By Miki Turner
Page 3 staff

LOS ANGELES -- A lot of B-words come to mind when one thinks of Meg Ryan. She's blonde, blue-eyed, bubbly and, in some pockets of the country, considered babe-ilicious. Boxing, however, isn't one of them.

Yet Ryan, in an attempt to add more color to her already rather vibrant canvas, signed on to play bold and bawdy boxing manager Jackie Kallen in "Against the Ropes." This film, inspired by Kallen's own story, also stars Omar Epps, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Daly, Kerry Washington and Charles S. Dutton, who directs the films, too.

Meg Ryan, Omar Epps
Meg Ryan and co-star Omar Epps at the premiere of "Against The Ropes," opening Friday.
While it might appear that Ryan (a.k.a America's Sweetheart) and Kallen are worlds apart in real life, the two looked quite chummy and at ease with each other when they sat side-by-side at a recent press junket at the Four Seasons Hotel. On more than one occasion Kallen actually finished Ryan's sentences.

When you think about it, the two have one major thing in common -- they're both fighters. Kallen, the first female boxing manager, fought the boys who were trying to keep her out of the ring. Ryan, the star of such blockbusters as "Top Gun," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally," has had to fight the "Hollywood suits" to keep from being typecast and then, more recently, the tabloids who had a field day when she left husband Dennis Quaid and took up with the boisterous bad boy Russell Crowe.

Ryan, a single mother of one (Jack, 11), took time to chat with Page 3 about her new role, her career choices and that killer tennis game of hers.

1. So how did America's Sweetheart end up in a boxing movie?

Meg Ryan: Go figure. I just got really interested. I met Jackie and got caught up in the script and I felt that the story was a crowd-pleaser. And, I loved "Rocky" and it's sort of like "Rocky" and "Working Girl" put together. Something really hit me when I saw this picture of Jackie, one of her boxers and this Yorkshire terrier together and I just went, "What is this story?"

So the dog and the bruiser kind of sold you, eh?

(Laughs) Yeah, that's it! The puppy and pugilist!

2. How much time did you actually spend with Jackie to prepare for the role?

We spent quite a bit of time together -- almost a year. We went to fights, she showed me tapes and we just kind of hung out.
Meg Ryan Flicks
Meg Ryan has played the sweetheart and/or the girl next-door in plenty of movies. Here are her most notable ones:

  • "Top Gun" (1986)

  • "Innerspace" (1987)

  • "When Harry Met Sally" (1989)

  • "French Kiss" (1995)

  • "You've Got Mail" (1998)

  • "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993)
  • 3.How much did you know or care about boxing before this film?

    The real truth is that I was aware of Muhammad Ali and then I saw this great documentary called 'When We Were Kings" and that was about it. Until I got to know the sport, I felt the way some people do -- that it was brutal; it's fighting. But then I started to understand that fighting is different than boxing and I was in.

    3a.Describe your adventures going to boxing?

    I really liked it. It can be kind of a rush. It was really fun. You kind of find yourself throwing mental punches after a while.

    3b. Were you mobbed?

    I kind of blended right in because people weren't there to see me. They were there to see the fight. They've got their priorities, man.

    4. How daunting was it to portray someone you'd been hanging out with?

    She was never really looking over my shoulder so that helped. Jackie kind of surrendered her story. She filled me up with a lot of information and let me go off and interpret what I needed to interpret. There was one day that she came to set and she was actually in the movie. It was that scene where my character was sort of behaving really badly and I thought, "Oh no, what's she going to think?" But she was cool.

    5. Are you at all athletic?

    I play tennis.

    5a. How good are you?

    Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe
    Tabloids had a field day with rumors of romance between Ryan and then co-star Russell Crowe.
    Not very good. I'm not a great athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not a coordinated person. Yoga is great for me because the instructors talk very slowly and you can slowly get into your positions. I can't tell my left from my right, it's a little, minor kind of dyslexia. So whenever there's an aerobics instructor going (makes motions with her arms and legs), I was like, there's no way. I could never follow any of it!

    Are you a big tennis fan; do you watch it on TV?

    Nope. I like to play it, but don't like to watch.

    5b. Are you a soccer mom?

    Jack plays tennis so I'm a tennis mom. He's quite good.

    6. You majored in journalism, what do you think of journalists and the profession?

    That's a really good question. I really don't like to be categorical about it because I really do meet great journalists quite often, but I think celebrity journalism has changed. I think there are so many different venues now that they just have to have a lot of product and if they don't, they make it up. I've always found a lot of similarities between being an actor and being a journalist just in the pure sort of mechanics and in the way you're out there trying to satisfy your curiosity. Then you go home and you're alone with your piece of paper and your going to have your interpretation of events. That's essentially what my job is an actor.

    You just make more money.

    Well, there's that.

    7. Have you regained a sense of privacy after the media hoopla years ago?

    Well, I always had a sense of privacy in the midst of that because I really felt like, "What are they talking about?" People had some of a story and not the whole thing. I was just really able to go, "No, I'm not interested in the perceptions. I know what the reality is." So I didn't lose my sense of privacy so much, but I was sort of offended by the conjecture.

    7a. What's been your weirdest encounter with a fan?

    Most weird? God, I don't know. I've never had a really bad experience. The truth is, I've never felt more famous than when I was on daytime soap ["As the World Turns" from 1982 to 1984]. There is something about being in people's houses every single day that lets people really feel familiar with you in a way that's different than when you go out to the movies to see someone.

    I lived across town from where we were shooting and sometimes in the morning, I'd take the cross-town bus. And I started to feel after a while like, man, people tell me a lot of stuff and you feel really weird about it. People felt very familiar with me. I started [saying] I'm just going to feel familiar with them right back. So it was the greatest cross-town bus experience, way back when. That's all I can think of right now. It's an extraordinarily weird thing to be known.

    8. Have you ever had a guy try to pick you up using a line from one of your movies?

    Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks
    Cash Cow Combo: Teaming Ryan with one of America's faves, Tom Hanks, proved successful yet again.
    (LAUGHS) I can't say no. I think I've had that happen.

    What movie?

    I think I've had that happen, I've gotta be honest, but now I can't remember exactly what [movie line] it was.

    Have you ever used a line from one of your movies?

    Have I ever tried to pick somebody up with a line from my movies? Like, "Take me to bed or lose me forever." I've gotta try that. I've never tried it.

    9. What do you think of the whole America's Sweetheart moniker? Are you annoyed or amused by that?

    It's sweet. It's not the way I think of myself (laughs). Worse things have been said about people. I really love doing romantic comedies, I hope I always get to do them, but I want to do other things as well.

    10. At this point in you career, what validates the work? Is it what you think about yourself or others?

    I'm so happy to say that it's what I think. But, a very close second to that is what the artists that I respect think. If they give me a compliment I'm completely sensitive to it and blown away. That happened actually with "In the Cut" and I felt, felt very good. I've really learned to disregard the opinions of the critics.

    10a. Speaking of "In the Cut," you took some hits for that...

    Well, you know, that was one of the premiere experiences of my life, being around Jane Campion and working on that film. And I think it changed me so utterly as an artist and I'm so happy and proud to have had that experience. And, you know, the mixed response, what are you going to do? It was never a movie that was for everybody. No one ever made it to be a blockbuster. It's a personal movie made for like, $7 million on the streets of New York and great actors and a great director and really, really interesting character. So it was a fantastic experience.

    So just like Jackie, you kind of have to roll with the punches.

    That's right and come up fighting. Boom, boom.