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Countdown to The Event, Part III: Jason Ritter and Clifton Collins Jr.

On Monday, NBC launches its new sci-fi/conspiracy thriller The Event, and Spinoff Online is here to get you ready. The pilot was a hit in July at Comic-Con International, and readers haven’t been able to flip through a comic book for weeks without seeing ads for what the network hopes will be must-see TV.

All this week, Spinoff Online presents interviews with the cast and crew of The Event. Today we feature Jason Ritter, who plays Sean Walker, an everyman (and the story’s central figure) who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his would-be fiancée Leila Buchanan, and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history.

Ritter, son of the late John Ritter (Three’s Company, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter) and Nancy Morgan (Lucky Luke), was previously featured in the CBS fantasy drama Joan of Arcadia and movies like Freddy vs. Jason and W.

We also check in with Clifton Collins Jr., who plays Thomas, a character the producers described as a key player in The Event’s secret conspiracy. Collins was recently seen in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek as Ayel, Nero’s second-in-command.

Be sure to check back tomorrow as we present President Elias Martinez and Vice President Raymond Jarvis, played respectively by Blair Underwood and Bill Smitrovich.

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JASON RITTER on SEAN WALKER

Spinoff Online: I see from your character bio that Sean is an avid gamer and has read Stephen King’s The Stand seven times. Are you as geeky as Sean?

Jason Ritter: It’s funny because I do play video games and computer games, too, but World of Warcraft is one of the only ones that I haven’t broken into yet, frankly because I’m nervous. The only thing that stops me from playing a video game is when I finish it. For World of Warcraft, it seems that you can carry on and keep finding new quests until the end of time, so I’m a little nervous about that one. But I certainly know what it’s like to watch the sunrise playing video games so I think that’s why Leila [Sarah Roemer] made him quit.

But The Stand, yeah, I’ve read The Stand. I grew up reading Stephen King. They’re fun things to read, especially under the covers with the flashlight. I used to really freak myself out [laughs].

It’s funny, those things I just read online. That wasn’t a character thing that they told me before we shot the pilot. They had a lot of things to tell us but not those specifically.

Jack from 24 and even Jack from Lost were pretty standard leading men for big action vehicles. You get to play an MIT grad that programs video games and used to swim for the varsity team. Safe to say, Sean Walker is a different type of leading man?

Absolutely. And that’s what got me so excited about the part. I read the script and not only was it so exciting but it wasn’t some beefcake who knows martial arts, some guy that has a couple of special skills in his back pocket. He’s smart and he’s good at assessing situations and that has gotten him out of some hairy situations but, yeah, that was what I loved about it. He’s not some regular hero. He spends more time thinking about being a hero or controlling one safely using a controller on his TV screen. But now he’s forced to do it. That was something that I really loved. To have Sean terrified and out of his element adds another dimension to the character rather than him squinting and looking into the camera and saying things like, “It’s just another day in paradise” or “We’ve been down this road before.”
And he’s not so super-comfortable with a gun, either. He’ll do it whatever it takes to get his girlfriend back and he’s motivated by that, but he’s like us. He’s a regular guy.

In speaking with several of the cast this week, I’ve been asking them if they’re one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. And every one of them has hedged their answer by saying, “It depends on who’s asking.” Sean is the good guy in the traditional sense, right?

That’s what I think [laughs]. He’s a good guy and his heart is in the right place and he is trying to save his girlfriend. What I don’t know is in doing what he’s doing to save his girlfriend, is he putting things in motion that will be the destruction of all life on this planet? If he had just said, “Well, she was nice but I`ll find another girlfriend,” if he’d done that would we all be alive? That’s the thing they’re all doing — what they think are in their own best interests and for those around them, but who knows what the real answer is. So he is a good guy and he’s doing what he thinks is right. At this point, I think he’s right but I haven’t seen how the other shoe falls.

For instance, you do hijack an airplane in the pilot.

Exactly. There is a little bit of a gray area. And that’s the thing. He’ll do anything to get her back and that’s where it becomes somewhat of a moral gray area. He doesn’t end up killing anybody on that plane with his gun, but if someone had come up or threatened him, would he have been able to pull the trigger, who knows? It might have been all for show or he might have been that desperate. So, I don’t know. That’s what’s interesting. All of these characters are put in these weirdly interesting situations where what the right thing to do is not such a clear-cut thing, especially for President Martinez in the next couples of episodes.

Big-action adventure. Check. Sci-fi elements. Check. A love story?

That’s what is such a nice change. So often characters are motivated by revenge or love lost or anger, where Sean is completely motivated by love and it gives the show a more positive base than, “I am a man who has been destroyed and now I will take it out on the world.” He really is trying to do what’s the best and find the love of his life. And that’s really cool. I think we have all said, at one time or another, that we would do anything for our loved ones, but Sean is really being put to the test here. “You may have to hijack a plane.” “Did I say that I would do anything?” He’s really going for it. And I think there is something really honorable in that.

Obviously, President Martinez and his family will be sharing a lot of screen time. And the President will also be featured with his White House staff. Even Laura Innes’ character Sophia gets some face time with the President in the pilot. Who will Sean interact with primarily in the early episodes of The Event?

Boy, I’m pretty much on my own. I guess I’ve done a lot of stuff with Heather McComb, but I’m so nervous about giving too much information. But I was just on the NBC website and they have her Twitter thing listed. She’s on the show and I think it’s safe to say that she is an FBI agent that comes into my life and we have an interesting sort of love/hate thing going. So that’s been a lot of fun but I’ve been completely isolated from most of the regular cast. Of course, there are flashbacks and things like that, and in those I’ve been able to be with Sarah Roemer again and Scott Patterson, so that’s been nice.

You mentioned that “Twitter thing.” I see you have an account, too. Will you continue to connect with fans through Twitter and other social media outlets as the show progresses and grows its audience this season?

Yeah, that’s my jam right there. I love going online. I was actually doing that today. I saw that Heather and my Twitter accounts have been posted. And they also have a whole bunch of tweets from Sean Walker, Leila Buchanan and President Martinez. And that’s really cool that my character wrote that somewhere. I certainly didn’t do that but it’s really exciting that they’re going to expand this entire world onto the Internet. And I think people are ready for that, and have shown that they’re ready for that, especially on shows like Lost.

I used to go to the Lost forums and it was nice to be able to do some guesswork with strangers and have like a community experience even though we were all watching it from separate places. So yeah, that’s really exciting. And I’m happy that they’re doing the extra legwork to expand the whole world of The Event into the Internet, and I’ll be looking at every single thing and finding out new things about my character, like that I loved World of Warcraft for a while until Leila made me stop [laughs].

CLIFTON COLLINS JR. on THOMAS

Spinoff Online: You’re certainly no stranger to sweeping sci-fi-infused epics, as you played a Romulan villain in Star Trek last year. Were you a Trekkie growing up as a kid in Los Angeles?

Clifton Collins Jr.: I think we’re all familiar with Star Trek … even as a kid growing up with the theme song or the sound of Spock’s voice. But to your question, no, I was not a Trekkie. And I think I can speak for a majority of the cast that nobody was really a Trekkie. But then upon doing the film, we all felt a profound, nostalgic feeling for something that we grew up around, which may have made us a bit of Trekkie afterwards. It’s hard to not love the new Star Trek.

And I think the whole prequel idea was brilliant. Getting to know the lives of these people that we didn’t know as an adult, it’s kind of exciting. We didn’t know who they were even though when we were kids watching them on the show, we felt like we knew them. It’s a funny thing. It’s kind of like getting a glimpse into our teenage selves or younger. What were they doing before we actually met them on TV in the 1960s and the 1970s?

Like Star Trek, while The Event is steeped in science-fiction goodness, it was actually conceived as a conspiracy thriller. Is that what it feels like to you, an action thriller? Or do those sci-fi elements creep into a majority of the scenes?

It’s definitely a thriller, but they are masterful at how they tell their stories, and how they reveal characters and their plots points and whatnot. So it’s very engaging. And it’s certainly not the lazy man’s TV show. You sit and watch it and you just want to learn more.

You were added, or at least announced, as a cast member later on in production. How early in the series do we meet Thomas?

Pretty damn soon. Albeit, I was added late to the cast, it was very different because they had been writing this character all along. So I guess they just weren’t really sure where they were going to go with it. It’s kind of funny for me, too. I’m a big fan of the cast and Jeffrey [Reiner]’s work on 24 and Trauma. But it’s just funny because I think it’s common knowledge that I pretty much do character work and I do all these different, crazy characters. But to go back and actually do something that is more revealing of myself as a person is pretty special. The artist behind all of the characters compiled into one person and be kind of the way I really am, all clean-shaven — I just kind of look normal [laughs], which is scary because I’m kind of revealing myself as well. I’ve had a fairly comfortable life in anonymity with just a comfortable flow of fans that are real die-hard fans – even though they’re not fanatical, they’re very courteous and cordial and respectful and insightful. They’re great and I actually enjoy the vast majority of them. So I am a little nervous because I’m really optimistic about this show. And I love working with everybody and I just know that it’s going to be a little different for me.

So are you ready for what comes with a show like this, the media attention, the online forums and discussions, Comic-Con?

It’s incredibly exciting, especially when you remember that I’ve had two other hit shows in the past 20 years, starting with Crisis Center on NBC back in 1997 and then on Southland, my short stint on Southland, that was on TNT, to jump on a show with the caliber of actors that I have like Jason Ritter and Blair Underwood and Laura Innes and Scott Patterson — it’s this insane cast with these showrunners that are badass, it’s kind of a dream show, truth be told. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be on a show with the caliber of actors and this kind of writing. Especially being somebody who is so picky with material, it’s hard for me to say yes to anything. But this one was just like the perfect fit.

The one thing that we do know about Thomas that was revealed at the same time you were cast was that he is a key player in the show’s secret conspiracy. So what is your role and what do we need to know about Thomas heading into the premiere?

I think when you see the pilot, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I come into the story. I was blown away when I saw the pilot. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen TV like this. I was giddy. TV doesn’t usually bring me that. One of the funny things is all of my friends keep asking me what “the event” is and what part I play, and I’m not talking.

That’s fair. You are the man of mystery. But can tell us if you’re one of the good guys or one of the bad guys?

It’s really how you look at it. I’ve got a great purpose and a great cause, and I believe Thomas has to make a judgment call. And his judgment call can be looked at as immoral or moral depending on where you stand and who you are. So there are a lot of great issues and a lot of great conflicts.

This is a job that leaves you thinking. And this is a job where you are forced to face more dilemmas every day.

You read the news, you grow accustomed to facing things that we have control over and some of the things that we don’t. It’s one of those jobs that you are grateful to be on and you come home really thinking about. You think about what you went through and what it’s like.

The series premiere of The Event airs Monday, Sept. 20 at 9/8c.

For more coverage of The Event, please check out the following features:
Countdown to The Event, Part I: Creator Nick Wauters
Countdown to The Event, Part II: Željko Ivanek and Lisa Vidal

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