As movie roles go, former Home and Away star Jake Ryan had an intense experience on his new movie Savage, meeting real-life ex-gang members in preparation for his role.
The powerful movie, written and directed by Sam Kelly, follows Danny across three stages of his life as he grows up to become a brutal enforcer of a gang in New Zealand, with Ryan playing the grown-up version of Danny, now called Damage.
For Ryan, Savage is exactly the kind of movie he was looking for since he got into acting. "It was dark and gritty but the characters were really complex. Damage is such a complex character and there's so many layers to him," he told Digital Spy.
"I knew it would be a bit of a stretch for me, a bit of a challenge. I also saw Sam's previous work – a short film that was so real and gritty and raw. I love that kind of storytelling and film-making. That was when I knew I had to be part of it – and I got lucky."
To prepare for the role, writer-director Sam Kelly had sent Ryan the research he carried out as he was writing it, but for Ryan, the key to Damage was to talk to former gang members to flesh out the character.
"You can read all the brutal stuff, and all the typical gang-related stuff, but it was good to actually sit down and meet with these guys and talk to them about growing up and why they ended up in a gang," he explained.
"There were grown men there who were brutal guys in the past, but there was one guy in particular who was bawling his eyes out because nobody had ever asked him about his past before and his childhood.
"Having those moments was really important for me because it helped to humanise these characters, and bring some heart and soul to it – not just a brutal tough guy who goes around clobbering people. That was lengthy, I went over there every weekend for a while to hang out with some guys and meet different people."
Ryan also credits the work of Savage's cultural advisor Wayne Hapi who is also an ex-gang member: "He was my rock throughout the film and made sure I was doing the right thing, saying things the right way, walking the right way and holding myself in the right way."
Filming on Savage was, naturally, a "very different beast" to Ryan's work on Home and Away and having now left the soap, Ryan is certainly looking for more movie opportunities in future.
"The pace you work on Home and Away, and the amount of work you're punching out, it's another skill-set you need. It's not necessarily an easier job, if anything it could be harder because of the amount of work that you're pushing out," he reflected.
"A film is definitely different because you do have time. You might shoot two scenes a day on a film. You shoot 12 on any kind of soap opera. So you get a lot more time, there's a slower pace with a lot less going on – and a lot less dialogue.
"I prefer working in the film medium as that's where the art of it comes through. It was very different."
Savage shows a very different side to New Zealand than we usually see on screen and there was one particular aspect that was especially important to Ryan, regarding his character growing up in a care home.
"The really important thing about this whole story, coming out of New Zealand is the state care that a lot of these kids went to and the abuse that they suffered within the state care," he outlined.
"Coming into the '60s, '70s and '80s, a lot of these gangs that were started – all the young kids coming through these gangs came from this state care and this abuse. This was the only outlet they had – the only support, the only purpose they had.
"I think it was a really important story to tell... It's a really important story and part of New Zealand's culture. I don't know how well known gang culture in New Zealand is around the world, but it makes up a lot of their history and there's a lot of stories in there.
"I think there's a Royal Commission going on at the moment, looking at the care of the young boys who were abused. So the timing of it is great."
Of course, given the world that Savage takes place in, the movie is violent in parts, but at no point does it glorify the violence or the gang culture.
Ryan added that the movie is trying to "educate people to judge less" and even though it is "pretty violent", there is an emotional core to Savage that hits home more than the violence does.
"We've tried to keep it as raw and real as possible. It could have been a lot more violent. It is violent, but I think people are going to be surprised when they see how much heart and soul is in the story," he concluded.
"The trailer comes across as that and there definitely is that element to it, but there's a lot of heart and soul."
Savage is out in UK cinemas on September 11.
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