Most Americans know and love Ryan Kwanten as Sookie's libidinous brother, Jason Stackhouse, on HBO's top-rated True Blood, but the Aussie actor had a lot of roles tucked under his belt before he moved to Los Angeles about eight years ago. Now that True Blood is on hiatus, we’ll be seeing much more of Kwanten on the big screen. We sat down with the affable, well-spoken Kwanten (who is nothing like the dim-witted Southerner he plays on HBO) as he chatted candidly about voicing an owl in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, surviving a shark attack, getting naked on True Blood, and his two other upcoming films.
Movies.com: You voice the character of Kludd in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, who is the older brother of the main character, Soren. Do you play a bad-ass barn owl?
Ryan Kwanten: You have to see what inspires him to get to that point. He's the big brother who feels the need to set an example—not necessarily a good one—to be the best of the family. Soren is so much more naturally gifted and graceful, so Kludd's eyes turn toward turn the darker side.
Movies.com: You push sibling Soren out of the nest when you are baby birds. In real life, do you like lots of people around you or do you need more elbow room?
Kwanten: I'm definitely an elbow-room guy. I used to get a sort of sociophobia, and I still get it sometimes these days when I'm in a confined space with too many people. It's not like I freak out or anything, it's just that I'm far more comfortable in my own company sometimes than being surrounded by one thousand strangers.
Movies.com: Legend of the Guardians is your first role as a voice actor. What's it like to not have anyone to react to on camera?
Kwanten: It's really kind of bizarre. As actors, you're told to suspend disbelief at the best of times—when you have another actor, studio and props. When you only have your voice to do that, you have to work that much harder but also realize you don't want to try to do everything with your voice. Obviously there is an expert team of animators that comes in and puts in the mannerisms and other characteristics.
I never had any actors in the room with me. It's going to seem like this great family of actors that all worked together and had a great time. I had a great time, but I was never in the same room with Helen Mirren. There's a disjointed nature to my character anyway—he's finding himself the whole way—so I didn't find that being isolated hindered it.
Movies.com: Most people know you as Jason Stackhouse on True Blood, who has a Southern drawl. What accent does a barn owl have?
Kwanten: A lot of the owls have an English accent. The majority of the other actors are Australian. Kludd has an Australian accent, but it has more of a boyish quality at the beginning. Then, as he turns darker, so does his voice—it gets lower and more mysterious.
Movies.com: Jason Stackhouse spends a lot of time on True Blood naked. What is scarier: sex scenes on set or the shark attack you survived when you were 12 in Australia?
Kwanten: They're not scary enough to make me think either, A) I don't want to go back in the water or, B) I never want to shoot a scene like that again. I'm fortunate enough with the surfing to be very much at home at the water—my pulse and heart rate are slower in the water than they are on land. I don't want to get bitten by a shark again in the near future, but I don't stop going in the water because of that. I'd rather get the joy out of surfing than living my life in fear. With the True Blood stuff, I just feel like I'm putting myself in safe, capable hands with Alan Ball and the crew and it never feels exploitative or gratuitous.
Movies.com: Season three of True Blood just ended. Do you know what's next for Jason Stackhouse?
Kwanten: I'm a very curious and analytical guy, but Jason is not like that at all. He is very spontaneous and spur of the moment, so it works to my advantage to not know everything. I have no desire to put in my input because they've been writing so unbelievably well for me that I wouldn't want to ruin that.
Movies.com: Will Jason and Tara ever hook up on True Blood?
Kwanten: I like the fact that there are allusions to that all the time because it keeps people guessing. The interesting thing about that relationship is that it comes from such a young age, so it's almost that type of friend that you haven't seen in a long time that it only takes a few seconds to rekindle your relationship. That's the sort of friendship Jason and Tara have—they have such a bond because of their past.
Movies.com: In November your film Red Hill, which was filmed in Australia, is coming to theaters. Set the scene for us.
Kwanten: It's a revenge Western, like an old Clint Eastwood Western meets No Country for Old Men. It's set in the highlands of Australia—a gorgeous backdrop to a brutal story of this killer trying to take revenge on things that happened in his past. I'm stuck in the middle on my first day as a deputy of this town. I'm trying to track down this killer to put together the pieces of the puzzle.
Movies.com: What can you tell us about your upcoming horror-comedy The Knights of Badassdom, which has one of the best titles of the year?
Kwanten: That was originally pitched to me as influenced by Role Models, so I was intrigued. The script had such great, meaty moments that always treaded that fine line between comedy and horror. So many films try to do that, but it's such a delicate balance that you have to be careful to how you approach it. I'm an atypical comedic actor—I play the straight guy in this. They surrounded me with Steve Zahn and Peter Dinklage, and they have such incredible timing and really knew their characters back to front. We had a ball together.
Movies.com: How often do you go back to Australia and what do you miss the most?
Kwanten: I was fortunate enough to do two films there during my True Blood hiatus, and that was the first time I had been back there working in seven years. I try to get back over the holiday period in December, but that's about it. I miss my family, the beaches, the Australian beer and barbecues…the real simple things.
I'm slowly surrounding myself with those sorts of things here as well. I really do feel like Los Angeles is my home now and, as cliché as this sounds, I felt like I found myself here and I really know who I am now. There was a long period like I was drifting or floating through life, and now I feel like I have a definitive target--and future.