Once, Wayne Donowho thought he’d watched his son Ryan die eight times. “It’s actually ten,” he informs us. “There were a couple I’d missed.” One of Ryan’s better deaths occurred, according to Wayne, in Blood Out, a gritty 2011 crime drama starring 50 Cent and Val Kilmer, in which a gang believes Ryan to be a snitch. The elder Donowho pops in a DVD and watches as his son is pummeled mercilessly by several thugs, a beating he endures stoically. Then, as Ryan tries to run away, Vinnie Jones whips out a pistol and shoots him in the back. It explodes through Ryan’s solar plexus, sending blood trickling from his mouth. As his son collapses to the ground, Donowho just smiles and ejects the DVD.
Frequent dreadful death is a way of life for actors still awaiting their big break, guys like Ryan, a native Houstonian and high school dropout who moved to New York as a teenager. For a while, he made a living beating on buckets in the subway, but then a print casting director discovered him and acting gigs followed. Since then, Ryan has appeared in films alongside Zooey Deschanel, Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Jessica Lange, Julie Delpy, Jeff Daniels, and Chloë Sevigny.
Wayne, meanwhile, is currently putting together a professionally edited reel of Ryan’s ruinations. “That’s a pretty good one,” he says, screening some footage from 2004’s A Home at the End of the World, starring Sissy Spacek, Colin Farrell, and Ryan, in one of his early celluloid annihilations. In it, Ryan, playing a teenage character tripping on LSD during his parents’ party, trots through a plate glass door.
Bloodied but conscious, he notices a vicious wedge of glass lodged in his throat, and before anyone can stop him, eases it from his neck, whereupon blood erupts from his severed jugular. An ivory-white pallor descends over his face, his eyes roll back in his head, his knees buckle and he crumbles to the floor. “Someone call an ambulance!” are the last words he hears. Ryan dies in the arms of his wailing girlfriend.
“I saw that one first on the big screen at the River Oaks, and it was a little tough to watch,” says Wayne, who has also seen his son fall off a cliff while drunk on The O.C. He’s been devoured by a monster onboard a small airplane in Altitude. He’s been disemboweled by a tank shell and gunned down by the cops. “He’s a good die-er,” Wayne says.
Ryan is paid handsomely for his efforts, as you might imagine, but in Hollywood, dying is a young man’s game. Knowing this, he is diversifying, co-fronting Animals of Kin, an indie-rock band that’s begun to gin up some buzz in L.A. Ryan seems to look forward to the day when his paychecks don’t require perishing.
As for Wayne, watching his son’s eradications “always hurts just a little,” he says, “but it’s mitigated by the money.”