Ryan Kwanten is the very definition of “man pretty.”
Clad in an expensive suit, the 32-year-old Aussie sits in the Four Seasons hotel restaurant in Toronto, flashing his dimpled smile as he speaks in his charming accent. Not only is he easy on the eyes, but he’s very gracious to the attentive waitress, first politely declining anything to drink before timidly asking if they have any green tea.
“I felt bad not ordering anything,” he explains after the waitress leaves. “Like I’m taking up valuable room.”
The restaurant is practically empty.
The real-life Kwanten is a stark contrast to Jason Stackhouse, his character on True Blood, the HBO vampire drama from Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball. The actor agrees, admitting that he has very little in common with the “modern-day, redneck Casanova” he plays on the show.
“He has no willpower; he has an addiction complex; he has an insecurity complex,” Kwanten says. “But I think everyone knows someone like Jason – well, maybe not to the full extreme of the trouble that he gets himself into.”
He soon discovered that the hardest part of playing Jason wasn’t mastering the Louisiana accent, performing the frequent nude scenes or even acting opposite vampires and demons. No, Kwanten struggled most with making Jason a three-dimensional, sympathetic character.
“It was a scary thing for me because at first, [Jason] doesn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities to him,” Kwanten explains, adding that he didn’t want Jason to be a caricature. “But I think if you look past what he gives you, he covers his insecurity by sleeping with women or not really being who he is. I think it’s in the moments when you see him by himself, in his apartment or his parents’ house, you see a little snippet of who Jason really is. I think of those times when he’s alone are really powerful.”
Luckily for the actor and everyone else involved with the show, vampires are experiencing another surge in popularity. While teenagers are all about Twilight lately, older viewers immediately gravitated toward True Blood, prompting HBO to order a second season after only two episodes had aired. The ratings have continued to grow as the weeks go on, with viewers continuously posting on True Blood message boards, eagerly anticipating the season finale this Sunday (Nov. 23). For his part, Kwanten still can’t get used to overwhelming fan reaction to the show.
“I’ve done shows and films before that have had positive responses, but people are addicted to this show,” he says. “It’s great being a part of something like that. It’s very rare in an actor’s life where you have such a great, visceral response from people in all types of ways.”
Of course, it’s not Kwanten’s first experience with an enthusiastic fan base. His last big TV role was as (natch) an Australian surfer on the CW drama Summerland and, despite the show being axed in 2005 after two low-rated seasons, he continues to hear from fans who obsessively watch reruns on Nickelodeon and are still heartbroken over its cancellation.
“It’s a totally different kind of fan [from True Blood fans],” Kwanten says. “Even the ones who have since gotten older since Summerland was cancelled, they seem more wide-eyed, whereas the True Blood fans are more inquisitive. They want to know about the character and they want to know about the series – where is this character going? What happens then?”
To be fair to any Summerland fans, True Blood is certainly more layered and has more to analyze than the fluffy CW series.
“Well, you said it,” Kwanten replies, chuckling. “That’s a nice way to put it.”
And unlike Summerland, he adds, when his parents watch True Blood, they say it’s one of the few times in Kwanten’s career that he’s played a character completely different from himself – although they still aren’t completely used to his nude scenes.
“Obviously my parents have seen me naked at some point in my life – but not in those positions,” Kwanten says, grimacing. “But at least this way is certainly better than being over there and watching it with them. That would be a whole other thing.”
So between taking all of his clothes off, starting a relationship with a witch, getting addicted to vampire blood and being framed for several murders, what else could the writers possibly think up for Jason in Season 2? Kwanten doesn’t even want to guess.
“I’ll put it this way: If I’d just suggested something at the beginning of the season, anything I suggested would pale in comparison to what they put me through. I’m happy to just leave it in the writers’ hands and say, ‘Look, whatever you want to bring to the table, I will do,’” he says. “I don’t know what it’s going to be – and I like that.”