Sav­ing Sergeant Ryan

Fight­ing Sea­son star Jay Ryan goes dark for Fox­tel’s stun­ning new drama

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Front Page -

Star­ring in Fox­tel’s Fight­ing Sea­son gave Jay Ryan the chance to un­der­stand the im­pact of war on soldiers, writes Holly Byrnes

PULL up be­side ac­tor Jay Ryan in evening traf­fic, dur­ing film­ing of Fox­tel’s in­tense new drama se­ries

Fight­ing Sea­son and chances are he’d have the stereo blar­ing to the sounds of Dire Straits’ an­themic al­bum, Brothers In Arms.

Not that the New Zealand-born ac­tor is par­tic­u­larly a fan – it was just part of his process to get in and out of char­ac­ter as Aus­tralian army sergeant Sean ‘ Speedo’ Collins.

With six months to pre­pare for “one of the most re­ward­ing projects” of his boom­ing ca­reer, Ryan tells TV Guide he knew the role would take him to dark places and as a way to save his own san­ity, an act­ing coach sug­gested he find a way to lighten up at the end of each film­ing day.

Play­ing the lead role of Speedo was, in­deed, a heavy load to carry: a ca­reer sol­dier who re­turns home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan where his unit leader was killed; the younger soldiers around him are in­jured or strug­gling; and he’s in a bat­tle of his own against post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, as it takes a ter­ri­ble toll on his fam­ily.

While Ryan says it was a priv­i­lege to delve deeply into the oft- over­looked is­sues fac­ing “the mod­ern- day An­zac sol­dier,” he had to find a way to keep the worst of it from seep­ing into his own life. Cue Walk of Life. “The whole the­ory is us­ing a song that elates you, that you can dance to like a crazy per­son and dance it out and just leave it at the door,” he ex­plains.

“I would do it in my trailer, in the car on the way home, but in some shape or form, I would do it … it just got me in and out of the harder scenes.”

The bold se­ries is set in 2010, an era Ryan says when “the top brass in the mil­i­tary were openly op­pos­ing the no­tion of PTSD” and the health cost it con­tin­ues to take on our troops.

Across six episodes, soldiers of vary­ing rank and fam­ily cir­cum­stance share their fears of speak­ing up about their psy­cho­log­i­cal suf­fer­ing; wor­ried about be­ing seen as vul­ner­a­ble or weak.

“It’s a real co­nun­drum these guys deal with,” Ryan ex­plains.

“What they go through … they are aware of the pos­si­bil­ity of PTSD, but they have no out­let what­so­ever.”

Af­ter speak­ing in strict con­fi­dence to serv­ing personnel to in­form his per­for­mance, the 37-year- old ar­gues: “I think it would be per­haps wise, while they’re train­ing these soldiers how to kill, they should also be trained in how to deal with the af­ter­math of what they have to go out and do, be­fore they go into the arena of war.”

“There’s def­i­nitely a bro­ken sys­tem in the mil­i­tary for how these soldiers are seen or heard or pro­cessed even, re­ally. That’s some­thing that has to change,” he says, “and hope­fully [ Fight­ing

Sea­son] will help raise aware­ness around it.”

Ryan and the show’s band of brothers were also put through phys­i­cal chal­lenges to pre­pare for their roles – packed off to boot camp out­side Syd­ney, to test their sur­vival in­stincts.

“We were just dropped into the hands of some ex- Special Forces guys and spent four nights out in the wild … and we bonded in­stantly, be­cause you have to … no one else was giv­ing you love out there,” he laughs.

“We were all look­ing at each other think­ing, ‘ Who is go­ing to break first?’ and we didn’t. We all felt the weight of what we were about to do, in those four days, and who we were rep­re­sent­ing.”

The di­verse cast show­cases the stel­lar tal­ents of new­com­ers Ge­orge Pullar (“Aus­tralia’s next movie star, for sure,” Ryan pre­dicts), “bril­liant” Ju­lian Maroun and Marco Alo­sio (who was plucked from drama school in New Zealand to make his de­but in the Fox­tel pro­duc­tion).

“The guys all hold a lit­tle place in my heart,” Ryan says. “It is a true An­zac con­nec­tion.”

Finding light away from film­ing was not only a nec­es­sary part of pro­duc­tion, he ad­mits, but also cap­tured the famed spirit of our troops.

“We wanted to cap­ture the essence of Aus­tralian soldiers … they have a wicked, sharp sense of hu­mour and do keep the lev­ity by bag­ging each other out all day and throw­ing the jokes around,” he says. Since film­ing on Fight­ing

Sea­son wrapped, Ryan has seen his stocks in the US soar – build­ing on the ac­claim he earned in Jane Cam­pion’s TV thriller Top of the Lake, which fol­lowed his break­through role on US screens in Beauty & the Beast.

But it’s his lat­est project – cur­rently film­ing Stephen King’s

It: Chap­ter Two in Toronto – which puts him in su­per­star com­pany.

“It’s been in­cred­i­ble and a killer cast as well … work­ing with Jes­sica Chas­tain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader, who just won the Emmy for Barry,” he says.

“I’m hav­ing an ab­so­lute ball, in a very good place.”

FIGHT­ING SEA­SON

8.30PM, SUN­DAY, FOX SHOW­CASE

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