When the 2008 Oscar nominations were announced, few had ever heard of best supporting actress nominee Amy Ryan. An acclaimed stage actress and small screen regular, the New Yorker finally hit the big time with her standout performance in Ben Affleck's directorial debut Gone Baby Gone.
Her breakout role as Helene McCready wasn't the usual stuff of Hollywood heroine-in-the-making, as she played a callous, promiscuous and drug-abusing mother. It garnered her rave reviews, however, with one critic declaring: ''She's viciously alive. And her wayward mother is a fresh, unprecedented creation on the screen." Several prizes from key groups followed, along with Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar nods.
Before Gone Baby Gone propelled her career into the stratosphere, Amy was best known for her theatre work. Born in 1970 in Queens, New York, she attended the city's illustrious High School Of Performing Arts and was soon cast in a national tour of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues.
After a decade of treading the boards in regional theatres and off-Broadway she made her Broadway debut in 1992 as Tess in The Sisters Rosenwieg and went on to replace Calista Flockhart in the 1997 revival of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters. In 2000 she received a Tony award nomination for her portrayal of Sonya in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and in 2005 earned another nod for her role as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
In between theatre work she also built up a considerable CV on the small screen, most notably in 1992 TV series I'll Fly Away and a prominent recurring role in series two of award-winning gritty cop drama The Wire as Officer Beatrice 'Beadie' Russell. She also made appearances on popular shows such as ER and Law & Order.
Her film career was slower to take off. After roles in independent movies such as Keane and You Can Count On Me, in 2005 blockbuster War Of The Worlds she was merely credited as 'Neighbour with toddler'. That same year, though, she appeared in Capote as the star-struck sheriff's wife thrilled at having the famed author in her house.
The movie gave a wider audience a glimpse of her talents but still didn't open doors. That came in 2007 when Gone Baby Gone, in which she starred with Casey Affleck, made Hollywood sit up and pay attention. Hot on the heels of the movie's success she appeared in several other productions, including Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Neal Cassady and Dan In Real Life.
The buzz surrounding her performance as Helene McCready brought the sort of plum parts most jobbing actors dream of. She was cast as a prostitute opposite Angelina Jolie in 2008 movie The Changeling, and signed up for Green Zone to play a CIA agent with A-list hunk Matt Damon on the trail of weapons of mass destruction.
She continues to blaze a trail on the silver screen while admitting: "Theatre will always be in my bones. I feel it's always where I'm going to root out bad habits I might pick up along the way. So I will always go back."