“I was promised a comfy chair, and they definitely delivered,” joked actress Meg Ryan, taking a seat alongside interviewer Paulino Duran, on Thursday, March 31, the second day of the Sonoma International Film Festival.
The tribute to Ryan followed a screening of “Ithaca,” her directorial debut, adapted from William Saroyan’s novel “The Human Comedy.”
Over the course of a 30-minute post-film interview, Ryan delighted the crowd with stories of tackling her first film as director, reteaming with frequent co-star Tom Hanks, and the generosity of her fellow artists.
The conversation began with a question of why she chose Saroyan’s melancholy 1948 novel for her directorial debut.
“Apparently,” Ryan said, “most people read ‘The Human Comedy’ in high school, but I didn’t. I first read it right around the time I was getting divorced. It came at a perfect time, because it’s a movie about sons growing up without fathers, and it helped answer some questions I was having about how a boy becomes a man.”
Ryan was married for 10 years to actor Dennis Quaid, with whom she had one child, Jack Quaid (“The Hunger Games”), who plays a significant role in the movie. Ryan joked about the time Jack spent filming his part in the decidedly low budget “Ithaca.”
“I was feeling all insecure when he came down to Virginia, where we made our film in 23 days,” Ryan laughed. “He’d just been making ‘Vinyl,’ this big-budget HBO television show with Martin Scorcese.
“He showed up and I said, ‘I’m so embarrassed! You’ve just been shooting with Martin Scorcese! And now you’re doing this teeny little film with me!’ He was so wonderful. He said, ‘Mom. Mom. It’s cool. You’re just as good as Marty.’”
Throughout the interview, Ryan laughed often, displaying the same vibrant and energetic persona that made her famous in movies like “When Harry Met Sally,” a film she mentioned as the one that changed the course of her career.
“I’ve been so lucky to have worked with so many brilliant people,” Ryan said. “Before I started directing ‘Ithaca,’ I called up and talked to at least half of the directors I’d ever worked with. I got so much great advice from so many generous people.”
Asked how she managed to lure such artists as Sam Shepard, who plays a major role, and Tom Hanks, who plays her onscreen husband and also produced the film, Ryan became visibly emotional.
“What I’ve seen,” she said, “is that actors, good actors, will show up for a good role whether it’s a big budget movie or a little independent film. A good role in a good story is irresistible. Everyone worked on this for little or no money, because they were passionate about the project. And Tom Hanks, he was so supportive. I literally could not have made this film without his involvement.”
Immediately following the interview, Ryan chatted with fans and reporters for about 45 minutes at Ledson Hotel. She posed for photos, autographed film festival programs, and answered questions about her favorite movies, including the critically panned 1990 cult hit “Joe Versus the Volcano,” another film she appeared in with Hanks.
“I am so happy people are embracing that movie at last,” Ryan said of “Joe.” “It was such a wonderful experience making that film with Tom. We all loved the script, we loved the story and we loved the time we all spent together. When there’s so much love on a project, it doesn’t really matter if the critics don’t like. I think the same will be true of ‘Ithaca.’ For me, whatever else happens, I think all I’ll remember is the love.”
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