The ''Kate & Leopold'' star wants to leave adorable behind with a boxing movie
Meg Ryan
Credit: Meg Ryan: Andrea Renault/Globe Photos

Fans of ”Sleepless in Seattle” and ”When Harry Met Sally…” should savor Meg Ryan’s performance in ”Kate & Leopold.” The recently divorced star says she’s had her fill of loopy love stories. ”I don’t get a lot of romantic comedy scripts anymore,” admits Ryan. ”But that’s probably because I turn most of them down.”

Ryan’s had mixed results with drama at the box office (”Proof of Life,” ”Courage Under Fire”), and critics tend to prefer her lighter side as well. Nevertheless, the 40-year-old actress is dead set on retiring lovable moppet Meg, and her next film, ”Against the Ropes,” (due out next year) could help KO that image once and for all. The movie (which once had Sandra Bullock attached to star) is based on the true story of Jackie Kallen, the first woman to manage a middleweight boxing champion.

Kallen, a former Detroit TV personality, stumbled into boxing following a stint as a publicist for boxer Tommy Hearns. The middle-aged suburban mom overcame racial, gender, and class differences to gain the respect of the predominantly male boxing community. Now in her mid 50s, Kallen has published a self-help book (”Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and manages four fighters, including former middleweight champion James Toney, who will appear in the film. ”It’s a funny movie, but it’s mostly an examination of a really complicated, amazing character,” says Ryan, who has been researching the role by attending fights and watching videos.

Ryan hopes Jackie Kallen’s small-town-girl-makes-good story will follow in the footsteps of the similarly themed ”Erin Brockovich,” a movie which finally gave Julia Roberts critical and box office credibility in dramatic parts. ”Audiences are very particular about the types of roles they’ll accept A-list actors in,” explains movie analyst Adam Farasati of ReelSource. ”Roberts took the spunk and humor she had in romantic comedy into another genre with ‘Brockovich’ and managed to bring her audience along with her. Ryan has to do the same thing.”

America’s co-sweethearts share the same mixed results when it comes to drama. Ryan has succeeded more often than Roberts (Ryan’s performance as a struggling alcoholic in 1994’s ”When A Man Loves A Woman” received respectable reviews, and the sappy but serious ”City of Angels” was a modest box office success), but the public has yet to wholeheartedly embrace the actress’ edgier choices — and one film, 1998’s ”Hurlyburly,” in which she played a drug-addicted prostitute, was an outright shock to just about anyone who caught it.

”That may have been fun for her to flex her acting muscle, but it’s exactly the type of role for her to stay away from if she wants to transition into mainstream dramas,” explains Farasati. ”No one wants to see the girl from ‘You’ve Got Mail’ playing a hooker, no matter how well she does it.” That is, unless Richard Gere plays the client.