You can see RED HILL on Thursday, Sept. 30th at 3: 55. Get tickets here!
Few shows have gained the cult following that TRUE BLOOD currently has sunk their teeth into. One of the many reasons the show is so addicting is the performance of Ryan Kwanten, who plays Louisiana ladies’ man, Jason Stackhouse. Kwanten has stepped away, at least briefly, from the vampire genre and stars in writer and director Patrick Hughes’ contemporary western, RED HILL. Using the Australian hill country as the film’s landscape, Hughes delivers an emotionally gripping story harkening back to classics like HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, while Kwanten gives a measured performance that proves he has the grit to last long after the hunger for TRUE BLOOD has subsided.
We sat down with Ryan Kwanten and Patrick Hughes and shot 5 fantastic questions their way.
Fantastic Fest: Patrick, what made you decide to bring Red Hill to Fantastic Fest?
Patrick Hughes: Well, I heard this festival, pardon the pun, was fantastic! We had certainly made a genre film and this is the place to be for genre films. I’m excited to see how it plays here because the film is made for this type of audience. People who are passionate about cinema will like it, I think, and we’re releasing it in the U.S. before we release it in Australia. That’s a really big deal for a film from Australia.
Ryan Kwanten: Yeah, we couldn’t think of another Australian film to be released overseas before it was released in Australia, particularly in the bigger markets like the U.S., because usually they put it in smaller markets to measure the success before picking it up. So it’s a real vote of confidence on Sony’s behalf that they are saying, ‘Well, hang on a second. We believe in this film so we will release it here first.’ The fact that this is now our first official U.S. screening–
PH: Today is our first one! (Laughs.)
RK: It’s a real guttural experience.
FF: We can guarantee that you will have a very warm welcome. Ryan, Alexander Skarsgard was at Fantastic Fest last year. Maybe we’re starting a True Blood tradition every year.
FF: Have you had a chance to get acquainted with the festival and are you prepared for the reception you’re about to receive here?
RK: I arrived yesterday and I’m a huge film buff myself. As soon as we jumped off the plane we raced to the screening of STONE, which I thought was amazing. Then, we went to a couple of the local establishments because I always think when in Rome, you know. I struck up many conversations with the locals. I thought I knew a lot about film compared to the average man on the street but Austin’s people know so much about film. They know the actors, directors, writers, make-up artists. They know it all. So I’m impressed, intrigued and also a little nervous about the film going to this kind of well educated audience, but I hope, like you said, that they will embrace the film.
FF: Patrick, how has your experience been?
PH: Well, I missed my first flight so that was lovely. (Laughs.) I just got here a couple of hours ago. So far I am loving it. This place you have right here is great! (Patrick laughs and looks around the office.)
FF: (Laughs.) Yeah. we’re actually going to screen the film in this very office! Bring the crowd in, boys! (They laugh.) What elements of a western appeal to you? You had said before that you were more into sci-fi films like STAR WARS growing up.
PH: When I was a kid my dad would always watch westerns like RED RIVER. I would watch it for two minutes and give up because I was young. I was obsessed with Star Wars and then I grew up and realized it was just a western in space!
The older you get, the more settled down you become. You get into a relationship, you have kids and a wife. Then you get this sense of honor where you say, ‘If anyone touched my wife, I would get a shotgun and go out and kill every mother fucker out there.’ I mean ninety-nine percent of the best westerns, I think, are revenge westerns. It’s always about retribution and questioning the moral code. The main character steps outside the line and it’s justified, like in THE UNFORGIVEN. To tap into that essence, we certainly looked at High Plains Drifter and HIGH NOON, films where you make a judgment call at the beginning but what you reveal at the end is different. I mean, with High Plains Drifter you see Clint Eastwood raping someone and you think, ‘What the fuck is this? Why is he just viciously raping a girl!?’ Then you reveal what’s going on and the ambiguity starts to take shape. The idea of good and evil moves around.
FF: It’s an interesting point because there are two laws. There’s the law the town has to adhere to and then under the surface there’s a blurred sense of good and evil.
Ryan, what did you do in terms of character study to prepare for your role?
RK: There was very little fat on the script. Everything that needed to be there was there. A lot of first-time filmmakers make the mistake of putting needless exposition in there. That really made it easy for me to narrow my scope. Outside of that, the things I like to do for character is to have a character that is going to go through complete hell. The person you see at the beginning shouldn’t be the person you recognize at the end. I use quotes from a lot of films to motivate me and the one that stuck with me this time was, ‘Are you willing to die having left undone the things you could have changed today?’ I think at the beginning, Cooper, my character, isn’t sure what the even means but by the end he says, ‘Yes. I am willing to die to make that happen.’ It’s those sort of decisions that define you as a man. It goes back to the very psyche that makes us human. It goes beyond any sense of law or what society says is good or evil.
PH: It’s raw justice.
RK: The film is doing surprisingly well with females though! People have been making judgment calls on Jimmy, our main bad guy, and saying he is so evil. But slowly you see the method to his madness and by the end you’re so upset with yourself for having made that call. As an audience, we pride ourselves on predicting the ending and so in this instance, when you’re fooled, I think it’s a good thing.
FF: It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? George Lucas, I believe, once said that even Hitler thought he was good in his mind. I think you do a very respectable job of showing that people aren’t as one-dimensional as you think they are. There are so many roles that play the ending at the start.
PH: Right! That’s so boring. What Ryan brings as an actor is a vulnerability that not many actors can pull off. Also, he is willing to step up and play that kind of role. He says, ‘Wait a sec, I’m not the badass in the room. I’m not that guy yet.’ When we were shooting, we always said there were different phases of Cooper.
RK: He started off as Cooper Loops. (Laughs.)
PH: Right! So for twenty pages he is Cooper Loops, then he is Coopie, then he becomes Coop once he gets on that horse. There is a transformation from city boy to cowboy. Our favorite scene is when Cooper goes home and gets the gun because the whole point is that he has a pregnant wife. He is willing to protect her.
RK: Those few scenes that are with the wife, without them there is no heart in the film without it.
PH: Right, it’s like you’re saying. You can’t have a generic film. Ryan’s character has to go through changes and there is a changing moral compass in the story.
FF: Well, we think you’ve done a great job of finding balance in what at first glance looks like a hardass western. So, thank you again and welcome to Fantastic Fest.
PH & RK: Thank you.