Jason Ritter on Parenthood, being in a cartoon, and getting ready for Minnesota winter
You might remember actor Jason Ritter from the mid-2000s show Joan of Arcadia, or the short-lived series The Event. Ritter's recent work on Parenthood has earned him recognition as the lovable teacher Mark Cyr, for which he earned an Emmy nomination. He'll be in the upcoming show Us & Them, which follows a the relationship of a couple who started dating over the internet before finally meeting in real life.
Tonight, Ritter will take the stage with Minneapolis creative maven Dessa for Wits at the Fitzgerald. We chatted with Ritter this week to talk about his departure (and return) to Parenthood along with some of his favorite shows on television these days.
What kind of preparation are you doing for Thursday night's show?
I am basically going to get a lot of sleep the night before. [Laughs] It's my first time doing it. I don't know if they let you use scripts when you get there or how you do it, but it doesn't seem like there's much in the preparation until you get there. But as far as I know, I arrive there on Thursday, and then I guess I'll learn what I'm doing that night... and then freak out for a couple hours and then do it.
You'll be onstage with Dessa at Wits, do you listen to her music at all?
Yeah, I do! I'm so clueless about music, so once I found out that we were doing the show together, I looked her up and she's awesome. I'm really excited to get to work with her.
You've been working on the animated series Gravity Falls along with some films and other television lately -- do you find there's an art to switching back and forth between these different styles of performance?
They are all different, but sometimes the cartoon is the strangest because there's so little in your immediate environment to suggest what you're doing or where you are. You can't say like, 'Well, can we have a giant, animatronic pterodactyl flying at me so I can really react to it truthfully?' You just sort of have to make it all up. But it's really exciting to see it animated all those months later. I always just sort of show up and try to do my best with whatever is in front of me. And a lot of times, I have a great director or someone who will shepherd me into the correct performance if I'm a little off.
You're pretty active on Twitter, and you tweet out a bunch of pretty funny one-liners. Do you test these out on folks before hitting the button? Or do you just send them out into the ether and see if people like them?
I usually just send them out into the ether. There have been several times where I have wished I'd maybe tested it out a little first or asked a friend, because some of them fall pretty flat. But it is pretty nice when people seem to like one. For the most part, it'll just be some pun or something that's floating around in my brain, then I just purge it onto Twitter.
Do you interact with your fans on Twitter a lot?
Yeah, sometimes! It's nice to have immediate connection. I can't imagine what it would've been like when I was 12, 13, 14, to be able to follow some of the people I liked or something like that. It's so exciting now. A lot of the people I grew up idolizing and listening to I follow on Twitter. It's a nice little thing. Everyone seems so impossibly distant and untouchable and it's funny to follow them and see them be like, 'Oh yeah, I just went to the store today.' It's so great.
It was just announced that your character on Parenthood will be making an appearance on the show again this spring. Can you tell us anything about how he'll be coming back into the Bravermans' lives?
I have no real idea. I heard that I'll be running into someone in the Braverman family. It sounds to me that at least initially it's not with Lauren [Graham, who plays Ritter's ex-fiance Sarah Braverman on the show]. I have no idea who I run into, but I am just so excited to go back. I love that family, and I love that whole universe. It's such a wonderful place to work, and it's filled with such incredibly warm and talented people. It feels like home to me anytime I go back there.
It seems like you guys have formed this little TV family on and off the set, which seems like a pretty good environment to be working in.
Absolutely. My first episode was in the first season, and this is the fifth season now. It's been four years, so I've come in and out of their lives, but it's been nice to have them around. And there will be a lot of times where Lauren [Graham] and Mae [Whitman] and Miles [Heizer] and I will all go out and have a little meal and catch up and see what's been going on with the show. It's really nice. They're all such lovely people, and they welcomed me into the fold as if I was an honorary Braverman.
There was a serious reaction to your character's departure from the show -- it seemed like fans all had really, really strong feelings about the love triangle between Sarah, Mark, and Hank -- did you follow those audience reactions at all?
I did! The cool thing about it is that it seemed, at least from my perspective, pretty fairly split down the middle, which I think is good. I feel like a love triangle doesn't necessarily work if it's completely lopsided. It was nice to see the strong reaction for my character, but it was also really interesting to see people who felt as strongly that she should be with Ray, and that I was not right for her and all this stuff.
I feel that's what makes good television: You present the same scenario [to an audience], and because everyone's different, they react differently to it. You're not necessarily told one way or another how to feel. You just say, 'These are people, we're all imperfect. We all have flaws.' Sometimes you line up one character's flaws and sometimes you line up with another character's flaws, and it makes you root for different people. I was really fascinated by that whole thing, and I did follow it pretty closely.
You just shot Us & Them, which is based off of a British show. Will it follow the original closely? Or have you guys taken liberties with the story since it's set in the States now?
We couldn't follow it too closely because there were only something like 20 episodes. Each season was like six episodes long, so in the first episode they're together and I think in the second episode he proposed to her so it sort of moves very fast through their story. I believe the writers' plan was to use those episodes as a sort of signpost, but have more stories in the meantime and not have us get engaged right away. There were a lot of things that were similar. I think people who like the British show will see like, 'Oh this character is like that character.' Then there are some things that were completely made up by the writers.
Since the show has gone on hiatus, do you have anything else in the works right now?
I've done a handful of independent movies, but I don't know when any of them are coming out or going to festivals or anything like that. But I'm excited to go back on Parenthood, and season two of Gravity Falls, the cartoon, will be out later this year. That's been really exciting. There's a big mystery at the center of the cartoon, and there was a huge reveal and cliffhanger at the end of season one. So season two is exciting because you're finally getting into what that means. I like shows that have mythologies and mysteries and things like that. It's fun. I feel like I'm a fan who gets advanced copies of the script.
What's your favorite thing on television right now?
Recently I've been watching a lot of Key & Peele on Comedy Central. Those guys are so funny. I've been watching a lot of sort of creepier shows like American Horror Story, Walking Dead. There's so much good TV right now, a lot of it's just on my DVR right now that I haven't caught up with. I'm behind on the Newsroom, but I think that's such a great show. And I've just started watching Breaking Bad. I know I'm late, but it's really exciting. It's fun to know that the story is there already in its entirety, and I can just go through it at whatever pace I want and I won't be disappointed. Sometimes when you're watching a new show, it feels like am I reading a book in which the last seven chapters have just been ripped out, and I didn't know it. There's something nice about knowing before I even start that I'll be able to get all the way to the juicy end.
It's been pretty chilly here recently, are you ready to endure the Minnesota weather?
[Laughs] I will make sure to pack a jacket. I might have forgotten to do that, had you not said anything. I would've been like, 'Oh, isn't everywhere just like Los Angeles right now?' I do know Minnesota gets pretty cold around this time, so I will bring a jacket, and a hat, and I'll probably embarrass myself with how many layers I have on.
IF YOU GO:
Wits: Jason Ritter with musical guest Dessa
8 p.m. Thursday, December 19
More info here