Interview: Jason Ritter of 'The Perfect Family'
'My nightmare had anxiety daydreams … of Kathleen Turner calling me a fraud.'
Starring opposite Kathleen Turner and Emily Deschanel in "The Perfect Family," Jason Ritter uses his easy smile and comedic timing to add both drama and comedy to the family saga of the script, as devout Catholic Turner, eligible for one of the church's higher honors, tries to hide her lesbian daughter Deschanel and separated son Ritter. We spoke with Ritter over the phone about his work in the film, what brought him to the role and how his work on shows like "Parenthood" and "The Event" makes his indie-film career in movies like "Good Dick" and "Bag of Hammers" possible.
MSN Movies: How did this come to you as a project? At the time did you know that it was going to be as strong an ensemble as it was?
Jason Ritter: No … Basically, the script came to me through the producers Cora Olsen and Jen Dubin. I produced a movie with them and Marianna Palka a few years ago called "Good Dick" and I've been friends with them ever since. They showed me the script for their new movie. I think they had Kathleen Turner interested in it, but she hadn't quite signed on yet. I think I was an early member of the cast. When we heard Kathleen Turner was finally going to do it, that was also obviously a huge exciting day, and Sharon Lawrence. I mean, it’s a great cast.
That's part of it. When you show up and you're like, "Okay I'm working with these people today -- " I mean the film is clearly constructed as a centerpiece for Ms. Turner, or she's certainly the lead character, but everyone in it is great -- I mean, did you get to sit down with Richard Chamberlain and pester him about his career?
I wish. I wish I had more time with him. I saw him on set a couple of times, but I never actually got to really hang out with him, but the times that I did he seemed like a very nice man.
You must get a lot of scripts. What is it in this one specifically that made you go, "Okay. I'm on it. I get this?"
What I liked about it is that it doesn’t really come down heavy-handed on either side. I really like that at the end the family shows up for each other. As much as we are angry and upset with her for the way she seems to judge our lifestyles and things like that, we've also been sort of judging her for something that’s very important to her as well. I really liked that element of it. That at the end of the day it was sort of about acceptance at all levels, and that hopefully your beliefs don’t keep you from having a relationship with your family. There was just something about that ending scene, even in script form, that always really struck me and kind of made the whole thing worth it.
But then they say to you, "Oh, by the way, you get to act as if you're blind drunk at the worst possible moment."
Yes, exactly. Exactly. In a "Beer Hunter" shirt. Yeah that was a lot of fun.
Is it fun throwing yourself into something that physical, being slouched over your onscreen dad Michael McGrady's shoulder at the end of it?
I definitely was happy. He's not a sprite of a man. He can take my weight and drag me out of the room.
I think "sprite of a man" might be my favorite new euphemism.
Yeah, (Michael) is a big strong man. It was fun. I felt taken care of. I didn't feel like he was going to drop me, or his knees were going to buckle, or anything like that. So I just got to kind of be a rag doll and get carried around.
When you're doing scenes opposite Ms. Turner, I mean … she's had such a great career.
Oh yeah, absolutely. When I found out she was going to be this main character, I was so excited, and then I was incredibly intimidated. There's actresses that will come in and do a job, and they'll do it fine, and then there's actors that can elevate an entire movie with their performance. Kathleen is definately the latter, so I didn't know quite what to expect. I didn't know what her process would be. My nightmare had anxiety daydreams of her just going, "Who is this kid? He can't act. Kick him out. What do you think you're doing?" You know, calling me out for a being a fraud or something like that. Then as soon as I met her, and we were all rehearsing in this theater together, the most important thing always to her was the work. It was such a relief, and my intimidation all sort of washed away within a couple minutes of meeting her and realizing how accessible she is and what a team player she is. She is great, and just hilarious. Oh, my goodness.
She does some great physical comedy in this that's kind of understated, like when she's speed vacuuming out of stress.
Yeah, or the big fall that she does. She really throws herself into it. She's so hilarious, and she can be so deadpan. Every once in a while we would be working and she would have a clip and it would just bust everyone up. She's great.
When you read something like this, which actually talks about specific issues of faith and specific issues of family and belonging, and how do we process the seeming gaps between scripture and our secular age, that's got to be pretty rare.
Absolutely. I think it's a touchy subject. I feel like if you have any conversation about religion it can get heated really fast if its not handled well. I felt like the message of this movie was much more subtle and beautiful than any one way of living is right or wrong. I liked that it sort of was an exploration and that you understand why Catholicism means so much to her and why she wants this prayer resolution so badly. Its not like she's just someone who always grew up with it and never kind of grew out of it. Its something she's really thrown herself into for reasons that are totally justified by her character. I just thought it gave everyone a fair shake. I'm always wary of movies are scripts that seem to over simplify complicated issues. I'd much rather have something displayed in all its complexity and then have a discussion afterwards.
You have had a great career recently doing films like "Bag of Hammers," which I found hysterical. Do thinks like "Parenthood" and "The Event" kind of make that possible? Like, you do the day job with the space aliens or the big cast of great actors and then you can shoot stuff like this on your breaks?
Absolutely. I love doing television. I love the feeling of having as close to a steady job as you can ever have as an actor. I'm not an extravagant spender, so when I work on a TV show for a season or do a bunch of episodes as a reoccurring, I try to spread the money that comes from that out so that I can do these movies that are important to me. The only reason I ever do an independent film is that I believe in it, and I think it has something special to offer. I'm certainly not doing it to be a millionaire. Each one I love for a certain reason. I think everyone is there, because they want to be and they believe in it, and that makes for a nice environment. I feel like sometimes people on television shows can start taking things for granted, or they don’t want to be here or something like that. I feel like you have a whole group of people who have taken time out of their life to make something that they think will be beautiful hopefully. It's always nice when it comes together.
("The Perfect Family" is now in limited release.)