A Chat with director Patrick Hughes and actor Ryan Kwanten of “Red Hill”

First-time feature directors — especially when they’re essentially financing their films — tend to make low-key stories without much in the way of action. Often, they are offbeat romances or perhaps something about a bunch of guys in their teens or late twenties avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. Directors who emerge from the world of commercials often wind-up making movies that rely on flashy visuals and employ the worst kind of ADHD editorial approach. To his everlasting credit, Patrick Hughes, a first-time self-financing feature director with a background in commercials, did none of those things in his first feature, “Red Hill,” an often violent suspense tale with elements of classic westerns, monster films, and a strong sense of its Australian heritage.

Its star, Ryan Kwanten, is by far best known as Jason Stackhouse of “True Blood,” an occasionally likable dim-bulb of a character who would pretty much be nothing if it weren’t for his athletic good looks and sexual prowess. But Kwanten as an actor is certainly no mere boy-toy, even if he remains a favorite of young female fans and looks about a decade younger than his actual age (he’ll be 34 later this month). As the rather archly named Shane Cooper, the earnest, violence-averse policeman hero of “Red Hill,” he must be believable dealing with the rampage of revenge waged by an Aboriginal escaped convict (Tommy Lewis) while protecting his loving and pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom), dealing with the barbs of his taskmaster of a new boss (Steve Bisley), and spending a good chunk of the movie marinating in his own blood and believably fighting on. If that isn’t proof that Kwanten is, you know, a real actor, his next non-“True Blood” role appears to be as Charles Manson.

I met with voluble writer-director Hughes and actor Kwanten – who, as befits this film’s low budget provenance, come across as remarkably down-to-earth in person – during a press day held at Strand Releasing’s east Culver City office. A short time later, Kwanten would be chatting telephonically for a solo interview with my colleague, Will Harris, who’d be concentrating on his career, definitely including “True Blood.” No prima dona, and you’ll see just what I mean by that later in the interview, he was fine with surrendering some of the spotlight to director Hughes, who kind of dominates the discussion during the first half of this interview. However, do not fear, Kwantenites: we do hear from the very talented actor starting just past this interview’s halfway point, as he discusses crucial matters of blood, guts, and pig poo.

01._Ryan_Kwanten

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True Blood 2.9 – Though I be a dead man, I said yes and amen

Well, you know what the Smiths said: if it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together. And so it was at the beginning of this week’s “True Blood,” as we saw Sookie suck the silver shrapnel right out of Eric, God love her…and, by the way, the phrase “suck the silver shrapnel” clearly needs to be popularized as a double entendre post-haste. (On a related note, I also anticipate quoting Sookie’s exclamation, “You big lying A-hole,” enough to bring it into the pop culture lexicon pretty quickly.) Eric’s delivery of the phrase “she was superb” to Bill was genius…as, for that matter, was his chicanery to get hooked into Sookie’s emotions. The intimate discussion between Sookie and Bill no doubt thrilled fans of Charlaine Harris’s original novels, as it confirmed that they were finally going to get what they’ve been waiting for: a pairing-up between Sookie and Eric. And is it me, or was that the most erotically charge scene of the season to date? Maybe it’s just because there was no blood being smeared this time around.

Jason was clearly suffering from a little post-traumatic stress, given the way he looked when he saw Luke’s dismembered hand. As a result, the discussion between Sookie and Jason wasn’t terribly surprising, but it was sweet and heartfelt, a tone we’ve not seen between the two of them in quite some time. You can’t blame Jason for slipping into depression over their lack of family, but kudos to Sookie for giving him a kick in the pants about growing up. I doubt if it’ll take, given his history, but it’s a start, anyway. By the way, only a sister could get away with telling a guy that he’s lazy rather than dumb and to say that she sometimes wants to stick his head in a bucket and kick it around the yard. Did you notice that she gave him shit, but he opted to avoid any insults, even in jest? Maybe he’s smarter than I’ve given him credit for.

Could Jessica and Hoyt be any cuter a couple? I loved that comment from Hoyt when he was doing verbal battle with his mother, smacking her down for only bothering to bring up his father when she doesn’t like something he’s doing. But, then, I loved pretty much that entire scene, particularly when he was listing off the various types of people she doesn’t like. (As someone who was raised in the South, I dare say that I’ve heard her excuse about how why she doesn’t like vampires – “it was the way I was brought up” – more than a few times in a different context.) I think it was always a given that the meet-and-greet at Merlotte’s between Jessica, Hoyt, and his mama was already going to go poorly, but who knew it would result in Mama being around for Maryanne’s explosive entrance into the place later that evening?

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True Blood 2.2 – All Lifestyles, Sizes, Shapes, and Forms

“If you’ve got any silver on you, now would be the time to reveal it.”

So sayeth Sheriff Eric to Lafayette, and given that he preceded the comment by throwing a redneck’s severed arm in his general direction, you can imagine that it’s a suggestion that Lafayette would’ve been quite willing to take, if only he had any on him. He doesn’t, though, assuring Eric that, even if he did have any, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to try and use it. Eric disagrees, but he hustles Lafayette off nonetheless, taking him on a trip to meet Pam. Lovely girl, that Pam. First, she gives Eric a serious “tsk-tsk” for all the blood he’s gotten in his hair, then does the same thing to Lafayette for immediately offering to give up the names of every single one of his clients in order to save himself. His response to her attitude results in the first glimpse of the real Lafayette that we’ve seen this season, and it was so funny that I’m going to quote it verbatim for your enjoyment:

“Oh, don’t get it twisted, honeycone: I’m a survivor first, a capitalist second, and a whole bunch of other shit after that, but a hookerdead last. So if I got even a Jew in an Al-Queda pep rally’s shot of getting my black ass up out of this motherfucker, I’m taking it. Now, what you wanna know?”

Awesome.

Give Lafayette credit for being embarrassed to give up Jason Stackhouse (though he did it, anyway, and it still didn’t do him a lick of good), and Eric for having the sense not to go after Jason. Once Lafayette’s back in the clink, though, he makes a move that’s damned near ingenious…although, if I’m to be honest, I first thought he was starving and resorting to cannibalism. But, no, he used the materials available to him – ewwwwwww – and made a break for it. And it looked like he was going to get away with it, too, until Ginger the Trigger-Happy Waitress took him down for the count with one shot. So do you think Eric’s going to turn Lafayette? Do fish swim…?

You’ve got to respect a show where a pair of character post-coitally discuss the merits of break-up sex versus you-thought-I-was-dead sex (according to Sookie, they’re both pretty good), then drift into a discussion about the surprising lack of differences between being a vampire and being a teenage girl. Sookie’s sympathetic about Jessica’s plight as a newly-turned vamp who’s just lost forever the chance to grow up, and when she sees the plea from her parents, it only gets worse. The two of them bond, possibly over their mutual ability to not laugh at Jessica’s pitch-perfect Bill impression, and the next thing you know, Sookie’s driving Jessica over to her parents’ house. C’mon, is there anyone who didn’t think this was going to end badly?

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