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Cicada 3301 and Titans Season 3

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Directed and co-written by Alan Ritchson and inspired by one of the most famous online puzzles in internet history, the wild action comedy Dark Web: Cicada 3301 follows a genius hacker named Connor Black (Jack Kesy) who, along with his art expert friend Avi (Ron Funches) and librarian Gwen (Conor Leslie), goes on a treasure hunt to uncover real-world clues and find answers. Completely entrenched in this dark web secret society’s global recruitment game, the trio must outrun national security agents in order to break the code.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, first-time feature filmmaker Alan Ritchson talked about how the tone of the movie evolved, the role that he created for himself, the wild situations his character is put in, and the natural banter his cast developed. He also talked about his journey to being cast in the title role of the upcoming Jack Reacher Amazon TV series, and what fans can expect from Season 3 of Titans.

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Collider: When you started writing this, did you know just how much of a mix and blend of genres it would turn out to be? Is that something that you set out with intention to do?

ALAN RITCHSON: No. That’s a good question and a solid observation. Originally, this was closer to a hundred million dollar 007 movie, just huge action-adventure, new world order, new government type of explosive thing, and that’s just not make-able, these days. So, I decided to make it more contained. As it became more of a character-driven film, it’s a little bit heady. The subject matter is a little heady and I was just looking for ways to make it more relatable, so the comedy kept creeping in. I originally thought of myself as the Connor Black part. I wanted to write that for myself. And then, from the time that I wrote it to the time that we started getting it made, I had started directing a lot and I just wanted to direct, so I wanted to cast somebody else in that role. But I wanted to do the comedy, so I was like, “I’ll write myself a little side part and just have fun with that.” So, it just kept evolving. Agent Carter was born in prep for the film and while we were shooting.

Image via Lionsgate

So, you’re basically the one entirely to blame for putting yourself in the woods, in a diaper and holding both a gun and a giant baby head?

RITCHSON: Yeah, I have no one else to blame. When people are wondering who in the world dreamed this stuff up for me and who I should punish for that, I’m the guy.

When you actually had to shoot that scene, what were you thinking in those moments?

RITCHSON: My crew was amazing. All of the department heads were amazing. We were all sitting around this 200-foot long table one day, talking about all of the production issues, and one of the things I had on the agenda was to talk about how humiliating we could make a couple of the moments. There were actual brainstorming sessions for what we could look like in those scenes. I gave us a head start on what the script was, but Joshua Montcalm, who I wrote this with, took it from a fun, heady thriller and he added a level of the bizarre. I think the baby heads in the woods were his idea, and we just kept expanding on that idea. He really added a lot of the fun in the film.

Where did those heads go? Do you have one somewhere?

RITCHSON: I should have taken one. We shot in Toronto and I live in Florida, and to get that stuff across the border is just not that easy. I think there would be a lot of questions, if I showed up for a four-foot baby head. I don’t know where it ended up. I think one of my producing partners has a head somewhere. I don’t know. I didn’t keep anything from the film, sadly.

One of my favorite things in this film is the banter between Jack Kesy and Ron Funches. Was that all on the page, or did that evolve when they got on set together?

RITCHSON: Ron Funches is a stand-up comic. He’s lightning fast. He’s got a great wit and he’s very creative. Jack is, too. He’s not a stand-up comic, but he’s quick with this stuff. He really added a shine to the ink that I had on the page. I really owe them a lot, for the natural quality that those conversations have. A lot of it was just them. There are some films that just get lucky with the cast, and this is one of them, between Jack, Conor Leslie and Ron. They just did a phenomenal job. Andreas Apergis, who played Agent Solomon, is also just absolutely brilliant. We had a lot of fun. And everybody was game. Everybody had a good sense of humor about it. I’ve worked on a lot of more dramatic projects and it seems like the people making these things just have a different disposition that’s a little tough to work with sometimes because they take life so seriously. I take my work very seriously, but I don’t take life too seriously, so there’s a sense of humor about our existence, and I like surrounding myself with those kinds of people. I got really lucky because Jack and Ron and Conor all have a similar disposition, in that sense, and that creates a real chemistry that the lens gets to capture. If it feels natural and that there’s a flow to it, I think it’s because there’s an openness to the creatives on set. It has a lot to do with who the people are that you’re working with.

Image via Lionsgate

You were also announced as Jack Reacher, for the new Amazon TV series. When you auditioned for that, did you think that you could get that role, or was it one of those situations where you were like, “Well, I might as well try, even if nothing comes of it”? How do you go into something like that?

RITCHSON: It’s funny, I actually didn’t get the role at first. I’m not exactly six foot five and I’m not exactly 250, and I had heard that they were being very specific with their physical demands. After working with Tom Cruise and a lot of fans being upset that he didn’t really have the physicality, as great as he was in the role, they really wanted to get that right. I was like, “Well, they wanna read me, but I know they’re gonna find someone like Dwayne Johnson, who’s a huge dude.” I auditioned for the part and it was good, it was just that my take on it was a little different than what they had in mind, at the time. There was a shake-up with who was casting, so they started again from scratch, and I’d already been passed on, as had everybody who did an audition. But when they came back around, they picked a few tapes that they’d seen already, and I was one of them, so they wanted me to come back and try again, and it worked out. The closer I got to that, the more familiar I became with the Reacher stuff. I’ve really fallen in love. I’ve read the books now and Reacher has some big shoes to fill, metaphorically speaking. I’m just so thrilled to be a part of it. It’s my favorite character that I’ve played yet.

After thinking that you weren’t going to get to do it, what was it like to then find out that you would? How did you find out and how did you react to actually getting the role?

RITCHSON: I was overwhelmed when I found out that it had gone my way. It had been months of pursuing it and campaigning and just continuing to fight the fight. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. There are a lot of different studios and different producers and executives. I’ve been in the business for a long time, but you just don’t know everybody. There’s a level of educating people as to who you are and convincing people that you’re the guy. It was a lot of work and my team did a really great job. My manager had a huge hand in that. So, when it happened, by the time we’d gotten to the end and it was there, I started to feel like maybe it was gonna happen, but it was overwhelming to find out, for sure. It’s a big character and a huge property, so it’s not lost on me, what it is. I’m thrilled.

What’s the plan for filming the first season? Have you been told if it will be eight or 10 episodes? Do you know who might be directing it? Have they given you any of that information yet?

RITCHSON: I have a lot of that information. I don’t know how much I can say. I’ll say that we’re gonna be doing a book a season, so the first season will be the first book. I think that’s such a great way to do this. I can see why it’d be exciting as a film, but the slow burn is what I love so much about the books. The way that he goes down the checklist and picks apart these cases, you need time. It’s okay to enjoy that. I think spending a season on each book is gonna be really enjoyable for audiences.

Image via Lionsgate

What can you tease about Season 3 of Titans?

RITCHSON: It’s the best season yet, and I’m not using hyperbole. Show shows are very big, and this is one of those shows that’s very big. It’s a huge cast. It’s a huge property. There are a million different ways to tell the story and it sometimes takes a season or two to figure out who to focus on and what exactly is driving this thing. They’ve done a really good job. All of the seasons have been good, but there’s an excellence to this because everybody has figured out what we wanna focus on and who we wanna tell the story through. It’s just a little more focused than it has been, and it’s working really. It’s the best season yet, by far.

Has it been strange to adjust to filming during a pandemic?

RITCHSON: Yeah. There are a lot of masks on set. Everybody’s done a really good job. It’s funny how quickly you can adapt. I don’t wanna adapt forever because it’s not fun slapping a mask on all the time, and then having to perform naturally while you’ve got all of this gear around you and everybody is walking around in blue nursing gowns and gloves and hairnets. It’s just a lot. I would love it if we could all just flow a little more naturally and just be ourselves around each other. But at the end of the day, we all just wanna keep working. We wanna create content that people can enjoy. Life is hard. We live in a world of extremes, and I think that people deserve and should be able to escape into some world, like the one that we create. I’m really happy to be able to do it and I’m grateful to be working. There are a lot of shows that got shut down and didn’t come back, so I’m grateful. If it’s a mask that we need to put on and daily COVID testing to make that happen, then so be it. But like everybody, I’m very much looking forward to the day where we’re all vaccinated and can find some normalcy again.

The more you direct, are you realizing what your strengths are as a director and are you realizing things you want to learn more about that you feel you don’t know as much about?

RITCHSON: Good question. Yeah, I’m insatiably curious. My curiosity is one of the things that keeps me so engaged in life. If I wanna figure a problem out, I just really enjoy the process of opening something up to myself and directing does that for me. There’s no limitation to the way that we see scenes play out in our heads. It’s effortless to imagine, but very costly to produce, so to figure out a way to make that a reality is great. It’s a lot of fun for me. I’m happiest directing. I love figuring those problems out and seeing how I can meet that challenge of bringing these ideas, the way that I see stories unfold in my head, to life. One thing I do that I think is different than a lot of directors is handling that magic and realism, and creating worlds that are like ours, but where there’s just a little magic there. Even in this film, I was able to imbue it with some of that. I guess we’ll see how entertaining it is for people, but it was very entertaining for me to make. I had a lot of fun figuring out a way to subvert expectations, cinematically. As a director, I like the fantasy realm and a world where I get to play with some practical or visual effects, in a way that brings the magic to life in a world that feels like ours.

Image via Lionsgate

Have you thought about taking on directing an episode of Jack Reacher, or is that something where you’d want to have a season under your belt before you take on something where you’re directing yourself as the title character?

RITCHSON: Yeah, I would direct anything. I feel very, very comfortable behind the lens. But I don’t think they’d want that. Maybe down the line a little bit. They’ve got some really, really talented directors who deserve to be in that chair. The way it’s heading right now, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful show. That’s not to say that I couldn’t help there, but to direct yourself when you’re in every scene is not easy. I think to get into a flow is probably wise for them. I’m fine with directing myself, but it’s about quantity. If you’re in every single scene, it becomes very difficult to monitor what’s going on inside the lens and performances, at the same time. For me, if I can limit my exposure as an actor, if I’m in the director’s seat, then it’s better for everybody, myself included. Just a little goes a long way.

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 is available on-demand and digital on March 12th, and on Blu-ray/DVD on March 16th.

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