Jason Ritter Reveals Why He Has a Personal Connection to 'The Long Road Home' (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Jason Ritter went to a dark place on The Long Road Home.
In the eight-part National Geographic series, based on Martha Raddatz’s best-selling 2007 book, Ritter plays real-life commander Troy Denomy, who, along with his comrades, came under surprise attack in Sadr City, Iraq, on April 4, 2004, now known as Black Sunday. The series doesn’t just detail the soldiers’ lives in the harrowing moments during and after the attack, but also peels back the curtain on the stressful hours their family members thousands of miles away endured not knowing if their loved ones were OK.
Ahead of The Long Road Home finale, Ritter jumped on the phone with ET to discuss the heart-wrenching military drama and cleansing his palette with the freshman fantasy-sci fi dramedy Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.
ET: How did you initially come to The Long Road Home?
Jason Ritter: I read first the script and an outline of what it was about and where it was heading, and I loved it. I auditioned for it and ended up getting the part. I have some family members in the military, so any time I read anything that has to do with that at all, I’m very protective of them and I like to make sure that it’s something that feels true and real and not exploitative. This was basically a straight retelling of the story and I loved that.
You mentioned you’re hugely protective over military stories because of your personal connections with your family members.What specifically about this military story struck a chord with you or made you comfortable being a part of?
I think it was the wide variety of points of view that it had. Not only do we get to see what it’s like for people at different levels of the chain of command and different responsibilities, but also, we get to worry about Tomas Young (played by Noel Fisher in the series), who became a pretty vocal anti-war activist after the war. We also get to know Jassim (played by Darius Homayoun), who’s an amalgam of people Martha interviewed. It was a story that felt truthful, that felt beautiful and also ugly. It didn’t shy away from the intensely brutal aspects of what happened that day in April . I always become resistant to a project when it’s trying to get me to think a certain way. [With] The Long Road Home, people can watch it and get wildly different perspectives from it and have conversations with their family members and their friends, and open up a dialogue about the cost of what we’re doing.
Did you find your own perspective or opinion shifting as you went deeper and deeper into filming?
Yeah, it was a very complicated experience. It’s something that generally, we don’t like to think about. We know that it’s going on and we hear stories and every once in a while, we’ll read a number of casualties, but it’s all a very general sense of what’s going on. With my family members, when they come back, it’s not like I go, “Welcome back. OK, tell me everything.” Even in that microcosm of being there [on location] and not being in any danger, having the pretend sense of what’s going on, it was intense. The moment that really got me was when I auditioned for the show, one of the monologues was from an episode I hadn’t read yet. It was a speech acknowledging how intense everything was, but they had to go back in [to continue the fight]. I had assumed that it was from episode three or four; what I didn’t realize was it was from the very end of the show. It was basically saying, “Yes, we survived the day and this is going to go on and on and on.” The miniseries ends, [but the soldiers in real life] had to stay there; they weren’t done by a long shot. That was what hit home for me. This story takes place in a very short amount of time and the relentlessness of it, that these women and men don’t have days off. They have to do what they have to do every day and continue after seeing things that would traumatize most of us. I already had a very high level of respect, but I certainly got it on a cellular level in that moment.
What have you taken with you after playing Troy?
The thing that I really got from Troy was, and it was something that really is one of the most incredible qualities of every service member that I met, there’s this selflessness. There’s this sense of family and brotherhood that goes so deep that it’s on an instinctual level. A lot of us maybe have a certain degree of selflessness, but in the face of danger, our first instinct might be self-preservation. But it’s so deeply ingrained in everybody there that their brothers’ lives or their sisters’ lives or whoever they’re fighting alongside is more important than theirs. I never heard, even in one moment, of patting themselves on the back from anybody. The idea that Troy had a serious shoulder wound and continued to go back out: I can still lift my gun and I can still shoot, I’m going to still be in this fight as long as I still possibly can. That level of commitment to the people around you, it was hard for me to even [quantify]. I feel like I stub my toe and I need to sit down for 10 minutes. It was the automatic determination, not like how you often see heroes [in movies or TV] grit their teeth; the decision is already made. It’s an incredible trait.
Switching gears to your other show, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, which is completely different tonally. Did you view the show as a palette cleanser after The Long Road Home?
It was a little head-spinning. I had maybe three days off after The Long Road Home before jumping into Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. The experiences were so wildly different from each other. I did this fun pilot with everybody [on Kevin] and literally the next day, my head was shaved and one of my first days [on Long Road Home] was April 4 and I was meeting people who were there and survived and also family members of those who didn’t survive. It was so completely a different universe that it knocked the Kevin (Probably) Saves the World right out of me from the beginning and it was a bit of a longer transition from Long Road Home back to Kevin. After such an intense, physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting shoot, there was an element of yes, we can laugh and we can have fun. In the face of pain and suffering, which exists, we can find little rays of sunshine and rays of hope.
Do you feel like Kevin (Probably) Saves the World is finding its footing tonally and creatively?
I think so. Especially shows that go for years, when you go back and look at the pilot, you’re like, “That’s not the character I’ve come to know.” You start at a certain level and you get your sea legs, and then it starts to get really fun. It got really fun really fast on that show.
The finale of The Long Road Home airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NatGeo. Kevin (Probably) Saves the World returns Tuesday, Jan. 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.