Meg Ryan has learned a thing or two about being on the ropes in the past three years, but she was an ingenue when it came to boxing.Divorce, a brief romance with former bad-boy actor Russell Crowe and her last movie outing in the sexually explicit murder mystery “In the Cut” overturned Ryan’s image as the bubbly blue-eyed romantic comedy actress that made her America’s 1990s movie sweetheart.But her upcoming boxing movie “Against the Ropes” taught her more than she bargained for both about the gladiatorial sport and her own place in the Hollywood ring.“I think there are a lot of analogous things between the boxing world and Hollywood. They are very, very happy to put you in a box and say this is meant for you and not this. Particularly, if you look a certain way, you can be judged immediately,” Ryan, 42, told reporters.Getting rid of her ‘sweetheart’ imageRyan was both irked and surprised at the reception last year for “In the Cut,” in which she played several steamy nude scenes, noting that only seven of her 30 or so movies have been romantic comedies. She played an alcoholic wife in “When a Man Loves a Woman” and a stripper in “Hurlyburly.”“I learned on the last movie out that there is definitely a very particular idea (of me) that people don’t want to give up. Fine. I’m happy to do comedies but I’m an actor. I’m going to try to do all kind of different things,” she said.“Against the Ropes,” sees Ryan again playing against type as the real and larger-than-life female U.S. boxing manager Jackie Kallen.
Kallen switched from a career as a journalist in Detroit in the 1980s to become the best-known and one of the most successful female boxing managers in history.Shattering the gritty male-dominated sport by the sheer force of her determination, Kallen discovered and trained heavyweight Bobby Hitz and later steered James Toney to four championships in four different weight classes.
Playing to winThe movie, heavy on fight sequences, was made in 2002 and was first slated for release last April but Paramount Pictures delayed its debut because of what it felt could be a hard sell during the Iraq war.Producer Robert Cort told reporters that with Ryan departing from her best-known, romantic comedy role, they needed a less frenzied climate to promote the movie.Ryan was not a boxing fan before the movie — although she comments wryly that she has “thrown some good punches in my imagination” — and was nothing like the sassy, brassy Kallen with her penchant for high heels and sexy wardrobe.
Real life dramaBut she came to see sport as “am amazing metaphor for drama” and to appreciate the discipline of boxing.“There’s a real purity in boxing and that wasn’t my initial impression of it ever ... But then I started to see the difference between fighting and boxing. I think this is a great release for aggression, a healthy release,” Ryan said.“Against the Ropes” is billed as “inspired by” Kallen rather than being her true story or a fictionalized biography. And Kallen and Ryan appear to have inspired each other as they got to know each other over lunches, at fights, in gyms and just hanging out.“Meg has been able to separate her private life and her public life ... She taught me that it doesn’t matter what people write about you. If you read it and buy into it, you lose who you really are,” Kallen, 57, told reporters.Ryan hesitated, then took a deep breath, before explaining the biggest lesson she had learned from Kallen:“How useless it is to shrink to fit anyone’s expectation of you ... because there are not that many people around wishing you the best.“It really is true. You can be despised and detested for your success as much as for your failure and there is no reason to let those voices in,” she said.