Fans of Alan Balls latest HBO hit, True Blood, may not recognize Ryan Kwanten in the photos here. Flaunting convention, the former Australian soap star, who plays the shows 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 its a lot more acceptable, and its not seen as that much of a shock. In terms of the various sexual positions that I find myself in, Im sure thats still a shock no matter who or where you come from. But its all part of the fun I think, he says.
True Blood is Six Feet Under creator Balls adaptation of Charlaine Harriss 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 peoples minds. Kwanten plays Sookies 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. Ive always responded to Peter Pan characters who havent ever had a reason to grow up. Nate was like that on Six Feet Under, and you could argue that Kevin Spaceys 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. Ive been in the business now for 15 years and I havent had an experience that comes close to the one Ive had with working with Alan and HBO, he says. Theyre so embracing of the artist. You know anything you want to bring to the table, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, theyre 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 hasnt met a substance he doesnt like, Kwanten finds himself sleeping with nearly every female character he isnt 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! TVs The Lair, among other current sagas -- its easy for Kwanten to explain: Whats 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.