It's been quite a year for Meg Ryan. First she starred opposite Tom Hanks in one of the biggest hits of 1993, the ultra-romantic tear-jerker "Sleepless in Seattle." Now she's starring opposite her real-life husband, Dennis Quaid, in the new drama "Flesh and Bone" (which opened Friday ), written and directed by Steve Kloves ("The Fabulous Baker Boys"). And then there's the matter of Ms. Ryan and Mr. Quaid's own in-house production: their 1-year-old son, Jack Henry.
No wonder the blonde, blue-eyed actress seems slightly out of breath as she talks about her busy schedule and her latest movie. "It's a real change of pace from 'Sleepless in Seattle,' 'Prelude to a Kiss' and the other kinds of light romantic roles I've had in the past, like 'When Harry Met Sally,' " she says. " 'Flesh and Bone' is a lot heavier, a lot meatier. It's really night and day from 'Sleepless.' "
Ms. Ryan isn't kidding. "Flesh and Bone," which co-stars James Caan and Gwyneth Paltrow and is set in the empty plains of West Texas, tells the story of Arlis Sweeney (Mr. Quaid), a drifter with a tragic past who's content to live a quiet life, traveling from town to town, servicing candy machines and condom dispensers. But his life changes when he meets Kay Davies (Ms. Ryan) after she jumps out of a cake in a cowboy bar hoping for bus fare home. He takes her home and finds that she's a kindred spirit and also on the run: "running away from a bad marriage -- 'seven years of bad luck,' she calls it," Ms. Ryan says.
She says she grew interested in the character of Kay "because she's a person you don't expect to carry around the kind of baggage she does, because she comes off as this bright, perky person and yet she has this troubled past. And I think it's very interesting when someone manages that kind of pain without boundaries. Every scene is an act of resurrection for her. She trusts too easily -- she has no boundaries, and that's what gets her in the most trouble.
"So, she has no self-esteem and yet she's so hopeful," Ms. Ryans says. "She's this optimistic person for no reason at all, and I liked the idea of her meeting someone who has nothing but walls up.
"I also liked the fact that this movie is about the consequences of one violent act, and the ramifications of that," Ms. Ryan adds. "I also believe strongly that your present tense is
nothing but a negotiation with your past tense. We all have our baggage, we're all trying to figure it out and get through it, and this is a movie that's very much about that."
"Flesh and Bone" is the third time Ms. Ryan and Mr. Quaid have worked together, including the thriller "D.O.A." and the Steven Spielberg sci-fi adventure "Innerspace," where they first met.
"Making that movie with Dennis was a total blast," she recalls. "We had a lot of fun together." So much so that the couple, who decided to tie the knot on Valentine's Day, 1991, "on the spur of the moment," quickly reunited on "D.O.A."
"Flesh and Bone" also marks the first time since they were married that the couple have had a love scene on camera. "It was so awful to do that," Ms. Ryan says, laughing. "I kept saying to Dennis, 'Don't kiss me, because if you really kiss me, we'll never be able to kiss again.' Because it's the most impersonal thing you can ever do, a love scene. It's like gymnastics or some kind of strange choreography. So we were very perfunctory about it and we laughed the whole way through it."
Despite that, Ms. Ryan says of conjugal professionalism: "It's great working together on a project, because it doesn't mean that one of you is left behind." On the other hand, Ms. Ryan says that having her first baby (who was just 5 months old when the shoot began) has made her think twice about having to go off on location.
"I know how lucky the fates have made me over the last three movies, because I got to do 'Sleepless' and have Jack Henry with me, and it was so easy," she admits. "And then the next one, 'Flesh and Bone,' I did with Dennis, so we were all together. And then this new one, 'Significant Other,' I'm shooting right here in Hollywood. So it's really easy on him, but it is a consideration."
The actress goes on to say that it's not easy balancing the demands of motherhood and a Hollywood career. "In fact, it's extremely hard, because in a sense I really need my career as part of my person and identity," she explains. "But then all of a sudden, a new arrival redefines you in ways you never, ever thought of."
She jokes that since Jack Henry's arrival, the couple no longer has time for a social life. "We never even see movies now -- just old movies like 'Spartacus' and 'Lawrence of Arabia' on cable, late at night. We just don't go out anymore. It's the end!"