No More Mr. Nice Guy
December 1, 2013
Alan Ritchson of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” chats with Ronald Liem from his beachside Florida home about the intensive dagger-throwing training, the upcoming “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film and his soft spot for Disney movies.
With a crisp, booming laugh, laid-back vibe and larger-than-life presence, the charismatic Ritchson is a stark contrast to his character in the latest “Hunger Games” franchise: The ambitious villain with a knack for throwing sharp things around. Indeed, with a mega-watt smile and warmer-than-apple-pie presence, the actor’s portrayal of Gloss, the dagger expert in the blockbuster movie, conceals his comedic side while revealing the intensity in his determination to succeed.
There is something compellingly contradictory about the multi-faceted and complex actor. Born into a military family, Ritchson led somewhat of a nomadic life and admitted to using comedy to break the ice in new, unfamiliar environments. His role as Thad in the TV series “Blue Mountain State” displays a long nurtured comedic range while his passion for writing reveals a darker, more exploratory nature. His fresh all-American look made it into the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs while his role as Gloss in the second installment of “The Hunger Games” exposes sympathy and a deeper understanding of the antagonistic character.
Going beyond the surface, Ritchson finds time in the middle of his vacation to talk about everything from his dualistic nature and rigorous fitness regimen to his fondness for musical animated films.
Ronald Liem: Hi Alan, congrats on the “Hunger Games” movie. What is it like to be a part of a big movie franchise?
Alan Ritchson: It’s pretty incredible. Having seen the first film and the reception that it got—it was a worldwide phenomenon—gave me a chance to prepare myself for what this experience would be like. The outpouring of love from the fans has been overwhelming. I think the danger of getting all this attention is that you can get lost, but the focus remained with the work and delivering the best performance that I could. It’s really cool to see the devotion the fans have and to be a part of it.
RL: Let’s talk about your character. Who is Gloss in your own words? And how did you land this role?
AR: He’s a bit of a villain in the story. He came from District 1, which is the district closest to the Capitol and, in a sense, protected by the Capitol. People from District 1 were born and bred to be killers and to be survivors of this game. Gloss had won the previous Hunger Game and was invited back to participate as a
returning victor. So, he knew what he was doing.
But what’s interesting for me to find is the humanity in him. He was thrust into this game and reluctantly had to do it again. It was a world that no one really wanted to live in, but they had no choice. There’s a level of inner conflict, where he was of the people but he had the best chance of surviving, so he was going to do what he had to do to survive. There’s an interesting inner turmoil that this character faced.
How I got the role was also an interesting story. I initially auditioned for the role of Finnick. I felt a connection to this character. I understood him and I auditioned for this role for Deb Zane, who was the casting director of the movie. When I didn’t hear back from her, I did what I wouldn’t recommend other actors to do: I wrote her a letter. A couple of months later, I got a call from Deb, offering the role of Gloss. It was interesting to me how that came about.
RL: How did you approach this character?
AR: It goes back to the source material, reading the book and trying to understand his mindset and who he was in this world. The other side of it is the physicality. He is a dagger specialist and I prepared for months with the best in the industry, to train and study how Gloss would move and how he would handle his weapons. I even practiced at home. At first I didn’t know how I was ever going to pull it off. It was hard, but by the time we were shooting, I surprised myself with how good I was.
RL: What was the most exciting experience you had during the making of the film?
AR: I actually had a scene with Stanley Tucci. He’s such a legend and a brilliant actor. On top of that, he’s just a wonderful person. He’s very generous, very giving, he’s not a recluse at all and wanted to interact with his fellow actors. It was just a great experience. Working for someone of his caliber was a special experience for me, I could learn a lot from just watching him work.
RL: The upcoming TNMT film comes out next summer. What’s different about this film from the previous TNMT films?
AR: With Michael Bay directing this film, I can tell you that it’s going to reach an epic scale and live up to the expectations of the die-hard fans. I was a bit hesitant when I was offered this role. It could be really cheesy, or it could be really good. But I thought it was cool, trying to see it from a kid’s perspective, where they see us filming and think, “Wow, I’ve just seen a teenage mutant ninja turtle walk around in Manhattan. Are they real?” It is going to be so lifelike and we’re using the new technology that’s never been done before. Our goal is to bring these characters to life and make them look and feel so rich and real, that people will leave the theater thinking that these turtles could be real.
RL: From TV to blockbuster movies, how did you get into acting in the first place?
AR: I’m still trying to figure that out [laughs]. It’s been an interesting journey, my road has been one of seeing a door open and presenting opportunities that I’ve never expected. I could’ve gone to a music school anywhere in the country because I had a full music scholarship for singing. I started to go to college and I left because I didn’t feel fulfilled. I felt like I wasn’t challenged creatively. When I dropped out, I was offered a modeling contract, and it was just an opportunity that I took. I pursued it for a few years and it ended up taking me to L.A., where I saw that these models were also doing other things: commercials or auditioning for TV. Within the first three weeks, I booked three jobs. Maybe it was meant to be, and all the stars were aligned.
It was only two and a half years ago that I wanted to master the craft. It’s not good enough for me anymore to be just a working actor. I want to build a reputation for being the best in bringing a character to life. When that was decided, I started to see a change of direction in my career, where the roles I’m booking now are bigger in scale and of better quality. Without dedication to the craft, I don’t think I could have ever landed these roles.
RL: So, what do you think is your most marked characteristic?
AR: I’d say my unrelenting nature. Anybody who has worked with me or been involved with me in some business capacity understands that when I set my mind to something, there’s no stopping me.
RL: Is there a particular role you’d like to go for? How about musicals or Broadway?
AR: I’d love to marry the world of music with acting. It’s funny but I love Disney movies; it’s one of my favorite movies. It’s pure escapism, and I just love it because it’s such a fun movie with great musical numbers. I’d love to bring it to life. There’s that side of me, but there’s also a side of me that loves big, over the-top action roles.
There are two sides of me. I think what I do best is comedy. I just finished a film called “The Wedding Ringers.” It’s a really funny movie with some great people involved. I had an opportunity to revisit some comedy there, and I want to stay in that world for as long as possible because that’s what I do best. But there’s also another side of me: I’m a writer, I’ve written several screenplays. It’s an opportunity to create a world I want to participate in as an actor and explore rich characters. That’s something I want to spend a lot of time doing as well.
RL: Talking about spending time well, you’re a pretty fit guy, is it just genetics or did you actually put a bit of work into it?
AR: I’d be lying if I say genetics don’t play some part of that, but at the same time, I think people take for granted how hard it is to achieve any kind of success. I do work really hard, I work out five days a week and I’m very disciplined about my regimen. I focus on cardio; it’s the foundation of my workout. The best of me is poured into that and the rest of it goes into resistance training. If anyone wants to get ripped, I recommend sprint training.
RL: What’s your current state of mind?
AR: It’s one of forward momentum. I feel like a tidal wave. I’ve been working in this business for nine years, and now I’m starting to see the fruit of the labor. The foundation has been laid for a great career, and I feel kind of unstoppable right now. I feel on top of the world. I also have an amazing family, a one-year-old and another kid on the way. So I have my family, and my career is going well. I feel great.
RL: If any, what is your life motto?
AR: If I had a motto, it would be: No excuses and don’t wait for anybody. If you want something done right, do it yourself. Do whatever it takes.
RL: Who is your hero in real life?
AR: There are a lot of people in business and in the arts that I look up to, but the person I always come back to is my father. He has an incredible story. He was essentially orphaned and overcame a lot in life. He made conscious decisions every day in life to raise my brothers and me in a way that built us toward opportunities to succeed. He is a man of integrity, and I try to be the kind of man that he is.