Jay Ryan begins a fairly revealing interview by saying to us “I really like the website!” and while we didn’t know that Jay Ryan is a fan of Brief Take, the feeling is more than mutual. After sitting down with his colleague Caroline Dhavernas over at the Corus Building, we speak to Ryan by phone from the same location. The competing energy at work in Mary Kills People becomes apparent from a really fun and informative chat with Jay Ryan, who we are starting to discover has a vocal and devoted fanbase. Ryan is a dedicated performer and shares a clear perspective of the impact of the series (and we talked a bit about It Chapter 2 as well).
*This interview was originally published on June 2*
The following is a condensed and edited interview with the awesome Jay Ryan of Mary Kills People.
Brief Take: What did you think of the themes of Mary Kills People?
Jay Ryan: For me, when I first read the pilot, the notion of this world around a woman who’s a mother, a compassionate doctor, but also this other side of the lens to her—that she is helping people with assisted suicide. And for me, I love that it didn’t pinpoint that this woman was either good or bad in her intentions, and let the viewer kind of move along cautiously with this lead character. I thought it was a really brave way to present a female character in this light. So it was a really intriguing notion, but I love the way that the show represents all facets of this area. But really, it’s about this woman’s life and she happens to be a doctor, but she also happens to be doing this service on the side, and I like that it didn’t place any kind of bets on what’s right and what’s wrong. I don’t want to be on a show that is preaching to one side or the other. I think that it allows it to be more of a relatable show and a highly entertaining show as well. But for me, I really liked the notion that I was going to play Ben, who was in the beginning a bit of an antagonist to Mary, the holder of the law and what he thought was moral and right. And Ben’s journey through the show has come up that what he believes and for what he was fighting may not necessarily be the right answers. I would like to have the representation of an audience member who is either not here or there on his decisions on whether dying with dignity or assisted suicide is something that we should allow now in our society.
BT: What do you think of the Canadian landscape and the aesthetic?
JR: Holly Dale, our first season director, who directed our first six episodes, she is a visual artist as well as a director, so she lays these visuals out for us, in terms of the landscape of Mary Kills People, and one of the biggest symbols of the show is the idea of being surrounded by water, and that water is life. And also, water can be very murky when you’re looking down into it, given the lakes and the areas in Toronto. So that idea of water has kind of translated and progressed in the show, I feel like in season 3, the symbolism of it being frozen and stuck, and from the moving element to the frozen element was quite wonderful, and I feel like it translates to where the characters are at the beginning of season 3.
BT: What does it mean to you that the creative team on Mary Kills People is mainly female?
JR: Even before I stepped foot on set, I knew that this was a strong female-led team and also Tara Armstrong, who was the original creator of the story and the series, I knew that she was this young, vibrant writer who had just come out of the CFC. And for me, that was really exciting to know that an entity like Entertainment One and Global are now supporting these young, female creatives from a very early stage. It’s not only that she’s female, but she’s a female that has just come out of school with these great ideas, and for me that was the really exciting ticket, because I have a lot of friends who are in the industry, they’re trying to write their ideas down, trying to get the confidence to go out there and pursue them, and to have the example of someone backed at an early age with such a strong idea is very encouraging. And then you have this more experienced team of executives and creatives: the Cameron sisters and Tecca Crosby at eOne who are part of the series as well. And then Holly Dale of course, who directed all six episodes of the first season. And together they’re such a powerful force and they’ve got great instincts, and I felt that a big team of female creatives is far more collaborative and open than the usual kind of entity that you walk into on a project or on a film or a television show. So it’s really encouraging and it’s nice to be the odd one out or the odd two out with myself and Richard Short, being the only leading male actors on the show. And so it was an incredible time, and it was before the #MeToo movement was happening. So Canada definitely has a pioneering spirit in that respect, and yeah, I think that we need to look at Mary Kills People as an example of success of this working and continue it happening. It would be a great shame if it was a popular notion in time, in which people did that, and said ” yeah, we gave it a go and it worked, but now we have to go back to our old way”, so I think that we have to keep pushing for it to happen.
BT: What do you like best about working with Caroline Dhavernas?
JR: When you’re in proximity to her, you really feel this energy which kind of transmits off her, and in return, transmits off you as the other actor, and you can feed off it. So I said to her this season that “you are most definitely one of the strongest, most dynamic performers with whom I’ve ever worked and it’s a great pleasure”. She’s a special human being, and I really hope that she goes into another great project, because she is a diamond.
BT: Your character has a different look this season. Could you walk us through crafting the look of Ben?
JR: In season 2, we see the possibility of Ben taking his last breaths himself, and that was stuck in there, in the storyline at the last minute with producers. Because there was a notion of we don’t know if we’re coming back for a season 3 at that time, or if I could come back to another season, so we put that cliffhanger in there, so when it did work out that I could come back, we wanted to show Ben in a different light. He had become much more reclusive, he had lost his job, his will to live, I guess. And after trying to take Mary down after a couple of seasons, and always kind of coming up short, I wanted to show the effects of that. And with the small amount of time you have for scenes in a one hour show, a lot of it has to be done visually, so I wanted to come in with a look that was completely opposite to what we had in season 1 and season 2, and in truth, that’s kind of what I look like in between jobs. [laughs] I kind of let myself go, and then when the character comes up for a project, I kind of carve it and shape it visually from how much hair I have on my head and on my face. [laughs] As we progress through season 3, we will see Ben shed that gritty layer that we see in the first few episodes and become more of the person that he’s always striving to become, I guess from the beginning of season 1.
BT: We see that you recently joined Instagram. Do you feel a sense of responsibility?
JR: I mean, I’m a little reclusive when it comes to social media. I feel like I grew up in an age when technology was more like AA batteries and beepers and walkie-talkies as opposed to cell phones and instant gratification from communication or images on telephones. Yeah, it’s a new world for me. I was on Twitter for a while and I found that Twitter was too engrossing of my time, it really, for me anyway, personally, it added to my boredom, so I switched over to Instagram because I guess that I am more a visual person, and it’s working really great for me. Yeah, I feel a slight responsibility to help promote the work of which I’ve luckily been a part and I think it’s a really great way for people to come together. I use it on my own terms, I don’t feel pressure to have to post every 5 seconds or what I’m eating for breakfast, but it’s a nice way when I need to be able to reach out to the fans or when I’m aware of you guys and your support, so thank you. For people who aren’t on social media, I totally get it, too, if I wasn’t an actor, I probably definitely would not be on social media. But it’s a great way for people to come together, especially in this day and age, you know? For these movements and for social consciousness, it’s a great way to come together and make change. But I’d just like to say to all those people out there who hide behind masks and they let their hate come out on it, I would like them to be more conscious and use social media for the right reasons. It’s not there just to throw shade on people, there’s a lot of people on there who throw shade for various reasons, but if we could get a few of those people to be more aware and more conscious of what they’re posting on social media, I think that social media would be a more inclusive place.
BT: What does filming in Toronto mean for you?
JR: I have been living in Toronto now for almost 7 years. Toronto seems to be the place now where creatives come to film and create and make their work, so my last three or four jobs have been, lucky for my family and I, here in Toronto. We haven’t had to move abroad too much. So to stay in one place and in a place like Canada feels very similar to where I grew up in New Zealand in terms of people and being under the Commonwealth, I guess, our ideals and morals and aspirations as people and as a country, so it feels like a second home to me. Beauty in the Beast was the first show that brought me here, and that was very much an American-led show, American-run show, so when Mary Kills People came up, to have it based with the Canadian creators was really exciting, because I feel like I wanna put my feet on the ground here and really become part of the Canadian culture. So to be part of the real deal, I guess, of this team of creatives was exciting. My wife and I had our daughter here 6 years ago, so we have a little Canadian ourselves. To be a part of a pioneering show like Mary Kills People was exciting, creating a legacy that my daughter will get to be a part of as well.
BT: What can you say about your arc in It: Chapter 2?
JR: It will probably be a pinnacle of my career up to this point. My family and I moved to Los Angeles at this point last year, and I was trying to get a film. I’ve done a lot of television in my time and been part of the television contract. And the reason that I got into this business was because of films like The Goonies or even films like Titanic that are awe-inspiring, these blockbusters, movies with heart and soul, that I would watch as a young kid. That was what sort of inspired me to be an actor, even Lord of the Rings. One of those big, great movies, and for me, it was like “now’s my big chance to get a film”. I went in to the audition for It basically two days before, I was like “okay, I’ve run out of money, and I’ll have to move back to New Zealand” and it came up, and I went out and did the audition and they responded very well to it. And the studio and the director, Andy Muschetti, asked if I could send in some photographs of myself to see if they match up with Jeremy (Ray Taylor) and so I sent in my first headshot, that I must have taken when I was about 10 years old. I’ve been acting for a long time. And he placed it up next to Jeremy’s first headshot and the similarities are kind of uncanny, so that clinched the deal. And yeah, it was such an incredible experience. Barbara Muschetti and Andy Muschetti, who are siblings: she’s the producer and he’s the director, it’s really lovely to work with these siblings who are so creative. And it didn’t feel like a horror movie: it felt like this great adventure as a team, and we all came together as adult Losers and we bonded very quickly. We had this great responsibility to capture what the kids had done in the first movie so well. And yeah, it was really a great time. It was a long shoot, it was 4 months, and I’m about to go do some pick-ups tomorrow, so we’re still working on the movie. Andy is a real craftsman and is going to make a great second chapter, which is no easy feat to do. So yeah, be ready – it’s going to be big!
Mary Kills People airs Sundays at 8 pm ET/PT on Global