A select few actors have had the opportunity to work with American auteur Wes Anderson, and even fewer have had the privilege of working in his semi-regular circle. The lucky bunch includes the likes of Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton and Willem Dafoe. Now, 19-year-old Jake Ryan can add his name to that list. The actor’s leading role in Asteroid City is his third collaboration with Anderson, and the director’s vote of confidence means that he’s one to watch.
From a hobby to a full-time commitment
Ryan began acting as a child, getting a supporting role in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom when he was only seven years old. “I knew to some degree that I was doing a job,” he told Observer. “But at that point it had only been a hobby, acting.” It was just an activity his parents put him in, like sports or Boy Scouts, and it stuck for him. Anderson’s guidance as a director helped him feel at home in his blossoming career: “I think he remembers what it’s like to be a child. When I was younger he was always very gentle, and I remember being very cozy around him, like, ‘Yeah, okay, I can trust this guy.’” Since then, Ryan says that Anderson “watched [him] grow up,” making for a unique relationship between director and actor.
Becoming a major indie player
With Moonrise Kingdom on his resume, Ryan went on to score roles in several other significant independent films. His next project was the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan, and after a few TV roles he landed one of his biggest parts to date in comedian Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. The A24 film follows an anxious girl as she’s about to graduate middle school, but Ryan is a scene-stealer as a fellow awkward teen who has a preoccupation with McDonald’s sauces. Around this time, he also lent his voice to Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animation film, Isle of Dogs, and performed in another acclaimed A24 film, Uncut Gems.
On his affinity for the independent side of the industry, Ryan said he finds that independent films allow creators to have more input, so the filmmaking process is “more personable” and “more likely to be filled with love and joy than anything else.” In his eyes, “an independent film is a baby that you create and raise” with everyone else on set.
To Wes Anderson and beyond
Asteroid City marks a major milestone for Ryan, who stars as astronomy whiz Woodrow Steenbeck in the film. It’s a leading role opposite the likes of Schwartzman, Swinton, and Anderson newcomer Tom Hanks, and the movie brought the actor to his first ever film festival—Cannes. He describes the premiere there as surreal and energetic, his time amongst acting veterans as intimidating, but overall, he emphasizes that the movie-making process is “always a good time with Wes.”
As for the future, Ryan says he hopes to work with Anderson again, and adds Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino to his wish list. He’s been acting for over ten years at this point, and reflecting on that time, he says, “I’m obviously older, slightly taller—only slightly. I would like to think I’ve matured and have a better understanding of acting as a whole.” Given how much of a hit Asteroid City has been so far, there’s no doubt about that understanding at all.