For Ryan Gage, becoming a professional actor was a no-brainer. His passion for the craft reared it’s head in his youth and led to him being enrolled in a speech and drama course and then on to improv classes and then on to Drama Centre London. His dynamic presence and solid acting chops continue to turn the heads of critics and fans alike. His hard work, dedication and passion have enabled him to spring from the stage to the screen in two of the biggest films ever made.
In Peter Jackson’s epic ‘Hobbit’ series, based on the book by J.R.R Tolkien, Ryan Gage plays the role of Alfrid, chief political councilor and general dogs body for The Master of Laketown. Alfrid’s presence is much more felt and indeed seen. His duties vary from discussing affair of state to emptying the master’s chamber pots sometimes at the same time. Alfrid’s relationship with hygiene is an uncomplicated one he simply doesn’t bother. Instead Alfrid is preoccupied with survival in and believes that, having little money or power himself, the next best thing is being as close to money and power as possible. Perhaps Alfrid didn’t start out as a bad person but hard life has warped not only Alfrid’s physical frame but also his moral compass. He’s not exactly evil but he’s not exactly good either.
Ryan recently finished filming the second season of BBC America’s “The Musketeers” in which he is seen as Louis XIII is King of France. The show is set at a time of bitter rivalry with Spain and bloody internal turmoil between religious groups. As a result life is not as easy as he would like it to be. He is obliged to perform the most tedious duties of state, and his life is almost constantly being threatened or made difficult by somebody or other. All this it more difficult to get on with the things that really matter to him in life drinking wine and going hunting which are the only time Louis feels free. Louis is a six year old boy trapped in a twenty something year old man who has to pretend to have the maturity and wisdom of a fifty year statesman – he doesn’t always succeed.
Ryan is currently filming “A Hundred Street” In the movie he portrays Vincent a drug dealer who has teams of younger drug dealers working below him. His ambitions and worldview are limited. He is trapped in a life he doesn’t even realize he wants to leave. His world is violent and he has no quarms about hurting or killing people. He is aware of the risks and sees them as occupational hazards. Somewhere along the line Vincent lost his capacity for empathy but despite believing he is comfortable with who he is, he harbors resentment for people who escape the life although he doesn’t understand why.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ryan Gage to discuss his early years as an actor, his dedication to his craft, his time of set with legendary director Peter Jackson, role on BBC America’s ‘The Musketeers’ and much more!
They say a career in the entertainment industry isn’t for the faint of heart. How did you get started on your journey as an actor?
Like most actors, I started off in school doing extracurricular acting. I was a huge fan of movies and a big telly addict. I was always watching my favorite actors on TV and I wanted to go do the same thing. I relentlessly pursued it really. I wouldn’t say no! I joined every club and took every extracurricular opportunity that I had to practice it. I’m not sure I was very good as a kid. It was a craft that I learned. However, I was very enthusiastic as a child and you get better over the years! [laughs]
Who were your influences and inspirations along the way?
Bizarrely, he isn’t an actor at all but, when I was very young, I was very inspired by Michael Jackson as a performer. As a performer, he is an incredible dancer and an amazing singer. I was enamored that someone could be such a brilliant performer. I grew up in the ‘80s, so he was the great king of pop at the time. I was so inspired by someone performing and entertaining people in that way. As I got a bit older, I became more interested in acting and became interested in Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and great actors of that caliber. I started watching more and more movies and realized that was something I was better at then doing the Moonwalk! [laughs]
You have plenty of irons in the fire at the moment. Let’s start with “The Musketeers.” The show has been getting great reviews and is creating quite a buzz. How did you get involved?
I was sent the script and I thought it was a really interesting idea. I am a really big fan of the original book, “The Three Musketeers.” I did think I didn’t want to make another “Three Musketeers” because there have been so many versions. When I read the script, I realized this was a complete retelling and wasn’t simply the same story being told once more. This was all of the characters that we love put into new scenarios and not being bound by the original plot. From my perspective, it was the characters, the world, the humor and the swashbuckling elements of the Musketeers that is probably the most exciting thing about it. This script tried to take all of those elements and bring them to life. It was such an interesting idea and I could see it being great fun. The character I play, King Louis XIII, intrigued me. I had never played royalty on TV before, although I had done a bit while in theater where I had mostly worked before “The Hobbit.” It was a great chance to play royalty, which is always fun. He is a character who has so much confusion within himself. It is always interesting to play a character who has almost been forced to play a role in life. He didn’t ask to be the king but it is what his job is and it is a terrifying job because everyone wants to kill you!
Are there elements of your own personality we might see shine through in this role?
Well, I try to find myself in every role I play and I also try to allow them to affect me. That is the way that I work. I don’t think we are similar as people but what I do try to do is empathize when I read the scripts and try to find similar moments in my life. This character is quite juvenile at times and sometimes he responds in quite immature ways, I often supersede back to my younger self and imagine how he would react to things. I am not sure that we are similar but I certainly find bits of myself that are like him and that helps!
Another huge role for you has been Alfrid in “The Hobbit.” How did you get involved in the project? I imagine it is incredible to be part of filmmaking at its highest level.
It was a dream come true to get on set and to work with Peter Jackson. It was a thrill from start to finish. He is a lovely, lovely man and it was an absolute thrill to be asked to do it. I got involved in a very bizarre way. I was working on a labor of love really, a theater piece that I really loved. It was in a room above a pub and I was doing it for 50 people a night but I loved the project. Little did I know the casting director for “The Hobbit” had come to see the performance. I was asked to come for a meeting. It was a general meeting. They didn’t have a character in mind, they just wanted to see me for something even though they weren’t quite sure what. The character they asked me to take on and prepare after I had the meeting was the character I play now, Alfrid. I did try out for a few other characters as well. I think they wanted to make sure I was the right fit. They, very sweetly, told me afterwards that they knew they wanted me in the film and were just trying me out for a bunch of things. I had no idea at the time, of course. I always thought every interview was my next chance to completely mess it up! [laughs] I wish they would have told me and I wouldn’t have been so nervous!
What has been the biggest thing you have taken away from working on the project?
I learned very basic things. I appreciate your question but I was so naive on a film set that I didn’t really even know how to hit marks properly. I was so used to being on stage where you have some sort of spatial awareness and it is easier to figure out where you are supposed to be. Very specifically, I couldn’t hit marks and they were having to put sandbags down for me. On a very basic level, I learned the basic movie craft on that film. Peter Jackson found it very funny to speak over the loudspeaker and say, “Rule of movie making number three, never do … ” [laughs] That amused him enough and embarrassed me a great deal but I still found it very charming! [laughs] I learned everything from the basics onward. You learn just how extraordinary and creative people who work in the industry are. Every day we would turn up to the set and there would be the most incredible worlds that had been created throughout the night. The artists would be working until the very last minute to create these Elven Kingdoms with these beautiful sets. It was a privilege to see someone like Peter Jackson direct. You know, he has multiple screens in front of him and is sometimes directing multiple sets while people are coming up to him with the most extraordinary models that will be turned into sets or bits of different clothes. He is dealing with all of these things at the same time and it is so extraordinary to see one man’s brain have to say yes to model, no to a piece of fabric and then go, “Action!” on a scene. It was amazing to see that side of movie making up close and personal. It is almost impossible to focus on one thing. I learned everything! [laughs] It was a crash course!
What can you tell us about the way in which you approach each new role?
I have a different way for each character. I try to let the character tell me the process. Certainly, with Alfrid in “The Hobbit,” the script really jumped off the page verbally. He had a particular use of language that I recognized and it seemed to rest with lots of theatrical archetypes. I understood the world they were trying to create immediately. Physically, Alfrid has a hunch. I continued to be hunched for most of the process. I found that when I tried to stand up straight, it would hurt more! [laughs] It was a bit painful to adopt the hunch. What soon became apparent was it was much more painful to go in and out of the hunch. You see lots of footage of me in my own clothes still standing a bit crooked! [laughs] To be in that physical state, you find it also has a mental effect. You think in a different way because your body is moving in a different way. As soon as I would put the costume and makeup on, I just enjoyed playing with him. It was a fun character to be in. I think Peter Jackson really inspires you to have a good sense of fun and playfulness. That is what I did. Part of my process was to have a great time with the character.
In addition to these projects, you are filming “A Hundred Street.” What can you tell us about the film and your role?
“A Hundred Street” is a film about London. It is four separate stories. I have a very small role because I was filming “The Musketeers” at the time. It is a great script written by Leon Butler and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. My character is a drug dealer, without giving too much away, he is having to have a very serious conversation with somebody. I don’t want to say too much! It is a great movie with Idris Elba and Gemma Arterton.
Looking back on your career so far, what do you consider your biggest evolution as an actor?
Undoubtedly, being in a movie was a huge thing for me. The biggest change for me is having gone from theater to screen. It is not that I wouldn’t do theater again, I love theater, but I am really enjoying this new world I am in and developing a new skill set. Ultimately, you are doing the same thing acting-wise but you do it in a different way. I am loving the screen, learning the process and the world. I find it very exciting at the moment, so I am going to continue to do that for as long as I can. I suspect, at some point, I will get a bit lonely and get hungry for theater again.
Is there a particular genre you are interested in taking on in the short term?
I just love great stories, that is enough for me. There isn’t one particular genre I would rather do than another particularly, as long as the material is great and the character is exciting. That is the most important thing to me.
Do you aspire to one day explore the world behind the camera as a director or writer?
Aspiration is probably a bit of a strong word, only because having seen how difficult it is. I would love to direct and I would love to write things. When you really see how much work goes into it, you realize it is a huge commitment. It takes a huge amount of time. For example, I think they were prepping three years before they even began the three years of shooting “The Hobbit.” It is a huge amount of time. Part of me thinks I would like to direct but it is a huge commitment. The opportunity to play roles during that time is something I would miss. But never say never! I am often inspired and you only get more inspired when you see people being so brilliant! For the moment, I am having a great time acting!
You can serve as an inspiration to aspiring actors who see you putting in the hard work and moving forward. What is your advice to those looking to make their career in the entertainment industry?
I would advise them to be tenacious. If they know they have to do it, that is what they should do as quickly as possible. They should get out there and do as much of it as possible. They should find themselves a good teacher and learn how to learn. You can never stop learning. It is important to find the joy of learning.
Thank you for your time today, Ryan! We look forward to see what you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you, Jason! It has been a pleasure talking to you today! Take care!
Connect and interact with Ryan Gage on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanGage. Catch him in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies’ when it hits theaters in December 17th, 2014.