Interview: Red Hill's Ryan Kwanten On Becoming A Cowboy
When an actor is the star of a hit television series, they typically use their off time to act if films. The experience can be a creative outlet for the artistic set who may tire of playing the same character over and over each week. So how did True Blood star Ryan Kwanten use his time away from the southern vampire drama? He became a cowboy.
Starring as Shane Cooper, a young police officer who moves into the country with his pregnant wife, Kwanten is thrown into the worst day in the history of the town as an escaped prisoner returns to town to seek vengeance against those that put him away. Sitting down with Kwanten as part of a roundtable interview, we discussed his affection for the western genre, how he dealt with the below-freezing temperatures on the outback and how to make yourself look like an idiot while riding on horseback.
What first attracted you to the role?
It was originally pitched as a western and Iím a huge western fan. I started reading it and, as much as it was throwback to the classic Leone/Eastwood style westerns, it was very much a modern day spin on it. What was even more intriguing to me, here was a character called Shane Cooper, obviously a nod to Shane and to Gary Cooper, who didnít really have any of those qualities. Heís a very fallible character. I mean the very first frame we see him in, heís forgotten his gun, and thatís sort of rule number one of every western: always have your gun on you at every time and rule number one of being a police officer is to not lose your gun. That was really intriguing, to play a character that was set up to be the hero with these lists of faults and then thrown into probably the worst day of policing possible.
Have you always been a fan of the genre?
Absolutely! My three favorite - and even in itself itís hard to - I would say The Searchers, High Plains Drifter and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, even though that last one isnít technically a western. Thatís actually my favorite film of all time.
Why choose to go from True Blood to a very small film in Australia?
I love shooting the show and love playing that character, but nothing could be more uninspiring to me than to go off after six months of shooting that show and do a film that was exactly like True Blood, playing a character thatís exactly like Jason. Thatís not what Iím in the business for. Thatís not what inspires me in life. It just so happened to be shooting in Australia but it was the story and Patrick that got me involved. Australia was just a beautiful by-product.
When youíre getting into the character and youíre doing things like horseback riding, and all of the training you have to do, what did you already know and what was new to you?
Without being too cocky, I knew a lot of it. I grew up with guns, as silly as that sounds, and Iíve done a lot of horse films, things like Flicka, which was a family film, but I was forced ride a horse and to go to cowboy camp. The interesting thing about this was I was almost untraining myself, if thatís a word, and putting myself on the saddle for the first time and how would someone go along doing that. What Patrick and I talked about was maybe sitting on the horse like he was trying to ride a bus, so I had the reigns up here [holds pretend reigns up at his shoulders] and just steering it like that [pretends to turn reigns like a giant steering wheel]. Thereís little moments of comedy that you throw into that sort of thing.
The area you were filming in had been ravaged by drought and you were dealing with extremely cold temperatures. What was that experience like?
Iím very much a masochist at heart. The harder it got, the more pleasure I took in it. I was always the crazy guy walking around at four in the morning, when it was minus 10 [degrees], still smiling. When they turned on rain machines above me. Patrick is very much the same, heíd be the last man standing. It was great. Even if we had more money and more time, whether we would have made a better film. You have to sometimes, like in a good relationship, learn to love the imperfections, just as much as the things that originally drew you to her. I look at it not and even though there are things that Iíd dearly love to change, at the same time, I sort of look back and think, ďNo, itís there and itís there for a reason.Ē
What was it like working with Patrick Hughes as a director?
Our relationship survived on trust. I put a tremendous amount of trust in Patrick when shooting this. I had far bigger monetary offers but this was the one I choose to do for next to no money, but I put the utmost faith in Patrick that we were going to make a damn good film and thatís what our relationship survived on. We very rarely had more than one take so I had to trust that him that he got the coverage he wanted and he had to trust me that I was bringing the performance I was supposed to be doing.
What kind of pressure does it put on you as an actor to know that the director mortgaged his house to get this film made?
And his wife was pregnant at the time. He had all sorts of pressure on him. It definitely did [have pressure on me]. It raises the stakes. I take great pride in my work at the best of times, but when you know people are standing behind their words in that kind of way, you canít help but be swept up in that kind of passion. Itís a rarity in this day and age to find that kind of commitment. I know how long and hard heís been fighting to make his first film. To take it to that kind of extreme is phenomenal.
You were shooting in a town that only had 120 people living in it. What was that experience like?
It was great! I think we were the most exciting thing to happen to that town since the gold rush days, in like 1890. They pretty much adopted us which was really kind of cute. There were certain scenes where, if you had panned the camera slightly to the left, youíd see a hundred locals, all standing with a beer in their hand, watching the scene. It was like live theater at certain points. What was great was youíd really go back to the good old days shooting films, what I heard the days were like, in the 70s. You go outside of the system and you make things happen. You find that money isnít always the best way to win over people. In that town, you buy someone a case of beer and you can have a semi-trailer come around or you buy someone a case of beer and theyíll let you shoot in the local pub. We had screenings at the end of every week where Patrick would put together the dailies, put together a score, and we would all get together and it was like that kind of real communal spirit which you very rarely see in this day and age.
What makes a great western hero?
Good eyes. When they raise that hat, if you can look into their eyes and think, ďThatís a man Iíd go into battle with, thatís a man I would put my life in the hands of.Ē Thatís it.
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