Ryan Kwanten on Griff the Invisible and Embracing His Inner Misfit Superhero
Somehow, despite his chiseled good looks, his True Blood fame, and the glut of comic book movies in Hollywood these days, 34-year-old Ryan Kwanten hadn't yet played a superhero until now. And the one he does play -- the only one that's interested him, he says -- comes in this week's small-scale Australian indie Griff the Invisible, in which the erstwhile Jason Stackhouse plays a mild-mannered, socially-awkward geek by day and vigilante crime fighter by night.
The charming superhero love story, written and directed by fellow Aussie Leon Ford, marks the second Australian indie production Kwanten's chosen in his off time from True Blood after last year's outback noir Red Hill. (He also lent his voice to Zack Snyder's animated Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.) Movieline caught up with Kwanten earlier this summer to discuss his foray into the superhero world with Griff the Invisible, why he relates more to villains than traditional heroes, and his upcoming turns in Joe Lynch's LARPing horror-comedy The Knights of Badassdom and the reproductive character pic The 20-Something's Survival Guide.
One of your recent films was Red Hill; now we're seeing you in Griff the Invisible, another Australian indie film. How were you choosing roles at this particular point in your career?
I would dearly love to say that I'm trying to choose roles to get back to Australia, but it just so happens that the better ones that have been at my offering have been, at least one of them, Australian.
Did you know Leon Ford beforehand?
I did not, and in fact it was a real dogfight to convince Leon and the producers that I was the guy for this one.
Because all they had seen previously was True Blood, and as you know this character is really different from that. They were casting in Australia so I had to put myself on tape here and I ended up doing it four or five times.
The reverse of how casting-by-tape usually happens, with out-of-towners sending tapes to New York or LA.
Yeah, or where they sort of get offered to you. And this one was very much a real fight - and I was happy to do that, I would have put myself on tape 40 times, because it was a character and a story that resonated with me.
It's such a different character from anything you've played before. What appealed to you about Griff?
That there was something sort of even inside me that I felt "got" Griff, if not was very much like Griff. I felt like in a weird way that Leon had written the script for me, and it wasn't until I started showing the script and other people said they connected with it that I realized it wasn't just my narcissism, that people actually do feel the same way. And I guess it's the old adage about being an outsider or feeling you don't fit in with society and I've always found that appealing, that tortured soul. Someone trying to hang onto who they are amidst everyone else trying to tell them to be someone different. I think that's the greatest achievement in one's life, to be able to really maintain yourself.
Do you find that you relate to that personally -- either being an outsider as an Australian actor in Hollywood or otherwise?
What's lovely about the film is that these are quirky characters who are on the fringe but they just need to find that one person in the world who understands them.
That's exactly the point, and that's what I thought was most remarkable and very un-cliché, I guess, about the love story in this. As much as it pits itself as a superhero film, there is ultimately a love story underneath it all.
There is a moment when we wonder what is real and what isn't...
Yeah, and that's for every audience member to decide themselves. I think everyone gets something different out of it, and I like that, the thought that it even provokes though. That it gets people thinking beyond the credits I think is a good thing and a rarity in this day and age.
Is this the first superhero film that you've even considered doing?
Have you been up or gone out for any of the plethora of Hollywood superhero movies out there?
There have been a couple that have wanted to talk, but I'm not really interested. Not the stock standard, I find them, personally, particularly hard to play in terms of the actual superhero. I would prefer to play the villain that has more of that tortured soul. There always seems to be a method to their madness. The straight sort of Clark Kent-Superman thing, I don't think I could do.
You don't relate to the traditional superhero, then -- perhaps more to the conflicted alter ego, as with Griff?
No, I don't relate, yeah. Griff is somewhere in the middle and he creates these two worlds outside of that.
Griff have a rather Batman-esque suit that he makes himself. What was that like to wear?
It was great, because that was a real collaboration between the wardrobe designer, the director, the producers and myself. It was something we haven't seen before, as a moviegoing audience, so that was really exciting -- to come up with a suit that was an amalgamation of everything he'd seen in his life, and everything that I guess we could put in there, too. That was a great learning process, to come up with this suit that you now see. And it took up half the budget, but it was worth it! It has a nice luster to it, and when you eventually see his real suit underneath that there's a real juxtaposition between the two.
You shot this during last year's hiatus from True Blood and in this year's hiatus you shot Joe Lynch's The Knights of Badassdom. How picky are you when choosing what you'll do during breaks, and has your philosophy evolved over the years?
Hmm... not really, I mean ultimately it comes back to story, which is hopefully what every actor is going to tell you - that this story touches them. This one is no different. I'm about to go off and start shooting another film that I love the story and again, it's very different to anything I've done before. It's about those two things, about challenging myself to do things I didn't think I could do, and hopefully breaking people's perceptions of what they think I can and can't do. And then continue to work with great filmmakers.
What is the film you mentioned you're doing next?
It's called The 20-Something's Survival Guide. [Laughs] it's a romantic comedy, but the pitch in itself doesn't sound like a comedy. A young guy, my character, is living the party life. In fact, he's hosting parties that people pay to get into and him and his flat mates charge people to come. At the end of Act 1 there's a girl he picks up at one of these parties that's going down on him and she says, 'You've got a bit of a lump down there,' and he says, 'Thanks.' And she says, 'Not that kind of lump.' You smash cut to the doctor's office where he's been told he has testicular cancer, and that if he wants to have babies he has to freeze his sperm. So he tries to freeze his sperm, that doesn't work. The doc says the only other thing he can do is to try and get a girl pregnant between now and the operation in two weeks. So he's forced to call all his ex-girlfriends and all these girls and ask them, hope and pray that one of them will want to have his child.
Speaking of your upcoming projects, Knights of Badassdom is, like Griff, another nerdy genre movie of a sort. How would you describe what happens to your character in it?
He's a mechanic who thinks he's going to become a rock star, and very early on he gets his heart broken by the woman that he loves and to try to get him over his heartbreak his flat mates knock him out, for lack of a better phrase, and he wakes up in the world of LARPing, which is live-action role play. He's obviously not too happy about it but his flat mates are very much into the game and using all the terminology, and as he joins in on their quest this game suddenly turns very real, and things start happening where my character is forced to find himself again, to man up, and to step up and be a hero.
Do you find that people are surprised when you reveal these geekier sides of yourself?
I would hope so. I would never want people to know everything. There's got to be a bit of mystery there, and I would hope I'm not that easy to figure out.
The funny thing about you starring as a superhero in Griff is that on True Blood your character, Jason Stackhouse, is one of few people who doesn't have a secret super power.
Yeah! The funny thing about the super power thing is that it's always hysterical to have someone who wants a super power so badly and not give it to them. And you have someone who tries to create it, like Griff, and take it away from them then realize, you know what, it's okay -- give it back. Life is better with it.
Do you feel like Griff learns the Kick-Ass lesson, that being a superhero in the real world maybe isn't all it's chalked up to be?
I don't know if he finds that out at the end. He discovers someone who says, let's do this together. Let's be partners in crime. So I think it adheres to the structure of what a superhero film should be, it's the breakdown of this very indestructible figure. To break them down and see them at their lowest point, to then put all those fragments together and find themselves again -- but it's a different version of the first person you saw. It's that kind of evolution. But the beautiful thing about this is that it's not as self-involved as the usual superhero film. You have to have the power of love to find yourself again.
And yet he's able to still hold on to what makes him, him.
Yes! And I think that's when you find true love. It's the someone that brings out a better version of you.
Griff the Invisible is in select theaters Friday.