Jason Ritter on LL Cool J, ‘Good Dick,’ and Sundance

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Rising talent Jason Ritter, best known for his turns on the New York stage (in Wendy Wasserstein’s Third and Neil LaBute’s The Distance From here) and his Hollywood DNA (he’s the son of beloved funnyman John), is all over Sundance this week, thanks to having roles in two different films: William H. Macy’s comedy The Deal and the indie drama Good Dick, which he also produced with his girlfriend, actress and screenwriter Marianna Palka. Ritter checked in with Vulture for a conversation about both projects, which also officially wraps up Vulture’s series of one-on-ones with the talent from this year’s festival. Until next year…

Good Dick. Nice title!
Whenever anyone asks about the title, Marianna always says, "What does that phrase mean to you?" It has a different meaning for everyone, so you bring your own connotations to the title. It’s a movie about a messy, imperfect, not very functional relationship, and it’s the kind of story that everyone can bring their own lives to.

Does that mean I have a dirty mind?
No! [Laughs.] I think it all starts off dirty. I think that’s the first impulse and that’s where your mind should stay. I don’t think anyone would see that title and think it’s about a nice guy named Richard. That’s one of the things the film is exploring. This is a term that everyone knows and this is what everyone thinks it means, but what about another interpretation?

You also appear in William H. Macy’s movie The Deal, which is playing at Sundance as well. What was it like working with LL Cool J?!
I admit I was a little intimidated. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say his bicep is the size of my head. He is so strong and so fit. His nickname for me was "Woody," like Woody Allen. I guess that’s what I seem like to him. I certainly felt like Woody Allen compared to him.

Most people would. Of all your recent roles, which has been the most challenging?
Oh boy. The Education of Charlie Banks was really challenging, because I had to play a sociopathic, violent New York type of guy. That was probably the hardest for me because for all my other characters I was able to start with some aspect of myself. For this one I had to start completely over; I mean, I’ve never been in a fight in my life. Well, I almost was once.

What happened?
This guy I knew growing up decided to greet me with a punch in the stomach and my adrenaline went way up and I punched his arm like fifteen times, screaming the whole time. So he was all ready to go and then I tripped over one of those cement curbs they put in the middle of parking lots, and when I got up, he slammed me against the wall and cocked back his fist ready to punch me in the face — and then it got broken up. We were supposed to meet up after school, but we didn’t, and then we were in carpool together anyway and it was awkward.

That’s kind of anticlimactic.
Yeah. We both drove home in the same car. And the next day he got mad at me for telling my mom.

Do you ever watch your dad’s old shows and movies?
Well, he did a lot, so I still haven’t seen all of them. We get sent all the Three’s Company DVDs from the company so I have a good collection. Every once in awhile, I’ll come across a DVD and realize, Oh, God, I never saw this one! But it has to be the right moment. I can’t just sort of pop one in whenever I feel like it. They’re like these little gems for me so I like to spread them out.
—Sara Cardace