Interview Date: 10/26/2010
Run Date: 11/04/2010
When the opportunity came up to talk to Ryan Kwanten about his starring role in “Red Hill,” a modern-day western set in Australia, I immediately leapt at the chance, figuring, “After three years of blogging ‘True Blood,’ there’s no way I’m going to miss the opportunity to talk to the man who plays Jason Stackhouse!” As it happens, I wasn’t the only one who had an interest: our man Bob Westal, who – although he’s never really watched “True Blood,” is a major aficionado of westerns. In the end, we both got our wish (you can check out Bob’s conversation here), but while you might expect mine to be split 50/50 between “Red Hill” and “True Blood,” it actually still ended up being running pretty heavy on the former, owing to the fact that I was sent a screener of the flick and thought it was awesome. Don’t worry, though: there’s still a decent chuck of conversation about Jason Stackhouse, his relationship with Crystal, and the bond he’s forged with Deputy Andy.
Ryan Kwanten: Will!
RK: How are you, sir?
BE: I’m doing well! How are you?
BE: I believe you just talked to my friend and fellow Bullz-Eye contributor, Bob Westal, not too long ago.
RK: (Laughs) Yes, he…forewarned me about you.
BE: I guess that’s good.
RK: It is, it’s good. He spoke very highly.
BE: Oh, excellent. So the movie’s called “Red Hill,” but it might as well have been called “Trial by Fire.” Your character, Shane Cooper, doesn’t exactly get much of a breaking-in period.
RK: Uh, no. Talk about probably the worst day in the history of policing. He thought he was going to get…not necessarily a cushy beat, but at least somewhere that was slightly stress-free. But, uh, no. (Laughs)
BE: Obviously, it doesn’t take a dyed-in-the-wool film buff to identify this as a modern-day Western, but what’s your history with the Western genre, and what did you think about tackling a contemporary one?
RK: I have a huge fascination with that genre, all the way back to John Ford, Sergio Leone, (Clint) Eastwood)…all of that. A huge part of my DVD collection is devoted to the Western genre. So when this script was originally pitched to me as a Western, I was very thoroughly intrigued. Actually, the two things that sort of drew me to it the most were…well, here is a character named Shane Cooper, obviously after the movie “Shane” and also Gary Cooper, who doesn’t really have any of the iconic qualities that a classic Western hero is supposed to have. He’s very much a relatable kind of guy with a ton of faults. In fact, the very first frame we see him in, he’s forgotten his gun. So that, to me, was a really interesting thing to play. It’s almost like a prequel to where you find Eastwood, say, in…I don’t know, in “High Plains Drifter,” or John Wayne in “The Searchers.” It’s the back story to what got them to that point. There’s a real vulnerability and innocence to this hero at the beginning. And then beyond that, I guess it was a snap judgment that I made in terms of the story’s villain and how quick I was to judge him and how…well, without giving too much away, how wrong I was at the end. And I thought…well, I like to think I have an ounce of intelligence, and if I can be fooled like that, then it can force me to think outside of the box. If we can sort of inflict that kind of… (Hesitates) Not “inflict.” But if we can then harness that, put that into the film, and then hopefully people can be affected in the same way that I was, then we’ve done a good job. And I think that’s what films are there to do. To kind of change the way you view the world.
BE: Actually, it’s funny that you make that comment about the end. I was going to ask you…and, like you said, not to give too much away…but when you were reading the script, how long did it take you to figure out the motivation behind Jimmy’s rampage, and how did you react when you realized what was going on?
RK: No, that’s exactly what I...I was very, very hard on myself. I couldn’t believe it. I pride myself on finding those twists, but I thought it was an out and out thriller, that there was no method to this guy’s madness, that he really just was a bad-ass…which he still inevitably is. And, in fact, he’s probably more of a bad-ass, because he’s a bad-ass with motive. So, no, I was very late in the picture, to be perfectly honest. It was very late in the script when I found out. Pretty much as we (the viewers) do.
BE: I wouldn’t think it would be too hard to find fear in your heart when playing up against Tony Lewis.
RK: No, uh… (Laughs) He probably…in fact, I think he does…he says more without saying anything in that role than everyone else put together. He does so much with his eyes, and I think the great villains of the past, or certainly the great bad-asses of the past, manage to do that.
BE: Most Americans probably aren’t familiar with Steve Bisley beyond “Mad Max,” but I’m sure you were. Was it pretty cool to work with him? I figure you must’ve watched him on TV most of your life.
RK: Yeah, Steve’s got a huge legacy back in Australia, and that in itself really helped even in the character, for me looking up to Steve in the way that I did. It helped, because Steve’s character is a real sort of totalitarian type. Like, he ran a tight ship and he ran it his way. And it was nice to come in with that sort of reverence that I had towards Steve and really not try and force anything, ‘cause everything was kind of there.
BE: Conversely, “Red Hill” was actually director Patrick Hughes’s first feature film. How did you and he cross paths?
RK: Well, the offer came through to me, and then I read the script, loved the script, and then Patrick and I spoke over the phone a couple of times, but…in speaking to Patrick, you very quickly discover his passion for filmmaking and how long he’s been dying to make his first film. And I’d seen his previous work, I’d seen a lot of his commercials a bunch of his really superb short films, so I knew he had the capability for doing it, but it’s not until you really speak to him that you realize just what he put on the line to make this film happen. I mean, he mortgaged his house, his wife was pregnant at the time, and that sort of stuff really raises the stakes and really makes you think, “Wow, this guy believes in this.” So it sort of adds a sense of ownership to it for me, and it really…I never once rested on my laurels.
BE: I have to ask: as far as the name of Claire van der Boom’s character, was it an intentional homage, or was there really a sudden epiphany where someone realized her last name and said, “Oh, my God, we’ve named her Alice Cooper”?
RK: Uh, yeah, needless to say, it was a sudden epiphany. (Laughs) But by that point…I mean, it could have changed, but we felt like everything in the movie happened for a reason, so we kept it.
BE: You talked about John Ford and Sergio Leone, but is there a long history of Australian Westerns? Because, I mean, I know “Ned Kelly,” and you’ve got “The Propostion” and “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.”
RK: “The Man from Snowy River.”
BE: Oh, okay, there you go.
RK: There is a long history, and we definitely do have our own version of the Wild West, even in terms of the…I guess going back to the Colonial times, where you have the white man coming into the Aboriginal sort of territory, even, if you want to put it into the American Indian sort of style. So there’s huge comparisons there. And we have some of the best cowboys in the world, too, so there’s a real, very distinct parallel between the two. One of the other reporters earlier today sort of hit on it, but…we do it our way. It’s not like we’re trying to do it the American way. It’s our version of the Western. Does that make sense?
BE: Absolutely. I’d agree with that. Certainly, “The Proposition” is not a traditional Western, but it’s definitely a Western.
RK: Yeah, whereas this one definitely still falls in line with the traditional Western, but it’s still done in a modern Australian way. It’s sort of been hailed as a “No Country for Old Men,” but an Australian version.
BE: So do you think that this will help undo some of the damage done by Paul Hogan’s “Lightning Jack”?
RK: (Bursts out laughing) Um…I’m going to say that, uh… (Long pause, then more laughter) Wow, “Lightning Jack.” Geez. Maybe we should forget that film ever existed!
BE: (Laughs) So when do you start back to work for Season 4 of “True Blood”?
RK: I go back the first of December.
BE: I actually blog the show for our site, and I am absolutely convinced that Jason loves Crystal, but is it a reciprocal romance, do you think?
RK: Very good question. Um…we’ve yet to find out. I mean, I think he would like to think so, but I think, as with anything on “True Blood,” nothing is what it seems, and we still need to find out a bit more about her before we can make that call. And, unfortunately, I think that Jason, because he’s not quite all there, he may find out after we do. You know what I mean?
RK: We quite often are one step ahead of Jason.
BE: In fact, I was going to ask you how you think Jason has evolved over the course of the show. I don’t if he’s necessarily smarter, but I do feel like he’s at least a little bit wiser.
RK: No, I definitely get the feeling that he’s involved. Uh, evolved, I mean. Well, he’s involved and evolved. (Laughs) It’s really incredible for me to be a part of this show, because it was amazing how quick people were to judge Jason after…even after just the first two episodes, they saw that what they thought was a one-dimensional character that was having sex with any that moved, if you stuck in there long enough, you realize by the end of Season 1 that there really is method to his madness. You understand his plight, why he does the things he does, and the insecurities that he holds. And I think that’s a testament to HBO, and it’s a testament to Alan Ball and his team of writers for letting his show breathe over the course of a season, two seasons, three seasons. And in doing that, you give the audience members far more of a visceral response, but you also get them involved, where they feel like they’re part of these characters’ lives.
BE: I think my favorite part of Jason’s storylines over the course of the seasons has been the relationship that he’s gotten with Detective Andy.
RK: Oh, you just made my day. That’s my favorite part, too. I don’t think they could be two more polar opposite characters, and to find them in the same sort of working environment is hilarious.
BE: Yeah, like I said, I blog the show, and I’ve commented on how they’re one of the great comedic duos on TV right now.
RK: Oh, thank you very much! That’s very kind.
BE: How did you guys find your chemistry? Are you tight off the set as well, or is it just the writing?
RK: It’s a mix of both. The great thing about Chris is…as regimented and by-the-book as Andy is, Chris (Bauer) is very up for playing on the day. With Jason, I’m given a lot of leeway in terms of things that I can do with that character, probably more so than with a lot of the other characters. Alan gives me an enormous amount of freedom. And Chris is smart enough to go with some of the things that I throw at him, and we’ve had some sort of beautiful accidents that happened. And because these characters couldn’t be more different, the choices that we both make…you know, we quite often crack ourselves and the crew up, and it’s…yeah, it’s a real pleasure to work with him.
BE: Do you have a favorite Jason storyline, as well as maybe one that didn’t work as well as you might’ve hoped?
RK: My favorite scene is probably one with Andy, where I talk about, “Look, this town might be full of crazy rednecks and dumbasses, but it’s still America,” and Andy says, “Well, that used to mean something.” And Jason’s comment is, “Well, it still does!” (Laughs) I remember that Alan Ball actually wrote that episodes, and…yeah, that’s one of my favorite moments. That Jason, beyond it all, is an American, and he has that real sense of patriotism and standing up for what he believes in. And that’s a really endearing quality. And as far as the storylines that I thought didn’t work…? I really don’t know. For me, I like to think that they all did. They all made him where he is today, and I don’t think he would be the same person without those storylines, so…it’s almost like saying, “Would you take a part of your life out of the way?” And I wouldn’t. It’s like saying, “Which kid would you rather have die?” I want them all!
BE: Well, I’ll start to wrap up, since I know we’re coming up against the wall. What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
RK: Oh, wow. Um… (Long pause) You know what? “True Blood” was a real turning point for me, because up until that point, it was just doing jobs to really kind of exist. And now that has put me in the position that I can choose jobs based on how they creatively challenge me. I’ve done a couple of studio films, I’ve done a couple of independent films, so…I was going to say that the independent films see the light of day, but I’ve been blessed in the fact that, say, for instance, the two independent films that I did last year, this one just got bought by Sony four months ago at the Berlin Film Festival. That was beyond my wildest dreams. And the last independent that I shot just got into the Berlin Film Festival, and hopefully that gets sold, too. So…I don’t know, man. Anything is what you want to make it, and I really have no regrets. Who knows? It’s quite often the hardships of life that tell more about who you are than the triumphs.
BE: And to close, what can you tell me about “Knights of Badassdom”? Because the cast looks awesome.
RK: The cast is just phenomenal. It makes me smile just even thinking about them. Steve Zahn and Peter Dinklage were just…you know, just the three of us were thrown into this world of LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing). My character goes by the name of Joe, who is…at the beginning of the film, he finds out that the love of his life has been cheating on him, so his friends, in an effort to cheer him up, they kind of, uh, kidnap him, for lack of a better word, and introduce him to the world of LARPing, and very quickly this LARPing world, something seems awry. People start going missing, blood starts getting shed, and my character sort of has to try and…piece together the pieces, I guess. It’s sort of like a “Shawn of the Dead” film, a horror/comedy. But I’m very excited to see how that one turns out.
BE: Well, Ryan, it’s been great talking to you. I really appreciate it. And fingers crossed for the film’s success. I really dug it.RK: Thank you so much, sir. I really appreciate it!