Interview: Ryan Kwanten

It took me a long time to publish this interview because I didn’t know how to approach it. I always get nervous before interviews but at least in the past I’ve had a genuine interest in the subject. Sure I’ve watched True Blood, but to be honest I binge watched the whole series when I was going through a break up and couldn’t get out of bed (not the kind of info’ I felt comfortable sharing with Kwanten). I cannot even remember what I asked him because I’ve basically repressed the whole thing out of embarrassment. All except this weird moment before the interview began: We were walking through the lobby of the Como when a man, who thought he knew Ryan, stopped us. Everyone played it very cool but this random guy had just recognised him from TV and not realised why. Thank God life offers comic relief sometimes. 

Conducting an interview is not unlike going on a first date. There’s the same pressure to build a rapport with someone you don’t really know and despite being incredibly nervous you try to play it cool because you want to make your interviewee feel comfortable. There’s also the mutual awareness that underneath the guise of polite conversation the whole thing is basically a cross examination purposed to ascertain whether the person is awesome or a psycho. Actually it’s a lot like a first date. I definitely felt that familiar rush of excitement and terror whilst waiting in the lobby of the Como for Ryan Kwanten to appear.

I’m not usually the kind of gal to go gaga over a celebrity, but when I spotted Kwanten walking towards me I’m pretty sure my eyes were uncomfortably wide. If I were a cartoon character they would have dropped right out of their sockets and rolled across the floor. The reality of the situation totally took over: I had a poster of this dude hanging on my wall when I was eleven, back when he was Summer Bay heartthrob Vinnie Patterson (RIP). Lucky for me Kwanten is a professional and apparently a seasoned first dater – affecting enough but refreshingly down to earth. I didn’t have to say much to get him talking about his unorthodox start in acting: he was pulled in to an audition on the way to swimming practice.

“Both my brothers went to artistic schools – the Newtown School of Performing Arts which is in Sydney – and I went to a school that was known for its sports, so I wasn’t the one in the family that was destined to be an actor but that’s sort of the way it turned out.”

But that wasn’t even Kwanten’s most Cinderella-esque story. His real stroke of luck came after Home and Away when he decided to extend a trip to LA.

“It was just a two day ticket that sort of turned into twelve years. The story is that I spoke to the owner of the hotel after the second day of being there and basically said, ‘Listen mate I don’t have a dime to my name but if you can let me stay at the hotel free of charge for three months I’ll pay you back at the end of that anything I owe you’: and he barely hesitated.[He] put me into a converted storage shed and gave me $400 on the spot. I bought a yoga mat and slept on that and I had a bicycle. It was kind of my intro to LA you know one of those [in a perfect Californian accent] ‘if you got a dream man you can do it’ kind of things and you know as Aussies tend to do I took the ball and ran with it.”

Thanks to that hotel owner – and his own talent of course – Kwanten soon scored his “foot in the door job” as Jay Robertson on Summerland and the rest is history. Now we all know him as Jason Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood.

“Alan Ball the show’s creator had seen a film that I was in called Flicker which was sort of a family style film but he saw that there was something in the character that I was playing that could be sort of like a G rated version of Jason. So he wanted me to audition, I did the audition, and I was cast in the series.

“His name was very synonymous with class and with weirdness and you know the fact that he’d had a great reputation with HBO and anyone and everyone was dying to be part of this project.”

Of course True Blood ran for seven seasons so those predictions weren’t wrong. Six years is a long time for someone to get acquainted with a character and Kwanten has only nice things to say about Jason.

“I loved his energy. You know I’m pretty even keeled and he’s sort of the opposite so it was nice to be able to drop that level of – that sense of analytical thought that I tend to carry with me everywhere and to sort of jump off the cliff without thinking. And he’s so spontaneous and he has this incessant need for self-improvement, which I really admired. Even in his evil doings sometimes there was always a good intention behind it I felt. I thought that was a very endearing and enduring quality that helped shape his evolvement over the course of not just an episode but the entire series.”

Perhaps surprisingly though his favourite character of the series was Andy Bellefleur, Bon Temps’ oft’ grizzly sheriff played by Chris Bauer.

“I just loved working with Chris and so I could really see the intricacies of his performance and how he really did bring – sometimes he was only in just half a scene in an episode but he would just bring so much life to it and it was really inspiring to work with that guy. We had so much fun together and I think he made me a better actor.”

Of course his experience working on True Blood was unmatched by eitherHome and Away or Summerland and Kwanten admits to the stark differences on set.

“Not necessarily in terms of the preparation that I would do but just in terms of the sheer size of the budget, the amount of creative control they give their auteurs – like the Alan Ball’s and the Brian Buckners (who ended up running the show later) – and the level of fearlessness with which they approached everything and the fact that [they] really had no boundaries in terms of how far they wanna push things. I think we tried to give the best every single time you know. Sometimes we didn’t succeed [and] other times I think we did a damn good job.”

Of course True Blood has been described as pretty damn close to porn and, despite feeling the blood rush into my cheeks, I had to ask him what it was like filming all those sex scenes.

“I dunno whether it’s just being an Australian but it never really bothered me. I think we’re far more, I guess, open minded sometimes than Americans and far more liberal in the way we view the human body and sex in general so you know I was always far more concerned for the actress I was working with. It’s a pretty daunting task to step onto this set and be asked to ‘do your scene’ in front of anywhere up to 60 crew members. So I always made a point of forging a bond with the female actress an saying ‘let’s get in this together, if ever you get uncomfortable just let us know and we’ll approach the director and go about it some other way.’”

It was at that point I was totally swooning and had to shuffle through my notes for a change of subject. In typical first date style I asked him about his other interests. Turns out he’s a qualified yoga instructor, competes in the odd triathlon and is a big believer in having hobbies outside of acting.

“It’s paramount to maintaining sanity and just for me even being a better actor. The more well rounded as a person you can be the better it is. So even in terms of that it extends into the friends circle too. Most of my friends are outside of the business which, you know, it keeps things curious. It keeps things intriguing for me. I could think of nothing worse than working in television or film all day and going home or going out with friends and being surrounded by actors who are all talking about being on the set I just came from.

“Most of my friends couldn’t care less really what I do, I mean, they care about me, not necessarily what I do. I don’t really see myself as an actor through and through even though that’s how I’ve made my bread and butter.”

In fact he even ran a triathlon drunk just to entertain his pals – though he did say he wouldn’t recommend it.

“I had a couple of Aussie boys in town and I’d already booked the triathlon, so being a good friend, I took them out and had a good time then yeah I said I’ll do it but so long as you’re my cheer squad – it was like liquid courage at that point.”

But just when I was about to pin him down as your average Sydney bro he told me about the book he’s been working on. Admittedly he said it was a “huge work in progress” and being “back to back with film projects” made it difficult to dedicate a serious amount of time to it. But he could tell me it was going to be “a satirical viewpoint on particular facet of life” which sounds pretty intriguing.

As for his film projects you can expect to see him early next year alongside Anthony Hopkins and Sam Worthington in Kidnapping Freddy Heineken and after spending 12 years in the States he seems keen to get back to Australia at least some day in the future.

“I think it’s inevitable at some point but for now, at least in terms of the near future, [my home is] in the States. But I still have every intention of coming back, like I have before in the past and doing films and projects out here.”

The final and seventh of True Blood is out now digitally and on DVD and Blu-ray.

Words: Alix Palmer

Published by The Vine 29 December 2014. Photo from The Vine.