Jay Ryan stars in new Foxtel show Fighting Season which takes up the PTSD battle
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 Zealandborn 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 says 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 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