The first series of TV drama The Event comes to DVD and Blu-ray on October 3rd.
Ahead of the release, we speak to series star Jason Ritter about how it felt growing up in a showbiz family – he’s the son of the late actor John Ritter and actress Nancy Morgan – what it was like to commit to a huge scale project like The Event and whether he believes in alien conspiracies.
Q: How does it feel to do a pilot – as you did with The Event – not knowing whether it will get picked up or not? Is it weird?
A: It is, especially with a show like The Event. It’s like a big mystery and you think ‘Man, if they don’t make a second episode, I will never find out where that plane went!’ I’d have to go through my entire life not knowing, or I’d have to corner the writer at a party and say ‘Just tell me!’
But it was really nice to find out that we got picked up. It’s strange though, because you imagine both scenarios – like ‘My life could be this for the next year.’ Or even the next six years, potentially! Or it could go back to being the way it was before I shot the pilot.
Q: To commit to such a big show, though, must be very odd…
A: It is. You actually have to sign the contract that says you would do it for six years, right before your final audition. So I remember the first time I did that. I was doing pilot season and I remember going ‘Oh my gosh, I’m signing a sheet of paper that says ‘Seven years of my life will be dedicated to this’ – at this point I was 22 – ‘I’ll be 30 at the end of this series.’
Then you sign it and it’s like such a big deal and then you just don’t get the part. You mess it up! So after a certain point, you’re like ‘OK, it’s seven years…let me focus on the audition.’ Then all of a sudden, after you get the part, you get to think about ‘What if?’ It’s always such a slow process and TV shows these days are such a slow burn to being a hit. There are not too many things that just burst out and are huge straight away.
Q: Still, The Event’s pilot was such an explosive beginning, it would’ve been impossible for them to turn it down!
A: Exactly! Just out of pure curiosity! Of all the pilots that I read last season, that was by far my favourite and the most intriguing. You want to see what happens next. You don’t say to yourself, ‘Well, I’m sure next week they’ll find another body and the sexual tension between the two leads will thrive!’
Q: Is it the mystery element of the show that has intrigued audiences so far?
A: I think that’s definitely part of it. But at a certain point, they just want the answers and want to move forward! So that’s one of the exciting things about the show. It’s not all about stringing people along. There are some really cool action sequences, then just watching characters deal with their moral dilemmas is interesting. It’s been interesting to see the season evolve – all these characters who have ideals at the beginning of the show, how far we’ve all changed because of the circumstances.
Q: What were your initial feelings with you read the early scripts?
A: It was intriguing. It was exciting. I liked all the characters. It’s interesting when you have characters who are both trying to be good people but are at completely opposing ends of the spectrum as far as what they want or need. Someone has got to bend or cave.
It’s just been interesting to watch, especially for me to watch Sophia and Martinez to go from friends who are about to make this announcement together about us (the human race) not being alone to being bitter enemies. But I think there’s an element for everybody – there’s a love story, there are cool action sequences, which I particularly love! It’s exciting. It’s nice to have a show that moves forward. I remember when we did the pilot and I was imagining the first season.
I was thinking ‘I’ll find Leila maybe at the end of Season 1.’ Then by episode 6, Sean had found her and they were moving on. It was exciting to have a show that wasn’t afraid of following through on promises and then moving on.
Q: How do you think Leila and Sean have evolved since he found her again after her kidnap?
A: They’ve both gone through a lot of stuff since they went on that cruise. I think they both had no idea that they would ever be in these situations or in the circles that they have been running in and that’s taken a toll on them. Leila hasn’t been the same since her kidnapping and she has a lot of new information to take in about the fact that she’s not fully human and Sean makes the difficult decision of leaving her. But the thing that they have is that they do still really love each other and they need each other.
There have been times that they’ve been able to reconnect, either on the phone or at certain times during the rest of the season that are really meaningful to both of them. They are just two people who are in a situation that they can’t get out of. They both would love to go back to where they were but they know that their lives will never be the same and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Q: What are your memories of filming the pilot? In particular, the plane sequence…
A: It was pretty intense. It was cool. We had a whole plane set, which was really nice. It was filled with people, so it wasn’t like I had to sit in a seat in a green room, knowing they were going to put in fake people. It was a lot of fun. The tough stuff was we were about to go into the white light and the plane is crashing and at that point, they’re shaking the cameras around. So we had to hang on and pretend!
But at the same time, they had luggage carts going around and they were throwing cups at us! Jeffrey Reiner is one of those directors who will just get you there. He will come up behind you with a bullhorn and scare the hell out of you, if that’s what it takes! So he’s really great. He did the pilot and has done a bunch of episodes throughout the course of the season.
Q: What was the toughest episode to shoot?
A: There’s a scene coming up in which Sean finds out a lot more about who he is and why he’s been able to survive all these crazy things. It’s a lot of information to take in. That’s been one of the challenging things for me. On other projects I’m able to say to myself ‘I know what it’s like when my friend is going through a hard time’ or ‘I know what it’s like to love someone and not have them love you back.’
Whatever it is, all these human things…but I don’t know what it’s like to stumble across a huge conspiracy or find out my girlfriend is half-alien. So it’s been an interesting challenge to try to figure out how to make these things work, but it’s always been fun. One of the most challenging days was when we crashed the plane in the desert and I had to run away from the plane. It was really rocky terrain and by the time they had cut, I was too far away to hear them and I was too scared to stop running and ruin a shot! I kept on running until all two hundred background artists were yelling ‘Stop!’ I could hear this roar from the ground.
Q: How exhausting is it to be part of such a show?
A: There are definitely days when I come home and I need to go straight to sleep. That’s totally different from any other thing I’ve worked on. I’ve come home mentally exhausted or emotionally exhausted, but I’ve never come home and said, ‘My legs are about to give out from underneath me! I need to take a bath!’ So it’s been a new, fun process, but I’ve loved it. There’s something about being able to incorporate all parts of yourself that is really exhilarating and fun.
Q: Do you see The Event as filling in the chasm left by Lost?
A: You know, it does for me. I remember when I read the pilot, before I got the part, I was like, ‘I’m going to be watching this show anyway.’ Not that they’re so similar. There are similarities. But I like watching a show that I can think about afterwards and chew on the mythology and say, ‘This is a show where people have thought about the story that they’re telling. They’re not just giving me little episodes that are inter-changeable.’
It was a whole seven-course meal that we were being fed with Lost. For me, it’s just as fun to have a whole new set of characters that I can ultimately love and dislike and be frustrated with or empathise with. I really love that.
Q: Are you the sort that reads all the blogs about The Event?
A: Oh, yeah. I’m there all the time. I have a group of friends and they all watch The Event every Monday night at my Mom’s house! Then we all go outside afterwards and talk about it and talk about our theories. Lately, it’s been tougher because I’m much further ahead than I ever have been as far as shooting episodes. At the beginning of the season, we were only one or two episodes ahead, so I would be able to join in more. Now what’s fun is listening to all the different theories which can really totally vary.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Los Angeles. My parents are actors and two of my grandparents were actors. I would go visit my Dad on sets and my Mom as well. When my brother, sister and I were first born, my Mom decided to take off time and raise us. But once we all got to the age where we started to take care of ourselves, she started working again, she did this series in Santa Fe, Lucky Luke, based on that comic book character. They built this whole ghost town in Santa Fe and my brother, sister and I went up there for the summer.
Q: Did your Dad do more TV work or movies?
A: He did a little bit of everything. He did a lot of TV movies. Actually one of the things that inspired me was that his closest friends from high school and college were his closest friends for his entire life. Some of them were actors, some were writers or directors – but they all worked in the same field. And there are a lot of times where on his hiatus from Three’s Company, his friend from high school would write a movie, one of his college friends would direct it and his actor friends would be in it. They’d all create something together and that always seemed like such a fun, great thing.
Q: How do you envisage your career panning out now?
A: I’m just going to take it as it comes. I hope we get to do The Event for many more years and this summer I’m going to try to do a bunch of independent films that I’m planning on doing. It’s always about just trying to find the right project.
Q: You have a lot of other movie projects on the boil. What can you say about Ryan O’Nan’s The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best?
A: Yes, I have a cameo in that. I think we shot that almost right before I went back to work on The Event. I haven’t seen the whole movie yet but I’ve heard good things…I heard it turned out really well. I play Ryan O’Nan’s other bandmate. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that he and I have differing ideas about our music. His song lyrics are about a moth going to the light and mine are all about vampires and werewolves having sex with each other! My character fancies himself to be dark and intense and stuff like that. So they break up and that sends Ryan O’Nan to meet his true band partner.
Q: You also have Free Samples, with Jesse Eisenberg…
A: Yeah, yeah. That was really fun. Jesse and I worked together on an independent film a while ago and the star of Free Samples, Jess Weixler and I did a movie called Peter and Vandy. I knew that they knew each other but it was nice to get to work with them at the same time. That was a really fun script. I’ve heard good things about that one too. Jess plays a law-school drop-out who decides to take over her friend’s ice-cream free sample truck for the day – and I play one of her friends.
Q: And finally there’s The Perfect Family with Kathleen Turner…
A: Yes. That’s a fun movie about this woman who is about to win Catholic Woman of the Year and it really means a lot to her. Her family is falling apart and she’s trying to keep us all in line, at least until she can get this award and move forward. I play her son, who is basically in the middle of leaving his wife. He got his wife pregnant in high school. They got married. He’s never been in love and he’s decided to take this exact period of time to explore the world around him and find himself.
Q: How was it working with Kathleen Turner?
A: That was fantastic. I was so nervous, just because she’s Kathleen Turner. I’ve watched her my whole life. She’s so funny and so great. I was terrified! And then she was really accessible and sweet and such a professional. I’ve seen her do all these incredible movies and Broadway…and there she was, just giving her all to this independent movie. I loved her so much – she’s just such a passionate person. And it was really a thrill to work with her.
Q: How have you managed to fit these in around The Event schedule?
A: Both Free Samples and Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best were squeezed in there. They were just a couple of days of shooting each. I waited and said ‘OK, I do have two days off.’ It was lucky enough to work out. There have been a couple of things that I’ve tried to do and sometimes the schedule hasn’t worked out. But it is nice when it does work out and I can do projects with friends and be part of what they’re all doing.
Q: So what do you have coming up next?
A: There are a couple of things I’m set to be a part of, if the financing or casting comes through. I think I will do this movie called I Am I. We put it on the Kickstarter website, where if you raise a certain amount of money by the end of the time period, you get to keep it. That’s how they got the first $100,000 and I think we’ll start shooting that in a couple of weeks and that’s a really beautiful film.
Q: It must be a nice contrast to do small-scale films and then do something like The Event?
A: It is. It’s nice to be able to jump back and forth. It’s a different set of tools that you’re using and it’s nice to give certain ones a rest and try other things. That’s always fun. Like in Free Samples my character has a Chinese character tattoo that he never bothered translating! That’s one of my favourite things – reading a script and being introduced to all these incredible characters that have come out of someone’s mind.
Q: Final question – are you a believer yourself in alien conspiracies?
A: It’s hard not to! I just saw this video posted on Twitter, which featured a 12 minute video all about these sightings that have happened in the last couple of years and some of the footage is pretty insane. I would imagine if something did happen, like in Roswell, New Mexico, back in the day, they might have kept it quiet!
They might have decided that we weren’t ready to hear! Maybe soon we will. I’ve heard on some radio shows that The Event is the government’s way of easing the American people into the idea that it’s all true!