Irish actor Kevin J. Ryan just turned 25 (at a wild party in Las Vegas last week with his close friends and relations) and already he’s on his way to stardom in Hollywood. His latest flick just won best short film in the U.K. and next month he’s starring in two new feature films now being shot in LA. He talks to Irish Voice reporter Cahir O’Doherty about Hollywood, the fame game, and being married to Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister Deedee.
What do you do if you’re a young Dublin actor with dreams of making it big as a film star? You leave home, in this case Ballinteer, move to LA and you begin your quest for fame and fortune in the heart of Hollywood.
That’s been Irish actor Kevin J. Ryan’s path and so far it’s definitely working.
“Going from Ireland, as you know yourself, to a place like LA is such a different life,” Ryan tells the Irish Voice. “Especially if it’s to Los Angeles which is the capital of the world for film. You arrive with all these expectations and you really have to put graft in, because it takes years. It’s not an overnight thing.”
Ryan, who’s short film Laredo just won three top awards, including best short and best cinematography in the U.K. and at the Boston Film Festival, is a man on the move. The coveted wins for his new film are the kind of thing that gets an emerging actor noticed, and he’s grateful for them.
Interestingly, it’s Colin Farrell who Ryan is often compared to for his rugged good looks and his Dublin lad about town demeanor. And Farrell has been a kind of role model for Ryan.
“People think Colin Farrell had overnight success but he really didn’t,” says Ryan. “There was a lot of work put into it. He got set up and had five features ready to go, and all of a sudden he exploded onto the scene.
“I’m now at the stage where I’ve shot some features and I’m just getting out into the industry. Coming out here at first it was glitz and glamour -- but there’s a definite dark side to Hollywood too -- and I didn’t have that much knowledge of the place. But I’ve met some really great people along the way.”
One of those people is Deedee Pfeiffer, the actress and sister of screen star Michelle Pfeiffer. The couple married in January of this year, marking Pfeiffer’s third time around, and Ryan’s first. She has a son from her second marriage.
“When I met my wife I discovered it was the same thing for them in terms of making a career. Michelle got rolling when she became Miss California, so everyone has their path and their way into the business,” he said.
“There’s no set way in. If there was a formula everyone would be doing it. For me it was understanding what I wanted when I was in Ireland at a young age.”
Leaving your family and friends behind in Dublin when you’ve just turned 20 is hard enough, but Ryan has no regrets.
“The Irish actors that I know who are working and studying here are really working hard to make it and they’re a determined bunch. I draw inspiration from them too,” he says.
Just being married into a family that’s Hollywood royalty – Michelle Pfeiffer’s husband is David E. Kelly, one of TV’s most famous writers and producers -- has taught Ryan what he calls an insane amount about what really goes on there.
“I’ve learned too much -- much more than you’d want to know -- from Deedee,” he says, laughing. “Being married to an actress is interesting anyway. Because Deedee and myself are actors we have such an understanding of the whole scene.”
Ryan met Pfeiffer in a bar in Santa Monica and didn’t have a clue who she was. It was Christmas Eve and he was in good spirits.
“I was in the bar with my dad and I saw her across the bar. My cousin was sitting next to her and so I called his mobile. I said, ‘Put that gorgeous looking blond on the phone,’” Ryan laughs.
“She took the call, came out, I spun her around, bought her a drink, slapped the gob on her and that was that. We met under all the fake snow that they were dropping around the place because obviously it never snows there. It was very funny, a very Hollywood meeting.”
Meeting Deedee Pfeiffer says Ryan, is an example of Irish luck.
“I couldn’t believe it, it was interesting, but the thing was there was an attraction there and we got on great. You usually don’t see that with the age difference (Pfeiffer is 20 years older than Ryan) but she’s so youthful so age doesn’t even come into it,” says Ryan.
“There was a time when a four or five year difference was a big thing but when I go back to Ireland people see I’m happy and she’s happy and that’s what counts.”
Ryan just got back from Vegas for his 25 birthday. It gave him time to reflect on his path.
“I’m from Ballinteer in Dublin where I always wanted to act. But funnily enough I got my start by dancing. I got some pretty good success in Ireland that led to choreographing work and TV work, which lead me toward the road I wanted to be on. But like with anything in life to be the best you have to put 100% into it,” he says.
Ryan gave up the dance work for acting early on, but chances for an emerging actor were slim.
“I didn’t want to do television work, I wanted to do film and there just wasn’t a lot there in Ireland at the time. Unless you’re in the very small clique back there -- and I wasn’t -- you have no chance. So I came over to the U.S. to focus on film in LA,” he says.
Ryan was fortunate enough to secure acting coach Aaron Speiser, the well-known coach who works with Hollywood legend Will Smith. It was a big deal start for a young Irish man.
“I discovered later that he was voted best acting coach of the year. When I came out here initially I obviously didn’t know a whole lot of people. An acting coach has to be a good fit for you as a person and they need to respond to what you already have,” he says.
“He got that, and he stripped away the theater style of acting I’d picked up in Ireland because it wasn’t right for film, you know? I had to start from scratch on his technique and methods and work that way.”
Ryan knows his own strengths and weaknesses as an actor and plays to them constantly.
“A lot of my work is character work because I’m from somewhere else. I can work in American accents and that’s what I’ve been working toward. Deedee is always pushing me for the Johnny Depp-style roles. I play 99% American roles and 1 percent Irish roles. I’d never lock myself into one role,” he says.
Next up, Ryan is scheduled to star in Behind the Palisades, scheduled to shoot at the end of July. After that he’ll star in two feature films directed by Philippe Caland this summer.
“I’ve been out here in Hollywood for five years now but it’s still all very new and exciting. I feel really motivated and forward moving and my feet are definitely on the ground,” he says.
“I’ve seen how the industry can suck people in and spit them out here, but being from Ireland helps me stay focused. You know the Irish, they’ll slap you back if you’re getting above yourself, you know? They’re brilliant at that, everyone knows it.”