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Meg Ryan shares the 'real gift' that came out of her divorce

The "Sleepless in Seattle" star opened up about her favorite roles, her 2001 divorce from Dennis Quaid and her engagement to John Mellencamp.
/ Source: TODAY

Meg Ryan is ready to get back into the Hollywood game.

The star of classic romantic comedies like "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally..." opened up to The New York Times Magazine in a wide-ranging interview about her divorce from Dennis Quaid, her engagement to rock legend John Mellencamp, her favorite romantic comedies and the new movie and television show she is working on after years out of the media spotlight.

Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan says she is writing a romantic comedy in addition to working on a new show with "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels. Getty Images

Ryan, 57, has generally stayed out of the limelight since the release of her 2003 erotic thriller "In the Cut," which followed her well-publicized 2001 divorce from Quaid and her relationship with actor Russell Crowe.

"I’d never felt like I was all that concerned with what people thought of me, but then that story never got told right,'' she said about her divorce.

"It’s a real gift when you know you can’t ever really manage an image or a story and you stop caring. I felt the effect, like I was the bad guy or whatever the story was. But I remember letting go of needing to correct anybody. Divorce is hard. Love is hard. All those things were so personal. They weren’t for mass consumption. The complexity of a life or a marriage is never going to exist in a headline or a tabloid. That was a freeing thing to know! Though fame has become so democratized now."

Ryan has since found love again, announcing her engagement to Mellencamp in November.

"What’s great about now is that John and I are so free to have fun,'' she said. "Maybe that freedom is about being a million years old. But I sometimes think relationships are for aliens. Who does it? Who can do it? I don’t know how any of us ever do."

Ryan achieved superstardom in a succession of hit romantic comedies in the 1990s, many of them with Tom Hanks. She went against type in movies like "In the Cut" and "When a Man Loves a Woman," and now admits romantic comedies suited her best.

"Probably,'' she said. "I liked doing the alcoholic in 'When a Man Loves a Woman'; I liked doing 'In The Cut'; but I was very happy going to a set that was about: How do you find the funny thing? I like that again now, working on a romantic comedy."

Arguably her most classic scene in any of them was the faked orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally...," which she helped create.

"It was in the script that Harry and Sally talk about the fact that women fake orgasms,'' she said. "Then, when we were rehearsing that movie, we had a lot of time to chat about the script, and I said that since Sally is such a behavioral character, she should fake an orgasm. That was my contribution."

She also prides herself on her role in 1994's "When A Man Loves a Woman," in which she depicted a woman's descent into alcoholism and the attempt by her husband, played by Andy Garcia, to help her.

"It was a pretty amazing confluence of events,'' she said. "I was married to Dennis, and he was getting sober, and this movie came along. So in real life and in the movies I was understanding, 'What does codependent mean? What is alcoholism?'

"I went to Al-Anon meetings. I went to AA meetings. Because I was the alcoholic in the story, it gave me empathy. It was a cathartic role."

Ryan said she is now writing her own romantic comedy with Working Title Films.

"I'll just leave it at that,'' she said. "Getting the green light. ... My God. You feel like you’re jinxing it if you’re talking about it. Hopefully it’s for me to direct. I’m aware now that romantic comedies are confections, but they have construction. There’s architecture. It’s not something I was aware of back then."

She also directed her first film, "Ithaca," a few years ago, one of only a handful of movies she has been involved in during the past decade and a half. Ryan also said she is working on a new show for NBC with "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels.

"I can’t believe NBC might do it, because it’s so odd,'' she said. "Right now I’d be producing. Maybe I’ll act in it. I don’t know. It’s a limited series, three seasons. A murder mystery. A comedy. A murder-mystery comedy."