Since 2005, Alan Ritchson has done one thing that seems somewhat improbable: He’s made Aquaman cool. (That whole arc on Entourage with James Cameron directing an Aquaman movie notwithstanding.) A frequent guest star on Smallville the past five years, Ritchson is back in action as Arthur Curry, the water-loving superhero and member of the Justice League alongside the likes of Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), in Friday night’s episode. Unfortunately, he’s taken prisoner by Col. Slade Wilson (guest star Michael Hogan), who’s trapping superheroes as part of a new vigilante registration law. Playing the heroic Aquaman is a change of pace from Ritchson’s other notable role, as star linebacker and resident rabies-enhanced psycho Thad Castle of the comedy series Blue Mountain State, which airs Wednesday nights on Spike. I talked with Ritchson about both his characters yesterday, so read below for our conversation and check out this clip from Friday night’s episode of Smallville featuring Ritchson and Welling.
Photos courtesy of The CW, The WB and Spike TV
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So far, what I’ve seen of you in previews from this Friday’s Smallville episode is you shirtless and shackled. Do you spend most of the episode chained up?
[Laughs] There’s a fair amount of time in shackles, but it’s not the whole episode by any means. I definitely spent most of the shooting schedule hung up. It took forever to shoot that scene unfortunately. It sucks that he keeps getting captured this way, but I guess it’s part of the story.
When you’re all chained up like that, as an actor do you have to do lot more with your face, such as looks and such, because you can’t move your body a whole lot?
That’s interesting. To answer your question, yes, but not for those reasons. Especially for Aquaman being in that position, it’s because he’s near death. He’s weakened and been tortured, and you’re seeing the result of that. Obviously the characterization is going to change, his physicality is going to change, his voice, his face and his demeanor are all going to change as a result of that. It’s not necessarily because the body movement is limited. It’s just a byproduct.
Remember back to five years ago when you first appeared as Aquaman. Was that one of your first roles ever?
Yeah, it was huge for me. I had just come out to L.A. – I actually moved out to L.A. to pursue music, which I don’t think a lot of people know. I had a modeling agent at the time — that’s what I had done for years as a career to earn a living and make money while I was pursuing music. I asked him if he could send me out some auditions on the side just to make me a little extra money. He was like, “Yeah, sure,” so he did. I booked the first two things I went out on with him. One was playing the animated image of Beowulf in the movie Beowulf, and another one was the lead of a horror movie that I hope to God nobody ever sees called The Butcher. It’s probably the worst movie ever made, but I was a pivotal part in that, I’m sad to say. It was the first real acting gig that I ever had, and I was proud to be doing that at the time. From that, I met some people – they were like, “You don’t have any real representation. We have to introduce you to people.” One thing leads to another, I end up at a meeting at Warner Bros. they happened to be casting the role, recommend me for it, I get an appointment set up, I go audition. Long story short, three weeks later, I have the job. I don’t think I understtod at the time the gravity of what that meant, how big the show was, how big the character was, how big that world is that I was stepping into. To be asked to come back in the final season is a huge compliment. I know that has a lot more to do with the character than myself.
You never know. They didn’t recast Aquaman over the years.
That was a real possibility, I’m sure. [Laughs] It’s been a great ride and I’m just glad to have the chance to come back. And for me, too, cut to five years later and I’ve had a pretty good body of work between now and then and a lot of experience. What I know is vastly different from what I thought I knew then. To be able to bring that experience now to the set five years later, to the same set I started on, is a really rare opportunity for an actor, I think.
So when you go back to watch that first episode in 2005 with you as Aquaman, do you cringe or was it pretty OK for your first time?
I don’t watch it. I can’t. I’ve got clips with it on my reel and stuff, and it’s just … ugh. I watch it now and, oh my God, I was looking at my mark, my eye lines were terrible, I didn’t know anything about acting or the delivery. I know people still see it. Tom said he rewatched all those episodes prior to me coming back just to get back to that character, and he was directing this time, too, so he wanted to be real familiar with the evolution of that character. He was watching it going, “No no no, it’s perfect.” He’s who he was then, which is very similar to how I was at 20 and 21 is a very different person than I am now and I’ve changed. He said, “That’s great. I’m trying to recapture that innocence I had on day one, where I don’t really know what I’m doing.” That was half the charm of Clark. Personally, it’s hard for me to watch any of my early stuff, knowing how little I knew.
Comparing Aquaman to Thad Castle, they’re totally different people. Do you find anything at all in common between the two of them, other than you of course?
I’ve thought about that, but I’ve thought it from sort of the opposite side: How are my mannerisms and what it is in my nature to tie these two together and how can I eliminate that? I’ve worked to differentiate them as much as possible, and I hope that I’ve done so because these characters couldn’t be more different. Although Thad might have grown up in a world with comic books and superheroes and those kinds of influence, I didn’t want to let that possibility influence him, or vice versa have any of my quirks or mannerisms influence the character of AC in the way I would let it for Thad.
Thad seems like such a fun character. Can you ever go too over the top with him?
I certainly have been pulled back at times as Thad. [Laughs] There are times when it’s like, “Alright, alright, rear it back.” But I have so much freedom on that show it’s not even funny. It’s really a gift. I do and can do pretty much whatever I want on the show, and they’ll just keep the cameras rolling for me. And nine times out of 10, they capture something that wasn’t in the script that they use on screen. The filter that I use in my daily life to keep me from doing something stupid, I take that away when I’m shooting Thad, and I do a lot of really stupid stuff and way over-the-top stuff and very offensive stuff. A lot of the time, maybe everybody’s laughing and it’s funny, but directors and producers are like, “We can’t show that” or “That’s too much.” I actually just had dinner with the director Lev Spiro, who’s directed quite a few episodes of Blue Mountain State, just to catch up. He told me something very interesting: “In Season 1, everybody involved was giving me the do’s and don’ts and ins and outs of the show, and everybody kept saying, ‘Watch out for this guy Alan playing Thad. He can tend to get really big and go way over the top. You’ve gotta rein him in. He’ll take direction really well but he’s crazy.’ And then cut to Season 2, after you’ve done your thing and established who that character was, they come to me and say, ‘Let Alan do absolutely whatever he wants. Keep the cameras rolling and let him go.’ He’s really the go-to funny guy if you feel a scene is lacking.”
Do you have any of that freedom on Smallville?
If I change a single word on the page on Smallville, it is an epic to-do. The director has to get with the producers on set, they have to have a meeting and talk about it and figure out what to say exactly to the studio and network because they have to conference-call them, and this has literally happened on set. I’m sitting there like, “Geez, I just don’t want to say ‘fish sticks.’ Is it really that big of a deal?” It’s the biggest headache, so it’s a wildly different form of acting.
What’s the most stupid thing you’ve done as Thad lately?
This episode I think we’re going to air sometime in January, it’s called “Vision Quest.” It’s basically an episode through the mind of Thad as he takes a journey through his mind on about every drug possible trying to find the answer to this burning question inside of him. A lot of the characters you see are me playing those characters — it’s like a giant SNL sketch almost. It was so much fun. I did like a standup routine, and I actually wrote all the jokes, so they’re purposefully like the dumbest jokes ever. I was a news anchor and I wrote all the news stories. It was one ridiculous Thad moment after another – the whole taping could be a giant outtake. That was one of the most epic Thad weeks ever of just crazy, over-the-top stuff.
So far they’ve ruled out any Smallville spinoffs. Deep down, would you still want to do an Aquaman series?
I would love to, yeah. It’s difficult work – it’s very physical, especially being Aquaman. There’s a lot of work with water and it’s very demanding on the body. It’s a fun challenge, though. The good thing is you’re playing a character who is so appreciated by such a vast audience already. People have a lot of love for this character and for the idea of superheroes altogether. To be on one of those shows, whether it’s on Smallville or a spinoff in the future, it’d just be fortunate as an actor. It’s hard to go wrong – you’re really well-received by your fans and it’s fun to be a part of something like that where your work is seen and appreciated.