You’ve seen practically every inch of Ryan Kwanten as endearingly dim himbo Jason Stackhouse on HBO’s vampire drama True Blood. But there’s more to the 33-year-old Aussie than meets the naked eye — including a wild new role, a younger gay brother, and a surprisingly humble outlook on acting.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: You play a wannabe cop on True Blood and a young police officer in Red Hill, an Australian Western now in theaters. Do you get the butch appeal of packing a big gun?
Ryan Kwanten: Many little boys fantasize about playing the hero in a traditional shoot-’em-up — a guy who’s quick on the draw. But what really fascinated me about Red Hill was that this guy is full of faults, so it felt like a prequel to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood — before they turned into bad-asses.
Before True Blood, you starred as a lifeguard in the Australian soap Home and Away. Were you aware of gay fans that early in your career?
Yes, they’ve always been very staunch supporters of me. The great thing is that it’s a loyal fan base — they’ll stick with you through thick and thin, and I like that. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty.
I read a story in Star that claimed you purposely keep your love life private in part because you’re so conscious of your gay following. Any truth to that?
Well, it’s in Star, so it’s got to be true. [Laughs] But yeah, and, to be honest, it’s more than my love life. It was Einstein who once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” We almost know too much about far too many actors in this day and age — to the point where it becomes harder and harder to see them as a character. So I’ve always tried to maintain somewhat of an air of mystery.
Were you always comfortable with the idea of male admirers?
Oh, yeah. Australians are a very open-minded society, and I come from a very liberal, open family, so it’s something that I’ve embraced from the get-go. My youngest brother, Lloyd, is gay.
Tell me about him.
He’s a doctor, so he got every ounce of intelligence in the family. He was probably about 18 when he came out, and I can wholeheartedly tell you that from the day that he did, he was a changed man for the better. The sheer beauty of who he is really came through.
Your family was totally accepting?
There was never an issue. My parents always encouraged an open channel of communication, so we talked about that and everything else. That’s something lacking in a lot of modern-day families — just talking. It’s almost a lost art form.
You grew up in Sydney. Did you ever accompany Lloyd to Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras?
No, I didn’t. From what I hear, it’s intended as a one-day affair, but you pretty much go to bed three or four days later.
The media makes such a fuss over your sex appeal. Do you mind when interviewers focus on your hot body and frequent nude scenes? I get the impression it may annoy you.
I’m willing to talk about that to a certain extent if that’s what they want to talk about. I just don’t want a whole interview to be about that, because that’s not what I’m about. I’m happy to break down any pigeonhole they want to put me in.
Would you secretly love to get fat for a role — or wear a big prosthetic nose like fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman in The Hours?
There’s no secret desire. That said, I just did an animated film, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, and it was nice to hide behind those feathers. I love shooting True Blood, but in the six months that I get off, nothing would be more uninspiring than stepping into a character exactly like Jason Stackhouse. I just want the work to challenge me. I’m a masochist at heart, so I love being told I can’t play something and then proving them wrong.
So you’d sacrifice abs for a part?
Oh, absolutely. I’m committed to this profession, so whatever it takes. Actually, I have to lose a bunch of weight after shooting True Blood season 4 to play a serial killer [Charles Manson in The Family], so that’ll be a nice change of pace. I guess a lot of running will be in order.
Do you worry about your looks upstaging your talent?
Excellent question. No, I don’t. Even if I’ve got a leading man face or whatever you want to call it, I still very much enjoy delving into a character. I come from the land down under, where we’re used to roughing it, so I’ll get down and dirty with the best of them.
You’ve posed for some very sexy, often very revealing photo shoots in your career. Most are pretty classy, but my personal favorites are the promotional images for the 2002 Sydney production of Nicky Silver’s Fit to Be Tied.
[Laughs] Oh, yes, I know the ones you’re referring to.
Did you have to be coaxed into wearing Calvin Klein undies and angel wings?
Yes, I did. And I’ll just leave it at that.
You appeared in the play as Boyd, a bisexual angel from the Radio City Christmas Spectacular who gets abducted by a troubled gay man. Did you view that as a risky gig?
No. If the story’s right with the right people behind it, it makes sense to me. I’m not going to limit the roles I play based on who that character is.
There’s been buzz that you’re in talks to star opposite Daniel Radcliffe in a gay-themed film, My Fair Lidy.
This is the first I’ve heard of that rumor. People tell me about more and more things I’m supposedly doing every day. No, I’m not even aware of that project, to be honest.
Let’s talk True Blood. With the exception of Jason, all the major male characters were involved in homoerotic action last season. Did you feel left out?
Well, there are more seasons to come, so there’s still many an opportunity. I’m sure Alan Ball’s concocting some road to take Jason down that he’s never been down before.
Philadelphia Eagles player Todd Herremans famously tweeted about last season’s “barrage of homosexuality,” which raised the question of whether or not True Blood had gotten “too gay.” Is that even possible?
We’ve pushed the boundaries on many fronts, and that’s what people like. Just like our show has made vampires a mainstream force to be reckoned with, it’s forcing people to take note of serious issues, but in such a smart, visceral way.
And like silver to vampires, the gay content repels uncool, closed-minded viewers.
But it can also open up those guys and make them think, which is the best part. You don’t want to shove them out, because there’s something in there for everyone.
Your True Blood costar Stephen Moyer recently auctioned off his “modesty sock” for charity. Would you auction off your penis pouch for a gay charity like The Trevor Project?
Well, I’ve gone through more than one, so there might be a couple out there. I’ll have to speak to Audrey, our wardrobe designer, and see if she can track one down. There’s quite a collection, actually — one for every mood.
You wrote an upcoming satirical self-help book, The G-Strategy. Any chance the G stands for gay?
It’s stands for whatever you want it to, Brandon. That’s the beauty of it.
Advocate.com, December 2010/January 2011 issue; extended online version.