Jay Ryan
Handout, Global

He was only six when the original Beauty and the Beast debuted on CBS back in 1987, but New Zealand actor Jay Ryan has distinct memories of it from his childhood.

“I used to watch it when I came home from school,” he says. “My nana would always watch it so I sat down and watched it too. But I really liked that show. And Ron Perlman was just incredible, y’know? I mean, he won awards, and he was acting through all that rubber.”

Who knew that 25 years later Ryan would be in Toronto filming a new version of his childhood favourite, playing the Perlman role? Just to remind those of you who do not remember: the 1980s Beauty and the Beast was a romantic drama which cast Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) as Catherine Chandler, a New York lawyer who falls under the protection of Vincent (Perlman, Hellboy, TV’s Sons of Anarchy), a noble man-beast who lives in the tunnels beneath the city, after Catherine is attacked by thugs. The show lasted three seasons and became a cult favourite.

Designed as a reimagining of that show, the new Beauty and the Beast stars Vancouver-born actress Kristen Kreuk (TV’s Smallville) as Catherine “Cat” Chandler, a New York homicide detective haunted by the murder of her mother nine years earlier. The then-teenaged Catherine was saved from her mother’s assailants by a mysterious, animalistic figure who turns out to be Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan, Terra Nova). A doctor who enlisted in the army after his brothers were killed in 9/11, Vincent was reported killed by enemy fire while serving in Afghanistan in 2002. Now back in New York, Vincent takes a special interest in Catherine, and they forge a bond after she tracks him down during the course of a murder investigation. But Vincent has a secret: he turns into a powerful beast whenever he becomes enraged.

Given his love of the original (“that romantic element and the sort of mythology of it was really cool”), Ryan was initially reluctant to sign up for the new series, worried it would simply retread old ground. “I didn’t want to remake that show. Because why fix something that’s not broke?”

Fortunately he found the pilot script “quite plausible in a heightened sense” and liked the series’ proposed mix of police procedural and mythology. “It makes for an interesting show, ‘cause there’s lots to go on.”

The chance to play a character with two very different sides to him also held a big appeal.

“I get to play Vincent, who’s trying to regain his humanity and be the man he used to be, and sort of indulge in society again and forge a relationship with a woman and do all of these everyday things that people take for granted, and then him trying to quash this demon inside him, which comes out and puts everyone around him at risk, including himself.

“And I come from a very physical background as an actor; I did a lot of physical theatre and stuff like that. It’s fun for me to play this creature; throw my whole body in to it. And it feels quite theatrical and fantastical to do that.”

On that note, while we do not get to see much of the transformed Beast to start with, Ryan promises (and hopes) that later episodes will reveal more of the full-on creature. After all, Ryan’s Beast makeup – which consists of eight pieces (plus teeth and contacts) and covers his neck, face, and half his torso – takes up to five hours to apply, and Ryan often finds himself in it for up to sixteen hours at a stretch.

It is perhaps no surprise then that the Kiwi turns into a bit of a beast himself when suited up as his character’s darker half.

“I’ve been told by Kristin and other cast [that] I have this alter ego that comes out when I’m the Beast, and I turn into a joker basically. I think I can get away with certain things and saying certain things because I’ve got this thing on my face.”

Speaking of his co-star Kreuk, Ryan attributes their good working relationship to their shared work ethic and a mutual commitment to making each script work.

“We’ve definitely got the same headspace, and she’s great to work with,” he says. “We’ve got a good chemistry, I guess. We’re both present and working with each other. And she’s fun. I can make her laugh, so that’s good. She finds me funny.”

Currently based in Toronto for the duration of filming, Ryan has quickly grown to appreciate his adopted home.

“I love it. I love the temperament of the people; it’s very similar to Australians. And the city has kind of a similar feel to Melbourne, which is my home base. It feels quite comfy and warm here, even though it’s going to be frickin’ cold soon.”

Beauty and the Beast premieres Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase.