Jay Ryan is already a major male television star, household name, bonafide sex symbol and a favorite target of the tabloid press. The 31-year-old, Auckland, New Zealand-born actor shot to superstardom over a dozen years, when Jay left his Kiwi homeland at the age of nineteen for a career in show business in Australia. You see, Down Under, Ryan is as famous as Matt Damon or Ben Affleck, thanks, in great part, to his tenure on the long-running, Aussie hit primetime soap Neighbours.
However, in North America, Ryan could walk down the middle of any busy street in Los Angeles, New York City or Toronto and go virtually unnoticed. For the moment, though, Ryan wears his anonymity like a badge of honor.
"I love it, because for me, I now get to focus more on the work that I am doing as opposed to trying to keep up appearances," the charming and handsome Ryan proudly confesses. "I'm just sort of reveling and enjoying the anonymity, but still working. Back home in Australia, I don't have the luxury of being anonymous, but here in the States and Canada, I still have that – for now. I'm kind of lapping it up while I can, I guess."
His days of being a virtual unknown to every television viewer north of the equator are about to come to an end. When the new romantic action series Beauty and The Beast
premieres on October 11, 2012 on the CW network (in the U.S.), history may just repeat itself for Ryan. "I suppose when the show sort of goes into power drive and is shown all over the place, my days of being a nobody in North America will be over," Ryan jokingly admits. "That's okay with me, because I think a lot of people will really respond to and love our version of Beauty and The Beast
." Very loosely based on the 1980s hit show of the same name – starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman – in the cleverly overhauled, brilliant re-imagining of the Beauty and The Beast
mythos, Ryan portrays Vincent Keller, the "beast" who saves and falls in love with Catherine "Cat" Chandler, a beautiful homicide detective, played by Smallville
alumn Kristen Kreuk.
When Ryan was first approached with an offer to join the cast of the retooled Beauty and The Beast
– while starring in the Jane Campion-directed BBC mini-series Top Of The Lake
– he candidly admits that he was a bit hesitant about participating in a revamped version of one of his own childhood favorites. "I was still shooting with Jane (Campion) when I got the call for Beauty and The Beast
," recalls Ryan, who appeared on Xena: Princess Warrior
and scored a recurring role in last season's critically-acclaimed, but ultimately cancelled, Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi series Terra Nova
. "I just heard the title, Beauty and The Beast
, and I realized that they were remaking the original series from the '80s, which I was a big fan of, mainly because it appealed to my imagination and fascination as a kid.
"I was a little apprehensive, thinking, 'Do I really want to be on a remake of a TV show that was already done so well?' – I was like, 'If it ain't broke, why try and fix it,'" Ryan continues. "But when I read the script and saw that it was almost completely different than the first one – that was kind of a green light to me, letting me know that it wasn't just a replica of that show. So I thought, 'I guess I'll go for it.' Of course, our show shares some similar themes, mainly that the heart of my character heals a little. But, I really was intrigued by the creative take on the back story of Vincent. I could really feel it, because it was based more in reality. Although, anything in the universe could happen, so who knows what's real and what's not, but to me, this Beauty and The Beast
is based on a more realistic situation of why this guy, Vincent, is different from other people."
In the revamped Beauty and The Beast
(executive produced by Sherri Cooper & Jennifer Levin and Smallville
vets Brian Peterson & Kelly Souders), Catherine "Cat" Chandler (Kreuk) is a smart, no-nonsense homicide detective, who is haunted by her own tragic past. When she was a teenager, Cat witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of two gunmen. Cat would have been killed too, but someone – or something – saved her. No one has ever believed her, but she knows it wasn’t an animal that attacked the assassins…though it was strange and terrifying, it was human.
Years have passed, and although she thinks about her mother every day, Cat is now strong and confident, a capable police detective working with her equally talented partner, Tess Vargas (Nina Lisandrello). The two women make a good team, and have become close friends while working on countless homicide cases under the supervision of their tough-but-fair boss, Joe Bishop (Brian White). Cat has also become close to another co-worker, the medical examiner Evan Marks (Max Brown) and they’ve developed a fun, flirtatious relationship that could easily turn into something deeper – if Cat would let that happen. However, much to the concern of her younger sister, Heather (Nicole Gale Anderson), Cat’s romantic inclinations tend toward bad boys.
While investigating a new case Cat and Tess discover fingerprints that lead to a handsome doctor named Vincent Keller (Ryan) who was reportedly killed by enemy fire while serving in Afghanistan in 2002. Digging deeper, Cat learns that Vincent is actually still alive. For mysterious reasons that have forced him to live under the radar, Vincent has been in hiding for the past 10 years. With the help of his childhood friend J.T. Forbes (Austin Basis), Vincent has been able to guard his terrible secret – when he is enraged, he becomes a terrifying beast, unable to control his super-strength and heightened senses.
"Vincent is a doctor, but when his brother is lost in 9/l1, he joins the army and becomes a part of this experiment to create these super soldiers, but the experiment goes awry and they end up with these uncontrollable beasts," Ryan explains. "Vincent escapes and sort of lands back in New York City. Vincent is ready to give up, because he's been working on this cure to regain his humanity for the last ten years with best friend, J.T, to no avail. But, when Catherine shows up, she gives him a glimmer of hope again."
Cat is stunned when Vincent admits he was the "beast" who saved her the night of her mother’s murder. However, Vincent doesn’t admit the whole truth – he is emotionally tied to Cat and has been watching over her for years. Cat agrees to protect Vincent’s identity in return for any insight he may have into her mother’s murder. However, when they first meet, love begins to awaken in both their hearts. "What they feel is just one of those chemical reactions that two people can have when they sense they have found someone special," Ryan says. "But, they have a lot of trouble expressing their feelings to one another."
Thus begins a complex relationship between Cat and Vincent, who understand that their connection is extremely dangerous for both of them. Cat’s secret obsession with Vincent puts a strain on her relationship with everyone around her, and Tess is especially troubled by the feeling that Cat is keeping something from her. The most surprising element of their relationship is that Vincent soon becomes a secret but important part of Cat’s detective work. During the years he spent hiding in the shadows, watching over Cat and other innocents, Vincent learned a lot about the darkest parts of the city and the people who live there. His sharpened instincts, incredible strength and human compassion become invaluable to Cat as she works to bring criminals to justice. As she slowly comes to terms with Vincent’s monstrous alter-ego, Cat senses she can trust him in ways she hasn’t been able to trust any man before and, despite the obstacles between them, she realizes that she’s safer with him than anywhere else.
"The romance element of this show is a huge part of what Beauty and The Beast
has always been," Ryan explains. "Our version of Beauty and The Beast
is new and fresh, and no one has ever taken this angle on the story before. So we have sort of this wide open canvas to play with."
When images of Ryan as Vincent where first released to the media, it created a firestorm of criticism. To many, particularly fans of the '80s version, Ryan was far too good-looking to be any kind of monster. Surprisingly, Ryan took the condemnations in stride. "I understood where people were coming from, because the character of Vincent is kind of in reverse in the fairy tale -- usually the beast turns into this prince," jokes the bachelor actor. "With me, I turn into a beast, so it is kind of upside down. The initial reaction to the early press photos of me as Vincent – where they showed that I had the sign of the beast, which was the scar on my face – really got people up in arms going, 'What the hell?' I found it quite amusing, because I knew what was coming and that the real monster would be revealed. I just figured, 'They'll understand.'"
Although he is transformed into a diabolical looking creature, Ryan wanted to make Vincent's beastly side even scarier looking. "I tried a lots of things to make myself look more terrifying, but at the end of the day, I am not the creator of the show," he sheepishly admits. "I can only do what I am told to do, really. They take what I give them and they make it into what they want. Sure, I wanted to do many things, but we have to keep in line with their original vision of the show."
Phoning from the Toronto-based set of Beauty and The Beast
– chatting between camera set-ups – one can hear hints of a Kiwi/Aussie accent, but for the most part, Ryan, who has spent the better part of his career working Down Under, sounds like an all-American boy. Where in the world did his native Kiwi accent disappear to? "Oh, it's here, it's just coming and going," he responds with a laugh. "I am actually filming at the moment, so I try to keep my dialect as American as possible, especially with my vowel sounds. I get rid of all the Kiwi slang when I am on set. When I am at work, I try to go between a hybrid of American and Kiwi, so when I get on the set I'll be ready.
"After we finish our talk, I'll be going on set and do a scene," he adds. "It's real interesting because I do have dialect training for the accent. But, the way that we use our muscles in our mouths in Kiwi is pretty different than the American dialect. If you just go straight into the American dialect, without warming up, you really stumble up on your words. Then, you have to do it over again and you end up working overtime -- which usually lands you in hot water with the producers. So, I have to kind of warm up to it, because I've given Vincent's voice a twinge of a New York accent, because that is where the story is based. However, we are supposed to use a standard Californian or standard American accent, as they call it. But, don't tell anybody, I secretly add a little but of New York to Vincent's words."
In addition to sharing a voice, Ryan reveals that he has several personal traits in common with the character of Vincent – particularly when it comes to his alter-ego's guarded emotional state. "With any role I take on, I always try to identify parts of myself in the character, because I am playing them and that's what I base all my work off of," the veteran of several hit Aussie TV series explains. "In Beauty and The Beast
, I find the idea of courting someone but having to gain a sense of trust first very interesting. I guess I can relate to that, because when I am in a relationship, I'm the kind of person that has all of their guards up until I really trust someone. I really relate to that romantic aspect of the show, because in many ways it's authentic to what I'm all about. I think it's interesting for anybody watching this show to see someone's moral compass and how you sort of navigate that within yourself, when you are around other people. That's something I try to relate to, and I try to put that emotional baggage into this character, and hopefully, that shines through, and makes my performance even more believable, especially when he begins to express his romantic side."
While currently single, for several years the Australian tabloid press was relentless in trying to romantically link Ryan to his Neighbours
costar and real-life roommate, Michelle Ang. Ryan laughs when he begins to recall the outrageous lengths gossip reporters and the paparazzi would go to in order to prove he and Ang were lovers. "The Australian tabloids are getting really bad," admits Ryan, who also spent a couple of seasons on the Aussie TV export Sea Patrol
. "I've heard that the British tabloids are even worse, but I haven't really experienced the British tabloids, too much. But, the Aussie's are getting there. They really are not big on accuracy. They seem to get everything wrong. You see, Michelle Ang and I used to live together – as roommates – when were on the show Neighbours
. We were both imported from New Zealand to Oz (Australia) to do Neighbours.
And, we played boyfriend and girlfriend on the show, but we never actually together (as a couple). But, you couldn't convince the Aussie press of that."
If Beauty and The Beast
becomes the ratings hit that most Hollywood insiders are predicting it will be, Ryan could become Tinsel Town's next hottest male actor. At least he's learned a thing or two about the perks and cons of being a famous celebrity while living and working Down Under. "I've always thought it was funny and strange to be called a 'star,'" Ryan reveals. "Sure, I've had practice with the media and overzealous fans, but that's all part of the gig. I am really appreciative that this is the way that my career has gone. I worked really hard back home so that I can try to refine myself in my work and learn how to present myself before coming to this side of the world. I think I'm ready for anything that comes my way. I'm just happy that my introduction to American and Canadian audiences is through Beauty and The Beast
. This is the show I have working my whole career to do."
Ryan is keeping his fingers crossed that North American television audiences love the newly revamped Beauty and The Beast
as much as he does. "I hope that viewers are intrigued with the ongoing mythology in the series, and they are satisfied by the police procedural element in it," he says, enthusiastically. "I really hope that they identify with our characters and are willing to go on the journey with them – and they court the romantic tone of the series. Honestly, I think that there is a little something for everyone in this show -- there's action, romance, thrills and cool police work -- so I think we can attract a pretty wide audience. As for fans of the first one, if they just watch one episode of our show, they'll realize we are a totally different animal that they'll want to keep their eyes on."
Beauty and The Beast premieres Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 9:00pmET/8:00pmCT on the CW. (Check local listings)