In his new film “Breach,” Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O’Neill — an FBI up-and-comer promoted to work under respected longtime agent Robert Hanssen.
Based on a true story, Phillippe soon discovers his true mission — digging up proof that Hanssen has been selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union for years.
Access Hollywood sat down with Ryan to talk about his new role, and also caught up with the real Eric O’Neill to find out if Ryan made the grade as an FBI agent.
As it turns out, Ryan brought more than his boyish good looks and refined acting chops to the role — he also brought a comprehensive knowledge of the story before ever reading the script.
“I knew about Robert Hanssen. I’m a news junkie and was so fascinated by this story. I was like 11-years-old and it was the end of the Cold War and you kind of thought that spies were gone,” Ryan told Access. “It was so amazing to me. But I didn’t know about the extremely dark side of Robert Hanssen. There’s a lot more they couldn’t put in. The guy was pretty twisted.”
Stepping in to the role of Hanssen in veteran actor Chris Cooper, who drew praise from Ryan for his portrayal of the spy.
“He’s amazing. Chris Cooper, in my opinion, is the best actor working today. To spend every day with him was like a masters class in acting,” Ryan said.
And while Ryan had praise for his co-star, the real life Eric O’Neil was equally impressed with Phillippe.
“He did a real good job,” O’Neill told Access. “I didn’t go into this expecting Ryan to try and mimic or pretend he is me. I expected and hoped that he would do exactly what he did… and come up with a really great character.”
In preparing for the role, Ryan and Eric spent a considerable amount of time together and Ryan credits Eric’s openness about what happened in helping shape the movie.
But what was it like for Ryan to portray a character whose real-life embodiment stood a mere few feet away watching the whole thing happen?
“I knew he wouldn’t be hypercritical in that regard. I got to know who he was and he was supportive the whole time. I felt a responsibility not to make him look like a boob,” Ryan laughed. “That was my aim.”
And no doubt about it, Ryan nails it as the FBI agent who outsmarts his savvy boss at the young age of 26.
For the 32-year-old Ryan, it was yet another successful notch in his acting belt as he’s built quite a Hollywood resume.
“It’s extensive. I don’t know how impressive,” he joked with us.
However, from “54” to “Cruel Intentions” to “Crash” to “Breach,” Ryan isn’t exactly racking up any films suitable for his kids and he’s just fine with them not seeing any of them.
“I think that’s for the better actually. I try to keep them separate and there’s an awareness they have of what their mother and father do but I don’t like to focus on it. It’s something I would rather let them discover as they get older,” Ryan explained. “I don’t put too much emphasis on daddy making movies.”
In fact, if Ryan has anything to say about it, his children won’t be following in mommy or daddy’s footsteps.
“I hope not,” he said at the prospect of his kids becoming actors. “I would support them no matter what they do but I think this can be a really challenging life at times and I think there’s a lot of ways you can effect the world in a more important sense. I would like to see them do that.”
“I’d like my daughter to be President,” he added.