Suitability Analysis

10 July 2012 | 10:52 am | Bryget Chrisfield

“It’s funny, I don’t necessarily think of myself as the best actor but it’s dealing with things like that, which is the rejection and having the tenacity to keep coming back."

So you can get a visual, at the time of our chat, Ryan Kwanten is “in the car on the way to a meeting” in LA. “It's riveting stuff,” he observes with a chuckle. Work-wise, Kwanten is “on the set of the tail end of Season 5 of True Blood” and, since this season's currently airing in Australia, he eagerly enquires: “Whaddaya think so far?” Well, apart from the obvious eye candy, we've certainly missed the hilarious script. A reference to his sister on the show, Sookie Stackhouse (played by Anna Paquin) and her “supersnatch” springs to mind. “Oh, yeah. Pam's line,” Kwanten correctly identifies the vampire quip.

Does Kwanten have a favourite zinger from his oversexed, loveable-dumbarse character Jason Stackhouse? “There's so many,” he ruminates. “Jason's just had some doozies. The one that I kinda like the most is when he says, 'This town might be full of rednecks and dumbarses, but they're still Americans'… Most of the time the more conviction he has the less sense he makes: he's geared up for action [in] a scene where he's sorta looking like Rambo and he quotes something and he thinks it's from the constitution, but he's not sure.”

It has to be said that Kwanten nails Stackhouse's Southern accent. “Because I don't come from any formal acting background, I really don't know where my ability to pick up accents comes from,” he declares, “because I've done so many, now that I've been over here for as long as I have, and I've never once had an issue, you know, never had a director come up or a producer saying, 'How about we use someone for you?' So I've never used a dialect coach. I've always just taken great pride in nailing it myself.” Do people in the US still freak out when he speaks with an Australian accent? “Oh yeah,” he laughs. “All the time. Probably not a day goes by where I don't get that.”

Did playing Vinnie Patterson on Home And Away help Kwanten get used to acting shirtless? “Um…” There's a pause, as if he's disappointed the conversation had to veer this way. “No, I don't think you ever quite get used to it.” Just weird? “Well, it's not normal.” (Quick subject change.) So how old was Kwanten when he moved to LA? “I was – what is it? Eleven years ago, so I was 23.” That must have been some adjustment. “Yeah, I mean I really look back on it now as sort of a rebirth of Ryan Kwanten, because it was a chance for me to let go of the inhibitions and the things that were perhaps holding me back in Australia and really just create a new version of who I wanted to be.

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“I was so secluded, because I really knew no one out here. I literally had no friends and no money so everything was so new and – it's not exactly a culture shock out here, but in some respects it is because there's a way that they do things here that's very different to the laidback way that we do things back in Australia. Everyone's very driven and they're all trying to get to somewhere. And so that kinda helped me when I first started out here, was that ability to just, 'Well if I'm gonna make things happen here I've gotta at least pretend I'm going somewhere'.”

In between filming True Blood seasons (and yes, HBO has renewed the hit show for a sixth season) Kwanten often returns to his homeland to star in local films, something he is passionate about: “I love the filmmakers I've worked with,” he praises. “I'm really proud of all of [the films], particularly Not Suitable For Children.” In his latest film Kwanten plays Jonah, a carefree, party-hard playboy whose priorities are shaken up when a casual sexual partner discovers what turns out to be a cancerous lump in one of his testicles. You'll giggle, you'll get teary… “Oh, we got you welled up! I like it!” Kwanten enthuses. “You take me back to the first time I read it too. It has a lot of those moments where it's almost like those little half-giggles that escape out of you because you're not quite sure what else to do.”

Speaking affectionately about his character, Kwanten observes: “For a free-spirit guy, Jonah is relatively internal for a lot of it.” Which would surely have put the actor's facial expressions to the test. “Or lack of, yeah,” he disputes. “I don't remember who it was, it might've even been Kingsely but don't quote me on that: Sometimes it's better to let the audience think what you're thinking as opposed to you doing it yourself. So I feel like Jonah does a lot of that.” Perhaps Ben Kingsley said that circa Gandhi, who was a man of few words. “Right, yeah probably. Just don't compare that performance to Gandhi,” Kwanten stresses with a laugh.

There are regular house-party scenes throughout Not Suitable For Children and, remarkably, everyone's rocking out in time with the music and looking suitably up for it minus the cringe factor. “I couldn't agree more,” Kwanten concurs. “That was a huge thing for Peter [Templeman, director] and I that we got that right: We felt like that sorta cheeseball way that Americans – and even Aussies sometimes – can portray those party scenes, it just looks like the kinda parties that you would not go to in a million years... Ultimately I feel like it's down to the element of the crowd, 'cause if they're not dancing to the same song, sometimes you can see one of the extras looking out of the corner of his eye to see the camera there – we had none of that, everyone was just so into it and the camera just sorta became another character.”

Having read with interest that Kwanten had been cast as notorious serial killer Charles Manson in a film potentially called The Family, it's disappointing to hear this project's “been put on the back burner for a little while”. Kwanten expresses his frustration: “It's funny, I don't necessarily think of myself as the best actor but it's dealing with things like that, which is the rejection and having the tenacity to keep coming back. I don't mind getting hit and being told that I didn't get a job or that a job fell through and it's the old, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'-type thing.” So does Kwanten feel he's getting better at dealing with these unpleasant aspects of his chosen profession? Look, I'm a pretty sore loser and I take everything to heart, but I've really learned to just enjoy the beast of making the film as opposed to getting it or the success of it once it is made. I've learnt to separate those things.”

Not Suitable For Children opens nationally on Thursday 12 July.