Article on IESB.net by Christina Radish
Returning for a highly anticipated second season, the critically acclaimed HBO television series True Blood promises twists and turns that will shock and surprise.
On the fan favorite show, from creator Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and based on the Southern Vampire books by Charlaine Harris, Academy Award winner Anna Paquin plays Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps. When she meets 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), Sookie is intrigued by the fact that she can’t hear a single one of his thoughts. Australian actor Ryan Kwanten plays her misguided ladies’ man brother, Jason, whose sex-crazed ways get him into trouble more often than not.
This season, Jason gets involved with anti-vampire sect Fellowship of the Sun, which he later discovers has a really dark side. In this exclusive interview, Ryan Kwanten spoke about his character’s new storyline, along with his role as an animated character in Zack Snyder’s(Watchmen) upcoming film, Guardians of Ga’Hoole.
IESB: Without giving anything away, what can viewers expect from Season 2 of True Blood?
Ryan: The tone will still be True Blood, in its essence, but the series has expanded enormously. If we opened the door in the first season, we’ve kicked it down this year. There are more characters and more worlds. This show has moved into Dallas, so it’s cutting back and forth between Dallas and Bon Temps. And, the madness will and does ensue.
IESB: Is Season 2 a more emotional, vulnerable, soul-searching season for Jason Stackhouse?
Ryan: Absolutely! You couldn’t have put it better, actually. He’s looking for a real sense of who he is, of belonging and his purpose in the world. In Season 2, he thinks he’s found it, until cracks start appearing. But, he’s definitely trying to mend his wayward ways. Anything that he does is always out of a sense of innocence. When he hit Sookie in the first season, and a bunch of other things that he did that would not be considered right or good, just because of his innocence and his childlike nature, he can be forgiven. There’s redeeming qualities in there.
IESB: Are there as many twists and turns in Season 2, as there were in Season 1? Will there be things thrown in that deviate from the books?
Ryan: We definitely continue to do that because we have to keep it entertaining for a TV savvy audience, as opposed to a book-reading audience. And, it’s leaving it in the hands of Alan Ball. The guy is just a genius. He never wants to put Charlaine Harris’ work into disrepute, but he also has to be aware that it’s a TV show and not a book.
IESB: Were you at all surprised by the huge acclaim that the show has received, and the devoted fan following that it has now?
Ryan: I definitely knew that the quality of the script was there, and I loved the ensemble cast that they put together. We knew we were part of something special, but you never quite know how the public is going to react to a show, no matter how good you feel about it. We really wanted people to like it ‘cause I love playing this character so much. But, no, we weren’t prepared for just how much it would be. And then, week after week, the ratings and the viewership grew exponentially. It was a really nice thing to see people jumping on the True Blood train.
IESB: You make Jason very likeable, even though he does things that are unlikeable. Were you ever surprised at how much viewers like him and forgive him for what he does?
Ryan: That’s really nice to hear. There’s definitely things that I try to put into the performance that layer who he is and, hopefully, give him a subtext, so he’s not just this redneck horndog, going around town doing silly things. He’s a man trying to find himself.
IESB: Was it difficult to find that balance, so that you could make him accessible to viewers?
Ryan: Yes, it was. From the get-go, Alan always said, “More than anything, I want you to remember that it’s fun to be Jason.” So, even in the ridiculous, and sometimes life-and-death, situations that he found himself in, I still had to play it with a sense of childlike big eyes.
IESB: Did you have a moment where you knew you were on the right track with that?
Ryan: That’s really hard. I don’t know. People say really nice things, but I’m always striving to do better. I look at scenes and episodes, and I think, “Oh, I could have done that. I should have done that. Maybe I’ll try this next time.” That’s the struggle that artists go through, anyway. We’re not really the best at judging our own work, but it’s always nice to hear people saying nice things about it.
IESB: Since Jason is more off on his own this season, with the Fellowship of the Sun storyline, was it weird not to be acting with the regular cast that you had grown accustomed to in Season 1, or does that help keep things fresh, when you’re playing a character for a longer period of time?
Ryan: There was definitely a sense of leaving these people that I had become so familiar with, but at the same time, it was a really nice storyline to have for me. The writers trusted Jason and me enough to think that he was worthy of his own little piece in this crazy world. Sookie’s got her own thing going on, as does Tara (Rutina Wesley). We all come together, towards the finale episode, but we spend the majority of the season away from each other. But, I think it really works. The episodes get strong and stronger. For me, I think the third episode of the second season is the best episode ever of True Blood.
IESB: Who are you working with most often in Season 2?
Ryan: I’m working with the two actors who run the Fellowship of the Sun. The characters are Reverend Newlin and his wife, Sarah Newlin, and they’re played by Michael McMillian and Anna Camp. I worked with them for at least a good half to 2/3 of the season. And then, towards the end, Sookie’s world and my world start colliding, so I start coming in contact with the vampires and they start infiltrating the Fellowship of the Sun. There’s some good stuff that comes out there, and I get into the action.
IESB: For those who might not be familiar with the show or the books, can you explain what the Fellowship of the Sun is and how Jason gets involved with them?
Ryan: He originally gets involved at the end of the first season, when he’s approached by a guy called Orry Dawson (Michael Bofshever), who is somewhat of a poacher. He’s someone who tries to get people into a church. And so, the Fellowship is a church-like organization that believes in rights for humans, which then falls in line that they’re against the vampires and everything that they stand for. The head of that organization is now Reverend Steve Newlin, who claims that his father was killed by vampires, so now he’s leading the surge and trying to rid the world of what he calls an evil influence, breaking down the very foundations of what makes us human.
IESB: When you return to playing a character that you’ve already gotten to play for a season, does it feel like you’re returning to a familiar friend, instead of having to discover who he is?
Ryan: Yeah, I definitely know who Jason is, and there isn’t a single moment, when I’m on set, where I don’t know what he’s going to do. That’s what I really love playing about him. I’m usually far too cerebral with some of my characters, in terms of what they would and wouldn’t do. But, the great thing about playing Jason is that I just really fly by the seat of my pants, at every moment, so I keep it very loose and very fresh, and it gives a sense of unpredictability to him.
IESB: You’re very different from your character. Is that something that’s been very intentional, or is that just who you are?
Ryan: I’m Australian. I have no reason to be anybody else, but myself. I’m not putting on a public face, or anything like that. But, I love the fact that he is different from me. In between takes, and as soon as we wrap for the day, I can go back to my life and who I am. There’s a distinct difference between who he is and who I am, and the life that we both live. That’s the beauty of acting.
IESB: Are there any of Jason’s characteristics that you wish you could apply to your own life?
Ryan: Yeah. Not to the extent that Jason does, but the fact that he doesn’t over think things. In fact, he almost does the opposite. I almost burden myself sometimes, with just these random thoughts of nothingness, so it would be nice to be able to filter that out.
IESB: With the different storyline that you have this season, are you doing less nudity on the show? And, is the nudity something that you become more comfortable with, or is it always just part of the job that you have to deal with?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s part of being an actor. You quite often have to deal with accents, body image, mannerisms, gestures, and this and that. That’s just part of acting. But, this season, he’s all buttoned up with nowhere to go. I have very little, if any, sex scenes. All the other actors are taking their fair share of that. Anything I had last season, they’ve all got this season. I’m all wrapped up.
IESB: Now that you’ve been doing the show for a little while, do you have any more of an understanding for why people are so intrigued by vampires and the supernatural?
Ryan: Albert Einstein said that they most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious, and I really believe that. A lot of people think that vampires are the absolute epitome of mystery, and I think there’s a real sense of intrigue to vampires. And, the great thing about this show is that it’s more than just vampires. It explores Southern life and American life, and the characters within that, and then these other worlds that are thrown into the world that we live in. It’s a really unique show that’s impossible to pigeonhole.
IESB: What is the most enjoyable thing about working on True Blood, and what has been the most challenging thing about it?
Ryan: I have to say that both would be my character. The character that I play is both the hardest and most enjoyable thing to play, as far as how he interacts with people. And then, we also have such an amazing crew that just give us, the actors, a real sense of it being okay to fuck up and take risks ‘cause they’ve got our back and will let us know if it’s working or if it’s not, and it’s the same with the actors. And, HBO is so behind the show and Alan is such a genius with these storylines they keep giving everyone. They’re so beautiful and so layered.
IESB: After working for so many years to make a name for yourself in Hollywood, does it make it that much more rewarding to have a network that is so behind the show and that you have all this fan support?
Ryan: Oh, 100%, yeah. We all talk about it on set that we’d be happy if this show kept going, season after season. We really would. There’s no one who is bitching or moaning on set, believe me. We’re all very, very happy campers.
IESB: Have you done anything else recently that’s going to be coming out soon?
Ryan: Yeah. I’m 3/4 of the way through Zack Snyder’s new film, Guardians of Ga’Hoole. He’s the guy who did 300 and Watchmen. It’s an animated feature with Hugh Jackman and a couple other people. I’m lending my voice to the role of Kludd. And then, we’re just organizing a couple films now for the hiatus, which comes up in a month or so.
IESB: What’s it like to do a voice for an animated character?
Ryan: It’s really quite interesting. They’re definitely got a structure for the animation, and they’ve got a story, but in terms of the intimacies and the details of that character, they leave a lot of that until after you do your reading, and then they also film that so they can see your actions and the way your mouth moves when it says a line. Then they incorporate that into various parts of the animation for your character. And then, Zack, in himself, is very much an actor’s director. He’s always willing to give you a shot to do it your way, which is nice.
TRUE BLOOD Season 2 premieres on HBO on June 14th.
Photo Credit - read HBO / John P. Johnson