Home And Away star’s tragic realisation
He's gone from Home And Awayregular to Hollywood hot commodity.
Since moving stateside 18 years ago, Ryan Kwanten has found global fame thanks to his seven years on smash hit HBO vampire drama True Blood - a series that went on to overtake The Sopranos as the network's most successful show and amassed a swag of Emmy and Golden Globe awards in the process.
As comfortable on the big screen as he is on the small, he's also notched up a string of movie roles, starring alongside the likes of Anthony Hopkins. Yet, despite all of the awards, hyperbole and industry prestige, when I chat with the lauded star there's a standout image of him that still lingers after my hours of research.
An image that simply refuses to budge from my mind: Kwanten in tight, red speedos.
"Mate!" he guffaws when I fess up to him during our chat.
I usually wouldn't be as familiar with a celebrity, but I've interviewed Kwanten numerous times over the past decade or so, and despite the fact his star has risen higher than he could ever have imagined, he's still a salt-of-the-earth Aussie bloke.
While his True Blood character Jason Stackhouse thrust him onto the global stage, it was as red speedo-clad lifeguard Vinnie Paterson on Home And Away that Kwanten first tasted fame.
Last year, the iconic soap celebrated its 30-year anniversary and - like any significant milestone - it prompted Australian media to take stock and revisit the cast through the decades.
And while he may have left Summer Bay behind him, Kwanten has no qualms about being recognised from the show that kickstarted his path to stardom.
"It's the show that started it all and the fans are the ones that made me," he says. "I couldn't be more grateful for it, believe me."
So, at 42, what does the actor think when he looks back at his wrinkle-free former lifeguard self?
"I'm not nostalgic, more reflective," he says.
"I don't really look at myself that much in the mirror, but occasionally when I do, I'm like, hey, there's a nice bit of grey hair coming in on the beard now.
"In a way, getting older has made me more aware of my own mortality. I don't necessarily think about the past, but I do think more on the finite nature of our existence. The older you get too, you lose people … that can shock some life into you and, if it doesn't, it should. That's as simple as that for me."
It's an apt twist in our conversation, given the spotlight was turned back on the series' past after the death in August of former cast member Ben Unwin, who played Jesse McGregor. He died at the age of 41 - one day before his 42nd birthday.
"That was just a huge tragedy," Kwanten says.
"I was very upset when I found out. Towards the end of filming True Blood, we lost Nelsan Ellis, who played Lafayette, too.
"I recently went through a huge health scare with my dad, and he's OK now, but it was a real shock to him - and to all of us - to realise how easily he could have lost his life. Some people don't get a second chance. I feel like you really need to live for every f**king moment."
Kwanten is certainly taking this to heart. Mixing things up in his eclectic career, his new gig has seen him swap vampires for corrupt cops by playing Steve Hammond in drama series, The Oath.
A policeman with a side hustle as a thief in a gang of other cops called The Ravens, the series takes a twist when they are caught red-handed and forced to become informants for the FBI, and end up in more danger than they ever anticipated.
"It was important to get into the psychology of these kind of guys," Kwanten says. "Particularly my character. I found it a really interesting to explore the nature of these type of cops."
Sean Bean stars opposite Kwanten as his father and with the world still settling down after the Game of Thrones finale frenzy, what's it like working with Ned Stark at such close quarters?
"I don't have a television, so my pop culture knowledge is pretty s**thouse!" Kwanten laughs. "I'm aware of how much of a massive juggernaut the show is, but for me, having the opportunity to work with someone like Sean - really shows you that there's a difference between a good actor and a great actor. Sean has his way of doing things on set which is fantastic."
Having one hit TV show is the holy grail for most actors, but Kwanten has managed to notch up lead roles in three. While this equates to a busy filming schedule, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"You kind of weirdly know that most shows are going to last one season," he says. "If you're really lucky you're going to get two seasons (series two of The Oath premiered in February) so I'm very fortunate. I kind of went into it with that perspective. Also, the fact that they offered me a producer status on this really gave me a sense of ownership to it."
Having spent 25 years in the acting game - an industry that's renowned for being brutal and cutthroat - despite the challenges, Ryan can't imagine doing anything else.
"I'm far too wired into the business now," he says. "I love it. But don't get me wrong, there's more to life than just what I do for work … there's more to me than just acting."
Case in point: he has a long-term girlfriend, Ashley Sisino, who he has been with for the past five years, and he has very recently introduced a new member to his mini family, a rescue dog.
"I've haven't had a child yet," Kwanten says. "At some point, I'm sure it's going to happen and I'll become a father, but this is the first addition to the family so far!"
Considering that the 42-year-old is one of our hottest exports, Kwanten has managed to avoid having his private life become tabloid fodder and keep his life off-screen "drama free".
"I never wanted to be famous," he says. "I don't want the audience to know too much about me; instead, I want them to get lost in the characters I play. That's far more important to me. I think the more that they know someone the more you have to do then to convince them you are the character. Plus, I'm just a private guy!"
Seguing effortlessly between the big and small screen, Kwanten starred in 2015 film Killing Freddy Heineken with Anthony Hopkins and Sam Worthington, and provided the voice of Blinky Bill that same year. And he's set to return Down Under next year to shoot a new horror flick opposite Transformers star - and fellow Aussie - Rachael Taylor in Tasmania.
"What I'm loving about coming home and doing the movies is that I've visited some of the most incredible places," he smiles. "For some reason, Australians always think about going overseas before exploring our own country. Fortunately, working in this business and being in the position I'm in, I feel I've seen more of Australia than many Australians have."
While LA is where Ryan has to be for work he maintains Australia is his forever home.
"It (LA) is just kind of a bit of a bigger pond for me to kind of dabble in," he says. "Obviously, my immediate future is in the entertainment business and a lot of the things I want to do are based in that part of the world. But having said that, I've always made a point of coming back to Australia and I'll continue to do that."
But right now, regardless of which side of the world he's on, the down-to-earth Aussie is counting his blessings. Endowed with a career that is going from strength to strength, he couldn't be happier.
"I'm having a great career and I'm still loving it," he says, smiling. "I'm a really happy, lucky guy."
The Oath season one DVD is out now.
Paul Ewart is a freelance writer | @_paulewart