In the HBO series True Blood, the former Home and Away star Ryan Kwanten plays Jason Stackhouse, a dim-witted southern hunk one might categorise as an easy lay. In the Australian movies Red Hill and Griff the Invisible, he was naive as a happily married cop, then a wannabe superhero. Now in his best Australian movie yet, Not Suitable for Children, his character, the party-loving inner-city dweller Jonah, is forced to grow up fast when faced with testicular cancer and the prospect of never having children unless he can find a vacant womb before his looming operation to remove the lump.
The thing is, even if Kwanten looks a decade younger than his 35 years, he has never been that naive or carefree.
“Ryan’s the exact opposite of Jonah. He’s a focused, driven guy,” says the film’s 33-year-old director, Peter Templeman. “Jonah’s life is scattered. He has an attention span that just flips from one thing to another. But when he latches on to this desire to be a dad he just throttles it.”
Given Kwanten’s commitment to filming True Blood – the reason he was unable to attend the Sydney Film Festival (which opened with Not Suitable for Children) – he is speaking on the phone from his home in Los Angeles.
It’s midnight but Kwanten shows no sign of tiredness.
When you are as fit as this former triathlete (and son of a champion surfer) who grew up in Queenscliff on Sydney’s northern beaches, stamina is no problem. Kwanten gets his kicks snowboarding, jumping out of planes, swimming with sharks and, recently, experiencing zero gravity on a plane specially designed to give passengers a sense of weightlessness at 7600 metres. “It was truly awe-inspiring,” he says.
How about Everest? “I really want to climb Machu Picchu. That’s on the list to do relatively quickly.” Kwanten, who had studied for a business degree at the University of Technology, Sydney, before deciding on an acting career, says he doesn’t want to go through life with any regrets.
“I just feel like it’s a ‘Why not?’ type of thing.” It also stems from his natural timidity.
“I always used to be that guy who would sit in the corner and watch people dance and wish that I could have the guts to get up there and dance myself – even though I wanted to dance so much.
“I hit 21 and I thought that life is too short and if I want to go and do something, I should go and do it.”
Kwanten says his mum, Kris, puts his adventurous nature down to astrology: Sagittarians reputedly have their arrows aimed at new challenges – and new women.
“We are free-spirited,” says Kwanten, who is single.
“You just have to make us feel like we have our freedom and then we are all yours.”
This may have been sage advice for the dozens of female volunteer extras who lined up to be part of the jam-packed party scenes in Not Suitable for Children, which was filmed in a famous Newtown share house known for the kind of wild parties Jonah organises. Again, though, the share-house experience is foreign to Kwanten.
“I’ve spent time on friends’ couches but never for extended periods. I’ve always lived by myself, except for when a girlfriend was living with me. I felt it was easier. Making the film was a nice experience for me because I hit it off pretty quickly with Sarah [Snook] and Ryan [Corr].
“You are in the trenches together when you shoot films like this, so it very much feels like how it would be living together.”
The eldest of three boys, Kwanten says he does have the yearning to have a child, though doesn’t share his character’s dilemma.
“I like to think I’m still quite a virile man; parenthood is not something I want to rush into,” he says. “I want to do it when the timing is right and who knows when that is going to be?
“Look, at this stage it’s almost easier to have a kid than it is to have a wife.”
The day after our interview, Kwanten is due to meet the multinational group of actors he’s shared his working life with for the past five years, the True Blood team. If he ever were to meet Miss Right, one gets the impression he’d aim for the kind of relationship his onscreen sister, Kiwi Anna Paquin (Sookie Stackhouse), has with her British husband, Stephen Moyer (vampire Bill), whom she met on the series.
“Anna is normally a very vivacious girl but with the added twins on the way, she is overly exuberant now,” Kwanten says fondly. “It’s a really sweet thing to see your co-star and someone I’ve been working with for more than five years to have this real lust for life. I honestly couldn’t be happier for her and Stephen because you see so many of these so-called celebrity couples getting together and the next week they’ve broken up. If you ever see Stephen and Anna together, you can see there’s a real genuine love for each other there.”
We are sure Kwanten’s time will come, too.
Ode to the inner west
Sydney’s inner west has never looked so realistic — and like so much fun — as in Not Suitable for Children, a collaboration over five years between writer Michael Lucas (Offspring) and director Peter Templeman. “The inner west is one of Sydney’s great treasures,” Templeman says. “There’s such a wonderful, diverse, vibrant culture.
“The area boasts a great contrast of being deeply urban and bustling but there’s also lots of green with trees and parks.”
The filmmakers struck gold when they discovered a rambling Newtown terrace house. “It’s an iconic kind of party house called The Nunnery and was a notorious share house for 25 years,” Templeman says. “It was built as a nunnery in the early 1900s and had never been renovated so was in a really decrepit state. Seven women were living in it and they were just getting kicked out when we found it. It was a sad situation but we were happy we were putting it on film just before it was to be renovated.”
In many ways, the film pays tribute to a way of life that is slowly disappearing, as university students stay at home with their parents and real estate becomes too expensive to allow the bohemian way of life that has made the inner west so special.
Not Suitable for Children opens July 12. Season five of True Blood is screening on Foxtel.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.