From vampires to superheroes: Ryan Kwanten talks ‘Griff the Invisible’

Ryan Kwanten in a scene from 'Griff the Invisible'.

He might be best known for playing Jason Stackhouse on the hit HBO series True Blood, but Australian actor Ryan Kwanten has a really fun slate of films coming up over the course of the next year. The actor who was named the GQ Australia Man of the Year in 2010 is currently back home after completing shooting on the fourth season of the television show that rocketed him to notoriety in North America, but he isn’t remaining idle. He called Criticize This! this past week from Sydney while on the set of his next film titled Not Suitable for Children where he will play a man who decides to impregnate as many women as possible before he is rendered infertile. It seems to be a film that will certainly live up to its name.

Kwanten can be seen on the big screen this weekend in the Australian produced Griff the Invisible, a big-hearted love story about a terminally shy and chronically bullied young man (played by a very emotionally charged and deeply sympathetic) Kwanten who comes out of his shell at night as a masked superhero. Griff further complicates his life by falling in love with the klutzy and imaginative girl that his loving, but domineering older brother has eyes for.

The charming and gracious Kwanten talks about breaking away from the True Blood mould, his love of a great story, and why it is most important for him to have a personal connection to the material he is working on.

Andrew Parker: Griff the Invisible might seem like a bit of a departure to those who only know you from True Blood. How did you come to get involved with the film?

Ryan Kwanten: Well, I read the script and it was probably in, like, the top five scripts I had ever read in my life in terms of how it affected me personally. I pretty much put it down and said I will beg, borrow, steal, do whatever I have to do to play this character. I ended up sort of getting in contact with the filmmakers and they had really only ever seen sort of the Stackhouse kind of character that I had played, so they weren’t originally convinced that I could do it. So I put myself on tape numerous times to convince them that I could play the man. I was convinced that I could, in my mind, anyway, and I desperately wanted to. They eventually buckled. Maybe it was more through perseverance, though. It was just something I couldn’t let go. Even if I didn’t get the film, it is just the kind of story that stays with you. To me that was the biggest factor in picking it.

AP: Would you say that in a way the whole GQ Man of the Year thing might have worked against you in trying to land a role playing someone as introverted as Griff?

RK: I’m more than happy to fight for any role that I really believe in, so I don’t know if they work against me. It’s more about breaking people’s perceptions of who they think I am and what they think I can and can’t do. And even about breaking my own perceptions. I like what George Bernard Shaw once said where he said you see things as they are and say why but you also see things that aren’t and say why not. That’s very much Griff and that’s very much like me, too. It’s just about seeing what’s out there in life.

AP: Was it hard to get to that really introverted and closed off head space to play someone as socially awkward as Griff?

RK: [laughs] Well, I would love to say that it was months and months of research and that I had to dive deep, but that was actually a character that is surprisingly close to the fabric of who I really am. In terms of my upbringing I was very used to using my imagination in terms of getting by. I would use both my imagination and playing sports to act as a kind of release in a way, and Griff does the same thing and eventually his release becomes his reality. It felt like everyone at some point in their life knows what it’s like to be an outcast or to not have their souls understood.

AP: Was there anyone or anything in particular from your personal life or from comic books that you drew upon that shaped Griff as a character?

RK: Yeah. I usually look at the people I know or that I am aware of to make an amalgamation of the characters that I am playing. You know, maybe about two to four people, and I leave a little bit room to play with. However, with Griff there was even more to play with and such a unique guy that I really didn’t want him to be based on any one person in particular. I always thought that no one could do me better than me, so I might as well put a lot more of me into this. In terms of the superhero element, I thought it was just as important to not really do the same thing. I think we had lashings of Batman and Spider-man. But it’s still a little bit of everything because this is who Griff imagined himself as.

AP: I’m glad you brought that up because much like the more recent Spider-man films this is also a really great love story.

RK: Yeah, it’s funny because you read the script and you watch the film and you maybe think that this guy might be doomed to live the rest of his life by himself and that there very well might not be another person out there that understands him. That’s kind of the power of love. I mean if your heart can conceive it and you can believe it then you can achieve it. (laughs) Once Griff lets go of his safety barrier that he puts up and he lets Melody crack his world and his bubble he finds that love can exist and that it is a beautiful thing.

AP: Do you think you could ever be a take charge kind of person and try to be a hero in private like Griff or do you differ from the character in that respect?

RK: I have to think that I am a good man and that every day I am trying to be better. I definitely don’t think I have superhero qualities on that level, but I just try to be the best that I can be, mate. (laughs) But it is something to think about.

AP: You just got finished doing a superhero film and then you went on to work on another film that has some serious nerd credentials called Knights of Badassdom that is generating a bit of buzz. What was that like and what could we expect from it?

RK: Yeah! I just got back from Comic Con recently where we premiered the trailer for the first time and it was received unbelievably well! I mean it was a great opportunity for me to work with Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn who I have been fans of for a really long time. I think it is going to come out early next year from what I hear and I’m excited. It’s set in the world of LARPing and it’s about a game that has gone insanely awry and mayhem and madness ensues. Again, it’s really a different story for me to choose, and a fun read, and it was so much fun to shoot.

AP: It certainly seems like you have a lot of fun things on the horizon with GriffKnights, and now the film that you are currently shooting.

RK: Thanks! I mean, there’s a certain amount of discretion when choosing projects, but if you find something that you can connect to and it is something that you yourself would get off your bum and pay your $15 to go see it, then you should probably just go ahead and do it. I mean, I think a lot of people choose films based on other factors instead of how it connects with them personally. You always have to make that connection first and everything else should be secondary.

Griff the Invisible opens in Toronto August 19 and Vancouver September 9. True Blood airs on HBO Canada Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/MT.

Top image: Ryan Kwanten in a scene from Griff the Invisible.

Andrew Parker

About Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker writes for numerous blogs and publications, including Notes From the Toronto Underground and his more personal pop-culture blog, I Can't Get Laid in This Town. He is also the curator of the Defending the Indefensible series of films at the Toronto Underground Cinema.