Landing the role of Jake Atherton in the film Section 8 was a childhood dream come true for Ryan Kwanten, who, as a young Aussie lad, used to play games with his brother and friends at the park near his home in which they were either the hero or the villain.
“I grew up in that ‘80s generation where a lot of the actors I acted with in this movie are from that generation of the kick-a** ‘80s action movies,” he told Monsters and Critics in this exclusive interview. “So, as a young boy, you couldn’t help but be influenced by that. And so, to now have the, I say the audacity, but also the privilege to star in one, is just truly incredible.”
Section 8 follows Jake in this story of loss and betrayal. A vet who has returned home to work with his brother and help his wife raise their son, he has his life completely destroyed when he returns home from work one day and discovers his wife and child have been killed. After avenging their murder, Jake is sent to prison for life. But then something really surprising happens: He’s given a shot at freedom when a shadow government agency recruits him for an off-the-books assignment. He reluctantly agrees, but he soon realizes Section 8 isn’t what it seems.
“I’ve made a career out of playing darker characters, who more often than not are not the lead, they’re supporting the story in a way,” Kwanten said when asked what made this the action film to fulfill his dream. “So, I didn’t know how many opportunities would ever come my way in this regard. And I’m always up for a damn good challenge and this provided that. There was a level of character and character development that I needed to get to in order to play this character. So, there’s a huge amount of psychological work on myself that I did to get to some of these deeper edges of the human condition.”
It took some physical conditioning as well. And Kwanten, who is a water baby, claiming he swam before he could walk, used the ocean as part of his training, but he also had to have special gun training.
“I shot a World War II STEN gun,” he explained. “Anyone who knows guns knows that’s a very rare gun, very highly unlikely that you’d ever get to shoot one in your lifetime, so it was pretty unique. Beyond that, I love combining the physical with the psychological, so going for these ridiculously long walks in the desert with no water and just seeing where my mind and my body went. Going for long, two, two and a half hour swims in the ocean, and again just seeing the mind tricks that would happen once you started going to those deeper realms of myself.”
Also, in our interview, Kwanten talks about how size does matter and how he worked around the fact that he isn’t near as big as someone like co-star Dolph Lundgren, the possibility of a sequel, and his favorite action movies.
Monsters and Critics: Do you say that it was audacious for you to take this role because size does matter? You’re not as big as someone like Dolph Lundgren.
Ryan Kwanten: Yeah, so I had to come at it from that point of view, like, what do I have to offer that is wholly, solely unique? And for me, I felt like it was emotionality. I didn’t have the size, the frame of a Dolph, but I felt like from digging deep into the well, I definitely know how to do that. So, to give credence to the action was really important for me.
Monsters and Critics: Jake is a man who’s pushed to get revenge, but he’s also a man with a conscience. So, there’s this inner battle that he has, do you see that?
Ryan Kwanten: Yeah, I think he’s a man who’s literally lost everything. He’s in various states of grief, from the PTSD of his deployment and thinking that he was responsible for the loss of a couple of his boys. I can’t even begin to imagine how that shapes a man. And then losing your wife and your son in your house, that can totally wreck you. How do you pick up the pieces?
So, for me, I feel like his moral fiber, his very lifeblood was crushed, so how do you begin to rebuild that? I think that’s how he got [tricked] into joining this mysterious government agency that is using his psychological misfortune to its advantage and turning him into a no-feelings killer. He’s never quite right with that notion, so I think he’s constantly fighting it. And it’s not until he’s pushed to the brink that he takes a turn for the good.
Monsters and Critics: Isn’t Section 8 the phrase for grounds for dismissal from the Army for undesirable habits or ineptitude? So, is this a play on that?
Ryan Kwanten: Well, we’ll just leave that up in the air. I love that you’ve read that into it. Yeah, that’s great investigative skills right there.
Monsters and Critics: I used to work with someone who said to me, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” He was an executive producer on a show, so he liked to wait to make his characters get their revenge. But that’s not true for action films. What’s your take on revenge? Is it best served cold? Or do you think it’s better to immediately jump in and take your revenge?
Ryan Kwanten: For me, redemption is deeper than revenge. It was important for us to sit in that world of redemption and not revenge. This is a man who’s trying to redeem his life, let alone seek revenge. I think he’s just trying to find any means or purpose to get up in the morning, to live. When he does, he’s still walking through the world like a ghost.
And I think not until he starts getting more and more information about the guys [in Section 8] where that essence of revenge is formed. But, for me, it still comes from a point of redemption: Well, now I have the chance. Now that I’ve found myself, I now have the chance to redeem the lives of everyone that I’ve lost based off the workings of Section 8.
Monsters and Critics: Despite the big betrayal in this, which we won’t give away specifics of, at the end Jake finds something to fight for. So, could there be a sequel?
Ryan Kwanten: It was important for us to end on a note of hope. So, sort of leading on from your question before about revenge, for us again, it was now that he’s redeemed those lives, what is there for a man like that to fight for? For us, it was important to give him hope for the future. So, when Jake locked eyes with the little kid in the bus, he finally found something to fight for. If that, in a way, can kind of spawn a sequel, I’d be willing to entertain it.
Monsters and Critics: You mentioned earlier, ‘80s action movies when you were a little boy. What are some of your favorites?
Ryan Kwanten: I liked the original First Blood, I thought that had such pacing to it. I did love the Raiders; that’s a hard one and probably my favorite in that series was Temple of Doom. As a young boy, Harrison Ford was pretty cool. Look, this isn’t in the action genre. Well, I guess it is, Beverly Hills Cop. I thought what Eddie Murphy did with Beverly Hills Cop, which I heard was supposed to be Sylvester Stallone at one point … that would have been a different movie.
Monsters and Critics: Die Hard is one of my favorites.
Ryan Kwanten: Die Hard is one of those ones where if you’re scrolling through the channels and you see Die Hard on, I can’t turn it off. He launched such a great, I’m saying he, Bruce Willis, but John McTiernan, the director, and everything about that movie just created a bunch of copycats. Even in terms of its own genre, it was pretty amazing.
Monsters and Critics: What’s next?
Ryan Kwanten: I’ve got a lot of things in the works. I just wrapped a series for FX called Kindred, based off of an Octavia E. Butler novel from the ‘70s called Kindred. I’m really, really freaking pumped about it. This is the first time her work has been put into film or television. So, the fact that I can be part of the slew of stuff, because I know it’s going to spawn a bunch, is really incredible. We just spent the last four and a half months shooting the first series in Atlanta, and the network’s really excited, as are the cast and crew. We’ve definitely got something special here.
Section 8 opens in theaters and starts streaming on AMC+ on Sept. 23.