With primetime shows on both sides of the Tasman, Jay Ryan has become one of our most in-demand television actors. The Go Girls star talks to Lydia Jenkin about his new role as a doctor in Offspring and escaping West Auckland
On the phone from Australia and grabbing a bite to eat as he packs up his apartment and heads home for the summer, Jay Ryan sounds excited. The busy 30-year-old Auckland actor is buzzing after a big year - and a possibly bigger year to come.
Best known to us as Kevin, the honorary bloke in Go Girls, Ryan has been working in the industry for more than a decade, and though he still calls New Zealand home, he's spent a good deal of time in Australia making a name for himself.
He moved to Sydney at 19 to play Jack Scully in Neighbours for three years, and worked on popular drama Sea Patrol from 2007 to 2009, and lately, in between seasons of Go Girls, he's been over the ditch filming parts in both Terra Nova - the much-anticipated Steven Spielberg-produced futuristic survival drama with dinosaurs filmed on the Gold Coast, and quirky family drama Offspring.
Both provided quite a change from the pace of North Shore-based Go Girls; Terra Nova with its big budget action, and Offspring with its medical setting, and offbeat fantasy sequences.
The hit Australian show revolves around obstetrician Nina Proudman, and in the second season (which begins here on TV One tomorrow night), Ryan plays a new paediatric registrar, who soon becomes a love interest.
So there was a lot of medical lingo to learn and some fairly intimidating hospital scenes to work through.
Luckily Ryan did his homework, asking a paediatrician friend in Melbourne for advice, and shadowing one of her registrars for two days at the hospital.
"I was lucky enough to actually go into a surgery and witness a caesarean being performed, which was one of the most amazing experiences I've had in my life. What I will never forget is the image of this baby's face, eyes closed, totally silent, and then without its eyes even opening, you can see it's face change and register that it's in a new world, and it breathes in air."
It was great research for an actor about to be thrown into delivering babies on set in a fairly pressured environment. "We'd have these 2-week-old babies, and they'd come on set for about 10 mins. And they'd be covered in jam to make it look real, so these babies are really slippery, super fragile, and I've got these latex gloves on. So I'm freaking out trying to remember my lines, and trying to hold them properly. And the live babies are between an actress' legs, so it's kind of uncomfortable. And then they call action, and you've gotta keep it all together."
Delivering breech births may seem like a far cry from Ryan's character Kevin, the go-with-the-flow mechanic narrator in Go Girls, but Kevin has had quite a journey over the past three seasons - he's married, wants to be a dad, part-owns his own business, and the girls even now turn to him for advice.
"I wanted him to have that journey, because I just felt that in the first series, although we saw the world through Kev's eyes, there wasn't much to see" he laughs.
"I just did a bit of 'yeah, nah-ing', and so I really pushed for Kev's character to be developed in the second and third series, because there was no way I was going to stay and play 'yeah-nah' for four years."
He continues to be a great foil for all the female melodrama which surrounds him though, appealing to male viewers as well as female. But as season four kicks off, Kevin gets to indulge in some dramatic behaviour of his own, deciding to leave his wife Amanda after a year of marriage, living in Thames.
"We open on him making an instinctual decision, it's sort of that old saying of 'he went out to buy some milk and never came home'. I think in Kev's mind, in Thames he's been living a really quiet life, and marriage is quite lonely for him, he's not really connecting with his wife on any level. He's in a volatile state and he just makes this decision to return back to the Shore, and he keeps on driving and driving. What he does isn't a great way to go about things, but I guess it makes for good TV."
Kevin's also become a dad (still unbeknown to him) - not something Ryan is planning on doing in the near future himself, but he does feel a real affinity with his character.
"When I read Kev on page for the first time, I had an instant idea of who he was, he jumped off the page for me, and I knew the character was within me strongly already. It's not something I have to play really.
"All of Kev's reactions, all that sort of stuff just happens naturally, I just jump into him."
But he sees their differences too.
"Kev is me if I had stayed in West Auckland basically. I grew up out west and if I'd stayed there and if I wasn't an actor, I'd probably be there and have an apprenticeship, and maybe had a couple of kids and a house or something."
Ryan seems to have much more of an ambitious streak than Kevin, proactive in creating his own opportunities outside TV, acting in and producing short films, features, and taking a one-man theatre show called The Packer - for which he received rave reviews in Auckland - to festivals in Sydney, LA and Edinburgh last year.
Next on the agenda is an international mini-series he's very enthusiastic about.
"I'm not allowed to say what I'm doing yet, because it's not finalised, but I'm excited to be working with an amazing New Zealand director.
"It's another completely different role for me, I'll be quite unrecognisable with what they're going to do with me physically. It's a really fresh and original piece I think, and it's not made for primetime, all the rules are out the window.
"It's great, because it's real, there's no restrictions."
Who: Jay Ryan, busy Kiwi actor who'll soon be on all three channels at once.
What: Offspring Season 2 begins January 22 on TV One, Go Girls Season 4 begins mid February on TV2, and Terra Nova begins in late February on TV3.