Tribeca Interview: Parenthood’s Jason Ritter Discusses Suicide And Its Rippling Effect

Up until the last few years, actor Jason Ritter was known for being the late John Ritter’s son. There’s a lot of expectation that comes from a young and promising actor that has huge shoes to fill, especially one with a certain lineage in the industry. That said, Jason has proven that while he’s cut from the same cloth, and is essentially his father’s spitting image, the actor has a different dynamic to bring to the millennial generation and in turn his own work. As someone who frequently caught Three’s Company reruns, it’s a thrill to see where the two generations of Ritter men diverge in their body of work.

Now, breaking out from what could have been a hindrance on an acting career, Ritter, from NBC’s Parenthood (Mark Cyr) and CBS’ Joan of Arcadia (Kevin), displays his best work to date in director-writer Jesse Zwick’s contemporary film, About Alex.

Described as a crises-reunion film that’s being compared to the 80s cult film The Big Chill, About Alex explores the complex feelings a group of friends experience after dealing with a friend’s attempted suicide. In the film Ritter plays the title character, which suggests that he’s the lead, but instead the character Alex is the glue that brings everyone together, and more or less acts as a platform for the underlying issues a once close knit group has yet to address.

Although Ritter is given meaty material, most of the showy scenes are given to the friends that orbit his world for a weekend, as they grapple with his character’s actions. Ritter brilliantly uses his effortless charm and vulnerability as a leading man to give an understated performance that still manages to hold weight without feeling underutilized or obtrusive to the storylines he supports. It’s a rare quality that usually comes with experience, but for the actor it’s his selfless undertone that comes through in his performance.

What’s refreshing about Jason is whether he’s taking on a film role, or guest starring on Parenthood, he’s extremely expressive and generous. Unsurprisingly, Ritter also has this in spades in real life while discussing in-depth a subject that others might only scratch the surface with, out of fear of discussing it.

Jason Ritter was candid during a roundtable discussion with The Inquisitr to discuss all the complicated emotions and events that transpire from suicide to promote About Alex.

THE INQUISITR: Your character dresses up to commit suicide. How was that experience?

JASON RITTER: Yeah that was a really interesting day. Everyone was really quiet. I hadn’t slept for a couple of days at that point.

Was that intentional?

Yeah. I wanted to be exhausted and calm. It wasn’t a suicide in a fit of passion, it was a quiet, thought out, deliberate suicide, so he’s been thinking about it for a while, and he puts this thing in his pocket, and dresses up in a suit, and gets into the bathtub in all of his clothes. That was how it had been written and there was something about it that I really understood and liked. When you find out later what had led to it, and what he was thinking about at the time, it colors it a little bit differently. It was hard to shoot.

Was it hard transitioning out of that?

It almost felt like you’re turning the heat up on something, and then it starts to get hot, but as soon as it’s over you can jump out of it. I was with all of these friends and people that I loved so that day was over and we went back to everything being normal, but it was heavy.

Did you pull on any real life experiences?

I’ve had friends that have attempted suicide and luckily none of them have been successful. It’s this really intense thing to think about, when a human thinks that this is the best option for them. One of the reasons why I wanted to do this movie is that I felt that it was so real. Max [Greenfield’s] character is furious at my character and furious at himself. It sends everyone into a panic. There’s guilt, there’s feelings of “I should have seen this coming,” and there’s also this despair that you feel as a friend, and this feeling of failure. I walk around knowing that if I was having a really hard time, I could call this person and this person, and they would be there for me. The idea that my friend didn’t feel like he could talk to me, or wasn’t even worth letting me even try to cheer him up is a real rejection. Obviously it’s a very dark place and you don’t blame them, but it’s just this heartbreaking thing. I had the lucky opportunity that a lot of people don’t have which was to talk with him afterwards and get answers and tell him that I love him. I’ve also had friends who have had people who are close to them kill themselves and they carry that around for the rest of their lives.

Do you think people understand that depression often doesn’t allow people who commit suicide to ask for help?

Absolutely, and that’s the thing that you realize as a friend, that there’s chemical elements. It’s a dark place for people who don’t experience depression to sort of imagine, but that’s what makes it so hard for people to wrap their heads around. You have to realize that it’s not the person’s fault and it’s not about them rejecting you or thinking you’re not a good enough friend. It’s them being consumed by a darkness that’s so endless to them, but it’s a very painful thing. We would like to believe about ourselves that we can save people and change them and at the end of the day we can only really be held accountable for our own actions.

About Alex premiered at The Tribeca Film Festival on April 17, 2014. Up next for Jason Ritter is You’re Not You.

[Image Credit: Footprint Features]