Jason Ritter gets around. Comedy, drama, animation, features, TV and live comedy performances - he's done a little of everything. Jesse Zwick's ensemble drama About Alex lets him mix it up a little further, playing a young man recovering from a suicide attempt who finds himself surrounded by his college friends - who are even more discombobulated than he is.
It's easily the most complex role in the picture, and Ritter commits to it fully. Over the phone from New York City, he talked about finding the confusion at the heart of the character - but first we had to talk about some of his other work.
You're the voice of Dipper Pines in the Disney animated series Gravity Falls, and you've appeared on the Thrilling Adventure Hour. Is it wrong that I just want to ask you about those?
No, that's wonderful! I love those two things very, very much. The first episode of the second season [of Gravity Falls] came out yesterday, and I spent all day on the internet with everybody else trying to figure out the code at the end of the episode. It was so much fun. I'm really happy doing that show.
Both Gravity Falls and Thrilling Adventure are these lovely, intelligent and somehow weirdly innocent cultural artifacts - they're made for adults who remember what it's like to be kids. And you fit into them so well.
Yeah - both of them, there's nothing in them that would make a child's ears bleed or anything like that [laughing]. They're all completely clean, but they're both so sharp and funny. A lot of good writers are floating around those two shows - [Thrilling Adventure Hour creators] Ben Acker and Ben Blacker are incredible writers. It's such a fun experience.
About Alex is set over a few days following the suicide attempt of your character, Alex. He's just out of the hospital, and all his friends are swarming around him trying to help - but he's going through his own stuff. You play it with a weird combination of shame and irritation, which I thought was really interesting. He just won't engage.
Absolutely. That was actually one of the things that intrigued me about the script - you know, all these people come into this house for this one person, and he doesn't say much. That was fascinating; there's obviously got to be so much going on for him. I mean, he's just attempted this awful, sad, tragic thing, and now he's surrounded by friends when he's been completely alone for months at a time. When I was reading it, I was thinking, "Oh, man, I wonder what's going through his head right now. When this other character says this thing, how would that make him feel?" I was excited to sort of jump in the middle, and just try to sit with all the complicated things that are going through his head and see how he made it through a weekend like that, when so much was going on.
This is an ensemble picture about a close-knit group of friends. Did you get time to bond with your castmates? Was there a long rehearsal period?
It was pretty fast. For the most part, we hadn't spent that much time with each other and were trying to pretend we've known each other for 10 years. It was important that we all create a rapport with each other, so as much as there was reading through the script and talking about character, there was also a lot of just bonding and getting to know each other so we could feel comfortable with each other, and try to mimic that thing of having been friends with someone for years and years.
How well did you know your co-stars before production started?
I'd run into Max Greenfield a bunch of times - we have a lot of mutual friends - and Aubrey [Plaza] I had seen at a couple of things. No, I didn't really know anyone. Nate [Parker] I'd just met. Jane [Levy] I met there, although everyone met Jane there; that's what's important - we bonded with her anyway, just for fun [laughing]. But yeah, that's one of the hardest things: when people have history with each other they have stories together, they have inside jokes, shared memories. So to me it would be impossible to show up on a day and shake someone's hand, say "Nice to meet you" and then pretend to do that. But once you have a couple of shared memories - "Hey, remember when we went to dinner last night, the day we all met each other?" - you can take those experiences and stretch them out a little bit longer. So it was nice that our job at a certain point was just to get to know each other and share with each other so we ended up caring about each other in real life.
But then you had to put all that aside, because your character's suicide attempt creates this unspoken tension between him and the rest of the room.
Yeah, exactly. I think Alex goes back and forth between being grateful that people are dancing around it and feeling strange that people are ignoring it. He wants it to be acknowledged and not acknowledged at the same time.
You recently shot You're Not You, a drama with Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum and Marcia Gay Harden. Any odds we'll be seeing that at TIFF in September?
No one's contacted me about it. At some point I'm sure it's gotta come out. I was only in a handful of scenes, but the work I saw going on around me was beautiful and amazing and heartbreaking. I've talked to people who have seen it, and they've said it's really good, so I'm excited to get to see it as well.