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'Blood' Brother

'Blood' Brother
Photo Source: Toby Canham
Ryan Kwanten loves westerns, so it didn't take much for him to sign on to first-time feature director Patrick Hughes' "Red Hill," a thriller that pays tribute to the genre and that happens to be set (and was filmed) in Kwanten's native Australia. The actor plays a dedicated, diligent yet innocent small-town cop, almost channeling Kwanten's small-screen alter ego, Jason Stackhouse of "True Blood," in the process. Back Stage caught up with Kwanten to discuss "Red Hill"; his burgeoning feature film career, which will include playing Charles Manson; and filming in Australia.

Back Stage: How did "Red Hill" come to you?

Ryan Kwanten: It's been one of those Aussie surprises. It was the first time I'd worked back in Australia in about eight years. It wasn't my intention to go back there. What I liked about it was the throwback to the classic-style western. The character that I play, Shane Cooper, is very flawed, and I thought it was interesting to play a hero who was fallible.

Back Stage: Shane's backstory—he's unable to pull the trigger—and the whole chain of events that transpires afterward comes up huge at the end.

Kwanten: That to me was almost like watching Clint Eastwood or John Wayne before they turned into Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. It was what led them to that place.

Back Stage: Did you watch a lot of old westerns to prep for "Red Hill"?

Kwanten: I was a huge fan before this, and in having many conversations with Patrick Hughes before signing on, we shared our love for that genre. It's a different style of acting and a different style of making a western. If you're going to make an ode to it, you have to do it well.

Back Stage: Did the fact that "Red Hill" would film in Australia draw you to the production?

Kwanten: Absolutely. I could have been shooting it in Antarctica, because it was so far removed from civilization. It was sort of a one-horse town that was a good couple of hours from any other town. It was a town of probably about 100 people, but I swear, on any given night they all turned out to watch us. I was standing outside the local pub, and if you had moved the cameras to the left, you'd see 80 guys watching each take. It was a really good community feeling that they embraced us, and we were the best thing to happen to that town in maybe 100 years, since the gold rush. (Laughs.)

Back Stage: What did you enjoy most about playing Shane?

Kwanten: It's every young boy's fantasy to step into the role of a local cop who's suddenly forced to rise above the odds, save the town, and find himself at the same time and turn himself into a man. I think that was great. But the film did it in not the typical way.

Back Stage: What are the big differences between doing a cable series like HBO's "True Blood" and an indie Australian thriller like "Red Hill"?

Kwanten: The two main things are time and money. You really are forced to film things creatively for an independent film. With this film, it was almost like the hotter it got, the more insane and happy we got. You sort of have to have a chromosome missing to want to be a part of this business, and Australians are slightly masochistic, so we kind of enjoy sort of being out there at 3 a.m. knowing that the rest of the world is sleeping and here we are, this mad bunch of 50 to 80 people trying to make a film.

Back Stage: Is your plan to book feature films while you're on hiatus from "True Blood"?

Kwanten: Absolutely, yes. I've averaged about three or four every hiatus. The HBO "True Blood" schedule is conducive to a really good film career too.

Back Stage: Is there a specific genre you'd like to tackle next?

Kwanten: Pretty much anything that's not going to be easy. The next film I've just signed on for is playing Charles Manson, and that's definitely not going to be an easy task. I've read a lot of different scripts, and they go from straight comedies to thrillers to dramas. It's quite a wide range.

Back Stage: How are you going to prep to play Charles Manson?

Kwanten: Scott Kosar is the writer on it, and he also wrote "The Machinist." He doesn't get anywhere near the set unless he's 100 percent prepared, and even before I signed on he'd done an abundance of research. I'm three-quarters of the way through "Helter Skelter," which is the Vincent Bugliosi chronicle of the Manson murders. Then we're heading out to Spahn's Ranch, which is where Manson did a lot of his planning with the Family. We're going to be shooting at a lot of the places where the events took place. It's going to be disturbing and dark.

Back Stage: What's coming up for Jason in Season 4 of "True Blood"?

Kwanten: Jason is so spur-of-the-moment that it hinders me to know what happens in the future. I tend to wait to see what the writers give me rather than standing over their shoulders waiting to see what happens. I'm guessing that he realizes he has to look over the crew that Crystal left him with. He's probably going to try and get further into the police force to try and cement some position of authority in Bon Temps. If anyone should not be in a position of authority, should not be having a gun, it's Jason. I just love working with Andy. The two of them are so polar opposites that when you put them on screen together, it's an engaging dynamic.

"Red Hill" opens Nov. 5.

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