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Exclusive Interview With Jason Ritter On Free Samples [Tribeca Film Festival]

The desire to control every personal relationship and learning to trust those who offer genuine friendship are daily struggles people often face as young adults. Once people can learn to make reasonable expectations for their relationships, they'll realize they can find their way in the world. Such is the case with the lead character Jillian in the new comedy-drama Free Samples, directed by first-time filmmaker Jay Gammill.

Jason Ritter (left) and director Jay Gammill (right)
Jason Ritter (left) and director Jay Gammill (right)

The desire to control every personal relationship and learning to trust those who offer genuine friendship are daily struggles people often face as young adults. Once people can learn to make reasonable expectations for their relationships, they’ll realize they can find their way in the world. Such is the case with the lead character Jillian in the new comedy-drama Free Samples, directed by first-time filmmaker Jay Gammill.

Free Samples follows Stanford law dropout Jillian (Jess Weixler) after she decided to pursue a career in the arts and become estranged from her fiance Danny (Keir O’Donnell). After realizing that she has no creative talent whatsoever, she spends her time bar-tending in Los Angeles. Jillian also goes out with her diverse group of friends, including Nancy (Halley Feiffer) and Wally (Jason Ritter), and contemplates how her life has fallen apart, without purpose.

The day after Jillian’s latest drunken episode, Nancy asks her to drive her ice cream truck and give out free samples of the new product. While Jillian is initially hesitant because she’s hung-over, she reluctantly agrees, as Nancy has to attend the intervention for her older brother Peter (Jordan Davis). After Jillian spends the day dealing with customers who are constantly bothering her with ridiculous questions and bad attitudes, and once again seeing Tex (Jesse Eisenberg), a man she doesn’t remember meeting the night before, she truly begins contemplating her life. She learns that life doesn’t stop just because you want it to.

Ritter generously took the time to sit down with us recently at New York City’s Hilton Fashion District Hotel during the Tribeca Film Festival to discuss filming Free Samples. He spoke about what attracted him to the role of Wally, his easy working relationship with Weixler and how audiences can relate to the psychological struggles Jillian has to overcome.

Check it out below.

We Got This Covered: You play Wally, a musician who helps Jillian see that the more she trusts people, the more likely she’ll find her way in life. What attracted you to the role and the script?

Jason Ritter: I just sort of liked the haphazard way that Wally seems to live his life. (laughs) Just sleeping on couches and wetting them, and getting tattoos, and not exactly knowing what they mean. It was just an interesting character, and not the usual kind of character that I get to play. So I was intrigued by that.

I was also excited to work with Jess Weixler again. She’s such an incredible actress and person. We had done a movie together a couple years before, called Peter and Vandy. We had a great time. The idea of working with her again, even for one or two more days, was exciting.

WGTC: What was your working relationship with Jess like on Free Samples, since you had worked together previously? Did you have a good working relationship?

JR: Yeah, yeah. I feel like sometimes you work with an actor, and having nothing to do with whether they’re good or not, you’re just not on the same page or wavelength. You have to do a lot of rehearsal to get to a place where it feels a little bit more natural.

Anytime I’ve ever worked with Jess, we start to do a scene, we’ll rehearse it and try to make it better. But I just feel like she’s such a wonderful actress, and she’ll surprise me in a scene. It’s just fun, there’s a lot more play going on than I usually get to do. We have a great working relationship, in my opinion.

WGTC: How did you prepare for your role of Wally? Did you do any kind of research, since he isn’t the type of character that you normally play?

JR: I did. I thought a lot about why he is the way that he is, and made up a little back-story for him. But then I based it on a couple of my friends who are similar to Wally. (laughs) Then I just showed up, and played around a little with Jess.

WGTC: There isn’t a specific antagonist or external conflict in Free Samples, as the film focuses more on Jillian struggling to overcome her psychological obstacles. Do you think the movie shows her obstacles realistically, and viewers can relate to her struggles?

JR: I think so. I think she’s in a strange place in the beginning of the movie. I think she’s sort of embittered. Her life isn’t going the way that she had always imagined it would. Or, even in her new re-imagining of it, it hasn’t gone the way she has expected it so far.

I think generally, that’s something that most of us can relate to-the idea of what our life is supposed to be versus the tough realities of it. So yes, I think a lot of people will be able to connect to her. She’s so funny, in such a mean way (laughs), that there’s something almost therapeutic about seeing someone who says what she thinks, and doesn’t censor herself.

Initially, you go, who is this person? But I think you come to realize why she is the way that she is. Jess is such a fine actress that you even begin to care about this person, who initially you thought, oh, she’s so mean. (laughs)

WGTC: Is Jess like her character at all in real life?

JR: She is not that mean. I think that she is generally in life a people pleaser, and I am as well.  I think that it was therapeutic for her to just let out that mean side of her. It exists somewhere inside of her, but she doesn’t let it out often.

WGTC: Jillian works on the ice cream truck while Nancy attends an intervention for her brother. Speaking to the costumers acts as an intervention of sorts for Jillian, who realizes different truths about herself. Do you think that meeting new people puts things in perspective?

JR: I think so, yeah. Someone pointed out to me that she’s handing out all these free samples, but she’s also getting all these free samples of humanity.

I think we largely stay in our little bubbles that we created. We see our family members and our friends. Since she’s stuck in this place, she gets a taste of all sorts of different people. I feel like on a certain level, because of the way her relationship is with her ex, and where she is in her life, I think almost every character she’s imagining on some deep subconscious level, that she can either become one day, or be with.

WGTC: You’ve also done a lot of television work, on such shows as Joan of Arcadia, The Event and Parenthood. What was the transition like from the series into Free Samples?

JR: It was great. The great thing about the last two shows, the writer-creator of Parenthood, Jason Katims, and the main director of The Event, Jeffrey Reiner, started on Friday Night Lights together. They worked on that show together.

On both those shows, it almost felt like the spirit of an independent film. They were really trying to put performances first. On Parenthood, we can improvise, and usually on television, you can’t do that. There’s so much money, they don’t want to leave it in the hands of actors. (laughs)

So it was an easier transition. Initially, when I first started doing independent movies, one of the more liberating things was the ability to mess around. There wasn’t a huge studio with a lot of  money invested in it, and breathing down your neck every time you vary slightly off of the script that they all approved.

You can talk to a director, and make a scene better. Your input as an actor is important. On those two shows, it was one of the first times that I really felt that I could have a conversation about a scene, if I felt it wasn’t working, and not power through it. I wouldn’t have to watch it later, and say, oh, I knew that was going to be bad. So it was an easier transition.

Now Jason is doing a new show called County. Jess and I are both in it, and we’re waiting to hear if it’s been picked up. So I hope I get to work with them again.

That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Jason Ritter for taking the time to speak with us.

Free Samples premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, April 20 at New York City’s Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.

About the author

Karen Benardello

Karen grew up as an avid film and television fan with a passion for writing. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Journalism-Print and Electronic in 2008 from the Long Island University-Post Campus in New York. Still based in New York, Karen has regularly contributed movie and television interviews, reviews and news articles to We Got This Covered since July 2011.