by Gina Ponce, Photography by Jeff Forney,
Styling by Darius Baptist, Grooming by Barbara Lamelza
People all over the world have fallen for the Southern drawl of Jason Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood, but the Louisiana ladies’ man is lucky to have anything at all on the real life, captivating Australian accent of the man behind the character, Ryan Kwanten.
The 34-year-old, who plays Sookie Stackhouse’s oversexed (if there is such a thing) brother on the renowned vampire series, discloses that with no formal training his acting style is “malleable,” allowing him to organically take on any new role without a preconceived idea of how to approach things. This seems to have worked for Kwanten who, even though he says he’s “always surprised” by his True Blood character’s storyline, has brought the fabricated playboy to life to the point that it is now difficult for fans, and sometimes the media, to distinguish between the two. While Jason Stackhouse’s wild and often irresponsible behavior, as well as his toned body, shines through the small screen and into countless photo ops, the actor admits he sees very little of himself in the unreserved young Stackhouse.
“I mean, he looks a lot like me [Laughs]… but I’m much more of a beach kind of guy than a Southern boy. I’m a very sort of analytical guy. I think too much about even the most mundane things that shouldn’t really require that much thought,” he says. “But Jason doesn’t really have that [trait] to think things all the way through. If he wants to do something he just jumps in with no inhibitions, and that’s really liberating for me to play a character like that… I actually find photo shoots really quite hard because it is you; it’s not hiding behind a character. I find it quite unnerving sometimes.”
Auditioning for the part in True Blood after hearing about the script written by Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), Kwanten ended up being one of the first cast for the new show, which is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries novels authored by Charlaine Harris. While familiarizing himself with the books after joining the cast, the realization came that the TV version would head slightly down a different path. But the overall plot centered around vampires remained the same, and the series has since capitalized off the phenomenon and intrigue surrounding the pale-skinned immortals.
“I’ve said this before, but I still feel it’s appropriate – Einstein once said that, ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,’” he says in trying to explaining the vampire fascination. “And for many people, they find vampires to be the absolute sort of epitome of mystery because they have human qualities but then they also have other characteristics and a history that is far beyond anything that we could ever [understand].”
This summer marks the much-anticipated return of True Blood in its fourth season, with promises to continue in its normal, signature shock-and-awe approach. The bloodsucking series ended its season finale last summer with yet more critically acclaimed episodes that left open-ended plotlines as to where the show would go next. But one thing that has been confirmed: new supernatural beings besides the common vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters and witches.
“The storyline is just out of control this season, like really, really good,” Kwanten declares. “Fans can expect to be rocked! There are some scenes that should have people talking for some time. We have had so much fun shooting this season and I’m looking forward to seeing how people respond to it.”
Since relocating to Los Angeles from his native Sydney, Kwanten has been sharpening his acting skills – a career path he didn’t originally consider going down. With no drama school under his belt, but in fact a business degree from The University of Sydney, his recognition began long before he hit Hollywood and put Bon Temps, Louisiana on the fictional map. Joining Australian TV show Home and Away in the ‘90s gained Kwanten fame in his home country prior to his move across the globe into the City of Angels, where he was subsequently cast in The WB program Summerland and big screen films Flicka and Dead Silence before bringing Jason Stackhouse to millions of viewers in 2008. Humbly acknowledging, “I guess I have somewhat of a name right now with the popularity of True Blood,” he notes that, even though by no means is he flying under the radar when he travels back home, there are still minor differences in being a TV star in Australia and the States.
“The main difference in acting in television in the U.S. as opposed to Australia is the amount of people who could potentially see your show,” he explains. “The U.S. shows also have larger budgets, but ultimately, as far as the acting goes it’s pretty much the same.”
Making the most out of his time, Kwanten used his break from filming True Blood not to vacation, but instead to do more filming back on his native soil as the lead in both last year’s modern day western/thriller limited release, Red Hill, and this year’s upcoming indie superhero flick, Griff the Invisible.
“He’s kind of like a really shy guy with a very ordinary office job by day, but then at night he becomes a superhero and he’s saving [the streets] from enemies… Pretty much I guess the theme of it is to say that you shouldn’t pass judgment on anybody,” he says. “[This movie] wasn’t anything that anyone had ever seen me do. I’m used to playing a very kind of gregarious character, and this was a character that was very much introverted. It was the closest to playing who I am [in real life]. Quite often, as an actor that’s the hardest role to play, is the one closest to you.”
Not showing any signs of slowing down, the Aussie is also set to star in South African film Zebras opposite Camilla Belle and Knights of Badassdom, which is described as a comedy/thriller whose stars battle a demon they’ve inadvertently summoned. Additionally, in finding himself amid rumors to be tapped for the lead role in a Charles Manson biopic, Kwanten only reveals that “it would definitely be a challenge.” And at this point in his still burgeoning career, challenge is exactly what the actor is looking for.
“If the story resonates with me and the character and challenges me, that’s a pretty good start,” he speaks of finding an ideal role to portray. “There isn’t a particular genre or specific character; I really just like to keep my options open because you never know what life will throw your way.”
Although Kwanten has excelled on this current career path – like several of his Australian luminary counterparts, including Hugh Jackman and the late Heath Ledger – acting isn’t the end of the road for him, but just one of many interests. As a qualified yoga instructor and winner of the L.A. Biathlon two years in a row, the certified competitor (who makes time to keep up the Stackhouse-famed chiseled body by swimming, surfing, running, biking, etc.) can picture himself as a professional triathlete if the acting opportunity had never presented itself. So far, Kwanten seems to have found the key to maintaining a balanced life in a whirlwind world of fame and money, which has led him to a different kind of project – writing a satirical guide to a better love life.
“It’s called The G-Strategy, and it’s kind of a satire on self-help books,” he explains. “I just thought that all of these books in that self-help section of the bookstore claim that they can sort of fix any one of life’s problems in, like, 10 steps. I thought it was just leaving itself open to be made fun of… and that’s kind of what it is.”
Whether he’s writing from personal experience, observation or something he picked up along the way as Sookie’s older brother, there’s no doubt Kwanten has plenty to share on the subject. And as reluctant as he is to be typecast as another Hollywood sex symbol, one thing he does have in common with his True Blood- Casanova character? Knowing what he likes in a woman.
“I grew up, obviously, with Australians so I know Australian women, but American women are such a foreign thing to me; it’s not what I’m used to,” he confesses. “I like the diversity [in the U.S.] In Australia, you can’t really tell if someone is from Sydney or Brisbane or Perth, but here you can tell if a girl is from Boston or somewhere down South or L.A. There’s a way that they carry themselves, a swagger, or [it’s in] the way they talk. And I like that.”
Other than that you won’t dig up much dirt on Kwanten’s personal life. Maintaining privacy is vital to keeping a level head among the craziness that’s bound to ensue once you reach celebrity status, and this is one star that knows how to be effectual without putting it all out there, Lindsay Lohan-style.
“This, for me, is paramount in an industry that is consumed with knowing everything,” he asserts. “I love my job, but when I wrap each day I like to get as far away from the world of make believe as possible. Maybe that means a run on the beach, catching up with friends or getting out of town. I want to be doing what I do for a long time, and for me, privacy, quality of life and longevity go hand in hand.”