True Blood star Ryan Kwanten talks triathlons,training,boxing and… scrabble

In the blood

His strategy is fairly aggresive. For a board game, at least. “I always like Sun Tzu: know your enemy,” says Ryan Kwanten, as we sit across a half-loaded Scrabble board.

“There’s a certain amount of…” he tails off, staring at the plastic tiles I’ve just laid down: AXED; 36 points. “I mean, you’re obviously a good player…”

“So what? You’re going to play dirty?” I ask him.

“That’s what I’m thinking…” he says.

It’s easy to be surprised by Kwanten. He’s best known for playing the highly muscular, regrettably priapic bonehead, Jason Stackhouse, in HBO’s vampire drama True Blood. So thoroughly does Kwanten convince in the role, that before meeting him, I’d found I had Kwanten and Stackhouse almost entirely conflated in my mind.

Mercifully, that’s not the case. In fact, Kwanten is almost the polar opposite to a character he describes as ‘not normal… cerebrally challenged.’ He has a business degree, a burgeoning acting career and an athletic pedigree that could easily have seen him win world honours on the triathlon and biathlon circuits.

But most important of all, and most valuable for those of us wanting to improve our own lives, from the boardroom to the sports field, Kwanten has a priceless attitude. At the heart of it is a simple fact: he’s ultra-competitive. And he’s almost limitlessly ambitious.


The art of war

“Ambition is a very good quality to have,” says Kwanten. In fact, it’s his opening gambit as we shake hands and agree to a friendly word game. “Ambition and the competitive spirit go hand in hand.”

Over the course of an hour, I see exactly how Kwanten puts that into practice, no matter how mundane the situation. As we sit, chat, and flex our lexicons, he frequently tails off from describing his approach to success to stare at the board. He’s losing himself in analytical thought, working out the best way both to score points for himself, and put me in as awkward a position as possible while he’s at it.

He says it’s a simple way of looking at competition. “The game looks harder than it really is. It’s about thinking outside the confines of typical game strategy.” Which is useful advice from a man who has strategised in most games and sports you’d care to mention.



Made on the playing field

Kwanten’s whole outlook on life is informed by the lessons of sport. He could swim before he could walk. He fought 18 amateur boxing matches. He qualified for the world biathlon championships two years running.

Second place is never enough. “I was a terrible loser, growing up,” he says. “I took it far too seriously. There were waterworks if I lost. I would go home and break it down in angry detail: How did I lose? What could I do next time?”

He knows now that anger is usually counterproductive. His mature approach – which applies not just in the faraway land of Hollywood auditions, but to any career you could mention – is more constructive.

“I still take losing out very seriously,” he says. “But it inspires me that much more to move on. Quite often in my business it’s not the most talented people that succeed.”

Why? I ask. “Because they don’t necessarily have the tenacity to deal with rejection,” he replies.


Passing the baton

But sport isn’t just an analogy for life and success – it is still a huge part of everything Kwanten does – which is why he is known so well for the ultra-athletic physique True Blood viewers have seen, well, a lot of…

“There’s a certain addiction to sweat, for sure,” he says. “I’m not the same person without it. If I don’t get my hour of exercise in every day then I’m not the person that I want to be.” Which is why he runs, bikes, boxes, does yoga and otherwise hammers himself into the ground any which way he can on a daily basis.

It’s a lesson he wants to pass on. “If I ever get the wonderful opportunity of raising kids, say for instance I had a son, I would definitely have him swimming before he was five years old,” Kwanten says. “I would have him in a team sport. The life lessons it teaches you… you don’t know it at the time, yet it can’t help but affect you.”

Which I discover, when we tot up our Scrabble scores after an hour’s on-and-off play. 143-122 to Kwanten. I’m furious. He’s still undefeated, and annoyingly humble in victory. Just to rub it in.
True Blood: The Complete Season 3 and The Complete Seasons 1-3 DVD and Blu-ray are out on 23 May, from HBO Home Entertainment

(Mens Health)