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Jason Ritter talks about dad John and 'Peter and Vandy'

Lewis Beale
Newsday (MCT)

NEW YORK — If there is such a thing as Hollywood royalty, the Ritters are it.

Grandpop Tex was a singer and actor enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame. His son John was the Emmy-winning star of "Three's Company" and a sought-after TV and film performer. Now John's son Jason is a gifted stage actor (Wendy Wasserstein's "Third"), TV star ("Joan of Arcadia") and recognizable presence in indie films ("Happy Endings").

In his latest movie, "Peter and Vandy," the 29-year-old performer stars in a drama about an on-again, off-again romance told in a time-shifting narrative style. Lewis Beale reached the amiable and down-to-earth actor by phone at Ritter's Los Angeles home.

Q. What interested you in this project?

A. The main thing was that the boy and girl struck me as real characters. It struck me as a true account of the ups and downs of a relationship, and it was a puzzle you had to put together. The main thing is, I am always trying to look for a character I understand, but the audience might not be on his side. I like that fight.

Q. Are there aspects of the character of Peter that you see in yourself?

A. I certainly apologize for myself a lot, like he does. I understood the reason he gets into fights, the way his failure sits on him, how innocuous comments can set him on the defense; I understood that aspect of his character. There were lots of smaller things: his desire to move from boy to man, and his struggles with that, and his reluctance to become a new person; I definitely felt that.

Q. You've been acting pretty steadily since you were 10 years old. How do you rate your career these days?

A. The place to which I've progressed is in the ability to see myself in a script or not, and the ability to say no to something if I don't agree with what it's saying, or if it's lowering the bar and just adding more noise. I used to just want to work as an actor, and "who am I to say no," and I realized it has nothing to do with ego, it's just something that's not connecting to me.

Q. Do you find that people in the industry still think of you just as John Ritter's son?

Q. I don't know, I'm not sure. It's to the point where that has become more of a preface, not the entire definition of who I am. People will still mention it, but the conversation will not be all about that, so that's nice.

Q. What kind of advice did your dad give you when you were getting into the business?

A. He always said the whole creation of the idea of celebrity is an empty one, and that's not where you get nourishment from life, and that's been really helpful. If I had gotten too attached to the celebrity things, it would make me gauge my career on another level, make me feel like a total failure. To be proud of the movies I'm doing, that feels like I'm on the right track, rather than being in a lot of magazines.

Q. You're so connected to the indie movie scene, I was wondering if you get offers for "A" pictures at all.

A. I don't get offered a lot of "A" movies. I will audition for them. I'm not avoiding them, it just never seems to work out, for whatever reason. One of the things I'm obsessed with in art is imperfections, and not slick and cool, not the spy guy who gets all the ladies — that doesn't speak to me. So a lot of times there's a simplification of characters in mass movies, and maybe I overcomplicate them in my head. Sometimes, a character can just be what it is on the page, and you don't have to infuse it with all these back stories. Maybe I haven't figured out the formula yet.

Q. Your dad died suddenly in 2003 of an aortic aneurysm, and your family filed two lawsuits afterward, one accusing the hospital of wrongful death, the other (accusing) the doctors involved of medical malpractice. You settled in the first, and lost the other one. How did all that affect you?

A. It was a huge lesson for me in doing what feels right in my guts, and trusting that over what anyone else was telling me. I quickly realized that the world of litigation is not one in which I fit. It's where winning becomes the most important thing, and the truth can get lost. And that's a terrifying thing.

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