Pop-Culturalist Chats with Ryan McCartan
Ryan McCartan is an actor and singer who continues to push his boundaries and set his own bar. His transformative performances have captured the hearts and attention of audiences of all ages. His credits include Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie, Fox’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the off-Broadway classic, Heathers: The Musical. He’s currently starring as Ollie Keller on the Hulu/AwesomenessTV original, Freakish. Pop-Culturalist sat down with Ryan to chat about the role, how the industry is evolving, and the paradigms the show explores this season.
P-C: What drew you to this particular project?
Ryan: Freakish is cool because it has all the fantastical, apocalyptic elements of a show like The Walking Dead which is so popular and in right now. Obviously, The Walking Dead is geared towards an older audience, with actors in their late 20s, early 30s phase, kind of the adult side of the Hollywood realm and so, there’s nothing within this age range. I think it’s a smart move and such a cool project and I was so happy to be asked to come on board.
P-C: Can you tell us a bit about your character and his overall involvement in the story?
Ryan: The second season follows this very on the nose, apocalyptic thrill. Now, we’ve established the world—the zombie apocalypse—and what the zombie apocalypse means and just when you think all the characters are comfortable with their scenario, we’re going to add something that totally turns their scenario upside down. At the beginning of the second season, Grover discovers this new group of people who are also survivors and who have been surviving on their own time, in their own way, and with their own set of rules. My character is one of those people that gets rescued and sort of comes into our heroes’ turf and sort of causes mischief and stretches the perception of what’s allowed and what isn’t, and how this is going to work in an apocalyptic scenario. My character’s name is Ollie Keller. Ollie’s last name is Keller; that’s the same last name as the company, the plant that exploded and caused this whole apocalyptic scenario in the first place, and so everyone, including the people who were sort of on their side, start to doubt Ollie and his sister, Anka, because they think they had something to do with the explosion. It’s a little bit of extra drama there.
P-C: What are the dynamics like between these two groups of survivors?
Ryan: It’s tough because we are in an apocalyptic scenario. Most people, as far as they’re concerned, are dead or dying and here we are—two conglomerates of 20-year olds in an apocalyptic scenario, literally life and death in almost every second of every day. The heroes of our story—the people that we know so far from season one—they sort of established their set of rules at a home base in a school. My character and his group—they’ve sort of been wandering around, going from place to place, a little more survival-mode, a little more skittish. They all have weapons and that’s a very scary thing when we come on to their turf and world, strapped and armed. Eventually, it becomes, “Who am I least safe from? The zombies or these new strangers who I know are going to do anything to survive because they’ve come this far?” It plays with this paradigm of who’s the real enemy here—the monster or the fellow men.
P-C: Are we going to get to learn about the new group’s back-story or will the season be focused on the existing survivors?
Ryan: We learn a fair amount about these newcomers and the Kellers and how they’re connected to this explosion and the history of the town. One of the characters actually realizes that he knows one of the girls in the school and there’s a whole history between them that is explored and makes things all the more complicated. We definitely dive into the back-story and how they got here and even who they were before the apocalypse happened.
P-C: How is Ollie’s relationship with his sister tested during this zombie apocalypse?
Ryan: It’s tested in the same way that all of the relationships are. Stress is very high, no one’s sleeping, everyone’s malnourished—everything that would happen in an apocalyptic scenario. Even though Ollie and Anka do have this very tightly knit family bond between them, if there’s a moment where one of them did something that the other wished they wouldn’t have or didn’t do something they wished they would have, then afterwards, the discussion, is like, “Why did you do that? We could have totally made a great move there. We could’ve won right there and you screwed it up.” There’s a lot of frustration between them as they’re just ultimately trying to protect themselves.
P-C: Does his upbringing and his past make him more or less equipped to survive this apocalypse?
Ryan: That’s an interesting question. That’s definitely a paradigm that we play with in this season—how are they better off, maybe in terms of literal, secular, physical resources, but then, how are they just completely inapt in this scenario because they lack any sort of life experience, they have no survival skills having been coddled their entire life and that’s something that all of the characters struggle with too. “These people have physical resources that we can use, but if we want to do that, we have to tolerate that they’re terrible people and annoying and rich and privileged.” Again, you’re very insightful. You’re getting all the paradigms that are discussed and established in this season.
P-C: How did you prepare for this role?
Ryan: It’s hard to because it’s a zombie apocalypse. I’ve never really been through anything like that, but I’m a big sucker for the text. I loved reading the script, I was very familiar with what was given to me on the page and I was granted a lot of permission on set to show up and try a few things and play. It was fun to have obviously a great skeleton of who Ollie is because the writers are good at their jobs; they know how to create characters and how to flesh them out, but then, to show up on set and be granted the permission to take that and run with it and make it my own, it was really fun. It was great to see all the new cast step into their character’s shoes and be like, “I’m going to make this someone that you care about and that you think about and that you wonder about.” It was really cool to see everyone prepare in their own ways.
P-C: Most fans will recognize you from Liv and Maddie. What are you most excited for them to see with Freakish?
Ryan: Freakish was a cool opportunity for me. I did Liv and Maddie, but then, I also did Heather: The Musical and The Rocky Horror and things like that. I sort of jumped back and forth between pretty young audiences to more adult audiences and Freakish sort of sits right in the middle of those two things. It’s sort of a good synthesis in terms of audience, bringing in 20-somethings to watch something that’s a little more peer-driven, but then also to bring in the older side of the younger crowd to also be attracted to this subject matter and material. That was really fun to me—to feel like I was in a project that synthesizes my audience nicely.
P-C: What would you say your number one survival tip would be in a zombie apocalypse?
Ryan: I’d just make friends. I feel that way because Ollie was so bad at it and our characters were constantly isolated, but if you can really establish trust with someone and you can stick with them and you can have each other’s back, I think that quadruples your chances in any sort of dangerous situation frankly.
P-C: How do you think brands like AwesomenessTV and Hulu change the industry and how we consume media?
Ryan: It’s a great question; I was just in a meeting about this. We don’t consume media in the same way and since we don’t consume it in the same way, we don’t make it in the same way. We are no longer in a market where a bunch of people in suits that are a board of directors sit down and come up with some concepts and make them and that’s all you get, so you’re going to like it. We live in a data-driven market, we live in a “test and tweak” kind of market where you can tell what people like, what people don’t like, almost instantly, and so, to that end, for the content creators and the content providers like AwesomenessTV, they are the first line of defense in Hollywood of the trends, of what people are consuming and what people want and why they want it and what they’re thinking and what they’re saying. It’s like old Hollywood that’s new; it’s the old studio network format, but instead of CBS and NBC, it’s Awesomeness and Hulu and I think that’s really cool—that Hollywood is so responsive to the digital marketplace and it’s really cool to watch that happen right in front of my eyes.
P-C: As an actor, how frequently would you say you check social media and see fan reactions to your work?
Ryan: To my work—I check all the time because that’s what I’ve just touched on, that’s where I get my data, not just about what people like, but what they think could improve and as someone who is constantly trying to create, I love having access to that kind of stuff—the people who care enough to watch and if they care enough to watch and they care enough to show up for me, then I want to show up for them. I think social media is a business tool in that way. To be completely frank with you, personally, it drives me crazy, but as a business tool, I really do like it and it’s the new fan mail too! I love being able to talk to my fans and they’re not even just fans; I hate that word. They’re just people who like it and some of them have questions, some of them have opinions and it’s so good to answer those questions and to talk about those opinions. In that regard, it’s really magical as a business tool. That’s sort of how I use it. For everything else, I try to go outside.
P-C: Besides Freakish, where can fans see you next? Do you have any upcoming music coming out?
Ryan: I just finished a music video for a single that I am going to release probably in November or at the latest, December.
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
P-C: Guilty pleasure TV show?
Ryan: Rick and Morty
P-C: A guilty pleasure movie?
Ryan: Devil Wears Prada
P-C: A favorite book?
Ryan: That’s really, really tough. That’s so hard! I am not doing a good job at doing these fast. I can’t think of a favorite one right now, but the one that I’m reading right now is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron that I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to do art.
P-C: Do you have a favorite play or a musical, besides Heathers?
P-C: Favorite social media platform?
Ryan: Is it bad if I say none?
P-C: A band or artist that fans would be surprised to learn is on your playlist?
Ryan: That’s interesting. I like indie stuff, so I guess a band like Fleet Foxes because a lot of people think I just listen to pop, because I do, but I like indie stuff too.
P-C: Hidden talent?
Ryan: No, not really. I’m sort of only good at two things. I’ve done a good job at showing those off. I can do a Rubik’s cube. Does that count?
Photo Credit: AwesomenessTV