Interview Date: 03/16/2011
Run Date: 03/21/2011
When “The Event” joined the NBC schedule back in the fall of 2010, many people took a look at the preview trailer for the series and, without even watching the pilot, decided that they couldn’t be bothered with any show trying so damned hard to be the next “Lost.” Quite a few folks still ended up tuning in for the premiere, of course, but the numbers have been dwindling, and, frankly, most odds makers will shake their head sadly if you ask them about the chances of seeing Season 2 of “The Event.”
This will no doubt be disappointing news for those of you who’ve kept the faith and continued watching the saga of Sean Walker – played by Jason Ritter – as a strange turn of events found him searching for his girlfriend Leila Buchanan (Sarah Roemer) and running for his life. Plus, the poor guy can’t catch a break: after finding his girlfriend, rescuing her sister, and reuniting her with her father, they depart together, leaving him alone again.
Bullz-Eye had the chance to chat with Ritter about “The Event,” including the way it’s evolved since its premiere (bye-bye, flashbacks!), a bit about where it’s going, and what his hopes are for its future. In addition, we touched on some of his other series (“The Class” and “Joan of Arcadia”), how he came into the family business (his dad’s name was John, if that should ring any bells for you), and a bit about his latest film, “A Bag of Hammers,” along with some of the other indie gems in his back catalog.
Bullz-Eye: I don’t think we actually met back at the summer TCA tour, but I was there for the panel that you guys did for “The Event.”
Jason Ritter: Oh, cool!
BE: I’ve been following the show as diligently as possible, but I admit that I had to play a little catch-up before getting on the phone with you. I’ve really been enjoying it, though. I mean, I’m a sci-fi geek from way back, anyway, but it’s a really nice blend of sci-fi and action.
JR: Oh, thanks! Oh, my God, the next couple of episodes…? They’re so good. I’m glad you’re caught up! It’s so funny: I’m already trying to keep my enthusiasm under wraps when I’m talking to people, but I assume that they’re all caught up, and then I mention stuff and it ruins it for them. Which is all my fault, but… (Trails off)
BE: I actually joined Hulu Plus to be sure that I could watch every single one that I needed to watch.
JR: (Laughs) That’s cool!
BE: I am nothing if not dedicated to my craft. Well, to begin at the beginning, how did you come aboard “The Event” in the first place, and had you been actively looking for a full-time TV gig at the time?
JR: Well, you know, pilot season had rolled around, and I had been reading a bunch of scripts. I really had not necessarily been dying to jump into a TV show, but I read this pilot, and I just loved it. It just intrigued me on every possible level, and I just went, “Well, this would be one that I would be so excited to be a part of.” So, basically, I went in and auditioned for it, got a couple of callbacks, and then eventually got the part. And it was really exciting because, actually, the part of Sean Walker was the first part they cast, so I wasn’t auditioning for a show that had Laura (Innes) or Blair (Underwood) or any of those people. So once I got the part, it was really exciting to watch the show come together and watch all the characters get cast. Actually, originally in the pilot, the part of Sophia was Neil. It was written for a man! So it was so exciting to get Sophia, because you had Laura Innes as part of the thing. And I think it’s worked out so much better that the character is a woman. It just adds a whole other dynamic to the aliens, with the whole mother aspect of it all.
BE: So were you a sci-fi guy going into this? Are you a big fan of the genre?
JR: Yeah, I’m a huge sci-fi guy. I mean, growing up, I inhaled as much Ray Bradbury and all those writers as possible. Like, I’d just get collections of sci-fi short stories and read ‘em all. I just love the idea of a reality that is even just slightly shifted from our own. I just love it so much. And I’m a big fan of a lot of sci-fi shows. Growing up, I loved “The X-Files,” and I just absolutely loved “Lost.” So, uh, yeah, I love it. (Laughs) The whole genre!
BE: So had you known Sarah Roemer prior to coming aboard “The Event”? Because you guys had a comfortable chemistry right away.
JR: Oh, well, thanks! No, we didn’t know each other, but we have some mutual friends, so when she came in and auditioned, I’d been told, “Watch out for my friend Sarah Roemer. She’s really great, and she’s really sweet, and I think you guys would really get along.” Even that tiny little piece of information allowed me to be even slightly more at ease with her. It really helped. The fact that she’s such a wonderfully sweet person helps a lot, too. She’s really real, and she doesn’t buy into a lot of things that you find that people buy into in Los Angeles, especially as a young woman. She leaves the city every weekend and goes back down to Coronado, where she’s from. So, yeah, she’s really down to earth, a great person, and so easy to get along with.
BE: Ironically, though, you guys didn’t really get to work together a whole lot during the first part of the season, aside from a few flashback scenes.
JR: Yeah, we had a few flashback scenes, and we always looked forward to those, ‘cause we didn’t have to be crazy and sweaty and dirty and kidnapped and tortured and all that stuff. (Laughs) We could sort of just be in love with each other, and that was fun. But now they’ve told all the stuff that they want to tell in flashbacks for right now, so the show is totally linear. So we can’t even have flashbacks to look forward to!
BE: Yeah, you guys have been torn apart again!
JR: (Laughs) Exactly!
BE: To touch on the phasing-out of the flashbacks, you guys suffered kind of a huge ratings blow this week, picking up your lowest ratings to date, and now you’re becoming more of a traditional sci-fi drama…as opposed to, you know, being the “Memento” of sci-fi dramas or whatever. (Laughs) Was that something that was always intended, or was it done in hope of bringing in more viewers?
JR: I’m not sure. I mean, it was a decision that they made a long time ago, and it just took awhile to put it into effect, but…I’m not sure. Shows always evolve as they go, and I think definitely they do listen to the audience and see where they could maybe improve, but it can’t be too different from what they were planning on, because Nick Waters, who created the show, he’s been thinking about this for years and years, before it even got made. So they’re just getting the information out in a different way. Maybe instead of flashing back, we’ll just talk about it, or things like that. Or instead of flashing back and meeting my family, I’ll go and see my sister. It all depends. Yeah, I think some of it was a response to people’s initial reactions to the show, but I still think they’re on the same main track that they’ve always wanted to be on.
BE: Speaking of flashbacks, did you really look the exact same five years ago?
JR: (Bursts out laughing) I definitely didn’t. But Sean Walker apparently did.
BE: Touching on the fact that you and Sarah don’t get to work together as much anymore, you actually haven’t been able to work with a lot of people on the show, simply by virtue of Sean’s plot developments. Who would you most like to work with that you haven’t had the chance to work with yet?
JR: That I haven’t had the chance to work with yet. Gosh. (Long pause) I would love to work with Blair and (Željko Ivanek). And, you know, why don’t we throw the first lady (Lisa Vidal) in there, too. (Laughs) Yeah, I mean, I watch their work on the show every week, and I really think they’re so great, and I’d love to meet them. Also, not only would I like to work with them on a personal level, but I’d love to see what Sean Walker and President Martinez have to say to each other! It was really exciting when I got the script and found out that Sophia and Sean had an encounter. That was a lot of fun, and I’d love to do more with Laura as well. But it’s, like, we’re all getting polarized. Who knows whose side anyone is going to end up on?
BE: I don’t know if you can speak to specifics, but would you be able to acknowledge if, in the next few episodes, Sean will be meeting up with any of the regular characters that he hasn’t encountered to date?
JR: Uh, well… (Very long pause) I can say that my entire mission now is…I’ve gotten Vicki (Taylor Cole) to help me. If you saw the last episode, you know that I asked her to tell me who’s behind everything, because I want to stop these people who are experimenting on little girls. The man who’s the head of all of that is Dempsey. He is who I’m after. So, you know, without necessarily saying anything more, that’s my next order of business.
BE: Fair enough. (A beat) So how is Hal Holbrook, anyway?
JR: (Bursts out laughing) I’m, uh, going to change the subject, but I’ll just add that he and I share the same birthday.
BE: I did not know that.
JR: Yeah, we do. But, yeah, there’s just a lot more Dempsey in the upcoming episodes in general. He was in the re-launch – he just had that one scene at the very end of the two-part episode when we came back – and…I can’t actually remember if he was in the next one very much. But he comes back with a vengeance, and there’s a lot more Virginia Madsen as well, which is very exciting, too.
BE: To ask you about some of your other projects…well, first of all, one of my fellow editors was just at SXSW and was able to catch “A Bag of Hammers,” and he wanted me to ask you if you’d heard if the film had been picked up for distribution yet.
JR: I haven’t heard. Actually, I came back on Monday, and I haven’t talked to any of those guys since then. I’ve been reading their Tweets… (Laughs) …but I doubt they would reveal something like that, or if they were even in deliberations with someone. They wouldn’t tell me that. But I hope it’s picked it up. I really hope so. But I haven’t heard anything.
BE: He also wanted me to ask how the filmmakers got so many instantly-recognizable names and faces in the film. Did they just go around and ask their friends to join the cast?
JR: Well, it was written by the director, Brian Crano, and the other lead actor, Jake Sandvig, and Brian had done a couple of really funny, great short films that Jake was in. Also, Rebecca Hall had been in both of his short movies, and I think Amanda Seyfried was in one of them as well. Brian’s just the kind of guy that sort of inspires loyalty amongst his actors. (Laughs) So he wrote them parts in his movie, he asked them to do it, and luckily their schedules all worked out. It was really nice. I mean, you’ve got Todd Louiso in there, Carrie Preston…it was really exciting.
BE: What would you say is your favorite project that you’ve been in that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved? And for the purposes of the question, let’s set “The Event” out of contention.
JR: (Laughs) Geez, you know, probably some of the independent films that I’ve done. I mean, they certainly got a lot of love, but, you know, the film festival world can be so huge and so small at the same time, and there’s no advertising budget to really get the word out there. You just have to do the word of mouth, and it depends. But I would’ve loved to have seen “The Education of Charlie Banks” or “Good Dick” or “Peter and Vandy” get a little bit more love. I’m really proud of those three. And “Our Very Own” is another one that I just really loved. “Happy Endings,” too. All of those films are ones where, when someone comes up to me and says, “You know what? I really loved…” and it’s any one of those movies, I’m so happy and excited that they saw it, and then we can really talk about it, because it said something to them. I’m hesitant to say that they didn’t get the love that they deserved. I mean, all of those got a lot of love in their own little ways. But I would’ve loved to have seen them go all the way to the top! (Laughs)
BE: I know there’s also a fanbase out there for “The Class.”
JR: Oh, yes! That’s another one! (Laughs) We all had such a great time working on that show, but, you know, what can you do? Actually, almost all of us got together a couple of weeks ago. Everyone except for Andrea Anders, but Jesse Tyler Ferguson and John Bernthal, Lizzy Caplan, Sean Maguire, Lucy Punch, Heather Goldenhersh... (Hesitates) Who am I forgetting? Anyway, we all got together and had a little dinner, and it was really, really nice. One of the greatest things that came out of that show for all of us was that we all became really great friends with each other, and it’s been really exciting to see everyone branch out and work in other things.
BE: Yeah, I mean, it’s one of those casts where just about everyone ended up landing on their feet. You’re on “The Event,” Andrea’s on “Mr. Sunshine,” Jon’s on “The Walking Dead,” Jesse’s on “Modern Family”…
JR: Yeah, it’s true, and I really think that that’s a little feather in the cap of David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, who really took some time and effort to find the right cast. But it didn’t work out, ‘cause…well, ‘cause sometimes those kinds of things just don’t work out. But it was a great thing, and it’s so nice when someone talks to me about the show and how much they enjoyed it. And then I get a little sad. (Laughs) But then I get happy again, because at least they were watching it.
BE: I have to think that it’ll eventually make its way to DVD, if only because of the sheer star power in it.
JR: I would hope so. I’d love to have it go to DVD, and…we always joke about it, but, seriously, I would really love it if we could do a quick 5 or 10 minute wrap-up episode. Even if it’s only just for me. (Laughs) Because, you know, I think…let’s see, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Heather Goldenhersh kind of ended up wanting to get married, Jon Bernthal and Lizzie Caplan ended up getting together on a couch while my character was just standing outside Lizzie’s door with a rose, like an idiot. So I’m really looking forward to that wrap-up, so that we can all end up with the right people! (Laughs)
BE: So what’s your status on “Parenthood”? Are you open to returning, should they give you the option to do so?
JR: You know, I would love to. It was one of the things when I got “The Event,” they told me it was not impossible, since the shows were both NBC-Universal shows, to work out the schedules and have me back. At that time, I didn’t really believe them, because I was, like, “Well, why would they go through all of that pain just to get me?” (Laughs) But they did, at least for one episode this season. So as long as they’re willing to continue working around “The Event,” I would go back to that show in a second. I mean, what am I doing on a day off from “The Event” that would be better than working on “Parenthood”? Nothing! (Laughs)
BE: So what are your hopes for the remainder of the season of “The Event”? I presume you’re aware of the realities of the situation. All of the oddsmakers are saying, “Oh, it’s not looking good…”
JR: Right. You know, the thing is, I hope that… (Hesitates) Well, first of all, we’re shooting Episode 19 right now. The show has really ratcheted up the stakes in everything. It’s really coming to a fever pitch, and it’s really, really, really exciting, so what I hope for… (Starts to laugh) My dream is that, as the show gets more exciting and better and better and better as it goes, those people who have been watching it since the beginning will be able to say to their friends with even more authority than before, “Listen, you have to start watching this show! It’s so good! It’s a lot of fun!” Just to have that word of mouth…I mean, I think that’s pretty much all that we’re relying on now: that people will tell each other to watch it. That’s actually how I got into “Lost.” I missed the first three seasons entirely, but my brother had it up, and I said, “Oh, I don’t really watch that show,” and he said, “Uh, what have you been doing? You of all people would love this show! You would get so into it!” So I said, “Oh, all right, I’ll rent the first DVD of the first season.” And then I was hooked. And then I watched the first three seasons in a matter of months and was all caught up by Season 4. And I think that this show has the potential to do that, too. To hook people in. Especially after there are enough in a row. That was one of the things about “Lost” that I loved: that I didn’t have to wait week to week. I could just inhale an entire season in a couple of sittings! (Laughs) But I hope that once the first season is completed, people will go, “All right, just watch the first season, and then tell me that you don’t care about Season 2.”
BE: Well, I’ll start wrapping up, but there’s one thing I was curious about: when you were growing up, was there ever any chance that you weren’t going to follow in your father’s footsteps? Or your mother’s footsteps, for that matter. Was acting something that you’d always had an interest in doing, or were you hesitant at first?
JR: You know, I had a whole little journey with it. When I was a kid, I really just wanted to do it blindly. I just said, “This is what I want to do. I know I want to do this.” And my parents took me seriously enough that…well, first of all, they didn’t just start sending me out on auditions as a child actor. They knew that that would probably not do me too much good later in life. (Laughs) They just told me that if I really wanted to do it I would have to take it seriously and, you know, watch the great performances, read the books about technique, and really study it like a craft. So I kind of…I mean, I was, like, eight when they told me this, so I’m going, “Man, this sounds a lot harder than I thought it was going to be!” (Laughs) But then when I became a teenager and all of the weird things started to happen to my face and my voice…I mean, the idea of going onstage in front of anybody, it was terrifying. It was, like, “Uh, yeah, never mind. I don’t want any attention, I don’t want anyone to even look at me.” I grew my hair really long so I could cover as much of myself as possible, and…it was only toward the end of high school, when I did a little fundraiser for school, that I remembered how much I actually liked doing the thing itself. Not for attention or any of the stuff that I had maybe made an assumption about why I had wanted to do it when I was five or six years old. (Laughs) And it was pretty much about the attention at that point. It was, like, “Let’s get to the curtain call, so I can get that applause!” But I loved rehearsing, I loved talking about the work, and by the end of high school, I had gotten back into it. But there was a period of time where you couldn’t have paid me any amount of money to get back onstage in front of anybody!
BE: Was “Joan of Arcadia” a turning point for you?
JR: That was a huge turning point for me, yeah. Up to that point, I had been doing plays, and I had been a guest star on shows, and I had been proud of the things that I had been doing, but that was the first time where… (Hesitates) It was a big part for me, and it was unlike anything else I had ever done. There were a lot of really tough and amazing things, and it was such a full character. Yeah, that was a huge, huge deal for me, and it was such a lovely introduction into the TV universe. I mean, that was another show in which a family was created that will just never go away. Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen, I just love them to death, and Michael Welch and Amber Tamblyn still feel like my brother and sister. (Laughs) I actually just saw…Constance Zimmer is doing a play out here – she played a nun that my character on “Joan of Arcadia” was in love with – and I saw her on “Good Day L.A.” randomly this morning, and I sent her a text. Just everyone who was involved with that show, to me, has such a little…I don’t know, they have a special place in my heart. We all really loved doing that show so much, and we all believed in it. That was another show that I wish had gone on a little longer. But, you know, what can you do?
BE: It certainly got a lot of love posthumously.
BE: And, actually, I have one final “Event” question that I meant to ask a minute ago: how much have you been able to bring to the character of Sean since the show started? I know that sci-fi or action pilots are often more about the plot than the characterization, but after it gets rolling…basically, I guess I’m wondering if the producers have been open to allowing you to contribute to what Sean’s all about.
JR: Yeah, I know what you mean. One of the things that I really enjoyed about the character is that he’s not prepared for what he has to do. When I read the pilot, Sean jumps off a cliff and he does all these heroic things, and I remember going in and saying, “Okay, look, I would love to do this as a guy who, if he sees someone drowning and there’s not enough time to do anything else, he’s terrified but he does it anyway because he can’t live with himself if he allowed someone to drown and thought he might’ve been able to do something.” But I also knew that if they just wanted some totally buff guy with squinty eyes and a gravelly voice who just wasn’t scared of anything…I was, like, “Well, that’s too bad, because I think Sean Walker’s a different kind of guy.” I mean, they asked! (Laughs) I was hoping they’d keep in mind that he was an MIT graduate, and he went there with a full scholarship, and, you know, he’s spent a lot of time in front of the computer. He’s not a guy who’s been doing sit-ups for the last 20 years. So I’ve enjoyed that they’ve allowed him to be sort of vulnerable in moments and be a little scared, and then it’s been really nice as the show has progressed to see him leave some of that innocence and vulnerability behind him. He’s starting to change as a character, and you’ll see that he has to do some pretty crazy things in the next handful of episodes. So, yeah, it’s been nice to see him grow, but I really appreciate that they’ve allowed me to put my own little take on it, and…
(At this point, the reception, which had been growing sketchier and sketchier over the preceding few minutes, fell apart altogether. Ritter’s publicist tried to get him back on the line, but he was presumably in a dead zone, because she couldn’t manage to reconnect. I asked her to thank him for me, and to tell him that, in regards to Sean, it was nice to see an action hero who’s allowed to be out of breath when he’s running for his life. She promised me that she’d pass it on to him. Less than two minutes later, however, she called back…or, more specifically, Ritter had called her back, concerned about how much or little of his response I’d actually been able to hear. Before reconnecting us, however, she did indeed pass on my comment.)
JR: She just told me that you like the fact that he’s able to be out of breath. That’s what I like, too! He’s not a superhuman. He’s just trying to do the right thing. But he’s terrified, and he’s out of his element. (Hesitates, then laughs) So, yeah, that’s all I’ve got! I just didn’t know how much, if any, of what I’d said you’d actually heard.
BE: I appreciate that. I was already wondering how abrupt the ending of that quote was going to be, so thanks for wrapping it up properly.
JR: (Laughs) Absolutely!
BE: Fingers crossed for the distribution deal…and for a second season of “The Event”!JR: Thanks a lot! Good talking to you!