Comic Actress Meg Ryan Forays Into Producing

MEG RYAN closed the magazine, and placed it on top of two others. ''They just don't get me,'' she shrugged. One described her as a gamin, a madcap, a cute airhead. The other focused on her new role as film producer, making her sound like a cross between a marshmallow and Attila the Hun.

Somewhere is a woman who grew up in Fairfield, Conn., who has earned her comedy stripes: Her first film role was in the 1981 picture ''Rich and Famous'' playing Candice Bergen's daughter. She went on to have a major hit with ''When Harry Met Sally...'' in 1989, and her most recent triumph was opposite Tom Hanks in ''Sleepless in Seattle.''

''Over the years,'' she says, ''I began thinking about producing. I even had the name, Prufrock Pictures, like in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,' which I think, like films, is a meditation on life.

''I didn't want to waste time on things that weren't interesting. In those years, I got smarter in the things I wanted to get involved in -- in the long term.''

Meg Ryan says her whole career has been on-the-job training. ''My first big break was two years on the TV soap 'As The World Turns.' That was preceded by dozens of auditions, commercials, and a year studying journalism at New York University.''

She and actor Dennis Quaid met on a film called ''Innerspace,'' and did two more movies before they were married in 1991.

''When the writers told me their story idea for 'French Kiss,' I liked it. This character had her life rigidly planned until her fiance falls for a French girl. I especially liked the part where this Frenchman, Luc, helps her find her boyfriend. Luc is just as argumentative as she, so there's confrontation from the start.''

''On 'French Kiss,' I discovered how much I enjoy the development stage. When the writers finished the first draft, Lawrence Kasdan came on board as the director, and we decided to film in France. Dennis had worked with Kasdan on 'Wyatt Earp.' He advised, 'Larry is so confident within himself, he's free to be generous with others.'

''One evening when we were driving Larry back to his hotel, he asked us to park, so we could talk. He began, 'Meg, you're going to produce movies, and you need to get involved. I welcome your suggestions. Later when you do this again, you'll work with directors who won't care if you have an opinion or not.'

''The next day we found that Gerard Depardieu, who was asked to play Luc, had film commitments for the next five years. Larry had a suggestion: Kevin Kline. And I said, 'Why didn't I think of him? He can improvise, and he's fun.'''

Kasdan told her, ''You have just made an executive decision.''

''With Kevin on board, and things set to location in Paris for three months, I thought I could concentrate on acting,'' Ryan says. ''There were headaches, for 'French Kiss' was a road show, and there were lots of decisions. When we were two days behind schedule, we decided to ask the French crew to work over the weekend to make up the time. We would pay double. They refused.

''Secretly, I respected their thinking. Life isn't all work, and the French have elevated satisfying the senses to an art form, even their food is art.

''I spent that weekend taking our four-year-old son, Jack, to the park. Also, Dennis flew in from filming in Yugoslavia, and we had time together. Dennis and I think about our son a lot: Neither of us had movie-star parents, so we can't know what it's like to be in Jack's shoes.''

Will Ryan be producing more movies? ''A perfect world would be to produce some and to just act in others,'' she says.

''Remember that Clare Booth Luce play 'The Women' that later starred Joan Crawford in the movie? Or that classic ''Two For the Road'? Julia Roberts and I want to do [a remake of] 'The Women.' And Carrie Fisher is doing the rewrite of 'Two For the Road.' That's such a great take on relationships, I think it should be remade every 10 years.''

Meg's next movie, out this fall, is based on the historical novel ''Restoration,'' with Robert Downey Jr. ''I have a small role of an Irish woman who has been left by her husband, and she hasn't slept since.''

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