When Jay Ryan decided to take on the role of Vincent Keller, aka The Beast, in The CW’s new drama “Beauty and The Beast,” he got some rather blunt advice from his chums in New Zealand.
“All of my friends back home are like, ‘Don’t stuff it up, man,’” the actor recounted to AccessHollywood.com (kiwi slang to not mess it up).
It wasn’t a reminder to hold his own in this refreshed version alongside CW darling Kristin Kreuk (as New York City Detective Catherine Chandler), their words, instead, had to do with the group of friends’ love for the original late 1980s series, a big hit in New Zealand.
“You’d get home after school and that’s what you’d watch,” he explained.
But when Jay, one of AccessHollywood.com’s Fresh Faces of Fall TV, first got the call for The CW series, the actor had spent seven years going back and forth between New Zealand, Australia and America, and he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to answer it.
“I was living in a little beach shack on the coast of Auckland, [New Zealand], basically becoming a little reclusive because I was preparing for this Jane Campion miniseries I was doing,” Jay told Access during a break from filming “BATB” in Toronto, referencing another one of his projects — “Top of the Lake,” which stars Elisabeth Moss and reunites Jane with her “The Piano” star, Holly Hunter.
“It was a very heavy role,” he added of playing drug addict Mark Mitcham for the Sundance Channel and BBC Worldwide production (a premiere date has not yet been announced). “I just wasn’t sort of in that head space… I was sort of like, stuck in the middle of, ‘Hang on, go to Hollywood and do this, or stay in my beach shack’… But because they actually asked for me to be seen for this role [of Vincent], I thought, ‘Oh well, it’s a little bit of a foot in the door, so I might as well shove my whole body through.’”
With Kristin cast as Catherine, the smart and strong detective who knows how to defend herself, Jay was brought in to “chemistry test” for the role of Vincent/Beast, a former soldier, who – as the result of a failed military experiment – has not-quite-controllable super strength in pressure situations. Kristin, he said, was immediately kind, helping him settle into an audition groove, as the character who also has a passion for Catherine.
“I was just kind of shocked. I thought, ‘Wow, this girl’s been in the industry for 10 years and is sort of celebrated in a way, and she’s just a very humble normal girl,’” he recounted. “So I was just like, now I want this part even more because I know I could work with this actress, however long it takes.”
Although Vincent/Beast is his highest profile stateside role, Jay (who turned 31 the day he chatted with Access) is a well-seasoned actor on the other side of the ocean. In his native New Zealand, he was still a teen when he landed one of his first jobs — an episode of “Young Hercules.”
“I was like a cadet in the warriors training facility and I had two scenes with Ryan Gosling,” Jay explained. “And I remember the first day on set — because we filmed way out in the wop wops [NZ slang for “boondocks”] in the bush, for the scenery… It was sort of my first time on a big set and I walked into Ryan’s trailer by accident (laughs). Just, you know, sort of docile me, and I was sort of slapped on the set by the [assistant directors] and was taught the etiquette of set that day.
“But he was lovely,” Jay added of the “Drive” actor, who played the young Hercules. “He was such a great guy — such a cool guy to work with.”
Later, there was a stint in Australia on the country’s national soap opera treasure – “Neighbors” – before an action-packed, and actually quite dangerous couple of years playing Seaman Billy Webb on the Down Under drama “Sea Patrol.”
“’Sea Patrol’ was so dangerous,” Jay laughed, when Access brought up a rumor he once stepped on a stonefish, a creature whose venom can kill humans. “We basically did all of our own stunts. Yeah, I stepped on a stonefish. [Also,] I nearly drowned in the ocean with another actress, while I had a shark shield [on].”
While playing Vincent/Beast involves Jay’s physicality, in this stateside job, he’s managed to avoid any “Sea Patrol” style life-threatening situations.
“It’s definitely bumps and bruises, but it’s a lot more safe. Like yesterday, we shot a huge scene where The Beast is attacked by the bad guys,” he explained. “I got to do a lot of different stunts and stuff. At the end of the day I couldn’t even walk because the way that I play Beast is really, really physical when he transforms, so I was running all over gravel and concrete and doing flips and jumps and strangles.
“I didn’t realize what I was doing to my body until the end of the day,” he laughed. “My girlfriend was like, ‘Honey, how are you gonna keep this up through 13 episodes?”
One way is by training. After some birthday banana bread, and his Access interview, Jay admitted his day off included a workout.
“I’m off to the gym right after this. I’ve got a trainer through the studio, so he’s just trying to keep me limber and basically in shape. He’s got me on a special diet, so I’m taking all that physical stuff really seriously ‘cause my body probably won’t handle it otherwise,” he laughed.
While Jay can prepare physically, he’s still mentally getting used to the attention this project has sent his way – including from those “BATB” loving pals back home, who’ve already given him a new nickname.
“Yeah! It’s so weird. Like I just looked at my Facebook page, because, it’s my birthday and… all my mates are like, ‘Yo, Beasty Boy! Happy Birthday,’” he recounted, quoting his chums. “[Another one was,] Yo, Beast! And I’m like, ‘Guys! Come on!’ Beasty Boy? Nah.”
Catch Jay and Kristin in the premiere of “Beauty and The Beast” at 9/8c on The CW.
-- Jolie Lash