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True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten on the ‘Brutal and Dirty’ Fourth Season, Surviving a Shark Attack, and Working Out

True Blood's Jason Stackhouse is — as his partner in crime and punishment, Detective Andy Bellefleur, says — "prettier than most girls." But as actor Ryan Kwanten will attest, it takes more than an Adonis-like physique to play the strapping village idiot. (Though that helps considerably.) In season four of the vampires-and-werewolves-and-fairies drama, Stackhouse is a newly minted cop. This requires Kwanten to play his part with an air of authority, while looking good in and out of uniform. We spoke with the unflappable Australian dude ahead of the season-four premiere this Sunday night about Jason's "sweet" scenes with Sookie, his lack of superpowers, and showing Zac Efron who's the man.

This season is kind of Jason's dream: It entwines his protective instincts with his desire to be an authority figure.
He's always had this protective cloak, but then it gets behind his bungling-ness, his stupidity, and his naïveté. I get the feeling he started so low on the evolutionary totem pole, and now he's almost forced to swallow the naïveté and really step up and be a man. And he can only go up. Now it's a whole tribe of people looking to him for survival. The sheer virility of the man!

There's also this Deliverance vibe. Was that intentional?
Oh, absolutely! I'm glad that you said that! I think the rawness of that film … there was such a visceral response you got from it. [This season is] supposed to look brutal and dirty. Jason's life is very much on the line.

Will he ever acquire powers?
I feel personally that he wants a superpower or some sort of supernatural ability more than anybody else on the show. The comical element, then, is to not give a superhero power to that guy who wants it the most. [But] we've been sworn to secrecy for a lot of this stuff.

Have you noticed that there's a certain Golden Girls–eating-cheesecake quality to the way Jason interacts with his sister?
Jason is really in a world of his own for certainly the first half of this season. Anna [Paquin] and I only have maybe two to four scenes together at most each season. Inevitably, we come together at some point — "Well, I almost died another time!" It's always about an emotional high point. There's a couple of really sweet scenes that I have this year with Anna. It's some of my favorite stuff to do.

How much do you work out for this role?
I don't work out for the role.

What?!
I just work out for my own sanity, to be honest. I grew up in a competitive, sporting environment. It's just sort of part and parcel of who I am. I'm one of three boys, and the easiest way for my mom to deal with all of us was to kick us outside.

Were you a badass as a kid? I heard that you survived a shark attack.
I've lived a very adventurous life. The vision you have is far more outrageous than what really happened. I was 12 years old. I was surfing. I fell off the top of the board trying to do a fancy move and put my hand down into what I thought was the top of a sand bank. I yanked it out, and blood spurted out. I could see the lifeguard rushing down from his tower. They did an analysis at the hospital that said it was a wobbegong shark, which is, like, a shark with no teeth. It just has gums. So I theoretically didn't get bitten by a shark — [laughs] I got gummed by a shark.

It's like blood is a recurring theme in your life: Earlier this year, you saved a guy who was bleeding on the street.
[Sounding embarrassed.] I don't know what it is about me. I very much like to put drama on the screen. And outside, I like to live as drama-free as possible. But I'm a coordinated guy, and somehow trouble likes to find me. I was heading home on a quiet Saturday, and there was a young guy lying in the middle of a busy intersection in Hollywood, just bleeding. So I jumped out of the car and [another man] came over, and together we lifted him off the road and checked his vitals. Then a couple minutes later, the ambulance took him away. Never saw him again.

Before you starred in True Blood, you starred as a surfer on the WB's Summerland, opposite a very young Zac Efron. What do you remember about him?
I always remember that he already had, at that age, a really good work ethic. With young actors coming up you also look at how in tune with the world are they — i.e., could it get to their head? I felt like he had this really old-soul quality to him.

He's pretty buff now, too. What would happen if the two of you arm-wrestled?
Oh, I'm a pretty dirty fighter, so I dare say I'd have him.

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images