Kiwi Jay Ryan ageing gracefully as Hollywood drama star

Ageing gracefully: actor Jay Ryan.
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Ageing gracefully: actor Jay Ryan.

Unlike most actors, Jay Ryan has no problem with lines and wrinkles.

"Ageing has done me good," says the 35-year-old Kiwi, who first found fame playing Neighbours' Jack Scully 15 years ago. 

"I always had a very baby face and I've been waiting for the lines to settle in a little bit and now they finally are and people are seeing me for much more grittier roles.

Ryan in his Go Girls days with Anna Hutchison, Alix Bushnell) and Bronwyn Turei.
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Ryan in his Go Girls days with Anna Hutchison, Alix Bushnell) and Bronwyn Turei.

"Being an actor is tough. You take what you are offered. You can't be too picky in the early days but finally I've got my chops up and people have seen me in a different light.

"A lot of that has to do with Jane (Campion) casting me in Top Of The Lake. That was a real page-turner for me in my career. It got me in front of certain people who I really wanted to work with."

Read more: Jay Ryan packs a punch

Ryan says he was looking for something like Mary Kills People.
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Ryan says he was looking for something like Mary Kills People.

Three years in Neighbours and roles in Being Eve, Go Girls, Sea Patrol and Offspring led to Ryan's US breakthrough as Vincent Keller in four seasons of the big-budget glossy prime-time series Beauty And The Beast.

His new series, Mary Kills People, a black comedy about the controversial practice of euthanasia, is something very different.

It follows Dr Mary Harris (Caroline Dhavernas from Off The Map and Hannibal) who works at the emergency department of the Eden General Hospital and has a side business as an end-of-life counsellor. Ryan is Ben Wesley, a cop who pretends to be terminally ill, in an attempt to bring her – and her plastic surgeon partner Des (Covert Affairs' Richard Short) – to justice.

Ryan says the six-part series  - which has already screened in the US and Canada (where it is filmed) – has polarised viewers and promoted vigorous debate on social media. 

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"A lot of people thought Mary was a downright serial killer, posing as a doctor, but many people believe in the subject, mainly people that have had their own personal experiences with terminally-ill loved ones," he says, from Australia, as he prepares to return to Canada to film the second season.

"I know a lot of my mates who I've shown it to over here told me stories about their experiences with their loved ones," he says.

"One said before her mother was sick she didn't believe in euthanasia. She thought it was interfering with natural ways. But, after her mother's illness and what she went through, and what the whole family went through, she had a different view on the subject. She saw Mary Kills People and was filled with praise."

Ryan says he welcomed a chance to be part of such a groundbreaking series, which is written by Tara Armstrong, a recent graduate of the Canadian Film Centre. 

"She wrote the pilot as part of her graduation piece and it was pretty much shopped around straight away. It was picked up and within six months was in production which is an unheard of in the business," he says.

"Beauty And The Beast is very formulaic television which is written by many different writers so I wanted to start working again with a creator who had the reins over their project.

"I'd done that with Jane Campion in Top Of The Lake and then gone on to Beauty And The Beast – very chalk and cheese type of projects – so I wanted to get back into the zone again. I was looking but funnily enough they came to me because they had seen Top Of The Lake and liked my character.

"They wanted a little bit of the essence of that in their project, so I met with them and we got on really well and it went from there."

Ryan is looking forward to learning more about Detective Ben Wesley in season two.

"It wasn't wrapped up in the six episodes about who exactly he was and I was never sure if I was going to get to play him again. We wanted to play that ambiguity in him. I like that about him, that you never knew who he really was and there wasn't a lot to say who he was or who he used be."

Mary Kills People is screening on Sky's just-launched new channel, Box Sets, on August 26 at 7.30pm.

 - Sunday Star Times

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