Back in 2008, TV audiences around the world were introduced to the fictional world of True Blood, the television adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire novels and the first major HBO produced series Alan Ball created since the wrap of the hugely successful Six Feet Under series back in 2005. It was a time where vampire mythology was growing for itself a stronger presence within pop culture, with the Twilight franchise arguably leading the new resurgence for the teens prior to True Blood‘s breakthrough, one which other shows like The Vampire Diaries would soon find themselves chasing. Over the course of the supernatural dark comedy-drama, fans were introduced to a whole range of ‘Supes’: from vampires to werewolves, shapeshifters to were-panthers and not to mention the god-like fae who came into the game more prominently in later seasons. The show provided huge career platforms for the likes of Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård, not to mention Australian actor Ryan Kwanten, who for Australian audiences, had been away from our screens for some time.
The Sydney native, who moved to the US in the early 2000’s after a successful Australian TV career, became one of True Blood‘s most popular characters as the womaniser-with-heart-of-gold Jason Stackhouse and with the show’s final season being broadcast through 2014, fans’ favourite Bon Temps police officer had truly developed into more than just a one time V-addict with a great bod. Kwanten, who is back home in Australia to promote the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the seventh and final season of the show, comments on the way landing True Blood changed the course of his career.
“That’s what I really enjoyed about the show, the sense of evolving.” he agrees. “The fans that we had stuck by us from the beginning and I think that, even from a ratings standpoint, I don’t think it took off like a house on fire or certainly like HBO expected it to, in the first one or two episodes. People then started slowly catching on and started to appreciate the world that Alan was trying to create. They stuck to their guns and it worked.”
“It was one of those things where I thought I was getting nostalgic even around Season Two and Season Three! To continue to keep kicking on season after season, it was at that point just like a victory lap, each season that we would do. It feels great, it’s a nice thing to have in the bank and it’s wholeheartedly changed my life, that’s for sure.”
Being a part of the HBO network, which has helmed other blockbusters in the likes of The Wire, Entourage, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones in recent times, True Blood was in the crop of shows which developed almost a cult-like fan base around it, much in the way large-scale production films would. The way the environment and its characters were portrayed were unique and not being done elsewhere on television; using racism, homophobia and general xenophobic behaviour and applying them to what would become a humankind vs. supernaturals battle was masterfully done and visually, True Blood remained a wickedly good show to watch. The sex and gore was always operating at a high frequency to the point where the viewer would become desensitised to the action occurring onscreen. As Jason Stackhouse, Kwanten was fully immersed in all of the above even into the final season, where his character explored the ancient concept of monogamy with an even more ancient vampire and the blood which continued to spill in his small town.
“The great thing about HBO as a company was the fact that they just let their auteurs do what they do best.” Kwanten explains. “They give the likes of Alan Ball, whoever it may be, they give them the creative juice and financial juice to do what they really want to do. There was little to no, at least from my experience, executive presence on set. There was never this feeling of being micromanaged or creatively stifled. I felt positively inspired pretty much every single day. Perhaps it’s a little hard now that I’m emerging into this other world and hoping for that same kind of experience! Again though, that’s the blessing and the curse of what we do as artists – no one experience is the same as the next and you have to find something beautiful in everything.”
“In terms of all of the actors on the show,” Kwanten remembers. “They gave both myself and Nelsan [Ellis], who plays Lafayette, the most leeway. We’re both very physically inclined with our performance too, so there was a lot where we just let fly. He’s just one of those people who just jumps off the cliff before even asking why and those characters, with that spontaneity, the best directors just let you play with it and they’ll refine it after you’ve given your take. He’s incredible to watch. He’s a very unassuming kind of guy, very quiet and humble, but when he’s dolled up and ready to go as Lafayette, it’s a different beast. He’s really impressive to watch and he made everyone step up and bring their best.”
Kwanten and Ellis as Jason and Lafayette.
“We were blessed, I got to work with such an eclectic array of personalities and talent on that show. Jason really always had his own story line and he interacted with the main cast here and there. I never really got sick of anyone and whenever I worked with people, it was always like, ‘Oh it’s so nice to work with you! Let’s see what we can do with this and hopefully they like it and we can work together again.'”
Although being connected to True Blood for the past eight years has brought Kwanten much fame and notoriety with global television fans, he’s also been able to still immerse himself in various film projects outside the franchise. Recently, he’s been seen in both The Right Kind of Wrong and Not Suitable For Children, the latter of which saw him back in an Australian production alongside Sarah Snook and Ryan Corr. Kwanten looks at his opportunities now, post-True Blood, and the way he’s developed a love for portraying the flawed characters he’s become associated with.
“True Blood has afforded me many opportunities and the biggest one, from a career standpoint, is the fact that I can now make decisions based on how they inspire me creatively, which is a really rare position for an actor to be in. For most of the time and most of our careers, we’re just trying to make the rent, you know? Just trying to scrape together and get people to open up a door for us to get in and show our stuff. I’ve got pretty weird tastes when it comes to my characters, I love playing these broken, flawed characters. A lot of them are almost flawlessly flawed and they’re the ones that inspire me. They’re the ones that people can relate to more, because there’s a sense of, ‘Are they going to survive this episode? Are they going to survive until the end of the movie?'”
“It’s pretty good.” Kwanten admits of his current schedule. “The array of offers that have come my way have been all over the place. I just finished shooting in Bogota, working with Frieda Pinto and Mickey Rourke and I’m about to start shooting another film in LA when I get back there. I mean, it’s hectic but it’s beautifully busy – that’s how I’d describe it. I’ve always said that I love doing the acting, but it’s the waiting that I get paid for!”
One upcoming film role Kwanten will be sinking his teeth into is definitely different to anything else he’s done before – voicing an iconic part of many Australians’ childhoods, Blinky Bill. The film, which will be released next year, will see Kwanten voicing the mischievous koala alongside an all-star Australian cast including the likes of Toni Collette, David Wenham and Barry Otto.
‘Good onya Blinky!’
“We’re three quarters of the way through,” Kwanten enthuses. “It’s quite a trip to be doing that. I guess I was in one of the last generations to have Blinky Bill as a household name and I take it with full responsibility and certainly don’t take it lightly in bringing it to this new generation of kids. They’ve got such a great collection of the best Aussie actors. I’ve got the likes of Richard Roxburgh playing Blinky’s dad and there’s Barry Humphries and Toni Collette…it’s crazy. To be in the same breath as these people is beyond humbling. For this generation, that sense of adventure and that roguish sense of adventure that Blinky has, young kids these days need it more and more. In this technological age, I guess you can call it, where the sense of instant gratification is just there. Blinky has this bigger plan of going out there and exploring beyond the realms of anywhere he’s ever gone. I think that’s an endearing quality.”
With the other projects waiting for Kwanten once he returns to LA, it’s safe to say that his dance card is going to be quite healthily filled out for some time yet. Still, Ryan remains strongly connected to his Australian roots, excited to grab any opportunity to come home and spend time with friends and family. A member of that crop of Australian actors who left the television soap scene for the US industry and struck it successfully, Kwanten acknowledges the climate he – as an actor – is working in now.
“It’s hard for me to speak of exactly what it [True Blood] did for the nature of television,” he says. “I think it’s fair to say now, that the face of television has definitely changed in the last five to ten years. I think people are turning more towards television these days than they are even film. It’s a credit to have shows like ours, that let the characters evolve, not just over the course of an episode, but over an entire season or series of seasons. You get far more involved that way, emotionally and it’s far more addictive.”
The seventh and final season of True Blood is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.