Tom Arnold Jason Ritter Interview

Tom and Jason talk about their latest film and getting to kiss Maggie in Happy Endings

Have you ever thought about hiding something from your parents? What if you were hiding that you were gay? That's what happens to Jason Ritter in "Happy Endings;" he's forced to keep it a secret from his dad (Tom Arnold). And to top it off, a girl comes between them - Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie plays a singer who finds Jason, seduces him and then convices Tom to let her stay at their house. Tom then proposes to Maggie, not knowing it's all a set up to get Tom's money.

We talked to both Tom and Jason about having a relationship with Maggie. Tom did most of the talking, but we did hear from Jason about having to kiss another man, and life after Joan of Arcadia.

I don't remember you ever playing such a lovable character.

Tom Arnold: Not like this. Probably no other director would have cast me in this. The advantage I had -- which I guess is a big advantage -- is that Don [Roos] had known me personally for a while, and when he wrote it, when he gave it to me he said, ‘I see you. This is how I see you.’ And so, I read it, and I was so excited. But then I was reading it with my wife and I was like, ‘This is weird. This guy is sort of vulnerable. He's forty-something and dating these younger women and he buys them stuff.’ And my wife's looking at me like, ‘Uh, I'm 28, and you took me to Gucci on our first date.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. ‘But, you know, it helped because it is unusual, and I think the studio people felt it was highly unusual and that I couldn't play him. But one Lions Gate guy came back around to me getting lucky and having the opportunity. And to me, it was so perfect because originally we were going to work and rehearse, but then I was out of it. I had to ask the guy who walked me to my car from Lions Gate after I mentioned I was over there for a general meeting -- [to Jason] I won't talk the whole time. I promise -- I was at a general meeting about some horror movie and maybe even directing it. I was sitting with all the guys -- Lions Gate is a small company, but they're good -- and I said, ‘Wait a minute. You guys have 'Happy Endings' right?’ They were like, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well what I really want to do is play Frank in 'Happy Endings.’ They're like, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘First of all, it's a great script. Second of all, Don kind of wrote this.’ They were like, ‘Wow, we never thought of that. You as Frank, huh?’ And then they kind of converted. [Producer] Mike Paseornek walked me to my car, and said, ‘You know, we like the idea. It's different, when these five guys pass’ Which was great. When I looked at the list, I was like these guys are such good actors. If it were my movie I'd put them in it. Then Don called me one night a couple of months later and said, ‘Hey, guess what? So and so, it doesn't work for his schedule.’ That's it. So I emailed them in the middle of the night and said, ‘Alright, remember when we in January ?’ And the next day Don called and said, ‘This is the best call I've ever have to make.’ So we started right away. I said, ‘Who's in it?’ He told me. Fortunately Jason was my son, because you have to have that chemistry. It was instant. You love him, but you can see -- if you know him -- and you're me, you're a little frustrated with him. He's got a good heart and means well. It's just like, you know. So it worked right. It had to. And then Maggie just walked in the door. The first time I saw her was when I walked in the house and she was topless, eating a cookie, casual. Everything I did -- and Don said, ‘Don't hit the punch lines. I watch a bunch of your movies. I know there are moments of those where you're vulnerable. People don't see it, but trust me. Just feel it. Do it, whatever.’ -- So I just walked in, and there's Maggie in my living room, and I acted like I would act if it happened. I'd be surprised, but not sad. But also trying to act like it's cool, you know, because I'm cool and this happens a lot.

Each of you guys had a love scene with Maggie, so what was that like?

Tom Arnold: [to Jason] Go ahead.

Jason Ritter: Well mine, it was supposed to be kind of awkward, which I was happy about. I don't know if I could have done much else. I was very nervous, and she's such a great actress, I was very intimidated by her. But she made me feel as at ease as I possibly could, which still wasn't that much at ease, but at least I could be at ease in my uneasiness. But it was really a lot of fun. We got to sort of play the comedy of the scene. And I leaned in a little too fast at one point and bumped her tooth and her lip started bleeding, and I felt so bad.

Tom Arnold: Didn't she say, ‘Just keep going?’

Jason Ritter: Yeah, she's just a pro. So I did, and it was a lot of fun. Between the two of us, I would say I was the one who was more nervous and uncomfortable about the whole thing. She was very, ‘This is what it is. Let's just do it.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’

What about kissing the guy later on in the film?

Jason Ritter: That was very -- again, I was a little nervous about doing that. He [Ramon De Ocampo as Alvin] was so great though. We both kind of felt each other out -- (laughs) emotionally. It's like we were trying to suss each other out. Are you the type of guy who we're going to have to jump up and go -- [wipes mouth off vigorously with back of his hand] ‘Eww!’ Or, are we just going to do it. Are we going to make fun of each other or tease each other? Or are we just going to be professional and do it and pretend like we really are attracted to each other and interested? So, we just did. That was very simple. It was like, ‘Alright, you're going to kiss me. I'm going to lean in and kiss you, and then we're going to fall over. And I'll put my drumsticks in my pocket, so I can pull them out later. You know, give myself some business to do.’ But yeah, it was interesting. It strange to have someone's stubble rubbing on my stubble and I finally understood that age-old complaint. It was fine. He was really great about it. He made me feel very much at ease.

Tom Arnold: Please don't ask my son about that any more. It's too uncomfortable. I respect it. I accept it, but I don't want to hear about the details.

Jason Ritter: What about you and Maggie's love scene?

Tom Arnold: Well, you know you could have learned a little something. Again, Maggie is the pursuer in the relationship, and so it's not creepy, because you know, if it were the other way around, it might be. I was of course, very uncomfortable because I'm older and fatter and she's younger and in great shape. And Don said, ‘You guys go in that bedroom and figure out how you're going to do it. Just let me know how.’ I go, ‘Well, it's pretty easy. I'm going to be on the bottom because I'm --- and then I shoot from the side. Other than that, I have no requests.’ And then again, similar to your story, she said, ‘Just let me be.’ I said, ‘Alright.’ And then I knew that Don wanted a special moment in there. And really, to be honest with you, having sex or faking sex is a lot easier than looking at somebody in the eyes -- even if you're acting like you're looking somebody in the eyes -- because you know they're looking in your eyes. That's really kind of painful because that is so intimate, even if you're just acting with somebody. That was hard. She played it really well. It was hard to get to that point. Both of our characters probably never did that. I did with my wife I'm sure years before, but never did that at that moment. I really felt I had to force her to look at me, grab her. First of all, she's biting my nipple very hard. Nobody noticed that. ‘Look at me please. For God's sake, please stop biting my nipple.’ No, but I was worried about the looking fat and looking stupid. But when we actually did that because we actually didn't really rehearse the ‘look at me’ thing, we just knew it was, I knew it should happen. I didn't know how, but I did it. From then on, shooting with her was like, ‘Can you fall in love in that second with somebody that you're working with? Is that possible?’ But it sure felt like it. And so, for both of us, the next scene we did was ending up something on the bed where I was sitting around comfortably with my shirt off, which would never happen, talking to her while she's making a sandwich. Talking about whatever. At the end of the conversation I'm talking about my ex-wife that died and telling a little bit about her and how great she was. Like I was so comfortable with this woman. I think that when a guy sometimes dates a younger woman, it's just easier, it's just not -- it's less risk, and maybe he had something at one time that he just doesn't think he can ever get back. I think what I had with his mother was comfort, number one. There's a comfort thing you have with somebody you love, really love. You can't have that with a young woman if you're older guy. Really you can't, at least in my head, unless there's that love there. So, from that moment on I was totally comfortable with her, and she was comfortable with me. The acting was out the window. The acting was out the window with him [Jason] because you know, you really love the kid. But with Maggie, it was out the window. When it was time to break up, that was a sad freakin' day. I remember. It was a sad weekend. When my wife came by, I just stared at her picture, when she came up, she was, ‘What's up?’ ‘Nothing. You know, we need to look each other in the eye more,’ I said to my wife. So we actually had a conversation. Maggie was like, ‘How do we keep this going? We got to talk to Don. We can't break up. We got to talk to Don.’ I was, ‘Okay, let's talk to Don. We got to keep it going.’ So we got Don and Maggie was like, ‘Don, I was thinking. I'm just not sure about this. I just don't know if we can do this -- breaking up.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, keep talking.’ But anyway ...

You wanted to rewrite the ending.

Tom Arnold: We just wanted the three of us, the story to keep going.

Jason, what are you doing no that Joan of Arcadia was canceled? Do you have any plans?

Jason Ritter: I'm actually, I'm going to go to New York and do a play at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at the Lincoln Center. It's a new Wendy Wasserstein play. It's going to be Dianne Wiest, Charles Durning, Gaby Hoffmann -- who I make out with a little bit.

Tom Arnold: I'm so proud of him. He really turned it around.

Jason Ritter: It's a really fun play. Dan Sullivan is going to direct it. It's called Third, and I play this guy Woodson Bull III, hence, the ‘Third.’

Do you know if they were ever going to have you walk on Joan of Arcadia?

Jason Ritter: Well, yeah, in flashbacks. There were flashbacks and there were dream sequences where I did walk. And there was actually one sequence towards the end the second season where I become a reporter, and I was doing a report on electrotherapy. There's this whole thing where my character is real nervous because if you don't respond to it, then there's definitely no chance of whatever. So there's this scene where they put it on and they do it, and it doesn't work and I get upset. And they readjust it and they do it again. My legs stand up and I got to take a few steps like that. I know what they were never going to do is have God say to Joan, ‘Thank you so much. As a reward’ [demonstrates by a finger coming down on imaginary person] ‘Ding!’ I know they weren't going to have it be a miracle. If the show had gone on long enough to a point where with all different kinds of research, and spinal cord injury became a thing of the past, and people were getting up and walking all over the place, Joan of Arcadia wouldn't have been able to stay far behind the times. But they'd never have done a miracle cure.

Maybe you can do a Joan TV movie in a couple of years.

Jason Ritter: Oh, that would be great!

Look for Happy Endings in theaters July 15th; it's rated 'R.'