Max Ryan has starred in Kiss of the Dragon with Jet Li, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Sean Connery, The Foreigner with Steven Seagal, and most recently he was seen as Pachenko in Death Race with Jason Statham. It was just announced though last week that Max has landed the role of Rikard, a European architect that will catch the eye of Samantha (Kim Cattrall) in the upcoming Sex and the City 2.
I recently sat down to talk to Max about his life before acting and what it was like working with Luc Besson and Jet Li on his very first feature film.
Will Given: I wanted to start off talking about what you did before acting. You originally started out racing motocross. What initially drew you to that?
Max Ryan: It started when I was a young boy really. I was at home and got a bike and started playing around in the field. And then it grew from there, you know?
WG: Nice. What did you like the most about doing that?
MR: I think in any young boy’s life when you get on a motorbike when you’re eleven or twelve years old it’s pretty exhilarating. It was just the need for speed I guess. Then it kind of escalated from there;going and getting better motorbikes, growing up and then wanting to race competitively.
WG: Absolutely. Would you consider yourself an adrenaline junkie?
MR: Oh, for sure.
WG: Yeah. Me too. Right there with you.
MR: No question there. I’m one of those freaks of nature I think.
WG: Me too. I started off rock climbing when I was a little kid and climbed anything I could.
MR: Oh fantastic. Yeah, it’s a hell of a sport isn’t it?
WG: Yeah, love it.
MR: Wow. Were you free climbing or using a rope? What were you doing there?
WG: When I was younger, I free climbed every chance I could get. I didn’t actually start using a rope until I was much, much older and then started looking back at some of the stuff I did and would wonder how I was actually still alive.
MR: I think we’re on the same vein then you and I. That’s something we have in common.
WG: Completely. Is there anything sports wise that you still haven’t done yet that you would be dying to try?
MR: Not really, no. I do a lot of skiing as well. And bikes are still a big thing in my life of course. Anything with an engine. I like cars you know? I like cars and bikes. Just things like that. Maybe I think I’d fancy doing something like the Paris-Dakar Rally. That would be fabulous.
WG: I agree.
MR: That’s something that I’d like to do maybe. In another few years, that would be something that I would like to really look at.
WG: Yeah, that would be great.
MR: If I have time that is. I’m so busy now.
WG: Now how did you make that transition then from racing into acting?
MR: Well I think the transition period was something that I wasn’t looking for. It kind of stumbled on me really. I was doing quite a few TV commercials and what have you, and then all of a sudden, I just got the first audition, which was for Kiss of the Dragon. Then it kind of went from there really and Kiss of the Dragon was my first movie of course.
MR: And that was my first feature film audition, for Luc Besson, Europa Corp and 20th Century Fox, so that was a big deal there, you know? It was kind of the start I guess, because I had stopped racing bikes, and then I was about two years into realistically taking some time out and then doing some commercials and then the acting kicked up. And then I left the commercials behind and really found that I had a huge passion for acting. Because it really is a powerful thing, it really is. Playing a character or just presenting yourself in a scene, it’s something quite special.
WG: Going into such a large movie with Jet Li and Luc Besson, what was that audition process like for you?
MR: I think it was the last audition that they were auditioning for this guy, and I just did the right thing. There’s always a lot of tension and a lot of pressure when you go in these rooms. You kind of put everything on the line and you’re either on the mark or you’re not. I think that particular day everything was in my favor really.
WG: That’s great.
MR: There’s a lot of good actors out there, up for the same roles, and it’s just a question of if you’re the right fit for that part of course.
MR: But that was fantastic. I mean, we shot the film in Paris. It was a fabulous adventure. Bridget Fonda was amazing of course. I met Bridget on the set. Jet Li was fabulous. He was a real gentleman. I have a lot of respect for the guy. And of course, Besson was terrific as well. So that was my first adventure, actually being part of a feature film. It was fabulous. And then when they screened the film, they actually asked me to go over there and I was kind of presenting the film and doing a Q&A with them over at 20th Century Fox, so that was something else.
WG: Working on such a large-scale action film like that, what do you think you learned the most, being that it was your first movie?
MR: I have to be honest with you. I learned a great deal about the wheel. You know, the big wheel in movies and how it works and who does what and what position is whose. And then what you have to do. There’s a lot of sensitivity being on these sets. It’s just a very big learning curve. Every job you do is different. The boundaries are the same, though every job is different. And that’s the exciting thing. Because each job there are different personalities, and the different countries that you find yourself in can throw a lot of swerve balls at you, you know what I mean?
MR: So you’ve got to be on your game, which is part and parcel of the whole adventure. But I think in the outset I learned a great deal. Luc Besson was a great mentor for me, and I say this time and time again, because it was my first feature film acting role. When I met Luc Besson, he’s an icon of course, he’s made some fabulous movies, and we chatted for a period of time when I met him and he said, “listen, this is how we’re going to do it, this is what’s going to happen.” And he kind of spelled it out for me and I digested what we talked about, and then put that into the character. And I actually carry a lot of that conversation with me through my job as an actor. These words really hit home. It was like a really great lesson in acting and knowing what to do and everything.
WG: That’s great.
MR: Yeah, but he was interesting because when I got to Paris I was actually waiting on him and eventually when we got together, I found he’s quite a very direct person, and I felt like I was being auditioned again for the same job. But I wasn’t. He said, “look, you’ve got the part, it’s cool.” He said, “but now there are a few small suggestions for you.” And they really did work tremendously for me.
WG: That’s fantastic.
MR: Yeah, it really was fantastic. And Chris Nahon, he was actually directing as well. You know, he’s a fabulous kid, he really is. It was just a great experience. It was quite unique because when I was doing the action sequence with Jet Li, when I was doing the fight sequence, he dived over this table and yanked me back and my feet came off the ground. I’m like 6′ and Jet’s probably about 5’8″ or something.
MR: And this guy literally has so much strength and power. He literally pulled me backwards off of my feet and I hit the table. And then he just dived over me and went into action fighting these two other guys. He was incredible, absolutely. It’s on the Kiss of the Dragon DVD outtakes actually. On the commentary they screened it. He was pretty phenomenal.
WG: He is incredibly talented.
MR: Yeah, he really is. I mean, you’re standing up and the next thing you’re on your back on a table with some guy cracking you around the face and then he’s diving over the table. So there you go, there’s the Jet Li story.
WG: Now you went on to do a film like Thr3e, where you not only starred in it but also served as an Executive Producer. What made you take on that extra role as well?
MR: Well sometimes these things are just the mechanics of the wheel you know? When people are wanting you to be in their movie, there are other kinds of attributes that you get and then you can actually help out in more ways than one. So I think it’s just the way. We’ve got these credits and we serve those credits up. So you know, helping out with production, or casting or whatever it is. I did the Steven Seagal movie before that, and a friend of mine, Sherman Augustus who is a really great guy, he’s a great actor, I got him involved in Thr3e as well. He came on board and he only has a small role, but still it’s great having him on board as a partner, as a cop, so it was really good. That was based on Ted Dekker’s book and was through Fox Films as well.
WG: What did you find to be your greatest challenges working as a producer?
MR: Just the everyday grind of it you know?
MR: It really is a full time job. You know making these movies, they just don’t pop out of thin air, there’s so many different things to learn about: sets, designs, costumes, what DOP to use, just all of that. Just everything to deal with behind the scenes, which starts well before the shooting process, you know what I mean?
MR: Just the whole producing process is a huge event. Huge. You know, it’s exhausting. You have to be absolutely on your game with that as well. So anything can happen on these sets. When you do action movies, a drama, whatever, there’s always something that you’ve got to watch out for. Safety first, then getting the shot second. Just everything. When you’re a producer, you have to watch for everything going on.
WG: I think a lot of people don’t realize how much goes on in pre-production, before cameras even start rolling.
MR: Yeah, sometimes it’s a year before principal photography, sometimes it’s three months before principal photography, sometimes six weeks before principal photography. It’s just like, boom, once you’re funded then you go.
WG: Now your newest film coming out, Dark Moon Rising, can you talk to me some about that? What is the film about and what is your character?
MR: Well it actually has similarities to like The Lost Boys, the one with Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland. That movie was done years ago. We’re basically cowboys that turn into werewolves.
MR: Yeah, it’s pretty cool actually. And it’s got a really nice ensemble cast in it. It’s kind of something. I’ve seen the movie and it has kind of like a comic book feel to it.
WG: Very cool.
MR: The way it’s shot, and the dialogue and the characters are quite distinctive, they all have their own kind of mark and their own kind of genre. I think that’s the great thing about Dark Moon, each character is really different. And the story is really cool, there’s a love story in there of course. I can’t really say too much about it because you have to see the film, but all I can say is that some of the dialogue and the sequences are really interesting. It’s my first horror movie as well. It’s more like action horror anyway to be honest. Some of these people that get killed in the movie, it’s just fabulous. It’s quite sadistic and dry, the conversation between the two actors, it’s very bizarre.
WG: That’s great.
MR: Yeah, and it’s quite funny. It’s got some really funny moments in there to be honest. So I think this movie has some really different kind of, really obscure angles in it.
WG: That’s great, I’m looking forward to seeing that.
MR: Yeah, the director is the writer as well, his name is Dana Mennie. He’s a great guy. He’s worked really hard on this with his wife Julie Manning. In fact, all the financiers and producers and everybody behind the film, they’ve really worked hard on this, because obviously independent films are difficult to get out of the stops, but I think that they’ve executed the project nicely. I think the movie premiere is in the next few months.
WG: Oh great.
MR: I was told anyway. So I’m looking forward to that as well. That’s going to be a very interesting event to be honest.
WG: Yeah, definitely.
MR: Because most of my movies have been action movies of course. So this is my first horror film with some nice action in there as well. So that’s cool.
WG: Since you’ve played a lot of different roles, in action movies and now in horror, what do you think you’ve learned the most about yourself as an individual through all of the various characters you’ve played?
MR: Well you know something, that’s a good question, Will, because every movie that I’ve filmed to date, I mean they’ve really been quite different characters. They really have. Obviously whether it’s from the voice or the makeup or the costumes, the characters have been definitely different and I always try to do something different, because you’re always trying to look for the magic in that particular movie, or that particular scene. Well, I am anyway. I’m always trying to find the magic that’s really going on to give it some real depth and interest. So I think for me, learning to take chances as an actor is first and foremost what I like to do and I think it doesn’t always work in my favor, but some of my best work is actually not being seen. Some of my screen tests for jobs I’ve done have been really fabulous, and I like taking those chances you know what I mean?
MR: But I’m growing as an actor. I think that’s the most important thing. I watch everybody and everything and I learn what I can and I take what I can, but at the end of the day it all boils down to who you are and your own experiences. And learning from the movies you’ve done and your life’s experiences will actually bring those colors into a character. Because all actors are looking for the magic, they’re all looking to be better than their last movie or to be more enjoyable, more funny, more dangerous, more pragmatic, or more magnetic.
MR: So I think that for me is real important. I’m preparing for a movie now and it’s something I’ve never done before and this is going to be a really big challenge for me. So I think it’s just all about learning, and making those characters bigger and more bold I guess. And absolutely taking chances all the time. You’ve got to take chances to move forward. You stay within the boundaries and I think it could get quite boring to be honest.
WG: I agree 100%. And you can never shut yourself off from learning. You have to realize that no matter what it is, or how long you’ve been doing it, you can always learn more.
MR: Yes, absolutely.
WG: Is there a role that you haven’t played yet that you would love to tackle?
MR: Well that’s a tough one. That’s a tough call. That’s a really difficult question. I mean, I think if Bond came around again, I’d definitely go for that. You know, I am British, and the character is fixed there, and that’s something that all actors, all male actors, would like to have a shot at. You know what I mean?
MR: I think it’s one of those roles where the women love the guy and the men want to be the guy. He’s doing everything with just an amazing grace and I think it’s just something that would be really fantastic, not only a great opportunity, but what a challenge you know? I think all the Bonds have been fabulous. They’ve all been amazing, all of them. I think that’s something that would be great. I think for me that is something I would like to do for sure.
WG: Completely, because there’s actually a lot of depth to that character.
MR: I think so. I mean he’s quite simple, but like very sharp. When you’re reading Ian Fleming’s books, the diversity of that guy is fantastic. I love what Roger Moore did with that. I thought he was fantastic. Sean was fabulous as well. Pierce, he’s great. And now Daniel is doing something a little bit different with him and again, that’s the great thing, each Bond has done something unique with the character.
MR: So it’s evolving all the time, which is great, because it’s evolving with society as well.
WG: Now you’ve recently moved into writing. Can you tell me how The Hunchback came about and what your writing process was like?
MR: Well my writing process was over several years. I started in 2000 reading the books and did the first draft with my co-writer around 2003, something like that. And that was something that I just really fell in love with years ago. I thought the The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton was my favorite one of course from 1939.
WG: Yeah, mine too.
MR: And it was actually nominated at the Cannes Film Festival in 1939 and then the war broke out and they never got the prize for it. But this is just something that I’ve enjoyed watching throughout the years and it was ironic that I became an actor and then I realized I could write. My co-writer Julio Ponce Palmieri, and I got the first draft down and we thought, “Wow, we’ve done something really unique with this character.” And since then I’ve written maybe sixty or seventy different screen passes at it, always enhancing it or making it better, or doing something with it or making it more unique. Because of my action background, I write action quite well.
MR: So I really turn him more into an action hero than somebody just living in the belfry.
WG: How exciting.
MR: Yeah. It’s more comic bookesque if you will. It’s pretty unique to be honest.
WG: That’s very exciting.
MR: Yes it is. It’s very exciting. But I’ve written two screenplays, and I’ve just doctored another action movie that I’m going to be doing at the backend of this year, so I go to town on the action sequences on that. But I don’t think I would write anymore. It really is just a full-time job. And we have great writers now that can do this kind of business. So I don’t want to take anyone’s job from them. I’ll stick with my job and they can stick with theirs. It’s good.
WG: Now you have a pretty fervent fan base around the world. What do you think would be the one thing fans would be the most surprised to learn about you?
MR: Well there’s going to be an announcement over the next few weeks and I think that is going to be the biggest thing to be honest because it’s something unique about my career. There’s been like a twist of fates I guess, not like a change in direction in my career, I’m still going to be an actor of course, but I got a fabulous part. I can’t really talk about it yet.
WG: No problem.
MR: But it’s going to be something which is like “wow, this is completely different.”
WG: Well I’m excited to hear.
MR: I know, I am as well. I’m not allowed to talk about it and I wish I could, because you’d be the first to know, but at this moment I can’t. But over the next few weeks it will become apparent what will happen. That’s in regard to my business. For the fan base, you know the fan base is terrific. I think it’s wonderful. I’ve got an amazing team. They’re all talking with each other now, it’s fabulous. And these guys just volunteered. All of a sudden everyone’s getting involved and communicating, because that much information, week in and week out, it’s good to keep things updated. People have shown great interest in my work as an actor and they like me and that’s nice. That’s fabulous for me. It’s great. As long as they enjoy the movies. That’s just a plus/plus all around really, you know what I mean?
WG: Absolutely. Now if you had to narrow it down, what would you say your greatest passion is in life?
MR: You know something? I’ve got to say this. When I’m on set and I’m working, and it’s the whole machine, the whole wheel, everything, cameras are rolling, it’s all about that moment, all the pressure is like dialed into you, because there’s a great deal of pressure;I really enjoy that moment. It brings to life you and what’s really inside. It can bring it out, you know what I mean? The camera doesn’t miss a thing. I get a huge adrenaline rush from being an actor. Being on set. Doing action movies. Working with other actors. Learning. And looking for the next surprise really. Because you really have to be on your game with this venture, you really do. But that’s the exciting thing. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you alive and keeps you dialed in you know?
WG: Oh completely. And being able to thrive in that kind of fast-paced environment, it really ties into the adrenaline rush from like motocross and other things like that.
WG: Now if you were unable to act, write, produce, to do motocross anymore, what do you think you would do?
MR: Let’s see now; what would I do? I’d probably be a ski instructor.
WG: Very nice.
MR: Yeah, I would probably do that. I would probably work in the mountains somewhere and work four or five months during the year and do that. Because I love skiing, it’s a fabulous thing.
Max will next be seen in the horror film Dark Moon Rising that will be coming out later this year, and then in 2010, he will take on the role of Rikard in Sex in the City 2.
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