Ryan Kwanten: Shark Attack Survivor

Annette Dasey
Who

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After strutting the red carpet at the Chrysalis Butterfly Ball in Los Angeles on June 7 with his favourite lady, mum Kris, Ryan Kwanten whispered to her that Mark Wahlberg was behind them. “I go, ‘Mum, turn around and pretend you’re not looking,’” says Kwanten. “She’s almost convulsing and starts shouting at Dad, ‘Eddie! There’s Mark Wallyberg! You’re even taller than him!’ And Dad, because he’s so not Hollywood and has no idea who anybody is, pats him on the back and says, ‘How’s it going, mate?’”

The potentially awkward incident is, for Kwanten, just fodder for an amusing story. It’s typical of the surfer boy from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, who honed his skills as Home and Away larrikin Vinnie and is now, thanks to his steamy and hilarious performance as himbo Jason Stackhouse in Showcase’s True Blood, in demand in Hollywood. “What I love about Ryan is that he’s willing to play a stupid character stupidly,” said True Blood creator Alan Ball. “Ryan’s very smart in real life — he’s not like Jason at all.”

It’s not just directors who want Kwanten. On Sept. 15, at a G-Star fashion show in New York, Lindsay Lohan reportedly rearranged seats in a failed attempt to be next to the heart-throb. “You take it with a chuckle,” Kwanten, 33, tells WHO over a Sydney café lunch of chocolate brownie, which he eats first — “Since I’ve moved out of home I’ve thought, ‘Why wait for dessert?’ ” he says — chicken salad and green tea. “It certainly doesn’t go to my head.”

He is slightly more fazed by the “confronting” nudity and graphic sex scenes he has to shoot for True Blood, but doesn’t worry about his parents seeing them. “It’s fine. We’re Australians. We’re comfortable with our bodies. My mum’s walked in on me a couple of times with a girl when I was back at home. We’re a pretty close family.”

So close that on visits home to Sydney, the Los Angeles resident stays in his parents’ home. “My room hasn’t changed,” he says. “The squeaky single bed with the leopard-print sheets. I thought they were pretty cool when I was turning into a man at 14.” Back then, he says, he was “ridiculously quiet. Competitive, though.” Now, “I’m more comfortable in my own skin,” but “most people think actors have to be the extrovert, and I’m not that guy. I prefer to listen.” Lifeline op-shop coordinator Kris says her son is “very unassuming, was vice-captain at his Catholic school and is very focused. Everyone knows him in LA, but here it’s not so bad. We can do 10-pinbowling and all this crazy stuff.”

Influenced by his Dutch-born dad, Eddie, who works at NSW Maritime and was a board-paddling champ, Kwanten and his brothers, musician Mitchell, 29, and doctor Lloyd, 27, were raised playing sport, which led accident-prone Kwanten to a close encounter with a shark at 12. “I was surfing on my local break and was at the top of the wave and fell and went to pull my arm out and it didn’t come out, so I yanked it out and blood spurted everywhere,” he says. “I felt something between my legs and got on my board and paddled in, and I see the life guard running down. It made the local paper.” The injury didn’t scare the risk-taker: “I was swimming again the next day.”

He also learnt to float in the academic pool, gaining a business degree from the University of Sydney during his run on Home and Away from 1997 to 2002. Then Kwanten moved to Los Angeles, where he made TV series Summerland, family film Flicka and horror flick Dead Silence. The career highs haven’t changed him, says his mate of 20 years, stockbroker Aaron McMurray: “He’s a loyal friend and is pretty hard not to like. He was a skinny little pimply brat and has grown up to be a bit of a sex symbol, which is funny. All the push-ups, calf raises and spirulina milkshakes must’ve paid off!”

Despite all the female attention, Kwanten, who dated his Home and Away co-star Bree Desborough and Summerland co-star Taylor Cole, is enjoying being single. He celebrated his birthday on Nov. 28 in Las Vegas, heading to Lavo nightclub at the Palazzo Resort Casino with some pals. His busy work schedule, plus his observations of friends’ domestic lives “make me think I’m not ready” to settle down, he says. “I’m the friend they leave the kids or baby or dog with, then I hand them back. I enjoy doing that.”

For now, the hiking fan is happy to concentrate on his career, which includes the upcoming movies Don’t Fade Away, in which Mischa Barton plays his love interest, the big-budget animation Guardians of Ga’Hoole and the superhero romance Griff the Invisible. But as his star rises, his attitude to fame hasn’t: “I’m not interested in someone just being interested in me for the fact I’m on TV. It’s ridiculous.”

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