For years, Meg Ryan held the "America's Sweetheart" title, putting her button nose to work in meet-cute romantic comedies. So what's she doing in a dark, erotic indie thriller like Jane Campion's In the Cut (opening Oct. 22)? Though Ryan has acted in a number of dramas (When a Man Loves a Woman, Courage Under Fire) this is quite a departure. But she doesn't really mind that her latest gig is raising some eyebrows.

"[In the Cut] is an interior exploration, and a genre I've never done before," Ryan says. "I can see why people put me in a box about romantic comedy, and I understand that, because those have made more money than other things I've done."

In Cut, she trades in her perky blond bob for a dull brown 'do, playing a single English teacher in New York City. Things don't stay dull for long, though, as she gets entangled in a murder mystery — and the intriguing detective (Mark Ruffalo) investigating it. The movie's many hot and heavy scenes are pretty eye-popping, but Ryan prefers to place more emphasis on the film's emotional content.

"When I read the script, there was something very familiar about it," she explains. "It worked on this place in my unconscious/subconscious world that was disquieting. As a piece, I really loved it.

"[My character] Frannie's in this heartbroken place," Ryan adds, inadvertently reminding us of her own public heartaches. "Happily ever after has passed her by — that's her deep suspicion. I think a lot of people have that in common. You don't find the big fixer; you don't find the one who makes it all okay, really. I definitely have parts of me that understand that. I think most people do."