Asteroid City Star Jake Ryan Appreciates The Uniquely 20th-Century

Jake Ryan begins our interview with an apology. “Sorry for sending multiple hour-long videos,” he says over Zoom from his family home on Long Island, New York. The 19-year-old Asteroid City actor and indie film darling has sent around six hours worth of content for us to discuss in about 40 minutes. “Sorry about that,” he repeats.

In a world driven by short-form content, Ryan appreciates the uniquely 20th-century craftsmanship of long-form YouTube videos: handcrafted labors of love that analyze storytelling and world-building. They serve as a kind of digital kindling for his theatrical imagination. “There is a general theme to the videos I watch,” he says, and “I guess it would be subconsciously studying [for my career]. My job has almost molded me into [liking] the sort of interests that would be useful in this industry.”

From spooky stories to gaming, Ryan guides us through the last six YouTube videos he watched and why they’re worth a lengthy viewing.

1. “Steam and Conversation | Critical Role: THE MIGHTY NEIN | Episode 9”

Jake Ryan: Basically! It’s building up a character and pretty much riffing or improvising. To me, the appeal to the game would have to be that there are rules, but there aren’t really any rules. You can be whoever you want in the context of this world that the host creates. As a performer, there’s a lot of role-playing aspects, so you can tap into that. I only recently got into it two or three years ago, but I’d wanted to get into it for as long as I could remember. I’m in a campaign with my brother and some friends of mine right now. It’s super fun.

Don’t you have a character that you create for yourself that you maintain throughout the game?

Unless they die. But sometimes the host can be a little loosey-goosey about the whole thing.

What’s your character, if you feel comfortable sharing?

To anyone who’s in the campaign currently and is reading this: spoilers, skip ahead! I’m playing a guy named Edward Hogg who is just like the worst person. His outward appearance is that he is a really nice guy, a fun guy. But he has a really dark history and a really bad vibe. It’s like in American Psycho when Christian Bale said that he based it off of somebody who had an overt friendliness with nothing behind the eyes. [Hogg] knows this so he tries to overcompensate a little bit.

He sounds like a sociopath.

In a way. I had the idea for him for a little while. It’s usually just you and the Dungeon Master who know how much effort you put into a character. None of the other players know. It’s like a curtain call. No one else really knows what goes on behind the scenes when you make a character.

What inspired that character for you? You said you’ve been thinking about him for a long time.

I was in another campaign with my brother and his friends where I was making another character and the entire time was like, “Man, I could have made this guy so much cooler.” And then once Aristou Meehan, who is also in Asteroid City, invited me into this campaign and I was like, “I have the perfect character for this for your little bad boy of a campaign.” So then I conjured up this guy, and he’s been very cooperative and has offered up a lot of unique ideas to the character that I think fit really well.

What do you like about this group of players?

I’ve finished their previous campaign, Vox Machina, and it’s just endearing qualities all around. It’s a really fun group. And they get into some pretty interesting antics throughout most of their playtime, and it’s one of the only things that works because it’s in a D&D campaign. You can watch the characters evolve. There’s more content of “Critical Role” than there is the entirety of The Simpsons so far, I think. So you really get into who these characters are and the world and it really makes everything feel much more alive.

2. “The Darkest Lost Media [Vol. 2]”

I couldn’t quite tell what the genre of this “Lost Media” thing was. It was like horror, but I didn’t think it was that scary.

I guess they were going for more of a horror aspect. [This channel] Nexpo does a lot of interesting [work around] real events, so it’s like a video documentary series. It’s more about the atmosphere than being overtly scary that really gets to people. The first three [in this particular video] especially you don’t have to dramatize all too much, because it’s outwardly horrific the things that went on. The cannibal club, the once-in-a-lifetime tornado. It’s icky stuff. If you try to lean into making it a little bit scarier, it would lose its charm.

Maybe it’s just morbid curiosity, but I always find this stuff intriguing… like mysteries that have never been solved. He covers a pretty wide variety, I would say. In my opinion he’s one of the more higher quality content creators that make content like that. Another one is Nick Crowley.

What about these types of videos appeal to you?

Growing up, my mom would always watch Dateline and 20/20, [programs about] people being murdered or kidnapped. I don’t want to say I’ve grown numb to it, but I’ve grown used to it in the sense where I want more. And these videos bring awareness to the fact that there are some ugly and mysterious [wiggles fingers in air] things that occur. When I’m trying to fall asleep, I watch these videos. I know, crazy. But I’m a budding horror fanatic.

What I’m thinking is, “If you listen to that before bed, wouldn’t you have the worst bad dream of your life” or something?

I mean, I don’t know, whatever it takes [to go to bed]. A dream is still a dream. I read somewhere that people only have a set number of dreams before they stop dreaming… I used to be super perturbed by my nightmares, but they don’t really bother me anymore.

3. “The Unreality of Pro Wrestling”

I don’t watch pro wrestling, but learning about Roman Reigns’ story and lore through this video was so interesting. Tell me about your interest in pro wrestling.

My dad recently got into it. It was never my cup of tea, and in many ways it still isn’t. If [my dad] invites us to come watch in the living room, I’ll join because it’s still people beating the snot out of each other, or play fighting beating the snot out of each other. But something about this creator in particular, I could watch him talk about literally anything. He oozes passion, whatever he talks about… It doesn’t start and end at a certain point, it’s like a whole experience.

This video was interesting because, even if you don’t know a lot about wrestling like me, and I did watch a few matches of Roman Reigns’, I had no idea the start that he had. And to what he has now, it’s just incredible. It’s almost awe-inspiring. He used the hatred of [fans] and molded it into a compelling character that you can see on screen. As Super Eyepatch Wolf points out in the video, it was only achievable in the meta aspect of wrestling. WWE pushes out this one guy who they want to be the face of the WWE and, due to fan reception, he gets molded into a character that’s actually compelling or outright villainous in a way — and it’s so good. I definitely get the appeal now.

Maybe you’ll become a wrestling superfan.

I fell off a little bit, but this video reignited my interest quite a bit. That just goes to show how good at making video documentaries Super Eyepatch Wolf is. [His passion] comes through in the work. If you’re reading this, good job, man.

4. “What if We Had a GREAT X-Men Game?”

This creator, The Cosmonaut Variety Hour, is great. His delivery and the topics he talks about are just, ugh, it’s perfect. He’s probably one of my favorite YouTubers at the moment. This video is about a hypothetical X-Men game. I never got into X-Men. It sounds like a lot of fun, but comics have a lot of…

It’s a huge investment.

It’s a huge investment. A lot of collecting and money. In this video, he talks about a hypothetical X-Men game that will probably never be made. In his own words, he says he wants to “haunt you” into wanting this game to be a reality. And it works. I am about it. So if any industry executive is reading this, and thinking “Hmm, what’s the next big thing in the video game market?” please watch this video and consider the amount of money you’ll make if you pour all of your time and effort into this.

So you’re not into X-Men, but you would play an X-Men game.
Absolutely. This is the best elevator pitch I’ve heard in years.

A 20-minute elevator pitch.
Yeah, stuck in the elevator, you know?

What are some other games that you like playing?

I used to be really into Minecraft when I was, like, 11. I used to play in the Hypixel server a lot. Currently, I’m playing Final Fantasy XVI, which is awesome, and I can’t recommend it enough. I love playing Elden Ring. I’ve played most of the FromSoftware games. I love the atmosphere and the stories they tell. Bloodborne was fantastic. I started off with Dark Souls III, and then worked my way down.

5. “Trope Talk: Pinocchio Plots”

This video is part of a long-running series called Trope Talks. Half of the videos are literature and English, the other section is mostly history.

I haven’t delved into the history portion all that much [hosted by Blue]. Sorry, Blue! Once I get through all of the literature section, I’m absolutely watching the history section because I think [Blue and Cyan, the creators behind the channel Overly Sarcastic Productions] are probably some of my favorite YouTubers currently.

All the videos you picked are pretty long. Do you sit down and watch them or have them on in the background?
Usually, I sit down and eat something because that’s the best way to immerse yourself. I don’t usually eat with the lights off, but it’s simulating a theater. You set up the lighting, the food, the snacks, the seating arrangements and, yeah, it’s a nice setup I would say.

I’ve seen so many tweets from people saying, “My food gets cold while I try to find something to watch while I eat!” or “I must have YouTube on while I eat.” It’s kind of a phenomenon.
Sometimes my brain doesn’t really like to watch videos or read. It gets a little bleh, like right now. It gets…

Distracted.

Absolutely. When I’m sitting down and eating, [it helps me] focus on something while I’m watching a video or [watching] movies or reading. It helps ground and focus me.

6. “When Did the Oscars Stop Respecting Animation?”

What other YouTubers do you enjoy watching?

I am really into manga. Whenever I’m bored or waiting for something, I watch one of those videos, like “top 10 manga recommendations,” [and I] pick the most interesting one. I watch a lot of Gigguk. He’s one of the biggest anime YouTubers that exists right now.

Schaffrillas Productions. I watch him for his animation content because it’s a medium that I’m very interested in. I found one of my favorite shows of all time — Infinity Train — from him mentioning it in a video. It’s probably my favorite show that I’ve seen come out in the last 10 years… A bunch of people get stuck on a train, and the train basically helps you work out your personal problems. From how I phrased it, it probably doesn’t sound that interesting, but it’s a spooky train, a silly train.

A silly, heartwarming train.

I would say so. For people who have a vision of the kind of story they want to tell, there are so many things that can go wrong [with animation]. But if you have a vision and you can work your way, around… I don’t want to say limitations because animation in itself can be whatever you want it to be.

There’s so many possibilities. You have to make a lot of choices.
Yes, choices! They are absolutely essential in making something in any medium but especially in animation.

[Voiceover work] is an aspect of my career that I want to try doing a little more. It’s a different type of skill set. With regular acting — or, I don’t want to say regular acting, because that makes me sound like an asshole — but with live-action acting, it’s easier to embody a character when you can use body language, interact with the set. For voice acting, you have to give the voice a lot of characterization because you have to make up for the fact that you aren’t able to use body language. I want to figure out, or at least get better, embodying a character with just [my] voice.

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