During the 1990s, actress Meg Ryan was everywhere. She was the face of many romantic comedies, starring in major films that would go on to become cult classics, and she became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. So what happened to her? Why doesn’t she act anymore? Well, her departure from acting was the result of multiple factors.
Ryan was ‘America’s sweetheart’
Meg Ryan made her first acting appearance in 1981 in a film called The Rich and Famous, moving on to a bigger role on the daytime soap opera As the World Turns. Not long after that, she started to get bigger roles including Carole Bradshaw in Top Gun (1986).
Ryan soon became a household name who was synonymous with romantic comedies. She starred in a fruitful streak of films such as When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and You’ve Got Mail (1998). Her innocent image earned her the title “America’s sweetheart,” and she ruled over the romantic comedy genre for practically the entire ’90s.
An affair smeared her reputation
Before becoming a massive star, Ryan met actor her now ex-husband, actor Dennis Quaid, on the set of Innerspace (1987). The two began dating in 1988 and after three years they tied the knot, becoming one of Hollywood’s A-list couples. However, their relationship was a rocky one and would come to an end after they filed for divorce in 2001.
Prior to this, however, tabloids exposed an affair Ryan was having with co-star Russell Crowe after the two met while filming the 2000 thriller, Proof of Life. This badly smeared her innocent reputation, and some believe news of the affair caused the film to be a flop at the box office. Audiences seemed to shun her after hearing the details.
Later, in 2003, Ryan revealed in an interview that the failure of her marriage with Quaid was due to her affair with Crowe. In fact, she said that Quaid had been cheating on her throughout their entire relationship. “Dennis was not faithful to me for a long time, and that was very painful. I found out more about that once I was divorced,” she explained.
Years after their divorce, Quaid also admitted to having a big part in the failure of their marriage. However, these late revelations did little to clean up Ryan’s sullied reputation in Hollywood.
Her acting career declined
It seemed as though Proof of Life started the steady decline of Ryan’s career as an actress. In 2003, she attempted to shed the remaining remnants of the sweetheart image when she starred in the erotic thriller In the Cut. This was a far cry from her usual rom-com and saw her acting out unclothed scenes. Unfortunately, audiences did not receive her new image well.
“When I did ‘In the Cut,’ the reaction was vicious,” Ryan said during an interview with The New York Times in 2019. The film was yet another box office flop and received poor reviews from critics. Following this, she starred in another dud, the 2004 film Against the Ropes. They say bad things come in threes, and this trio caused Ryan to step away from acting for a three-year stint.
When she returned to acting in 2007, her appearances were much more random. She starred in films like In the Land of Women (2007), The Deal (2008), and My Mom’s New Boyfriend (2008), none of which really sparked a comeback for her career.
Over the years, Ryan returned to do a few television cameos and take on voice acting roles, but she had pretty much stepped away from acting altogether. She later described her decision: “I didn’t feel like I knew enough anymore about myself or the world to reflect it as an actor. I felt isolated.”
Ryan likes being behind the scenes
Although her steadily declining acting career likely played a large part in her decision to step away from acting, Ryan has also admitted that acting was never a dream of hers in the first place. She explained that it was something that kind of fell in her lap, but she didn’t feel like she was a natural-born actress and decided that her time in front of the camera had come to an end.
Ryan enjoyed the spotlight when she was in it, but had begun to feel disconnected from acting. She lost interest and wanted to pursue other things. She has since been working behind the camera, making her debut as a director in the 2015 film Ithaca.
Starring in a new film
It seemed as though we’d never see Ryan on the big screen again, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, it’s been announced that she will not only direct but star in the upcoming film What Happens Later, which is set to release in 2023. It will co-star David Duchovny.
This will mark Meg Ryan’s return to her once-beloved rom-com genre as an actress. Will she again be seen as America’s sweetheart?
An on-again, off-again romance with John Mellencamp
Considering that Ryan spent so much time out of the public eye, it’s not surprising that some details of her personal life aren’t super well known. Many people might be surprised to learn that she dated (and was engaged to) singer-songwriter John Mellencamp for a decade.
They began dating in late 2010, shortly before Mellencamp and his then-wife, model Elaine Irwin, announced they had separated. Ryan and Mellencamp broke up and reconciled several times over the years before confirming their engagement in November 2018. However, they reportedly broke up for good in October 2019.
The “Jack & Diane” rocker, now 71, recently shared some details about their time together in an Esquire interview and admits that although he still loves Ryan, he wasn’t necessarily an ideal partner. They had both “come out of their shells” when they started dating but were lost and “didn’t know how to do anything,” he said before recounting a funny story about the couple not understanding how to use a credit card machine at the grocery store. “We laughed at how stupid we are, so hard we cried,” he said.
“I love Meg Ryan,” he confessed. “I went with her for ten years. She doesn’t love me so much. She’s a great girl. I’m just a [really bad] boyfriend.”
Mellencamp’s take on their breakup seems to be confirmed by an unnamed source who was quoted at the time as saying, “John and Meg have had a volatile relationship from the beginning.” They added, “He doesn’t mean to be gruff, but it can happen, and it’s hard to be around.”