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Jason Ritter on '7 Minutes,' bad characters and nunchucks

The actor talks about his new indie thriller and being nervous sharing a scene with Kris Kristofferson.
Jason Ritter

Actor Jason Ritter attends the AOL Build Speaker Series in New York City.

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Born into a showbiz family with a famous father and grandfather, Jason Ritter has become a staple of both indies and television. In between his long-running recurring role on “Parenthood,” he’s appeared in a handful of small movies every year, and of great diversity. He made “7 Minutes,” in which he plays part of a small town working class trio who rob a bank, around the same time he made “About Alex,” a “Big Chill”-esque drama in which he played someone who recently attempted suicide. But “7 Minutes” is the one where he got to share a scene with Kris Kristofferson.

You tend to play all over the place. How does your agent pitch you to people?

I don’t know. [Laughs] That’s a good question. I know sometimes there’s some convincing involved.

How did you convince the filmmakers to cast you as a bank robber with neck tattoos?

I sat down with Jay [Martin], the director, and we had this great conversation. When I first got the script I was also asked if I could play Tuckey [a terrifying loose cannon character]. I wonder if in that meeting if the realization of how wrong I was for that part made him realize I should do the other one instead. There was something I understood about him. I also have a younger brother who I think is a better person than I am. [Laughs]

The structure of the film jumps around between the robbery and the backstory for all the characters, showing how they got there. It’s not just about plot, but about revealing things about the characters themselves.

You have this bizarre feeling of knowing that for some characters it’s not going to work out. When you know a character isn’t going to have a great time later, whether they get hurt or don’t make it at all, it imbues their life with this extra meaning. You see people do bad things, and you think, this person is a bad person. But if they get hurt or die you think, oh, they were just a person trying to work things out. They just made some mistakes.

How do you relate to a character so far from who you are?

I’ve always felt more connected to people than disconnected. It’s always harder for me to write people off as one thing. I’ve always felt like I’m one or two steps away from being anybody. That scares me. I’ve educated myself, but I bet if I didn’t know any better it would be very easy for me to fall into a cult or something like that. I try to heed the warning signs, but I’ve always felt very susceptible to the world around me. I always wonder if I had had a different environment growing up, who knows what I would have done? In any character, even the worst people who do terrible things, there’s always element of me thinking, “I get this guy. I can see myself doing those things if had been raised differently.”

You could have been the type of person who robs a bank.

I could! I hope I wouldn’t, but who knows? I know that it’s wrong, and I’d probably be caught. But if I hadn’t had a life imposed on me with those safeguards I might have thought it was a good idea.

You’ve likely been meeting famous people since you were born, but was it particularly shocking to work with Kris Kristofferson?

This was different. He’s literally a living legend. He’s on the same level as Paul McCartney, where you can’t believe he’s even a human being who’s tangible and walking around. He landed a helicopter in Johnny Cash’s backyard to give him a demo tape! It’s funny because my introduction to him was “Big Top Pee-wee.” [Laughs] He only worked for a couple days. But I was in awe. There was a scene where I had to give him a cigarette. I was nervous about even opening the box. But it was great too, because in the movie he’s this criminal and we’re all supposed to be terrified of him. Being in awe of his legacy easily transferred to being terrified to do anything in front of him. I surreptitiously took a picture of him from the backseat of a car, like a weird, creepy stalker. I was nervous my camera phone was going to go [makes a loud noise] and bust me. But luckily I got a secret photo of him.

Do you tend to pick up weird skill sets on movies? Did you get any recently?

I did a movie called “The Steps” in the winter of last year. My character is a high-strung guy who at one point gets into a fight while using nunchucks. It’s supposed to be that he has a natural talent for nunchucks, so in order for me to do that I had to learn some moves. That was fun, especially growing up a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I still plan to purchase a pair of nunchucks one day.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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