Meg Ryan Finally Settles The Question Of Whether Men & Women Can Be Friends

Photo: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images.
Eighteen years after You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are sharing the big screen once again. This time, however, Ryan is calling the shots. Ithaca, in theaters September 9, marks her directorial debut.

Based on the 1943 novel The Human Comedy by William Saroyan, the film follows Homer Macaulay (Alex Neustaedter), a teenage boy who dreams of being the fastest telegraph messenger in World War II-era Ithaca, NY. His brother Marcus, played by Ryan's real-life son Jack Quaid, is at war and writes Homer letters full of advice on life, love, and happiness. Their mother (Meg Ryan) tries to hold the family together in the wake of her husband's (Tom Hanks) death, all while waiting for news of her son on the front lines.

It's a tough project for any director to tackle — but in Ryan's hands, the result is a quiet but powerful film that emphasizes the bond between mothers and the sons they can't protect forever.

Refinery29 caught up with Ryan over the phone to ask her about directing for the first time, reuniting with Tom Hanks, and whether men and women can really be friends.
You had a kind of rocket trajectory to fame. What was it like to go from being unknown to the It Girl of the moment?
"That’s a difficult question. I never wanted to be an It Girl. I never read press about myself, I tried to be as unaware of that as possible. I was lucky because I had my son in the middle of all of that, and that really grounds you. Now I feel like I’ve been to the moon and I don’t need that again. I just want to live my life, and a lot of that was really fun. What I really loved from that time was, a movie set is like a little family. You live these short little lifetimes with this particular family, and you come away different every time. I love that part of it."

How do you deal with all the media attention, and your every move being scrutinized on social media?
"I don’t actually pay that much attention to it. I kind of feel that there’s so much noise. There’s so many channels, there’s so much space on the internet, there’s so much information, so many people, that it’s kind of gotten very defused, and in some crazy way sort of silent, because there’s so much of it. You can really turn off from it — I can, anyway."

What was it like to be reunited with Tom Hanks on screen?
"Oh, fun! He’s such a doll, really. He came to the set, worked for one day, flew himself down there. At the end of the day, I remember him saying to everybody, he gathered the crew around and he goes, ‘Okay, we’ve really gotten to know each other well in these past 10 hours, and I just want to thank you for helping my friend Meg.’ So, that’s a mensch. I’m just so happy, he did me such a huge favor by coming and being so good in it."
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I feel like I’ve been to the moon and I don’t need that again. I just want to live my life.

Meg Ryan

So, does this mean men and women
can be friends?
"It does! It does. Finally answered."

This is your directorial debut — what made you decide to start directing at this point in your career?
"I got involved with the project eight years ago, and it took that amount of time to get money and get financing and put it together. I love the story so much, [and] I felt like I could handle it because it’s basically a simple story about complicated things. We shot the whole thing in 23 days, and we didn’t have a big budget. That’s why it’s my first — it sustained my interest for all of this time."

What drew you to this particular story?
"I love this little protagonist who has this impossible dream, has this impossible desire to protect everyone he loves from anything bad happening to [them]. I just found him so compelling and I loved how the people around him are all so imperfect, but they all do their best to help him through this transition in his life. I just found it really moving. My son is 25 years old now, but I think there’s a lot of stuff that I learned as a parent when I read the book."
Photo: Kent Eanes © Momentum Pictures
Pictured: Alex Neustaedter, left, and Spencer Howell, right, play brothers in "Ithaca."
You said it took a while to get it made — can you talk about that process? Was it difficult as a woman and first-time director to get a movie made in Hollywood?
"It’s hard to do a movie like this. It’s slow and it’s deliberate and it’s definitely a throwback, and it’s about ideas. It’s a movie — even though, hopefully, it feels like life — about death. It’s not an easy film. Saroyan writes so visually, and it reminded me of a lot of the same reasons why I love To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s really just hard to sell that idea in Hollywood right now, so that’s, I think, why it took so long."

The fiercest I ever am in my life is when I’m a mom.

Meg Ryan
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The final scene in this movie, in which your character finds out that her son is dead, is so intense, especially because your son Jack plays Marcus. What was going through your mind, and what perspective did you bring to this film about mothers losing their sons?
"The book that Saroyan wrote is dedicated to his mother, so there’s real DNA in the movie between mothers and sons. When my son was young, and I got a divorce and I read the book, I kept thinking, How is he going to grow up to be a man of integrity? It’s going to take a village. So much of that is in this movie. It’s not a secret that Marcus’ time is coming. It’s an incredibly complicated little moment that the whole movie leads you up to. It’s very maternal, it’s fiercely told, from a mother’s perspective — that’s the fiercest I ever am in my life is when I’m a mom."
Photo: Kent Eanes © Momentum Pictures
Pictured: Meg Ryan on the set of "Ithaca."
Over the course of your career, you’ve worked with a number of female directors. What did you learn from them?
"I’ve worked with Diane Keaton and Jane Campion and Nora Ephron — all of those women did it differently. Jane Campion gave me great advice, about [how] you need a certain brand of concentration on a set. Nora — I remember that the force of her was so intellectual and it was so powerful. She was so smart and so funny that there was never a time, working with any of these women, that it felt different than, or less than, working with a man. Never. In fact, I was sitting around talking with Sam Shepard one day in the middle of the shoot going, ‘What am I doing telling this story, my god. This boy is becoming a man, what do I know about that?’ And he goes, ‘Meg, what the hell is wrong with you? Who else is going to do this? Women are the making of men, women make men men. Women should tell the stories of men, about men.’ That was great."

We're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women, and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!
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