True blue? It's in my blood

Fatherhood comes calling for Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) in the Sydney-based Gen Y romantic comedy.
Fatherhood comes calling for Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) in the Sydney-based Gen Y romantic comedy.

THERE have been so many Australian actors relocating to Hollywood over the past 10 years that there's probably a special window at Los Angeles airport's passport control for them. Some go into movies, following the lead of Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts, while others find success amid the US's bountiful television industry. But what really divides them is their attitude to working in Australia: some come back and some don't.

Ryan Kwanten is among the former. The one-time Home and Away star fetched up in Los Angeles in 2002 and struggled for several years, at one point sleeping in a motel storeroom for three months to make ends meet. But in 2008 he landed the role of Jason Stackhouse, a libidinous southerner in Alan Ball's lusty supernatural romp True Blood on the leading cable network HBO.

The show was a hit, and remains so as its fifth season airs. But in his hiatus from production each year, Kwanten has tried to return to Australia to star in an independent local film. There's been a modern western in Patrick Hughes' Red Hill, the idiosyncratic fantasy Griff the Invisible and now the Gen Y romantic comedy Not Suitable for Children. You can't fault Kwanten's dedication to local filmmaking.

''I really enjoy it,'' he says. ''There's the obvious connection I have with Australia, but beyond that we have some of the most talented filmmakers, technicians and actors that the world has to offer. It's not just my duty to come back and work, I get a lot out of it. It means a lot more to me to do something like Not Suitable for Children than a $100 million Hollywood epic.''

It's 11.30pm in Los Angeles and Kwanten is driving home along California's 405 freeway, having just finished a day's work on True Blood. The difference between an American cast and an Australian one, he says, exists off-camera; camaraderie comes quickly on a local production.

That helped in Not Suitable for Children, the story of three twentysomething housemates in Sydney's inner west - the coasting Jonah (Kwanten), no-nonsense Stevie (Sarah Snook) and the eccentric Gus (Ryan Corr) - whose lives revolve around a weekly for-profit house party. When circumstances dictate that Jonah will only be able to procreate for another month, he is determined to find a way to become a father.

''Everyone makes a snap judgment at the beginning of this film that they think they know Jonah, but they don't,'' Kwanten, 35, says. ''I can speak from personal experience - anyone who's gone through a traumatic time can - but it's not until you go through life-defining moments that you realise who you really are and how valuable the people around you are.''

It's a reactive role, defined by offbeat humour and an underpinning melancholy that Kwanten enjoyed expanding with writer Michael Lucas (television's Offspring) and first-time feature director Peter Templeman.

As with his roles in Red Hill and Griff the Invisible, it's a world away from Jason Stackhouse. ''Michael's script gave me the opportunity to do something different from what I've done before,'' Kwanten says.

''For me, personally, there couldn't be anything more uninspiring than playing the same character over and over again. I like to pride myself on breaking out of the pigeonhole that I might put myself in, let alone the industry. If you take a risk you might fall on your feet or fall on your arse, but you have to keep trying.''

Not Suitable for Children is now screening.

This story True blue? It's in my blood first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.