In the indie feature Peter and Vandy, Jason Ritter stars as one half of a New York City couple who fall in love, then out of love, and then get back together. A pretty simple premise, except the whole film is told out of chronological order. It shifts back and forth between the good times, the bad, the innocent beginnings and the lessons learned.
Huffington Post reporter Zorianna Kit sat down with the 29-year-old actor to talk about the film, the pressures of growing up in a famous family and how the death of his father, sitcom star John Ritter, affected him.
Zorianna Kit: What drew you to Peter and Vandy?
Jason Ritter: It seemed authentic. Peter's experience of being a man in this world seemed very close to my own experience.
Zorianna: How do you identify with him?
Jason: I even flirt the same way he does - and it works about as well for me as it does for him!
Zorianna: I see! You couldn't even look me in the eye when you said that!
Jason: (laughs and blushes) Yeah, Peter's lack of confidence is something that I find in myself. Our insecurities are perfectly lined up.
Zorianna: You mean, like in the film, Peter is always apologizing for himself and --
Jason: -- and I also apologize for myself. Too much. I'm trying not to do that. This movie actually helped me to stop doing that a little bit because when I saw it, I was, like, 'Oh my gosh!' As a viewer, I wanted Peter to stop apologizing.
Zorianna: When was the last time you apologized?
Jason: Probably 10 minutes ago. (Laughs) I made a bad joke and I could have just let it be a bad joke but I apologized for it.
(Jess Weixler and Ritter in "Peter and Vandy")
Zorianna: Given that you and Peter share similar insecurities, what's the worst thing a woman can do to a man to make him feel insecure?
Jason: The worst thing she can do is to shame or humiliate or correct him in public. Belittle him.
Zorianna: On the flip side, what's the worst thing a man can do to a woman?
Jason: Assume that he knows everything about her. (Laughs) One can never know everything!!! Both men and women are really vast and boundless and yet in many films we're told that they're not. We're told they can only be one thing - like handsome and charming and that's it. Nothing more.
Zorianna: A stereotype.
Jason: Exactly. I dislike that. I'm always frightened away by movies that lower the bar on our endeavor to learn more about the crazy weird creatures that we are.
Zorianna: As an actor, can you do anything about that?
Jason: I think at a certain point actors need to start taking responsibility for the kinds of stories they want to tell. I have a few favorite actors and actresses and I trust their judgment. I will go see any movie they're in. But if they do some horrible project and it's obvious that they've done it for the money, I feel betrayed as a fan. So I've tried to make decisions to choose things that interest me.
Zorianna: Most of your work is in the independent film word. Not a lot of money there, but actors always say roles in indie movies tend to be meatier.
Jason: I've certainly auditioned for big budget studio films. I don't know if it's because there's so much money involved, but a lot of times the pressure overwhelms me and engulfs me. I end up falling apart in the audition.
Zorianna: Wow, you really are similar to Peter in Peter and Vandy because in the movie Peter gets overwhelmed at job interviews and ends up not getting them.
Jason: Exactly. (laughs) And of course I end up apologizing for myself. So now you can understand when I read the Peter and Vandy script and thought: "This guy is in the movie? But this is just like me!!"
Zorianna: But isn't an audition an audition - whether it's for a big studio film or a little indie? How do you get overwhelmed at one and not the other?
Jason: I think a lot of times in the bigger movies, they're trying to cater to a wide audience so each character's personality is completely separate from the next character. For example, in a studio movie, the nice guy might be best friends with the chauvinist pig. Well, in real life, in any group of friends, that would be unrealistic because like-minded people find each other. Why would 'the nice guy' actually be friends with the 'chauvinist?' But I get that they're trying to appeal to everyone. Unfortunately because they have it cut up that way, I have hard time cutting out aspects of my personality. It feels false and that's my big nightmare. I understand there's a time and a place for that, but I just haven't been able to find my way in to that kind of movie.
Zorianna: How do you think the industry perceives you?
Jason: (laughs) I have no idea! My final goal is not to be super rich or super famous. If there is a perception out there, I'm hoping it's that of someone who at least tries to do different things, takes risks, doesn't try to do what he did in the last movie, or was a little better or funnier.
Zorianna: Speaking of your last movie, in The Education of Charlie Banks, which came out this past spring, you played an evil sociopath named Mick. Talk about different! That dude would never apologize for any of his actions!
Jason: No, he wouldn't and that was why I loved that character. A lot of times people make the mistake of assuming that we are who we put out to the world. I would never show the world that side of me that is Mick. Maybe it's because I'm too concerned about what people think of me, but that guy is definitely in me. My blood boils at the same things that make Mick's blood boil. I just don't punch someone in the face about it.
Zorianna: Wait! You are concerned about what other think of you? But both your parents were in the business. I would assume not caring about others' opinions would have been ingrained in you since you were in the womb!
Jason: Both of my parents didn't take anything personally, but I take everything personally. I don't mean to and I don't want to. But I'm not the person who says: 'Oh I don't read my reviews.' I read everything and let it destroy me (laughs).
Zorianna: I would think an actor would have to be immune to that stuff. Did you always want to be an actor? Or where was there never any question that you'd be one because of your family lineage?
Jason: There were plenty of questions about it. Especially when I was starting out because who knew if I was going to get any work? Who knew if any work would ever been seen as anything other than my dad pulling some strings? Even after his passing I think that people still somehow have a perception that maybe I kind of walked in to this.
Zorianna: Did you feel pressure because you were the son of a beloved, famous comedian?
Jason: Not pressure from my parents. I felt pressure in the world. Like anything I did could possibly reflect badly on my parents. I didn't want to embarrass them.
Zorianna: Can you give me an example?
Jason: As a kid, when we went to a restaurant, it's not like I thought everyone was looking at me to mess up and embarrass my family. But I felt that way for some reason. I've always had this strange sense of being aware of everyone around me. Even if no one's watching.
Zorianna: And John Ritter and Nancy Morgan were not like that?
Jason: They were never like that. Both my parents were really kind of irreverent about that stuff. If someone would come up to my dad and say, 'Hey aren't you..." And he'd say, without missing a beat: 'Beau Bridges. Nice to meet you.' If someone ever thought he was being a jerk to say that, it didn't bother him.
Zorianna: So it's pressure you put on yourself. That must be taxing, psychologically speaking.
Jason: It is taxing. It's cost me a lot.
Zorianna: You're 29 years old now. How old were you when your dad died?
Zorianna: How did his death shape you in to who you are today?
Jason: I think it helped me realize how fragile we all are. At the end of the day, you can be a health freak or a body builder, but a truck might hit you. Or you might be a huge, larger than life personality and it could all be taken away in the next second. I learned to tell people in my life how I feel about them a little bit more.
Zorianna: So it bettered you? Because some people tend to go downhill after a death.
Jason: I went downhill for a while. I was interesting because (his death) happened right when I signed on to shoot (the TV series) Joan of Arcadia. My character dealt with his tragedy by making fun of it all the time. I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but I started to do that myself. And it's not the healthiest way to deal with it.
Zorianna: What would you do?
Jason: I'd make jokes. Like really inappropriate, sick jokes just to get through it. I can't really describe it. Certainly is wasn't an easy time for anybody. I was really thankful that I had work to focus on. If I didn't, I might have fallen (in the other direction) because I can see if you have any kind of addictive personality, a death like that could push you toward those kinds of escapes.
(Jason and John Ritter)
Zorianna: Do you see parts of your dad's personality in yourself?
Jason: I'm pretty right down the middle (of both parents) so I'll see things in myself belonging to both of them. It's eerie. It's like he's still with me in a weird way.
Zorianna: My father died when I was 17 and one thing I personally wish is that he could have met my two little girls - his grand-kids. Is there anything you would have liked your dad to see?
Jason: Oh yes. Things that you're proud of. Milestones. A bunch of my friends are getting married and their fathers walk the bride down the aisle, and I'm like (cringes) 'Ooh!' for my sisters. But you've got to think, they're seeing it somehow. They're with us.
Zorianna: How do you feel when strangers come up to you and want to talk about your father? Do you like that?
Jason: I enjoy hearing stories. If someone comes up to me and has nice story to share, I like that. I collect that. The hard thing is when - and it's happened less and less as time has gone on - but where someone wants to mourn the tragedy of his passing with me, in that moment.
Zorianna: Oh no.
Jason: It's like, I've been dealing with it in my own way and I will mourn and grieve, or not mourn and grieve, on my own time. So when someone comes up to me with a sad face and is like, "That must have been so hard!" and I'm just like, "Uh, do you want a glass of water?" I know it's sad for them, but I can't break down and cry with them. It's not that I don't feel the same way, I just can't go there with people.
Zorianna: Do you mark the death of his anniversary, 9/11/03?
Jason: It's hard not to because my littlest sister - his daughter with his second wife - her birthday is the day that he died. And on top of that it's 9/11. So it's hard to forget.
Zorianna: Would you have wanted to work with him?
Jason: (softly) Yeah, I would have loved to do that. Yeah.
Zorianna: Say he came back to Earth for five minutes to see you. What would your conversation be like? Would you ask him a question, or want to tell him something?
Jason: Boy, gosh. I have a lot of dreams like that - where I feel like I get to have some kind of conversation with him. It's almost like he's downloaded his personality into my brain so when I have a dream, my brain can access what he would have said. But to get back to your question, the more time goes by, it's less about asking something, or telling him anything. It's more about - if we had five minutes, a five-minute hug would do the trick.
Zorianna: Let's go over some of your past work. In the opening credits of Three's Company, you're the little boy next to Janice, who's feeding the goat. Do you remember shooting that?
Jason: (laughs) I don't remember doing that. But the story is they were shooting a bunch of things at the zoo and I got away from my mom. I just walked in to the shot and it made Joyce DeWitt laugh so they kept it in the opening credits.
Zorianna: You worked with Lawrence Kasdan in Mumford. You paid your dues by appearing on a soap (Days of Our Lives) and MTV's Undressed. Then came the teen Fatal Attraction movie, Swimfan.
Jason: That was the first time that I had been in a movie and had almost all of my scenes cut out by the time it came out.
Zorianna: A studio movie, no less!
Jason: Yes, a studio film. But I was like, 'Oh well, I'll be in the deleted scenes on DVD.' Nope. Didn't happen. That was the first time I felt what is a familiar thing to every actor at some point - the moment you find out that you're pretty much out of the movie.
Zorianna: And you've tackled the horror genre with Freddy vs. Jason.
Jason: I was a replacement of a guy they initially hired so immediately it was a huge slash to my confidence because I knew I was not their first choice. But I had a great time seeing Robert Englund be Freddy and it was fun running away from Jason. Those guys both scared the hell out of me when I was growing up.
Zorianna: You played Jeb Bush in Oliver Stone's W. I expected to see more of your character throughout the film.
Jason: I did that one scene and then Oliver Stone decided he wanted more of Jeb. There's a phone call that George W. has with Jeb in the film but they couldn't film my side of it because I was supposed to being doing an independent movie and the scheduling didn't work out. That made me so sad. I mean, it's Oliver Stone!
Zorianna: The last TV series you worked on was the sitcom, The Class.
Jason: That is were I faced my giant, big, overwhelming fear of comedy - of being judged for my ability - or non-ability - to do that. I felt like I jumped straight in to it and gave it my best shot. I faced my life long monster head on.
Zorianna: Life-long? Is that because your dad was considered to be such a funny man?
Jason: I think so. When I used to go out on sitcom auditions, a lot times the casting person would start the audition by telling me how incredible my dad was and how everything he said was comedy gold. Then they'd tell me to go ahead and say my lines. By that time, I'd be overwhelmed with insecurities and fumble the whole thing.
(Ritter in the 2006-2007 CBS series "The Class")
Zorianna: What was different about The Class audition?
Jason: That was the first time I went in and I said: 'This is just my sense of humor, if you like it, or if you don't like it, it's totally fine with me.' And then I got the part.
Zorianna: That must have felt so rewarding!
Jason: I was still nervous because I knew it would be inviting more comparisons (to my dad), but I didn't let that stop me.
Zorianna: What role do you think put you on the map?
Jason: I think the first thing where I started to get any sort of attention was my character in Joan of Arcadia. I played Joan's brother. TV reaches such a huge audience and I totally forget that. As I'm doing these independent films, I'm like, "Hey my movie went to three festivals, isn't that great? Eighty people saw it!" Then you do one guest star and millions of people see it. You forget about that level of exposure TV can have. Also, it was such a non-physical character that people couldn't really compare it to some of the work that my dad had done.
Zorianna: What's been your greatest career achievement so far?
Jason: My girlfriend (Marianna Palka) and I produced a movie that we both acted in, that she wrote and directed called Good Dick. We shot it in our apartment and did it for no money and got all of our friends to help. My achievement through that whole process was -
Zorianna: - not breaking up?
Jason: (bursts out laughing) Yeah, basically! No, by not listening to the voice in my head that would say: 'This is not gonna work, it's all gonna fall apart, we can't do this, we're all just kids.' I was so privately pessimistic but I kept it to myself. I pretended like, 'Yeah, everything's gonna work out dandy!' And that it did was a huge lesson for me.
(Ritter in 2008's "Good Dick")
Zorianna: Who do people on the street mistake you for the most? "Hey, aren't you that guy from...."
Jason: Sometimes they recognize as Rider Strong from Boy Meets World. (laughs) Some people think I'm Cyclops form X-Men.
Zorianna: James Marsden.
Jason: That's a compliment to me. It's funny but I just sign whatever they think I am. If they're not taking a picture of me, if I can see that there's no camera, I'm like, 'Yeah, you met this guy for sure! Just don't compare my signature to his real signature that you find on-line.'
Zorianna: That's hilarious!
Jason: Sometimes when someone comes up to me, by the time they say: 'Where do I know you from?' I've already done a quick personality assessment. I know it sounds horrible, but instead of going through my whole resume with them, I'm like, 'Okay, you were born in the 90s....maybe....Raise Your Voice, the Hilary Duff movie that's right in your age range!' And they're like, Yeah!
Zorianna: Well at least you're not saying Beau Bridges - not yet anyway!
("Peter and Vandy" is out in limited release October 9)