Jason Ritter Reveals What It Was Really Like Working On Frozen II - Exclusive Interview

Throughout his career, Jason Ritter has played so many memorable characters, it's hard to keep up. From his Emmy-nominated turn as Mark Cyr in "Parenthood" to his voice work in shows like "Gravity Falls," Ritter has become a regular on our screens, and it's easy to see why. But when he's not busy acting, the "A Million Little Things" star is helping to raise awareness about Huntington's disease by supporting the Huntington's Disease Society of America's annual gala, Freeze HD, along with a whole host of other celebrities.

Discussing the upcoming event, Ritter told Nicki Swift, "The purpose is just to help families who are dealing with Huntington's disease. There are all these centers where people can get help. And then my biggest passion is just the money that goes to research to try to eradicate this disease from the world." This year's gala will be hosted by Ritter, along with actors Scott Porter and Kate Miner, with appearances by Bryce Dallas Howard and Jaime King, and many others.

Nicki Swift caught up with Jason Ritter to find out all about Freeze HD, how he scored a role in "Frozen II," and what it was really like working with "Gilmore Girls" alum Lauren Graham

Jason Ritter will be co-hosting the Huntington's Disease Society of America's star-studded 7th Annual Freeze HD event and online auction on October 16, 2021.

Jason Ritter on raising awareness for Huntington's disease

You're working with the Huntington's Disease Society of America on their annual Freeze HD fundraiser. Why is the charity so important to you?

Jason Ritter: It's so important to me because I was first sort of introduced to Huntington's disease in general through [actor-director-writer] Marianna Palka, who's one of the other hosts of the show, and it's something that her father had and is throughout her family. ... I think I had learned about it in a biology class, maybe in passing, but I had no sense of what it is. And she described it to me and described watching her father go from who she knew him to be ... just through this transformation. And it just seems like such a cruel disease.

The fact that it's genetic and just runs through families, and people who are in families with this have multiple family members go through it — it's just something that I had known about for many years, but then through the process of Marianna getting her diagnosis and things like that, there was a sort of helpless feeling that we all had. And so a group of us — my sister-in-law, [production designer] Lelia Parma, was sort of the spear-header — but she and my brother and my sister and my mom and all of our friends and everybody we knew came together to put together the first Freeze HD, which we just thought was going to be a one-time big event. And we called in every favor we possibly could. And since then, it's just, it's continued. And the community has gotten bigger and people like Kate Miner or Scott Porter, who I had known before all of this, had their own connections to HD. And so we sort of consolidated and formed this thing.

But it's been exciting because there have been so many huge leaps and bounds forward, and even in — oh boy, the 20 years since I first knew about it through Marianna's dad, when I was 19 — now I'm 41, and they've been able to isolate the gene. They can keep future generations from getting it. There have been huge sort of punches in the nose to Huntington's disease. And I'm just hoping to, in the next five years, be part of delivering the knockout punch that just gets it out of here forever and keeps a bunch of people who have been diagnosed, but are not symptomatic yet, from ever having to experience a symptom — hopefully [it] lessens symptoms from people who already have started, and doesn't become a thing that families have to endure in the future at all.

I have MS, so I love when a celebrity puts their weight behind something like this to raise money. Because you're right, it's all about the research, which, as you say, can change so much. But before then, people are just kind of left in the dark, aren't they? That's why FreezeHD sounds great.

Ritter: That's amazing. Yeah. Well, and as far as I understand, there's a sort of ... there are crossover elements between MS, ALS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's — especially Parkinson's and Huntington's are very closely connected. But there are technologies and research that if we break through on any one of these ... there will be help for all the other ones, too.

Why you won't want to miss Freeze HD

The annual gala, Freeze HD, is happening this month. What can people expect from the event and how can they get more involved if they want to?

Jason Ritter: So, they can get involved today very easily by going to hdsa.org/freezehd. It's a completely free ticket. And so that's the main thing. A lot of it is just literally spreading awareness. We don't want to scare people away if they're interested by making a crazy ticket price, and we've gone totally virtual, so it can be a worldwide event — everybody's invited. And then there are things that they can do if they want to do the extra step. They can pay $50 for a VIP after-party, where a bunch of the hosts will be all hanging around in a Zoom and joking and debriefing. 

We've all been working so hard and getting auction items, and then the event happens. And last year, the after-party was fun. We were all just, "Whew, I can't believe we made it." All of the fundraising is over, and it's just a time to sort of relax and joke around and talk to people and answer questions if they want. And at the event itself, before we even get to the after-party, there'll be a bunch of us talking about Huntington's disease, there are musical performances. It'll just be about an hour and a half of fun, hanging out, and certain clips of people talking about Huntington's disease. And Scott [Porter] and Kelsey [Porter] and Kate [Miner] and I are going to be in between all of the different videos and will be basically doing it live. So we'll be able to chat with people on the chat and we'll be talking to people and then it all opens up for the VIP after-party. But we'd love for everybody to come to that first event and to take a look at our silent auction, which every year, it's so incredible. Scott pulls together ... everybody on the host committee pulls together such incredible things. 

Especially Scott, by the sounds of it.

Ritter: He and Kelsey are the heroes of the world. I don't know how they do it. He just ... yeah. And I got my couple of little things. There's a Zoom call that I'll do with somebody who bids, if anybody's interested, and there'll be lots of different things. [Actor] Ben Schwartz is going to auction off — he'll do a voice memo as Sonic the Hedgehog. And we've got some things from [actor-writer] Alex Hirsch, who did "Gravity Falls," and [writer-producer] Dana Terrace, who does "Owl House." And yeah, most of my things that I got for the online auction are from the animated universe.

How Jason Ritter joined the Disney universe

I was going to ask you about the animation world, because you've done quite a lot of voice work more recently, like "Gravity Falls," "Skylanders Academy," and "Frozen II." What's it like working on a huge Disney project, like "Frozen II"?

Jason Ritter: That was so exciting. Especially because I really was a Disney — still am a Disney guy. But I mean, I've watched all of those movies. I knew probably too many lyrics of all of the songs from all the shows, and I just loved it. And so it was really exciting to sort of step into that world and see what it's like a little bit on the inside of a huge, massive machine, and it's really amazing because at the core of it, there's still a lot of playfulness and creativity and things that you wouldn't imagine in something that has such a wide-reaching audience.

But [directors-writers] Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, the two main people who do the "Frozen" movies, are so lovely and so sweet and incredible. I was definitely very nervous. It's the first time I had to sing in an audition, and I almost just didn't do it because I was too scared. But then I thought, "What if I just try it and I get it?" If I was too scared, I would have let my fear keep myself from being in it, and that would have been the only obstacle in the way.

And so ... I went to a voice coach and I practiced for a month in between my first [audition] and my callback, and it was so exciting. And then the song that I was going to have a little part in got cut, so I didn't have to sing at all, anyway. So it was like the best of both worlds. I didn't have to do that, but it was so much fun.

But you got to develop your singing skills.

Ritter: I did, I did, I honed it. I got over a huge personal hurdle of mine, a big fear, and it was just so much fun. And in general, voice acting is sort of a lonelier thing, because you don't need any of the other cast members and things like that. But it was really fun. I actually have known Josh Gad and Kristen Bell for years and years and years, and I went to college with Kristen, and I've known Josh around that long, too. I was so excited to see when the first "Frozen" came out, how huge it was, but it was really fun to text them and be like, "I'm in your 'Frozen' family too, now." It was really fun, and they were both so sweet and amazing, two of the loveliest people in the world.

Yes, Lauren Graham is as wonderful as she seems

One of my favorite things that you're in is "Parenthood," because you had such great chemistry with Lauren Graham, and it was so fun watching you reunite with her in the "Gilmore Girls" revival. Can we expect to see you reunite again in the future?

Jason Ritter: I mean, I would absolutely love to do anything with Lauren at any point. She is just the loveliest human being in the world. She's as warm and funny and cool and smart and everything as you would sort of imagine her to be. And she just makes everybody better. If you're in a scene with her, you're like, "What's happening?" But she's just so in the moment, and she's so truthful, and it kind of forces you to be in the moment with her. I think that was one of the greatest creative experiences of my entire life, and it was just because of her.

I mean, the way they shot "Parenthood," the amount of creativity and trust they gave to their actors — and the writing was already so incredible, but then the fact that you could improvise a little bit, it was an immense amount of trust. Lauren just became such a close and treasured friend of mine. ... I would do anything to work with her again, as it was incredibly special. 

That's why we were all heartbroken when your characters didn't end up together, because you were so good together onscreen.

Ritter: Oh, thank you so much. I was heartbroken, too, I have to say. Finally, I felt that breakup.

Jason Ritter is still haunted by Freddy Krueger

I'm a massive horror nerd, so I have to ask you about "Freddy vs. Jason." What was that like? It must've just been a crazy experience.

Jason Ritter: It was absolutely insane. I mean, I grew up watching the Freddy [Krueger, "Nightmare on Elm Street"] movies. Those were some of the first scary movies that I saw that really also stayed with me, and I was scared of having a nightmare with Freddy. I was young enough to kind of let that marinate. Freddy and "Candyman" were the two horror movies that I thought, "This could really happen." I still don't think I would be able to say "Candyman" five times in the mirror, just in case.

Then being named Jason, I also have a different feeling about Jason Voorhees [from "Friday the 13th"]. I hadn't seen those movies as much, until I found out I was going to do it, and then I quickly watched as many as possible. But it was completely surreal, because even though I hadn't been as familiar with Jason, I knew what he looked like, I knew the hockey mask, and it was completely surreal and bizarre to be on set with ... "There's Jason!"

And then there's the actual Freddy [Robert Englund], who's always been Freddy from the beginning, in the makeup, with the glove, just talking normally and having a great time. And also, he knows that character so well. He's so comfortable with it. He's so comfortable with that glove that watching him over at craft service, just sort of spearing a grape and eating it off of his gloved hand, was so surreal and bizarre. And it was also bizarre to have Freddy Krueger, the man who is such a terrifying character, be so nice and just chatting. He told me he had met my mom [actor Nancy Morgan] years ago and said, "Oh, she was great," and I said, "I know that you're talking to me as Robert, but you're in full makeup, and it's terrifying." 

But it was an amazing experience, and it felt so special to be there when those two guys met — like a matchmaker moment.

Would you do horror again?

Ritter: Yes, I would. I love horror, too, and I feel like sometimes it gets a bad rep because it's so popular, and they can be easy to make, and they can make a lot of money. So there's a good amount of bad horror, and I never mind those either, but there's also some just beautiful, deeply unsettling horror movies, psychological thrillers, anywhere in that [realm] ... if I read a script, and I went, "This scares me. This sits with me," then I'm into it. I have absolutely no problem jumping back in. I love that world.

Also, horror movies often explore big social issues that other films aren't doing, and they do it in such a unique way.

Ritter: They really can. They're like little Trojan horses sometimes, when it's not just about slashing a bunch of young people up, there can really be some interesting messages.

This star is following in his dad's footsteps

Your dad, the late John Ritter, is such an icon and a much-loved actor, and he was recently celebrated in a documentary. How has his legacy impacted your career?

Jason Ritter: Oh, wow. Yeah, I mean, I learned so much from watching him as an actor and also as a human, and how he lived his life and things like that. It's hard to say exactly how it's impacted my career, because I feel like there are lots of things or decisions that are made or conversations that are made — not necessarily in front of me — about, "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?" or whatever. But I will say that, generally aside from the fact that he was well-known, he had a really good reputation as far as the way he treated people that he came across. And that, almost more than anything, I think has been something that has been really nice, to walk into a room full of people, and when they say, "Hey, I worked with your dad," I don't go, "Ooh, what did he do? What did he say?" I know I have some friends where they have to go around and be like, "I'm sorry, I'm not him, or not her." It's really nice to have a sort of a general sense of goodwill that is mine to ruin or continue.

Lots to continue.

Ritter: Yes, I hope so. But you never know, there are some times that are like, "Oh gosh, big shoes to fill," and [I] try to sort of say upfront, "These are my shoes, this is how and what I'm going to do." ... I think expectations can often lead to disappointment, so I'm sure there have been times where I've gone into an audition and someone's had an expectation of me and how well I'll do this comedy scene or whatever, and I've fallen short of that. I'm sure that's happened a billion times, so I've sort of tried to let all of that go, and a lot of times those ideas of other people's expectations were just mostly in my head, my deepest insecurity and things like that.

You're too hard on yourself.

Ritter: I am, I am.

Your work is wonderful.

Ritter: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.

And also, I've got to say your wife's [Melanie Lynskey] work is wonderful. "Hello I Must Be Going" is one of my favorite films.

Ritter: Oh my gosh, I love that film. ... Yeah. She's so perfect, and Christopher Abbott is so amazing always, but I mean the two of them in that movie ... that's such a beautiful one.

Jason Ritter talks putting an end to Huntington's disease

Is there anything else that you want people to know about the Huntington's Disease Society of America's event, FreezeHD?

Jason Ritter: One of the things that I'm super excited about is my sister, Carly Ritter, is going to be playing some of her music that night — and I mean, obviously I'm biased, but I think she's such an incredible musician and artist. And Kate Miner and her band, Miner, is also playing, and Brian Logan Dales and Clare Dunn are also playing, too. Just for the music, I think it's worth the price of the free ticket. I know that it's a heavy topic, but one of the things that we've been trying to do is infuse these nights with a lot of love, life, and fun.

Just so people know, it'll be a fun night and won't be a night of lectures or taking notes or things like that. Hopefully, they will learn something and then it'll move them to donate. If people just show up and listen, that's my goal done.

Jason Ritter will be co-hosting the Huntington's Disease Society of America's star-studded 7th Annual Freeze HD event and online auction on October 16, 2021.