I'd like to be a chip off the old block, says actor Kevin J Ryan
Hailing from a family of eighth-generation stonemasons, Kevin J Ryan moved to LA to pursue his acting dream and married into Hollywood royalty. He is fast becoming an international star with high-profile acting roles
Kevin J Ryan is currently spending the festive season at home in Dublin, which he's delighted about because he didn't manage to get home from Los Angeles last year. "I was devastated because they don't really do Christmas there, as Thanksgiving is the big thing," he says. "Many people have left their homes behind to live in LA, so it's not very family-orientated."
Before we feel too sorry for him, Kevin, 31, had a special Thanksgiving last year, as he spent it in Puerto Rico with actor John Malkovich, with whom he was filming NBC's Crossbones. Kevin was also recently seen as Detective Francis Maguire in the BBC series Copper, and in the History Channel's Sons of Liberty. What was Malkovich like, because he always seems incredibly outspoken and charismatic with a distinct edge of danger?
"Oh he's exactly as he comes across, but he's one of the most brilliant people I've ever met," says Kevin, when I meet him in the penthouse of The Morgan Hotel. "He's incredible and the amount of stuff I've learned about acting from him is insane. He invited me up to his house, which was a mansion, for Thanksgiving, and I thought it was going to be a big party, but it was just John, his partner, Nicoletta, another actor, and his assistant. We ended up sitting there chatting for seven hours and had a fantastic time, and we've remained great friends."
Of course, there's another connection between the guys apart from the thespian one, because while Malkovich famously had an affair with Michelle Pfeiffer when they starred together in Dangerous Liaisons, Kevin was previously married to her 51-year-old sister, Dedee (aka Dorothy Diane). They met at an English pub in Santa Monica one Christmas Eve, and while there was a 20-year age difference, it didn't matter to them and they got married very quickly in January 2009. Too quickly, Kevin feels, in retrospect, as the marriage ended in divorce a couple of years ago.
"If we had left it another year, we probably would have realised there was a bit of turbulence there, but ultimately we both felt it was right at the time," he says. "I loved Dedee's personality, and she's a gorgeous woman and just the salt of the earth. It was hard because we didn't fall out of love, but we just weren't getting along and the painful thing about it was the love was still there. We've remained friends but know that we can't be together in a romantic capacity. We don't see each other now as you don't want to be vulnerable or have your heart broken twice."
And how did he get on with Michelle Pfeiffer, who is regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world? Did he think it too, or is that too weird since she was his sister-in-law? "Well, I was part of the family so the sex appeal was taken out and seeing her in that light never came into it. But for Christ's sake, she was Catwoman," he laughs. "Michelle is amazing and a lovely person. She's very family-orientated and a great artist."
LA is famously filled with beautiful people, but Kevin says that the obsession with physical perfection gets boring after a while. While he's clearly very handsome and fit, he has felt under pressure with his own physical appearance at times, and works out and is conscious of how he presents himself. When it comes to dating, personality comes first for him, but do Irish women differ much to Americans on the dating scene?
"I love coming back here because you actually meet girls with personality," he says. "There's a certain standard that you have to tick physically to even get into clubs in LA. It depends on what you're wearing and whether you're in shape, so when you're around that for years, it get monotonous. You're always aware of your appearance, especially when you're trying to figure out what kind of roles you'll be cast in, and you can't put on weight unless it's for a role. Back in my dancing days, I was with a modelling dance agency who advised me on how I should present myself, so I came with that background."
Kevin grew up in Ballinteer, and has two older brothers, Ciaran and Graham, and a younger sister, Sarah. His parents, Maureen and Paul, separated when he was 17, and Kevin moved in with his dad. He went to Terenure College where he was inspired around drama by his English teacher, Mr Egan. "I was a nightmare teenager to my parents, and was having a great time, running wild and exploring life," he says. "There was a lot of going out at a young age with my fake ID, because I was into hip-hop and break-dancing and got caught up in that nightlife scene. I had a good relationship with my parents, but like any other teenager, I rebelled and wanted to escape. But then a few years go by and you learn the true value of having your family around."
While he comes from a family of eighth-generation stonecutters and completed a stonecutting apprenticeship himself, Kevin's own interests lay in the dramatic arts and sports arenas growing up. At one point, he was racing downhill mountain bikes at the highest level and also did motocross motorcycle racing. "The family business is called Ryanstone and it has done amazing things around Ireland and the UK," he says. "My dad and brothers are involved and I had a hammer and chisel in my hand at 12. I still love sculpting, and because I'm so consumed in scripts, it's great having an escape zone outside the industry."
While Kevin worked as a professional dancer initially, his true passion was in acting, so he moved to LA when he was 21. Once there, he trained as a method actor through the Stanislavski system, and "studied my ass off, spending six days in a studio for four years straight". "I did different jobs to support myself - a lot of stone work and everything else I could do," he explains. "I didn't know anyone over there, and looking back I was probably nuts to do it, but it gave me a certain amount of growth having to figure out a major city and a career. I did small student or independent films and tried to get representation, which was hard, but I did it. You get guys who aren't exactly top of the industry, but they're getting you out for small gigs and roles and then the bigger agents notice you. I got my recognition when I was shooting Copper, and then got approached by various agencies and managers."
Kevin filmed the pilot of the drama Guilt in Budapest over the summer, which is loosely based around the Amanda Knox story. He's delighted that the Disney-owned cable network ABC Family has ordered more episodes of it. It revolves around an American girl in London who becomes the prime suspect in the savage murder of her room-mate, and Kevin plays the victim's brother from Northern Ireland, who goes independently on a mission to find the killer and take them down. He also had his first lead role in the psychological horror film Enclosure, which is due for release in 2016.
At home, Kevin is one of the judges of the 2016 Jameson Done in 60 Seconds competition alongside Jim Sheridan and Eoin Macken, where Jameson and Empire are inviting film fans and director-hopefuls-of-the-future to recreate an iconic movie in no more than a minute. One Irish entry will be chosen to represent Ireland at the global final in London, and the overall winner and friend will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to LA to attend the prestigious Festival of Filmmaking.
While he's delighted to be getting great roles abroad, the actor loved working on RTE's RAW a few years ago and now has representation in the UK as well as the US. "I would come back here in a heartbeat if there was an opportunity for me," he says. "We're producing some really good stuff in this country. I would love to split my time between here and LA, but the thing is that if I was to meet someone, things could change. When you make plans, God laughs!"
Dating in LA is different to Ireland, and Kevin is attracted to women who are intelligent, strong and grounded. "After you've been seeing someone for a month over there, they're looking for a ring but they haven't told their mother about you, while it's the opposite here," he says. "Like most people in the industry, you don't know if someone actually likes you for you or your job, but you develop a filter and see certain key signs and red flags."
He may have hung out with some cool names, but Kevin's hero is his 70-year-old father Paul. While he speaks to his mum and brothers regularly, he talks five times per day to his dad and regards him as his best friend. "My dad came over to live in Santa Monica for a few years, and it was amazing having him there," he says. "He was doing stonework out there and was as happy as Larry. It would be an honour for me to be like him, as he's such a cool man and is an idol to me. He really inspires me."
Closing date for the 2016 Jameson Done in 60 Seconds competition is January 14.
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