met Sally and co-writcr/dircctor of Sleepless In Seattle. ‘Very often 1 get sent scripts that are pseudo-romantic comedies,’ continues Ryan. ‘They might have the rhythm of a romantic comedy, but Nora’s are interesting because they become very present tense. You know, like Sally’s problems and Annie’s problems are very au courant, and that distinguishes them from the others in the pack. It’s the kind of observationist she is, the ability she has to describe what’s happening in the most concise, witty. cogent way.’

It’s appropriate that Ryan plays a journalist in this movie, as this is indeed the career that could have denied us her screen presence. After a small role as Candice Bergen’s daughter in Rich

8 The List 2;: September—7 October 1993"

And Famous (1981), she had embarked on a night course in journalism at New York University, while paying her way by acting in a daytime soap, As The World Turns. (‘1 was known forjust being able to cry no matter what,’ she remembers, ‘like if the oven was at 350° instead of 375°, I’d be weeping.’) This and a couple of other small roles landed her the meatier part of Anthony Edward’s wife in Top Gun (1986), but since then her filmography has been patchy. with the Ephron pieces as the highs and the odd decision to cast her as Pam Courson in The Doors (1991) undoubtedly the low. Sleepless In Seattle’s journalism factor may in fact be the external proof of fate at play, a concept vital to the film’s plot and atmosphere, as the characters of Annie and Sam have two brief but wordless encounters before getting it together for real.

‘Airports and railway terminals and those kinds of places are very romantic when you think about the numbers of lives that are passing each other by,’ Ryan says, using the thought to trigger a personal ‘destiny’ tale involving her husband, actor Dennis Quaid. ‘I wasn’t an actress at that point, I was going to school in New York and it turned out that we lived a block away from each other. For some reason, I remember this beautiful. autumn, New York, perfect day and l was walking up Amsterdam Avenue to go to the store, wearing this sweater. Then, after I met Dennis. he told me that he saw me one time in New York between 81st and 82nd, and I had this long, strange, blue sweater on, and he remembers stopping and looking at me. I didn’t see him, but 1 do remember the day.’

So, what were the first thoughts that went through her head when she first clocked her hubby-to-be?

“Oh no!”

As in . . .

‘Just “Oh no!” It was the big “Oh no!”, that feeling of “not you, this is going to be so complicated . . . But I knew instantly that I was in love with this person. I always say, in retrospect, destiny makes a lot of sense.’ Certainly, Quaid’s reputation as a Hollywood hellraiser justified her initial wariness, but not enough to stop her making a subsequent three films with him: the forthcoming Flesh and Bone. Innerspace (1987) and D.0.A (1988). Since their wedding appropriately enough. on Valentine’s Day 1991 there is a sense that the romantic flavour of her screen adventures has spilled over into her real life.

‘One time, my husband sent me a marching band for my birthday that’s very extravagant. isn’t it?’ And this from the woman who once returned the compliment by flying a huge ‘Happy Birthday Dennis’ banner from a

building in Los Angeles. ‘1 was making another movie [The Presidio, with Sean Connery] when I came out of the sound stage and there, down between the other sound stages. was this “Trrrrummm pummm! Trrrrummm pummm! Trrraaa rrrummtn pummm!” And a marching band with a big banner came up; they sang “Happy Birthday” and played all these other songs . . . in full regalia too. Sean picked me up and carried me into the middle of the band and. boy . . . l have a picture of it, so it actually did happen. But keeping the romance going is definitely hard work. Lately, it’s logistical work: when will we be in the same state at the same time‘?’

With the releases of Flesh and Bone and Significant Other (co-starring Andy Garcia) about to follow hot on the heels of Sleepless In Seattle, Ryan would appear ready to consolidate her star status. However. her dream role lies closer to home. in a real-life. updated version of Bringing Up Baby. An actress who has given as good as she gets with Connery. Hanks. Kilmer et aI, she’s relishing the challenge of playing opposite burping, nappy-filling, sixteen-month- old scene-stealer, Jack. ‘But.’ she shrugs. ‘there’s not a lot of romance in the traditional sense with that.’

Sleepless In Seattle opens in Scotland on Friday 24 September: