By Bill Keith
Fans of Alan Ball�s latest HBO hit, True Blood, may not recognize Ryan Kwanten in the photos here. Flaunting convention, the former Australian soap star, who plays the show�s resident sex addict, Jason Stackhouse, spends more time out of his clothes than any of the female leads and is rarely seen in anything more than a tank top or tight-fitting tee. �One of the grips working on the show was joking that he sees me naked more than he does his girlfriend,� Kwanten laughs.
�We come from a very open-minded society in Australia, so I guess it�s a lot more acceptable, and it�s not seen as that much of a shock. In terms of the various sexual positions that I find myself in, I�m sure that�s still a shock no matter who or where you come from. But it�s all part of the fun I think,� he says.
True Blood is Six Feet Under creator Ball�s adaptation of Charlaine Harris�s Southern Vampire Mysteries, a series of novels set in present-day Louisiana, where vampires have begun living openly in society and are seeking assimilation. Like the books, the show centers on Sookie Stackhouse (played by Anna Paquin), a woman with a taste for vampires and the ability to read people�s minds. Kwanten plays Sookie�s brother, and his role has particular appeal to Ball, who chose to give him more play than in the books. �I felt like Jason was a big character who had his own story that I wanted to expand,� he says. �I�ve always responded to Peter Pan characters who haven�t ever had a reason to grow up. Nate was like that on Six Feet Under, and you could argue that Kevin Spacey�s character in American Beauty was that way,� Ball says, referring to the film that won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2000.
Kwanten admits that showing off his Aussie bum is a little easier with Alan Ball around. �I�ve been in the business now for 15 years and I haven�t had an experience that comes close to the one I�ve had with working with Alan and HBO,� he says. �They�re so embracing of the artist. You know anything you want to bring to the table, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, they�re willing to listen. It really is an absolute rarity in this business to have that, and a lot of it comes from being associated with Alan. They trust his judgment and his choices.�
As Jason, a man who hasn�t met a substance he doesn�t like, Kwanten finds himself sleeping with nearly every female character he isn�t related to, and though depravity is so much a part of his character, there is an underlying sweetness to his performance that is hard not to fall for. And for the actor, who admits he has a tendency to overanalyze everything in his life, portraying a character who lacks any semblance of self-control has been an enlightening experience.
As for the pop-culture allure of vampires -- in True Blood, Twilight, and here! TV�s The Lair, among other current sagas -- it�s easy for Kwanten to explain: �What�s intriguing about them is the fact they were once human themselves but now have these extrasensory abilities, as opposed to a superhero, which is for me sort of above and beyond our reach. Vampires, it seems, are within the realm of possibility.�