How Meg Ryan Learned To Sigh Like `Anastasia'

PARIS - Here in the City of Light, which serves as the principal setting of "Anastasia," directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman confess that they flattered Meg Ryan into providing the voice for the title character of their new animated film.

From the beginning, Ryan was their first and only choice to speak for the vibrant, orphaned young woman who has reason to believe she's the last of Russia's ruling Romanov family. The Bluth-Goldman scheme: Take one of Ryan's scenes from "Sleepless in Seattle," animate it, then invite her in and spring the reel on her.

"I was blown away that they did that," Ryan confesses.

"I couldn't say no."

Her first try at acting with only her voice turned out to be a breeze for Ryan.

"Nothing about this movie was hard," she says. "Not one thing. I worked on it for about 10 hours over the course of three years. I would do, like, 500 line readings and then Don chose.

"It's an exercise in trust, in a way.

"Don describes the scene: `This noise you're gonna make is after one hour of sleep, not after 10. So sigh like you've had a nap but not a night's sleep.'

"At first I was way over the top. I heard myself in playback and said, `Uh-uh.'

"When I see these movies, I want the voices to give something more than line readings. The voices have to be very present. I don't know how to explain it better than that."

Ryan is the latest of a large group of major stars who have, in recent years, lent their voices to animated films as a special gesture to their children - James Earl Jones to Robin Williams to Bette Midler.

Did she look upon this bit of work as a gift to her 5-year-old son?

"Not really, not at first," Ryan says.

"I just like what this movie says to little people: You are already the best idea of yourself; you are already a princess.

"I love that."

Ryan cocks her head and giggles, then continues:

"But then at Halloween, when we were trick-or-treating, all the little girls wanted to hold my hand. Because I am Anastasia."