After indulging her funny bone with notable appearances on Broad City, Kevin Hart’s Central Intelligence and High Maintenance, and starring opposite Richard Armitage in the Off-Broadway production of Love, Love, Love, Amy Ryan is firmly back in the dramatic world that earned her an Oscar nomination for Gone Baby Gone with her new film, Abundant Acreage Available, in theaters on Sept. 29.
Written and directed by Angus MacLachlan (Junebug), the film tells the story of Tracy (Ryan) and Jesse (Terry Kinney), who after burying their father’s remains on their tobacco farm, are confronted by three older men (Max Gail, Francis Guinan, Steve Coulter) camping in their field. It’s a story of grief and morality and learning to let go.
It’s also one of Ryan’s best (and detailed) performances in years, earning rave reviews following the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival -- and the suggestion that she should be a contender this awards season.
But the parallels to the actress’ own life almost prevented her from joining the film. “When I first read the script I thought I didn’t want to take this on because I’d just lost my own father,” Ryan tells ET, referring to her father, John Dziewiontkowski, a trucking business owner. “I was like, ‘That’s just perverse. Who’d want to go make a movie about that?’”
By the time the film was financed and they were ready to shoot, however, Ryan felt enough time had passed. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This is really beautiful. I’m not afraid of this world,’” she says, able to appreciate the writing of MacLachlan, who helped earn Amy Adams her first Oscar nomination for Junebug. “I’m a fan of his world.” Her father’s death and this film, she explains, became two separate experiences.
Shot on location in East Bend, North Carolina, in February of 2016, the film took 17 days to complete. And despite being in the South, there was no shortage of elements to battle, with freezing temperatures, mud, fog and ice on the roads that sent trucks off the sides of roads and forced production to rearrange a couple of the days. At times you can see it onscreen on the actors’ faces, “like, that was cold because I can see my nose,” Ryan muses.
Yet, for all the challenges facing the production, Ryan liked being on the farm, where there was red clay beneath the actors’ feet just like it was written in the script. “It’s all there. You don’t have to dig into any bag of tricks and imagine you’re someplace else,” she says. “Angus paints such a world that you get dropped into.”
Ultimately, the world and film he created is a meditation on death as Tracy is forced to confront her grief. “It’s universal whether [or not] you’ve experienced it; you know you’re going to experience it at some point in your life. What I like about Angus’ world is that it’s not morbid. It’s not depressing,” Ryan says, while offering her take on death.
“I do see it now as something not as scary. I think, actually, death can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes people say, ‘You must be going through a really hard time,’ when someone’s died. You’re like, ‘No, I’ve been through the hard time,’ like, when you are with someone who has a long illness -- that’s the hard time. Death is easy, unless it’s a Quentin Tarantino film. Then death is pretty hard and drawn out.”
MORE: Amy Ryan Indulges Her Funny Bone
As for Ryan’s humorous side, which is not often seen onscreen, it may be awhile before the actress revisits it. While her next project reunites her with her Office co-star, Steve Carell, it furthers Ryan’s dramatic turn. Based on David Sheff’s memoir, Beautiful Boy chronicles a son’s struggle with meth addiction through his father’s eyes, with Ryan and Carell playing the parents.
It’s the first time the two have worked together since the NBC series ended in 2011. “It’s something me and him had hoped would happen and I think we both thought it would have happened on a comedy. We didn’t get that, but it’s a beautiful script,” Ryan says of the project, which is set for a 2018 release. “The first take we did, we both started laughing. We had to check that because it wasn’t appropriate for the scene. But it’s wonderful working with him again.”