Ryan Kwanten On True Blood And Red Hill

How did True Blood change your life, Ryan?

“I think just in the level of scripts that are finding their way to me, I guess. There's a real sense of, I think, class not just to HBO shows but anything that Alan Ball lends his hand to. He doesn't just let a half-hearted episode get anywhere near air, let alone to script point. So I have been so fucking fortunate to be part of that show. Even an optimist could not have predicted the success it would had. I think we're now, ratings-wise, bigger than the Sopranos.”

It's interesting that a lot of the main actors in the show aren't American. Is there material in the show that a lot of Americans wouldn't feel comfortable with?

“Oh I can't speak of that. But I think there's such a great mystique that Australian actors have over there, purely for the fact that if you look at the Mel Gibsons, the Russell Crowes, the Cate Blanchetts of the world that have forged such a great career over there, and paved a way so remarkably for people like myself to then want to start a career over there, we're looked at in a great light. And we work very hard. It's not surgery. We're not changing the world here. We're making our little bit of art and releasing it to the world.”

I was really referring to the fact that the show sometimes touches on taboos.

“Oh, you mean the far more liberal outlook [we might have]? Yeah, I'm sure that helps. Jason [Stackhouse] is not the kind of character I could play if I felt inhibited.”

What has been the reaction from the more puritanical sections of American society?

“I don't really read about the reactions to True Blood. It's not that I ignore it, I haven't got the time or the inclination. Both the positive and the negative, it doesn't bother me. I just go about doing my job and the rest is hearsay as far as I'm concerned.”

In your new film, Red Hill, you speak with an Australian accent. Do you feel more free working with your own accent, or a variation of it?

“This is the first job I've done in Australia in eight/nine years, because I've been living in the States now for eight years. Yeah, so the first Australian accent. But this was such a distinct character, it wasn't me. This guy didn't grow up on the beaches of Queenscliff, Sydney, and wasn't a surfer. So long as there's a way for me to get into a character, I'm good. I can't play myself. I've had to do that before and it's a nightmare. Terrible.”


“I'm not really comfortable with who I am to be honest. I feel more free to step into the shoes of somebody else. There's always an element of me in there but, you know, if you give me a script and some clothes I can do anything. But as Ryan, I'm a bit of recluse.”

Is that why you chose acting?

“It sort of chose me. It was never my intention to move into it. I sort of fell into it by accident.”

What was your intention?

“Either to be a professional sportsman or a lawyer. I've got a Business Degree.”

You said acting chose you. Did you go to drama school?


So how did you get into showbusiness?

“Purely by accident. My brother was a dancer at the time, my middle brother - he was 13 I was 15 - and I was on my way to swimming training and my mum was dropping me off, but on the way to swimming training just happened to be this acting agency that my brother was auditioning to get into. I waited in the car with a towel round my waist and goggles on my head and he went up to do the audition with my mum. Time was ticking by, I hadn't missed swimming training, so I ran upstairs and said, 'Mum, look, just drop me off and come back and get Mitch.' I guess as fate would have it, the lady came out of the audition, and she says, 'Oh, are you here for the audition as well?' I said, 'No, I can't act.' But I did it, and I got it, and he didn't.”

So the sports you were doing at the time helped you to get that.

“Oh I hundred per cent agree with that. I think a lot of actors don't have the tenacity to be able to get up from rejection. We deal with rejection so much more than any other business. Ninety-eight per cent of actors are out of work and of that two per cent working, only one per cent of them are getting paid. No other profession comes close to that. So I don't care how much of a genius you are, if you don't have the  propensity to be able to get back up every time you get knocked down, then you're not going to survive. I used my competitive upbringing and took that to what is considered to be an art form, and I think it's worked to my advantage. I'm very, very competitive.”

So after this woman came out and said you should be acting, how did it go from there?

“It was an agency called Ankle Biters. They only represent people under the age of 16. They actually folded, closed up business two months after I joined, and in the one job I had in that time they thought I had something, so they recommended me to another agency which then took me on.

“I started off on really silly Japanese commercials that had no character, so I never really got it. It was just sort of a little cheque that you'd be given and go, 'Oh, okay.' It wasn't until stories started having subtext and the roles had more for me to do that I started realising, 'Okay, there is an art form to this. It's not just about saying lines, you can create characters, different mannerisms, different characteristics.'”

And you finished school, obviously.

“Yeah, I finished school and then was working on a series while I got my Business degree. Sleep was not really a priority in my life at that point. Then I was sort of called over to the States on the back of a premiere of a movie I did called The Junction Boys, which is sort of an American, Texan, high school football film, starring Tom Berenger.

“I went over on a five-day ticket and had two days in New York for the premiere and three days' holiday in LA, which is pretty much all I could afford. I don't come from the most affluent family. On the fifth day I got a call from the executive producer, who's now my manager and has been for eight years, saying, 'You might want to think about staying around. We got a great response from the film for you.' I said, 'This is a big decision. I can't really afford the money to stay.' She said, 'Oh, just put it on my credit card. That's what everyone does.'

“So I found ways of getting to stay there for two weeks and in that two weeks got a couple of bites, jobs, but I still spent my time there riding around on bikes to auditions and this and that. I have a ton of bizarre and funny celebrity stories from that time.”

Would you run into somebody on your bike or in the mall?

“Yeah, one of the funniest stories that ever happened to me was they have what they call 'pilot season' there, it's all the television shows that the networks have that they want to try and create into series, so they shoot these pilots which is the first episode of a potential series. So you can be doing up to three auditions in one day. So I had one at DreamWorks that was at the very end of one day, and I had to ride my bike because I couldn't afford a car, and so I'd put my bike on the bus and catch the bus to these auditions. I'd have a backpack with different changes of clothes for each character. One might have been a lawyer, one might have been like a hitman or a drug dealer.

“So I also pride myself in being on time but this last one I had, I was running about 20 minutes late and the bus dropped me at least three kilometres away from DreamWorks  - DreamWorks is like Fort Knox, you have to get through three levels of security to get inside. So finally I got there and there's no pole to lock my bike onto, so I just found this wood thing and I wrapped my bike chain around it and locked my bike up and ran in. I said to this lady, 'I'm so late', and she said, 'No, you're fine. Sit down.'  So I'm in a room amongst guys who look very similar to me and two seconds later this assistant comes running in and says, 'Someone's parked in Mr Spielberg's spot!' Immediately I'm thinking, 'Ooh shit, someone's in trouble here. This is good.' No one's put their hand up or owned up to it so I'm thinking, 'Someone's in trouble.' Two minutes later he comes running back in and he's now sweating. He's, like, 'It's a bicycle! Does anyone here have a bicycle?!' I was like, 'Yeah, that's me.' He goes, 'Come here!' So he's like taking me out and, sure enough, Spielberg's there in his big SUV with the tinted windows, and I had literally wrapped the bike chain around 'S. Spielberg'. It was almost like a sign of protest”

Did you get the job?


So what was your big break in the US before True Blood? The thing that made you decide to stay there?

“Well, I was never really close with my parents growing up but I think the separation has really sort of helped our relationship. So I would speak to them two/three times a week and each time I would get on the phone and say, 'You know what? Next week I'm coming home. The flight's booked.' And this would keep going on for six months. I think it got to something like nine months and I said, 'Oh yeah, I'm on the next flight home. I guarantee it.' And Mum just sort of said, 'Ryan, I think you're staying there. You've been saying this for nine months now. I think you're there. We might come out and visit you.' So it was a decision that, again, was made for me.”

Because you kept getting work?

“Yeah, little snippets would keep me there. Great jobs, though. Everything, I think, led me forward. I never felt like I was taking a step back. The first job was just one of those foot-in-the-door jobs. It let me get into this industry, find a way in.”

What was that?

“A series called Summer Land. The choices back then, eight years ago, were never really about creativity or being creatively challenged. I didn't have the power to be that picky or selective.”

You were lucky to get a job?

“If that's how you want to see it.”

And to pay the rent.

“And to pay the rent. Exactly.  I was sleeping on a yoga mat, that's all I had in my apartment. Eventually I would buy cooking utensils, things like that.”

Before going to America you actually did Home and Away, didn't you?

“I did.”

That's a rite of passage for any Australian actor, isn't it? That or Neighbours.

“Yeah, I never talk bad about it because I feel like they gave me such leeway to be able to create and to play, to take risks, to fall on my arse, to make an idiot of myself, and it forced me out, because my character was such an extrovert and I'm almost a sociophobe.”

Yes, you mentioned being a recluse earlier. You don't like being around a lot of people?

“I get really uncomfortable.”

What about your brothers? Do you get on with them?

“Yeah, I love them to death. One's a doctor, the other one's a composer.”

Do you catch up and go surfing?

“Oh they don't surf.”

We've mentioned the huge success of True Blood. Do you think the sex has something to do with it?
“I don't know. Alan Ball, he has such a feeling for what audiences want to see, to challenge an audience and make you think outside of the box. We all live our comfy lives and every now and again it's good to be challenged, and I think his previous works, and I hope True Blood, does that same thing. I think that's why it's caught on like wildfire.”

Do you shoot True Blood in Louisiana?

“No, only a very small percentage of the series is [shot there]. It's mainly LA.”

Are people often surprised to learn you're not really American?

“Yeah, people are always amazed that I am Australian. That's the most common sort of American thing. I had one guy who was still utterly convinced after I had been speaking to him for 20 minutes that I was putting this voice on for a new role.”

You're known for your ripped physique because you're always getting your kit off in True Blood. How much work do you need to do to stay slim and fit?

“I'm a bit of a masochist at heart so I tend to take it to the nth degree. A lot. I would run while shooting Red Hill. If we were doing night shoots and I was still up from that, I would go run at night.”

Red Hill's a modern-day Western. Do you like the genre?

“It's great. It's like every young boy's fantasy to wield some guns and chase down the bad guy. You couldn't ask for more.”

How did you work this out with True Blood?

“It was tough. When you want to do something bad enough, though, I think people will move mountains for you, and that's sort of what ended up happening. I don't really ask for that many favours as an actor so when I did ask for one, True Blood listened and said, 'We'll do what we can to match our schedule to accommodate Red Hill.'”

When you're not working, is there a sort of Aussie colony in LA where you all get together?

“There's an LA Australians in Film and that's a really big Australian foundation. They screen Australian films and they show old ones. It's just a good one for Aussies to get together. But, you know, I tend to think when in Rome, so a lot of my friends there are Americans. I grew up with Australians so I know Australians back-to-front. All my friends are forever coming out. Once Australians know they have an Australian friend overseas who has a house and fridge full of  beer, they're there in a heartbeat.”

So is LA your home now?

“It's my base now. My home is always going to be in Australia.”

Are you ready for another challenge?

“I hope so. I pride myself on creating challenges and meeting them and moving on to something bigger and better. Like I said, I think every job has led me to this point.”

© Stephen Applebaum, 2011

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