10/10/2012 05:22 pm ET

'Beauty and the Beast': Jay Ryan May Be An Animal, But He's Romantic at Heart


If you're hoping the latest version of "Beauty and the Beast" is going to be a tale as old as time, think again. The CW's version is dark and serious with a modern, military-experiment twist. Jay Ryan's Beast isn't furry or lion-like; rather, he's all our nightmares brought to life in one animalistic superhuman.

HuffPost TV spoke with Ryan over the phone (it isn't normal for me to pass up the opportunity to chat face-to-face with a handsome, talented actor, but not even the New Zealand-born actor could get me into my car for a two-hour -- one way! -- bumper-to-bumper drive into the city), and not only did we agree on where we want the series to go, but Ryan also revealed what it's like filming in Toronto (disguised as New York, of course) and how he's really pushing for more romance on the action-drama.

What's it like filming in Toronto?
This is my home base, at the moment. Obviously we color and paste the city to make it look like New York. It's very similar in Toronto, with the rundown old factories and brick places, so it's not too hard to make it look like New York City. But any references to New York City landmarks, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, we have a special effects team that paints that stuff in.

I was trying to figure out where the warehouse is, where Vincent and J.T. live.
That warehouse ... it's one of our grossest sets to shoot at. That building itself is an old chemical factory, so it's actually a high-risk set.

Oh, good! How lucky for you.
I know! It's not great, but it looks fantastic on camera.

How many episodes have been shot?
We're up to episode six at the moment, so we just hit halfway through the series [season]. And it's really heating up. The show has strong procedural elements, but there's also this mythology genre that we have, of the beast and his background, which is my half of the show, I guess. The mythology really starts to heat up in the second half of the series [season], and mixes in with that procedural element a lot more. You learn a lot more about Vincent's back story, where he comes from, and also this mutation, this beast within him that's the product of a military experiment. You learn this thing could possibly be curable, but is also mutating in him.

He's lulled into this false sense of hope, that he can be a normal person in society with Catherine (Kristin Kreuk) present, and he starts to believe there's this woman that loves him and he can be what he used to be. But at the end of the day, you can't love a beast, especially one that's murderous on the side.

We get why Catherine is the way she is in the pilot. And, to a certain extent, we know how the Beast comes about. But do we learn more about Vincent's past, what he was like before the experiment? Family, friends, lovers?
I've really been pushing the writers to explore that because that, for me, is interesting. And because he has such a large past, I think that is just as mysterious as a soldier of crime in a procedural. Vincent has a lot of turmoil going on inside him, and to deal with that, to work through that, you have to discover who he used to be.

As he starts looking more for answers to this cure/antidote, he starts flashing back and Vincent, on his own procedural, I guess, is trying to find someone who knows the cure. He returns to his old neighborhood in New York City and because he's stamped dead on a piece of paper by the military, he starts running into people that may recognize him, or may know his father and his similarities to his father, so all of his old life starts to surface again. It becomes really interesting. And then we start to see clues to whether there are other beasts out there that were part of his platoon that had this experiment done to them. Is he not the only one who was able to escape? There's some great stuff that is about to be explored, and that hits in about episode five or six, just as the audience thinks Catherine and Vincent can have this connection and move forward, up come these barriers and walls.

I absolutely loved the pilot. On The CW, you're paired with "Vampire Diaries" but your show reminds me of another CW show, "Nikita." Strong, young characters, lots of action, based on a previous concept ... I used to watch the original. Did you?
I did. I watched it as a child. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up and after school they would be watching it and I was really drawn into it. The technicalities of it, the way that Ron Perlman, he was in this prosthetic the whole time, but he could show love through his voice and his eyes. It's a bit of an honor to take on this role even though it's nothing like anything that's been done before. I think people who are expecting a remake of the original series will be disappointed, because it isn't.

I love the modern spin. The military/scientific experiment gives the story so many places to go, and it can be told so many different ways.
For me, it gives it a plausibility. I could believe that this could happen, in this world that we live in. I like that stuff, everything that's being swept under the carpet, the mysterious angle of who Vincent is. He's just a guy trying to regain his humanity and deal with his demons. It brings up the themes of this wild beast within us all and whatever that is, to our viewers, hopefully they can connect to that through Vincent.

What's it like playing such a physical role?
I love it. That's where I got my fundamentals in this industry, through physical theatre and creating European theatre-style mask work, so this kind of character is brilliant for me because I play the exterior of Vincent, but then I have to play this thing, this creature that comes out of him. The DNA of the strongest, fastest animals in the world have been collected and inserted into these soldiers to create these beasts, and it's taking all these elements of animals and trying to put them into the character of the beast, which you will slowly be fed as we go through the series. We give a little more away in each episode. I have a thousand cuts and bruises from playing this wild animal, but at the end of the day, I just try and give as much as I can to the director and the studio.

Do you prefer acting out Vincent's animalistic characteristics, or would you rather rely on makeup and special effects?
Well, the makeup is just a by-product. For me, the beast is an internal turmoil. The makeup is cool because it's an element the viewers want to see, they want to see what the beast looks like. It also helps with Catherine's turmoil. The original theme of "Beauty and the Beast" is don't judge a book by its cover. Love what's inside. So you've got to have that beast exterior; it's an important part of the character. People might find it shocking that the beast doesn't always look like a beast. But Vincent has this big, red scar that runs down his cheek, and that, for me, represents the beast within that's cracking on the surface trying to get out. To keep that reminder there to the audience of what he's trying to shove back down.

Do you prefer playing Vincent as Vincent, or the beast?
I prefer Vincent as the whole character and what's going on inside of him. It's like playing two characters, the two extremes of someone's personality or moral compass. All characters that I play have the good and the bad, and for me, this is just the extreme. You can't have one without the other and we all have this wild part of us which we keep hidden and maybe only show in our darkest moments, or to our most loved ones. For me, it's the complete gamut of the character.

The pilot is dark and I don't expect there to be too many light moments, at least not in the beginning. But I love Vincent's relationship with J.T. (Austin Basis). It shows a tiny bit of his lighter side, which I suppose is mostly Austin's character, but it does give Vincent more shades of normal. It's nice to see. Do you like those scenes?
I agree. I really love those scenes because it shows who Vincent used to be, and what is at the heart of him, the real Vincent, because J.T. is the only one he trusts, who's been in his life for a long time. J.T. has such great lines, he's kind of like the forboding mother character with Vincent. J.T. and Vincent are also like husband and wife, they've been in a marriage for so long, cooped up in this one place, they know each other so well, there's this love bickering that goes on, so I do love those scenes. It is quite tense, but we are searching for more of that lightness and touch.

In the original, it was always Vincent dropping in on Catherine's home, but I'm assuming it will be the other way around here. When does the romantic element pick up? It was touched upon in the pilot, but when will it get good?
There's this whole courting thing that goes on between Vincent and Catherine. First, they need to trust each other. Catherine's a cop, and at the heart, Vincent, to her, could be a serial killer. She puts people like him away, and he's on the run from people like her. There's this real push and pull, there's this undeniable chemistry and connection between them, but it's a long, slow burn.

Just as Vincent gets lulled into this false sense that he is OK to enter this relationship with Catherine, the beast takes over again and puts up barriers. That's my favorite element from the original series -- the romance. So I'm really pushing for the writers to continue that and have it come forth a bit more. And because Vincent's on the run, he can't use technology and Facebook and Twitter, or text her or call her. So we're bringing back that old way of courting with secret notes and secret whispers, pebbles on the window, Juliet/Romeo styles. So I want all that stuff to surface as well. There's so much on this show that sometimes it gets pushed out. But I will keep fighting for the romantic element.

"Beauty and the Beast" premieres Thursday, Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase in Canada and The CW in the US.