BACK IN BUSINESS: Meg Ryan is acting and directing her new film What Happens Later, which will be released next year (Image: Getty)

She made us laugh and could make us cry with her cursed quest for love on the big screen. As Hollywood’s queen of romantic comedy, Meg Ryan touched us and gave us hope that she would find happiness in the classic hits When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.

But Hollywood has fallen in love with the slender blonde beauty, who blames ageism and stereotypes for her loss of fame. And real-life romance has hardly been kind to her, with a failed marriage to Dennis Quaid and a string of broken relationships with heartbreakers including Gladiator star Russell Crowe and rocker John Mellencamp.

Yet, now 60, Ryan returns to give love one more chance – at least, in the movies.

Thirteen years after his last romantic comedy, Serious Moonlight, Ryan is set to star alongside X-Files veteran David Duchovny, 61, in What Happens Later. Filming is set to take place in Arkansas later this year with a view to a theatrical release in 2023. It’s a surprising throwback to an age when romantic female leads are rare in Hollywood.

Ryan’s shaggy mane and quirky smile first rose to fame in Tom Cruise’s 1986 blockbuster Top Gun, playing a small but emotionally powerful role as the wife of ill-fated aviator Goose. Her success launched her in When Harry Met Sally in 1989 – her fake orgasm in the restaurant scene opposite co-star Billy Crystal remains a cinematic classic – and turned her into the darling of American romantic comedy at the alongside Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock.

She jumped into molten lava for the sake of Tom Hanks in Joe Versus The Volcano, locked lips with Kevin Kline in French Kiss and fell in love with time travel lover Hugh.

Jackman in Kate & Leopold. But as Ryan matured, Hollywood’s love affair with her faded. Classified as the “girl next door”, she was robbed of the opportunity to expand her range in more challenging roles, then was cruelly judged past her sell-by date.

“The pressure was implicit,” she says. “What you look like – there’s so much judgment.”

Meg Ryan

YES TO SUCCESS: Ryan’s fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally secured his place as romantic lead (Image: Castle Rock/Nelson/Columbia/The Kobal Collection)

Appalled by Hollywood’s superficial obsessions, she says, “There are more important conversations than how women look and how they age.”

Ironically, it was Ryan’s embattled real-life adventures that helped turn Hollywood against her, demolishing her innocent and flawless image.

Romance just hasn’t been so kind to Meg Ryan away from the cameras.

She fell in love with Dennis Quaid on the set of the sci-fi adventure Innerspace in 1987, and they married four years later on Valentine’s Day. They were Hollywood’s golden couple, appearing onscreen together in the thriller DOA

But Quaid grew jealous as her career soared while hers declined. He recalled: “We were going out on the streets of New York, and it was like, ‘Meg! Meg!’

And I have to admit: I really felt like I had disappeared. Then, Ryan’s character was irreparably shattered when her affair with co-star Russell Crowe was revealed, after they met on the set of Proof Of Life while still married to Quaid in early 2000.

“Russell didn’t break up the marriage,” she insists. “He was definitely there at the end, but it wasn’t his fault.”

Quaid had been cheating on their marriage for some time, she claims.

But it was Ryan who was eviscerated by public opinion for breaking up their supposedly happy home.

Meg Ryan

Ryan had a relationship with Russell Crowe, left, while still married to Dennis Quaid, right (Image: Getty)

Dennis wasn’t faithful to me for a long time, and that was very painful,” she says. “I learned more about that once I got divorced.”

But the backlash against Ryan has been fierce, portraying her as a homewrecker and adulterer. “So that’s what it’s like to be the Scarlet Lady,” she said. Ryan and Quaid separated in 2000, after having two children, and divorced the following year.

“My marriage was a very unhealthy marriage,” she later told Oprah Winfrey. “I probably should have left him much sooner.

“I was very sad that it fell apart the way it seemed. It was never about another man. It was just what my relationship with Dennis couldn’t take.”

Ryan was devastated to find his personal life being treated as another twist in one of his rom-coms. But real-life emotions proved to be more painful. “Divorce is difficult,” she says. “Love is hard. All of those things were so personal.

“The complexity of a life or a marriage will never exist in a headline or a tabloid.”

She eventually broke up with Crowe, admitting, “I was a mess. I hurt him too, in the end. I couldn’t be in another long relationship. It wasn’t the time for that. So I went out.”

After her divorce, Ryan immersed herself in two movies trying to break free from her romantic comedy straitjacket: 2003’s psychological thriller In The Cut and the boxing drama Against The Ropes the following year.

When both proved to be critical box office disappointments, Ryan took a three-year hiatus from Hollywood, which backfired. “The feeling with

Hollywood was mutual,” she says. “I felt done when they felt done, probably.”

She struggled to break into a series of lackluster films – who remembers 2008’s My Spy, which went straight to video? – while her love life has become a roller coaster ride.

Finally single, Ryan was romantically involved with TV Friends star Matthew Perry and British film producer Graham King, before immersing himself in a dizzying relationship with rocker John Mellencamp in 2011. Breaking up in 2016, they reunited the next year. , announcing their engagement in 2018.

“John and Meg had a rocky relationship from the start,” a friend said. Another noted: “It’s the same thing every time. He drives her crazy, they break up, she misses him and then they start talking again.”

They broke off their engagement and separated, apparently for the last time, in 2019.

With her acting career faltering, Ryan turned to directing in 2015, with the low-budget historical drama Ithaca.

“I was exhausted,” she admits. “I didn’t feel like I knew enough about myself or the world to reflect that as an actor.”

Meg Ryan

Hollywood fell in love with the slender blonde beauty (Image: Getty)

Ithaca wasn’t a smash hit, but Ryan loved the direction and will be behind the camera again with his new film, What Happens Later, described by producers as an “evolved and nostalgic” take on the romantic comedy, 25 years later. his latest rom. -com click on You have a message.

Ryan and Duchovny play two former lovers who, years later, are stranded together overnight in a snowy airport, revisiting their past and envisioning a possible future together.

“It’s exactly what audiences everywhere are looking for,” producer Gabrielle Stewart says optimistically, clearly hoping that Ryan’s former legion of rom-com fans will accept his return.

Ryan hopes to ride a new wave of interest in the genre. After a dearth of rom-coms, Hollywood suddenly fell in love with them all over again, bringing vintage stars back to an age when Hollywood might generally consider them grandmas. Sandra Bullock, 57, recently starred in The Lost City opposite Channing Tatum, her first romantic comedy in 13 years; Julia Roberts, 54, is shooting her first romantic comedy in 20 years with Ticket To Paradise starring George Clooney; and Jennifer Lopez, 52, recently had a romance with Owen Wilson in Marry Me.

But with the world chaotic, the war in Ukraine, and domestic discontent, will audiences want to see two abnormally beautiful middle-aged people struggling to find love?

Meg Ryan hopes love and rom-coms will win out.