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Revenge, Redemption & Sacrifice with Ryan Kwanten of True Blood/Red Hill
Written by: Kelly Calabrese
Straight from the Louisiana set of True Blood to the high-country of Australia to film a taut thriller called Red Hill - Ryan Kwanten has learned a lot about the rewards of acting as well as the inherent sacrifices.
In his latest film Red Hill, directed by Patrick Hughes, Ryan Kwanten plays a young police officer, named Shane Cooper, who relocates to the small country town of Red Hill to find a stress free life for his pregnant wife. The story unfolds over the course of a single day and night where Ryan's character faces explosive action and chilling violence as he struggles to survive the first day of his job against life or death odds.
As a modern-day western, Red Hill speaks of revenge, redemption and sacrifice on a extraordinary level. Yet it's powerful message - having the will to battle for what you believe in - carries beyond the screen and into everyday life for Ryan Kwanten as well as most working and aspiring actors.
"I think you have to have a chromosome missing to do this kind of job," Ryan admits." I probably have a chromosome and a half missing. I am very much a masochistic at heart so this kind of film appeals to my psyche."
When it comes to Ryan Kwanten's psyche - he may admit to having an off kilter outlook but his journey, from the start of his career to present day, plays out like many solidly good movies... with a remarkable series of choices leading to personal victory.
To learn more about Ryan Kwanten's story - check out what he told NYCastings about Red Hill and his explosive growth over the years...
Q: How did the part of Shane Cooper, in Red Hill, come to you?
It came through as an offer and it peaked my interest because I am a huge Western Genre fan. I started turning pages and thought this character could not be more different from the classic, iconic western hero. Shane was a guy filled with faults and you are used to seeing the John Wayne type who would be ok no matter what force was put up against him. You felt that John Wayne would draw his gun quicker, but not so with Shane. Every time he got knocked down you were helping him up and that was a really endearing quality. I have a lot more fun playing those tortured bruised and battered characters than impenetrable ones.
Q: Were there risks involved in signing on for this movie?
The huge risk was the fact that the filmmaker spent the past ten years trying to get his film going. He had an incredible pedigree in commercials and short films but to make this movie he had to go outside of the system, mortgage his house and all the finances came together at the worst time because his wife was pregnant. And I thought, "If this guy can dedicate this type of time and passion for the film, then there is no reason why I shouldn't join him. This could be the beginning of something special."
I really feel like I will look back in ten years time and say, "I was a part of the first Patrick Hughes film" in the same way others look back on being a part of the first Coen brothers film.
Q: As an actor, how did the different genres within this movie influence you?
At its core, if you are going to call this movie a stew - the meat of it is a western and then there is horror and thriller and supernatural. But I didn't think about it in the moment. I didn't think, "I should do it more western." Or think, "this is a thriller scene" and play it that way. I just stayed true to the lines in the moment.
Q: How did you get into the character?
This was the first time I played an Australian in years and it felt bizarre because I am so used to hearing "Action" and putting on an American accent. And, I didn't get an adjustment period because we finished shooting the end of season one of True Blood and from the last scene I jumped straight on a plane and flew 13 hours to Sydney, then to Melvin. Then I drove to this remote area called Omeo where I met the director for the first time, shook his hand and put on the jacket for the character Shane. They turned on the rain machine, it was sub zero temperatures and we went straight into one of the most emotional scenes. It was kind of trail by fire. I am not a method actor but that was the method I had to employ for this film. I had to just embrace it.
Q: The film takes place over one day and night, did that pose any challenges to keep the same intensities as the film shot over four weeks time?
It is the nature of the beast that you shoot things out of order, you have to know where you are going to and coming from.
There was a sense of isolation. As the film progresses you could not help but feel a claustrophobia where the walls were closing in. In that isolation nothing from the outside world could penetrate. Everything had to happen within this insular environment and that made it powerful and evocative.
Q: What were the challenges of filming in such a remote location?
I stayed at a place called snug as a bug and it was sub zero temperatures and I had only one layer of thermals but it all worked into what I fell in love with while shooting this film. What originally attracted me to the film was the fact that it was a western and I got to play a hero and wield a gun and save the town. But the things that now hold me and endear me to the project are the imperfections, the things that I thought were going to be negative. The fact that we didn't have a lot of money or time and it was going to be a rough shoot, those are the things that I now love. And, speaking about it in retrospect or nostalgia, I think if we had more money or more time we would have made a different film - but would we have made a better film? - I think no. That toughness conveys on the screen and I think that is what people respond to.
Q: It was a violent movie. Any accidents on set?
I broke a couple of knuckles because there was a window that was supposed to implode instead of explode and I continued with the scene but when I turned around I was covered with shards of glass and looked like Carrie. I saw the producer, he grabbed my wrist and thankfully this one horse town had a doctor who stitched me up and I was on my way. But again I enjoy that kind of stuff. I've got scars on the inside and the outside and that's fine.
Q: Did the cast talk about how the characters would work together?
With this film there was not an abundance of talk beforehand because we did not have that time but it gave us a different type of freedom. Steve (Bisley) has a huge reputation in Australian and I already looked up to him with such reverence.
Q: What drew you to this character?
I really relate to the love of family in this film. I was quite a little shit growing up and now that I am in the states I am making up for lost time with my family. I really identified with Shane that he would go to those lengths to move his wife to the country for a more stress free kind of pregnancy. I wanted those scenes with my life to really resonate because it took you out of the gun slinging world and got you viscerally interested.
Q: How does working on a film differ from TV?
This film is its own beast because usually films are afforded more time. The great thing about True Blood is we get fifteen days for each episode and a lot of money. It's almost like shooting a film in that amount of time. This film was the polar opposite. We had four weeks to shoot it and we had to solve things creatively. You could not just throw more money at it. You had to analyze things in the moment and figure out the best way to do it. You compromise the entire way and sometimes those compromises, those creative choices where you think you may be taking away from the true nature of the story, are in a way actually adding to it.
At one point we did a scene at the end of act two where my character confronts his wife and his wife says, "how was your day?" I have to turn around and give a white lie. I have to say, "It was great." That whole sequence was one shot. We had ten minutes and I remember being agitated afterwards because Patrick said we got it and I was so looking forward to that scene. To have it be over so quickly, I figured we must have missed something. But I look back on it now and I really enjoy it.
It goes back to trust. I have to trust that Patrick is getting the coverage and performance that he wants and he has to tr ust me that I am giving my best work.
Q: How has True Blood affected your career?
True Blood has changed my life, no doubt. There is not a day that goes by, an hour that goes by, where I don't think of how unbelievably lucky I am. The supply to demand ratio of actors to work is ridiculous and to sit here is unbelievable. True Blood has afforded me many opportunities and now really good quality film projects are coming across my desk.
Q: Why did you move from Australia to LA?
That was never a conscious decision. Eight years ago I had a five day ticket with three days in New York to promote a film called Junction Boys where I played one of the football players and then two days in LA, on holiday. And that was all the money I had - for five days. But at the end of those five days I got a call from the executive producer who said, "we are getting really good response from the movie and from you. You might want to stay in town." And I said to her, "I would love to, but I don't have any money." She told me I was going to regret it but I really had no money and I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with my bags packed and it was one of those seminal moments. I was thinking, "What can I possibly do to change the circumstances and make it work."
I went downstairs and asked for the owner of the hotel and he came down and looked at me like I was crazy as I told him, "I have no money and can't afford to stay at your hotel. But if you let me stay at the hotel, I don't care if you put me in the storage room (which he ended up putting me in a converted storage room which was fine). I said if he let me stay for three months I would pay back every red cent and anything else he wants. Without hesitation he said, "yes" and from there it was about going out and trying to make it happen.
The hotel was the Cadillac hotel in Venice.
Q: How did you get into acting?
It sort of found me. I was fifteen years old and into swimming and my brother was a dancer at the time and wanted to get into acting. This acting agency happened to be on the way to swim training so I went up there with goggles on my head and a towel around my waist and said, "Mom drop me off I don't want to be late" as the women came out of the room and grabbed me by the wrist and said, "Oh are you here for the audition?"
I just wanted to go swimming. I was so scared. But I ended up getting into the agency and my brother didn't. It was the right place. The right time. But it took seven years for me to realize there was an art to acting because the roles I originally got didn't have an abundance of subtext. When I made the choice that this was what I definitively wanted to do, that's when I started turning everything around.
Q: Do you see an similarities between swimming and acting?
Because I come from a competitive sports upbringing I bring that competitiveness to my more artistic work. There are definitely actors out there who are far more talented than I am but they don't have the tenacity to keep getting up and dealing with rejection the way I know I can. You can't be right for every role. Even though we convince ourselves as actors that we are right for every job we go in for, we aren't right for every job whether it is politics or looks. If you don't have the capabilities of the foresight to deal with that, it can be a tough industry to be a part of.
Q: Did you have any formal training?
I didn't have any formal training. Everything I learned, I learned on set. My career is very much like life. You should try and learn something from every experience. The nature of filmmaking is you can never know it all but you learn on set and I feel there is an authenticity that I offer because of that. I am not a molded, trained actor. I feel like I am very malleable and that is valuable when you play a role like Manson (Charles Manson in an upcoming film) who has so many different faces.
Q: Coming up - do you plan to just keep working or are you strategically looking to build a career?
I'd rather not work then do something I am not passionate about and fortunately I am in a position right now that I don't have to do things for monetary reasons. For the past three or four years, I've gotten to choose projects by how they inspire me and that's a rarity for an actor.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned as an actor?
I am going to quote Winston Churchill. Never ever ever give up.
Q: Coming up for Ryan?
The next season of True Blood, a horror movie called Knights of Badassdom and Ryan will play the lead role of Charles Manson in an upcoming film directed by Brad Anderson.
REDHILL Opens November 5, 2010
Go see Ryan Kwanten - In this buzzed about film - by first time feature filmmaker Patrick Hughes!
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