To prepare to play the violent leader of a gang in the film Savage, Jake Ryan spent a month hanging out with past and current members. It was the first of several eye opening experiences the Australian would have while making the film, and one that left a definite impact.
Savage tells the story of Danny as a child, teen and adult over 30 years and is inspired by the history of New Zealand gangs. The movie also explores the abuse suffered by kids in the state care system and the impact that had on the choices they made in their adult lives.
Chatting with men who had experienced abuse and gone on to become gang members was particularly moving for Ryan, who plays the adult version of Danny, known as Damage.
"To see these grown men you wouldn't look sideways at these guys but to see them shedding a tear and talking about their childhood, which no one's asked them about before, was really powerful," he told 9Entertainment.
"In no way does the film glorify the gang violence or justify what they get up to but to get an understanding of what makes a young boy, an innocent young child who wants to be at home with his mum and family, fast forward to brutal enforcer of a gang, to see that process.
"Any kid in the world that suffers the abuse that these guys did, society's going to have some repercussions down the track."
But what really helped Ryan get into character was spending time in a shopping mall while in costume with Damage's face tattoos and a mullet. The suggestion came from the film's director Sam Kelly, who wanted Ryan to see how people reacted.
"I didn't have to do anything and people were parting ways, and people looked terrified, they wouldn't make eye contact. At first I was quite scared to do it and then you start resenting people for judging you and then you're craving connection... it was amazing what a couple of stickers on your face and a haircut [can do], how you can be perceived by society," he explained.
To help remain in character, Ryan and Kelly decided Ryan wouldn't have any contact with cast and crew in between takes, to enhance Damage's sense of isolation from others. It was a big change for the 37-year-old as he typically enjoys socialising with the crew during breaks on set.
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So after each long day of filming, Ryan underwent a kind of ritual with his makeup artist that not only removed the tattoos but was like a cleansing of the character.
"That was a bit of a process to wash [the tattoos] away, because the makeup artist [Stefan Knight] was lovely, he'd put nice music on and there'd be aromatherapy going on and I'd pretty much get a full facial every day after work... that relaxed me a lot."
And once filming was done there was no time to ruminate about the role because Ryan returned to the set of Home and Away two days later.
"Usually you get those post-shoot blues... I didn't have time because I was back into the sunny, loving happy world of Summer Bay. It was a blessing because you just had to roll into the next one."
That's not to say the role didn't leave a mark on Ryan. He is now more aware of the kind of circumstances that shape people, as well as discovering an untold part of New Zealand's history. He hopes the film has the same impact on viewers.
"I think what hit me when I finished it was a little less judgment for people in society," he said. "Whether they are, not necessarily just a gang member, but you don't know what someone's gone through that day, or the week before, or their whole life, or their childhood.
"And I think what was really important for this story was to tell the systemic failure that went on for years there with these orphans getting abused, mentally, physically, sexually and nothing being done about it no one talking about it, they were too scared to talk about it so that conversation is starting to come out now in New Zealand."
With Savage now available to stream in Australia on Stan, Ryan has turned his focus to his next project with a role in Wyrmwood Apocalypse, which has just started filming in Sydney.
He will also appear in an episode of Nine's new drama Amazing Grace as well as Nicole Kidman's star-studded series Nine Perfect Strangers, and the Australian film Streamline.
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"It's good to try and change it up if you can, but at the end of the day the current climate that it is, work's work," he said when asked about his goals for the future. "If there was a TV show that came up that was interesting and felt like it was a challenge, I'd jump at it in a heartbeat, same if it was a film or particular director.
"But I think at the moment you've got to be pretty grateful no matter how big or small the job. I've done a few small days on some shows recently and it's just great to be on set while the world is in limbo how lucky you are to be on a production and on a set and doing what you love."
Savage is now available for streaming on Stan.
Guide to the cast of True History of the Kelly Gang
Rising stars and international names playing iconic characters
Nine Entertainment Co (the publisher of this website) owns and operates the streaming service Stan.
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