Kiwi star Jay Ryan gets beastly role on US TV

By Michele Manelis

From being simple Kevin on Go Girls to taking on Hollywood in a beastly role, Jay Ryan is counting his lucky stars. Michele Manelis writes.

Jay Ryan in Beauty and the Beast. Photo / Supplied
Jay Ryan in Beauty and the Beast. Photo / Supplied

It's been quite a ride for Auckland-born actor Jay Ryan. The Go Girls star who made a name for himself in Neighbours and Sea Patrol, and more recently, the Aussie drama series Offspring, is becoming a regular fixture in Hollywood.

He most recently starred in the Steven Spielberg production, Terra Nova, and now has stepped up to the plate in the lead role opposite Smallville actress, Kristin Kreuk, in a modern take on the classic, Beauty and the Beast.

In Los Angeles, Ryan, 31, talks about his good fortune. "Beauty and the Beast is such an iconic show, even though ours is a complete reimagining of the original."

The show that inspired this version aired from 1987 to 1990. "I used to watch it with my grandmother who looked after me after school," he says.

Ryan plays Vincent Koslow, an army veteran assumed dead from his time in the military service, who, in an experiment gone awry was injected with animal DNA.

As a result he's in hiding due to his "beast-like" manifestations. Coincidentally, detective Chandler (Kreuk) was saved by a "mysterious creature" the night her mother was murdered, and they form an unusual bond.

There has been some controversy over his so-called "beastly" appearance, in that this handsome actor remains that way, save for a few scars.

He acknowledges, "Yes, It's been an issue with the media. How can I be a beast and not look like what people think a beast should be? I like that it's caused some controversy for the show, but Beauty and the Beast is heavily skewed towards a female audience. He is this human-looking guy but he transforms into a very horrid and demonic beast. It's a modern fairy tale and fairy tales are to be retold and changed around."

Ryan endures four hours of makeup each day to make the transformation. "There's eight pieces of prosthetics which cover my entire face and then contact lenses and teeth, as well as added hair," he explains. It's shot in Toronto, and he says, "Having glue stuck to your face in winter is not fun. It freezes as it hits the skin."

Comparisons to The Hulk are obvious. "When I first got the pilot script, and saw the modernised take on it, that he becomes this beast, but isn't a beast the whole time, I was in straight away," Ryan says. "One, because it meant I didn't have to be wearing prosthetics all the time, but also, as an actor it gave me this huge gamut to play the character.

"It gives me this dark and light side of both extremes to play, and if the show goes for seven seasons I'll have a lot to work with and if it goes for one, it goes for one."

Ryan was in Queenstown filming the Jane Campion mini-series Top of the Lake, in which he plays a local heavy in the town, when he was asked to read for Beauty and the Beast.

"Because of my character in Top of the Lake, I really wanted to isolate myself for a while and throw myself into it. And Jane also had this vision that my character had half a shaved head and this huge tattoo, making me look very fierce," he laughs. "I was like, 'There is no way anyone in America is going to cast me looking like this.'

"But I flew over to audition for Beast with the shaved head, then returned to do Top of the Lake, and as soon as I got off the plane, I got a call to say I had to come back to read with Kristin. So, I flew another 18 hours, arrived completely jetlagged; they put a wig on me, I read for it again, and two weeks later, I got the role."

He doesn't take the enormity of how far he's come for granted.

"I was an unknown and a foreigner and they took a leap of faith in me. It's awesome."

Now Ryan is a burgeoning TV star, his face plastered all over billboards and buses around the US, he has to play the game in return. "The network made me join Twitter," he says. "I am very scared of social media and I don't know how to use it, so it's kind of trial and error." He laughs. "But I have realised that it's wonderful to connect to your viewers, although it's 20,000 people who want your attention all day, but it's great to hear feedback in an instant."

Presumably his experience at home in New Zealand as well as Australia has helped prepare him for this new stage in his career?

"Yes. In New Zealand, we don't really promote and so I didn't have a lot of experience with the media. But you gain a really good work ethic and I think that transcends when you bring it over here."

But not everything about America is difficult to get used to. He smiles. "You certainly don't get paid at home what you do over here.

"Coming from New Zealand and Australia is like a tough pre-school for Hollywood. And having been on Neighbours, even though the agents I met with hadn't seen it, they knew it's where Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce had come from. It was a foot in the door."

Of course, fame might bring about economic stability but it's a double-edged sword.

"So far, I don't feel too much pressure. I still feel that I can live my life."

Who: Jay Ryan, former Go Girls star, now the Beast in the reimagining of Beauty and the Beast
Where and when: Due to screen on Prime early in 2013

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