Throughout the '90s and early '00s, Meg Ryan was one of the most recognisable actors working and starred in a string of films that were instantly successful.
Throughout the '80s, Ryan (real name Margaret Hyra) starred in a variety of well-known films, albeit in small or supporting roles. Ryan starred in The Presidio, alongside Sean Connery and Mark Harmon, Tony Scott's Top Gun, as the wife of Anthony Edwards' character, Goose, and as a reporter in Innerspace, with Dennis Quaid. Ryan left her previous boyfriend, Anthony Edwards, for Quaid and would eventually go on to marry Quaid until 2001. More on that later. Around the same time, Ryan was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her role in Promised Land, a stunning critique of Ronald Reagan's domestic policies and their effect on American society.
Her breakout role came with Rob Reiner's classic 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally, starring alongside Billy Crystal and Carrie Fisher. Written by Nora Ephron and based on Rob Reiner's experiences of being a single, divorced man, Ryan's easygoing and lighthearted demeanour made her an instant favourite with audiences and critics alike. Surprisingly, Ryan was not the first choice, as Reiner had approached others such as Molly Ringwald and Susan Dey before she landed the part.
Ryan immediately followed When Harry Met Sally with Joe Versus The Volcano with Tom Hanks, her first time working with him. An unusual romantic comedy, the film did poorly at the box-office but has since gained a second life as a cult film. The same went for Prelude To A Kiss, another unusual romance with Alec Baldwin that received middling reviews. 1993 saw Sleepless In Seattle, reteaming Ryan with both Nora Ephron and Tom Hanks. The film was a critical and commercial smash, grossing well over $200,000,000 during its run.
The '90s were a purple patch and a string of successful romantic comedies and dramas followed, such as French Kiss with Kevin Kline, I.Q. with Tim Robbins and Walter Matthau, and Addicted To Love with Matthew Broderick. Between these, Ryan tried to prevent typecasting by starring in small indie films such as Flesh And Bone, with her husband Dennis Quaid, and Restoration, with Sam Neill and Robert Downey Jr. Most of these films were largely overlooked by audiences and critics alike.
By 1998 and You've Got Mail, Ryan was well and truly America's Sweetheart and was making close to $10,000,000 per film. City of Angels, which she headline alongside Nicolas Cage, earned over $200,000,000 at the box-office.
In 2001, eager to avoid further typecasting, Ryan signed on for Proof Of Life, an action thriller that paired her with Russell Crowe. During the production, the two engaged in an affair that became the subject of tabloid inquiry. Ryan was, at the time, still married to Dennis Quaid. The two would later divorce that year whilst the film received poor reviews and failed to recoup its budget. Ryan would later comment that "I empowered myself by not staying in the thing with Russell. I felt it was going to be repeating some similar patterns that I'd just gotten out of and it was a drag because I was crazy about him."
After the tarnishing of her public image, Ryan then return to her usual fare with Kate & Leopold, another romantic-fantasy-comedy with Hugh Jackman about a time-traveller. The film was widely panned and just barely recouped its production budget. 2003 saw In The Cut, an erotic thriller that featured graphic sex scenes with Ryan appearing nude. The film was poorly received and, towards the end of the press tour, Ryan gave a now-infamous interview with Parkinson. The veteran broadcaster would later describe Ryan as "a rude twerp."
Meg Ryan's interview with Parkinson on BBC One in 2003
Kate & Leopold would be the last wide-released, mainstream film Ryan would star in. She appeared in numerous independent dramas from 2004 onwards, but none were particularly well-received by critics. In 2014, it was announced that Ryan would be the narrator of How I Met Your Dad, a spinoff of the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother. However, the pilot episode was not picked up and the project went dead.
2016 will see the release of Ryan's first directorial effort, Ithaca, reteaming her with Tom Hanks and her actor son, Jack Quaid.
It's hard to know precisely why Meg Ryan fell out of favour with audiences and critics alike. Despite her best efforts, Ryan was ultimately typecast in romantic comedies, some with a fantastical bent to them like Prelude To A Kiss or Kate & Leopold. Audience tastes began to veer away from these types of comedies at the beginning of the new millennium, and Ryan's complicated personal life and the tarnishing of her public persona certainly didn't help matters either.
Despite all this, When Harry Met Sally still stands as arguably the greatest romantic comedy ever made, on par with Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Billy Wilder's The Apartment. Whether Ryan will enjoy a second career as a director remains to be seen.