Ryan Kwanten On Bringing Authentic Emotion To His New Action Film Section 8 - Exclusive Interview

Fans of "True Blood" will likely remember Australian actor Ryan Kwanten from his time playing Jason Stackhouse. He's now taking on the role of action hero in the dark indie thriller "Section 8." In the film, Kwanten plays Jake Atherton, a former soldier suffering from PTSD after coming home. But the family life he's built for himself is destroyed after the murder of his wife and child, leading to his own prison sentence when he avenges their deaths. He's given a shot at freedom when he's recruited for Section 8, a shadow government agency that he soon realizes isn't what it seems.


During an exclusive interview with The List, Kwanten discussed what it was like to work on the film. The actor opened up about how he prepared for the role and how important it was to make Atherton authentic and not ignore all the trauma that the character went through. He explained how he wanted to bring an "emotionality" to his character's motives rather than being mindlessly violent.

How he approached his character's grief

In this film, your character experiences a huge loss at the start of it. What was that like for you as an actor?

It was actually a combination of losses. [There's] the fact that he was serving in the military and he felt like an incident that happened out there was very much his responsibility. It was something that was on his watch that he could have affected the result of. Then, several years later, he's still carrying that PTSD. Several years later, [he's] the victim of his wife and young son being killed in his own house. How does one deal with that grieving of the human condition? 


That was the hardest part, staying in that psychological zone. The action side of it didn't bother me as much or at all, on the outside of it. To me, it was really imperative that I stay in that mode, that I stay injured from the inside out. It was like an open wound that could never heal. That was the mentality.

How did you prepare for that role?

I listened to a lot of podcasts about people who had experienced various versions of grief and the various coping mechanisms that people went to as well as read quite a few books, whether it was [about grief] or even parenting books. I know there weren't that many scenes that I was in with my son, but it was important to understand how a military father took care of his family when he was away. What kind of things did he do? I wanted specific details on that. How do you maintain a bond with your wife and kids while you are deployed? How do you carry on once they're gone? You're not supposed to outlive your kid. The decisions that you make when you're in that state ... In our particular case, you end up joining a secret government agency that is doing some rather shady s***.


The type of action hero he wanted to play

Your character is also this action hero throughout it. Were you inspired by any other characters for how you wanted to play that aspect of it?

Yeah — more in a Bruce Willis, "Die Hard" type of a way as opposed to ... The original "Rambo" was all right. But after those [sequels] get a little bit more brawn than brain, I check out. It was really important for me and Christian [Sesma], the director, to add various elements of emotionality to this and to give enough reason for the action and potential violence that took place because of it.


What was it like filming the action scenes? You said that wasn't too challenging for you.

No. Look, it was a hell of a lot of fun. I was a young boy that grew up playing all sorts of games outside with my brothers and every kid in my local park. You'd come up with all sorts of crazy things. Now we've got the finances behind us to make a lot of those dreams become a reality. It was fun. But don't get me wrong — we're also in an age where you have to be careful with handling anything to do with firearms. I felt well taken care of on that set, too. We had some great armorers.

Would he be part of a Section 8 sequel?

What was the most challenging aspect of making this film?

On any independent movie, you only have a certain amount of days and money. This was another race against time, but in a beautiful way. I feel like the pacing of this really lends itself to the pacing and the mood; the pacing of how we shot lends itself to the pacing of the movie because there's an energy. You're on your toes from the very get-go, and it doesn't let up, and that's how we felt.


Fortunately, we were shooting in the director's hometown. His family had their heels in the ground there for some time. We got a lot of production value out of things that should have normally — well, things that looked ten times more expensive than they were. I'm really proud of it, actually. It's a real powerhouse movie.

The way the film ended seems like there could be a sequel. Would you be interested in making one if that opportunity came up?

Yeah. I'd want to be there from the seed of the idea and see what we can do. I'm not a huge fan of rehashes, sequels, prequels, and all that stuff. I've never really done it before in my career. I'm a huge fan of original ideas and original thoughts. For me, it would have to virtually be a new character. In a weird way, he kind of is at the very end. We'll see. I'll broach it, but a lot of it's going to come down to the story.


What made Section 8 different from his other roles

How did you feel about the way his character developed toward the end of the film?

He was someone that, by the end of chapter one, he'd lost his moral compass. By the end of the movie, he's found that again. He's had the s*** kicked out of him enough to knock some sense into him. That's got to be a real sense of liberation for a man like that who has been living on the edge for so long.


Did this role feel different for you from past films and TV shows you've been in?

They all feel unbelievably unique and different, and I remember them and remember certain people from them in different ways. This one, the things that I'll remember most are the headline actors that we were fortunate enough to get in this. That's a pretty star-studded cast. But then, Christian [Sesma], our director, added such a high level of emotionality to this that it could have been pretty cookie cutter without his influence. I worked really well with him. It was a real guiding effort.

Section 8 will be in theaters, on digital, and streaming on AMC+ September 23, 2022.

This interview was edited for clarity.