Goodbye ‘baby face’

Jay Ryan leaves Go Girls and Neigh­bours’ Jack Scully be­hind for dark new US drama, writes Kerry Har­vey.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Un­like most ac­tors, Jay Ryan has no prob­lem with lines and wrin­kles. ‘‘Age­ing has done me good,’’ says the 35-year-old Kiwi, who first found fame play­ing Neigh­bours‘ Jack Scully 15 years ago.

‘‘I al­ways had a very baby face and I’ve been wait­ing for the lines to set­tle in a lit­tle bit and now they fi­nally are and peo­ple are see­ing me for much more grit­tier roles.

‘‘Be­ing an ac­tor is tough. You take what you are of­fered. You can’t be too picky in the early days but fi­nally I’ve got my chops up and peo­ple have seen me in a dif­fer­ent light.

‘‘A lot of that has to do with Jane (Cam­pion) cast­ing me in Top Of The Lake. That was a real page-turner for me in my ca­reer. It got me in front of cer­tain peo­ple who I re­ally wanted to work with.’’

Three years in Neigh­bours and roles in Be­ing Eve, Go Girls, Sea Pa­trol and Off­spring led to Ryan’s United States break­through as Vin­cent Keller in four sea­sons of the big-bud­get glossy prime-time se­ries Beauty And The Beast.

His new se­ries, Mary Kills Peo­ple ,a black comedy about the con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of eu­thana­sia, is some­thing very dif­fer­ent.

It fol­lows Dr Mary Har­ris (Caro­line Dhav­er­nas from Off The Map and Han­ni­bal) who works at the emer­gency de­part­ment of the Eden Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal and has a side busi­ness as an end-of-life coun­sel­lor. Ryan is Ben Wes­ley, a cop who pre­tends to be ter­mi­nally ill, in an at­tempt to bring her – and her plas­tic sur­geon part­ner Des (Covert Af­fairs’ Richard Short) – to jus­tice.

Ryan says the six-part se­ries – which has al­ready screened in the US and Canada (where it is filmed) – has po­larised view­ers and pro­moted vig­or­ous de­bate on so­cial me­dia.

‘‘A lot of peo­ple thought Mary was a down­right se­rial killer, pos­ing as a doc­tor, but many peo­ple be­lieve in the sub­ject, mainly peo­ple that have had their own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences with ter­mi­nally-ill loved ones,’’ he says, from Aus­tralia, as he pre­pares to re­turn to Canada to film the sec­ond sea­son.

‘‘I know a lot of my mates who I’ve shown it to over here told me sto­ries about their ex­pe­ri­ences with their loved ones,’’ he says.

‘‘One said be­fore her mother was sick she didn’t be­lieve in eu­thana­sia. She thought it was in­ter­fer­ing with nat­u­ral ways. But, af­ter her mother’s ill­ness and what she went through, and what the whole fam­ily went through, she had a dif­fer­ent view on the sub­ject. She saw Mary Kills Peo­ple and was filled with praise.’’

Ryan says he wel­comed a chance to be part of such a ground­break­ing se­ries, which is writ­ten by Tara Arm­strong, a re­cent grad­u­ate of the Cana­dian Film Cen­tre.

‘‘She wrote the pi­lot as part of her grad­u­a­tion piece and it was pretty much shopped around straight away. It was picked up and within six months was in pro­duc­tion which is un­heard of in the busi­ness,’’ he says.

‘‘Beauty And The Beast is very for­mu­laic tele­vi­sion which is writ­ten by many dif­fer­ent writ­ers so I wanted to start work­ing again with a cre­ator who had the reins over their project.

‘‘I’d done that with Jane Cam­pion in Top Of The Lake and then gone on to Beauty And The Beast – very chalk and cheese type of projects – so I wanted to get back into the zone again. I was look­ing but fun­nily enough they came to me be­cause they had seen Top Of The Lake and liked my char­ac­ter.

‘‘They wanted a lit­tle bit of the essence of that in their project, so I met with them and we got on re­ally well and it went from there.’’

Ryan is look­ing for­ward to learn­ing more about De­tec­tive Ben Wes­ley in sea­son two.

‘‘It wasn’t wrapped up in the six episodes about who ex­actly he was and I was never sure if I was go­ing to get to play him again. We wanted to play that am­bi­gu­ity in him. I like that about him, that you never knew who he re­ally was and there wasn’t a lot to say who he was or who he used be.’’

Mary Kills Peo­ple is screen­ing on Sky’s just-launched new chan­nel, Box Sets, on Au­gust 26 at 7.30pm.

Ac­tor Jay Ryan says Mary Kills Peo­ple was a per­fect fit for him as he was look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent.

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