Hastily judging people for the actions they take, without giving much thought or consideration to the reasoning behind their decisions, can often be a problematic impulse that society has trouble contending with on a daily basis. While some of those acts are illegal and/or immoral in nature, often times can be an underlying detrimental motive that has led them to commit those unethical acts. That is certainly the case with the relatable anti-heroes in the new independent crime thriller, ‘7 Minutes,’ which opens tomorrow in select theaters and on VOD and iTunes. Jason Ritter stars as one of the complicated protagonists, whose good intentions often lead him to take drastic measures to protect the people he cares about in the drama, which was written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker, Jay Martin.
‘7 Minutes’ follows three men who are determined to overcome their economic hardships in their desolate town in Washington State. Sam (Luke Mitchell), who was the star of his high school football team a few years before, and had the potential to have a successful career before developing an injury, was forced to leave college and begin working in the town’s local factory. He’s determined to financially support his girlfriend, Kate (Leven Rambin), who was a cheerleader while they were in high school. She’s now resolutely working at a diner to help make money, despite Sam’s concerns, as she’s pregnant and almost near her due date.
When Sam is laid off from his job, his older brother, Mike (Ritter), tries to financially help him, even though he has a wife and daughter of his own. So along with Sam’s friend Owen (Zane Holtz), and against their initial doubts, the trio decides to deal drugs for drug lord Doug (Chris Soldevilla), in an effort to earn more money. When Owen then flushes the pills, in a desperate attempt not to get caught by police who he worries are following him and his friends, the three must find a way to quickly raise money, so that they can pay Doug back.
Mike then suggests to Sam and Owen that they should rob their Uncle Pete’s (Joel Murray) bank, as he overheard him saying he illegally has taken money himself, and therefore won’t report the heist, in fear of getting caught himself. Thinking nothing will go wrong in their planned seven-minute robbery, the three quickly realize that everything won’t go according to plan. Brandi (Mariel Neto), a woman who Mike cheated on his wife with, is upset he won’t pay more attention to her. So after she sees him with a gun, she tells local police officer Jerome (Brandon Hardesty), who has a crush on her and a strong sense of responsibility to his job, about her suspicions about what Mike plans on doing. Jerome then follows the trio and tries to stop their crime.
Tuckey (Kevin Gage), who’s a colleague of Owen’s career criminal father, Mr. B (Kris Kristofferson), also decides to stop the heist, after he hears the friends taking about it, in attempt to take the money for himself. In the process, everything learns that even their most well-intentioned ideas don’t always go according to strategy, as the people in their lives have misconceptions about them, as well as conflicting ideas of their own.
Ritter generously took the time recently to talk about playing Mike in ‘7 Minutes’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was instantly drawn to his character when he was reading the script, as he liked Mike’s complexities, which continuously led him to question how she should feel about him and the decisions he makes, particularly during the heist; and how he spent time with his co-stars, including Mitchell, Holtz and Hardesty, on- and-off set, to authentically build their relationships and make it realistically seem as though they have all known each other their entire lives.
ShockYa (SY): You play Mike, who’s one of three desperate young men who are forced to commit a brazen robbery, and decide to follow a seemingly simple plan to commit the crime in seven minutes, in the new crime drama, ‘7 Minutes.’ What was it about the character, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Jason Ritter (JR): I liked that Mike is a complicated character in a lot of ways. I also liked all the different ways I felt about the character as I was reading the script. When I was first reading the screenplay, I thought, this guy’s awful. Then I thought he’s not so bad, before thinking he’s the worst guy again. (laughs) So I was going back and forth about how I felt about him, which was interesting; I liked that it elicited that reaction in me.
It’s interesting when you’re not spoon-fed how you’re supposed to feel about a character. You know some people are going to think he’s the worst character ever, while others are going to think he’s just trying his best, but he’s messing up a bit. So that’s one of the things I liked about him.
I also liked the way in which the story was told, as it makes the audience feel things about all of the characters. So the audience knows more about how the heist is going than some of the characters, particularly through the flashbacks, which show that it’s not going to end well for all of the characters. So it ends up eliciting feelings of pity for these guys who are making awful decisions.
SY: Speaking of the flashbacks, ‘7 Minutes’ isn’t told in a linear fashion. Do you think that storytelling technique was beneficial in chronicling the characters’ motivations and perspectives?
JR: Absolutely-one of the first things you see is these guys putting their masks on before they go into the bank to rob it. As a result, you instantly think, these are the bad guys. So it’s interesting as a viewer to dismantle that initial judgment you made about them. By the end of the movie, you may come back to the same judgment, and think some of them were bad. But you then have a deeper understanding of who they all are, and why they committed the robbery.
If tcreenplay had just been about the robbery, I would have had to come up with all of my own reasons on why he was there, and why he was doing it. So what’s great about all the flashbacks was that that backstory was all there for me in the script. I understood what his family life was like, including what his relationships to his wife and daughter were like.
Even though he deals drugs and isn’t always a good person, I understood where Mike was coming from. At the core of the character, family is the most important thing, even though he doesn’t always act like it. So it was nice to have those humanizing elements in the story from the beginning.
SY: Speaking of how important family is to Mike, what were your working relationships like with your co-stars in ‘7 Minutes,’ particularly with Luke Mitchell, who plays Mike’s brother Sam, and Zane Holtz, who portrays their friend and co-hort Owen?
SP: We all, especially Luke, Zane and I, grew pretty close. That was important, not only in the sense for us to become friends when we weren’t shooting, but also to strengthen the relationships between our characters. It’s always hard to make up a long history with someone who you just met. But it’s an important aspect of the film, as all of these guys, including Brandon Hardesty’s character, Jerome, grew up together. So all four of us would hang out a lot and go to know each other, so that when we were talking to each other, there would be more of a sense of history.
Zane’s and my character have this dynamic that Owen could probably beat Mike up anytime that he wanted too, and my joke to him was that he’s not very bright. That’s not true in real life-Zane’s very bright. That’s the type of dynamic we would work on off set, and then put it into the movie. Owen’s a big tough guy who was just released from prison, but he’s still my little brother’s friend, who I’ve seen grow up and get hurt and cry. But at times, he still acts like an idiot. (laughs) So it was fun to develop those dynamics off set.
SY: ‘7 Minutes’ is unique in the fact that instead of focusing on the perspective of one character throughout the entire story, it shows the point-of-views of each of the characters, and they each receive their own introduction. Why do you think that aspect was also beneficial in telling the story?
JR: That’s another one of the things I loved. You not only see the story from Mike, Sam and Owen’s point-of-views, you also see into Jerome and Tuckey’s perspectives and backstories. The story keeps getting deeper, and shows a better understanding of the world.
You also get to know more about characters you wouldn’t have expected to gain more insight into, such as Mariel’s character, Brandi. You initially don’t know how big of a part she’s going to play in the story. But I also like that element of the movie.
There are all these little moments that if the characters didn’t do just this one little thing, this other thing wouldn’t have happened. If Mike hadn’t been a cheat, he wouldn’t have hurt Brandi’s feelings, and then she wouldn’t have told Jerome about the gun. The story’s full of people making mistakes, and the ripples that are caused by those mistakes, which catch up with them. I like that structure of the movie, as you get to know each of the characters one at at time, and all of their backstories come up along the way.
SY: What was your collaboration process like in creating the character of Mike, and the overall story, with Jay Martin, who made his feature film writing and directorial debuts on ‘7 Minutes?’ Do you enjoy working with helmers who also penned the screenplay?
JR: It was exciting. Jay had come from the world of music videos, so that was interesting to me. I had never worked with a director who know that much about storytelling from a visual perspective before. He knows how to tell a story without any dialogue or sound, as he just works with images. So the process was really fun, because he has this great eye on how to tell a story visually. I love the way the film is shot, and how and when Jay used slow motion, which he mashed up with the drama of the moment.
It was also great working with him, because he did something that’s rare as a first-time director-he made sure the cast all felt his trust. A lot of times first-time directors will over-think everything, and will want everything to stay exactly the same way as the first time they thought about it.
So when the actors come in, we’ll almost be annoying to them as they say, “It has to be like this.” Jay didn’t do that, which is actually a totally understandable as a first-time director, as they want to make sure everything goes right and well. They think the more they control everything, the better the film will be. But the reality is, filmmaking is a collaborative process, so the more everyone can listen, the better the process becomes.
That’s not to say to get steam rolled or anything like that. But make sure you hear everybody else and weigh all of the ideas against each other, and allow the best one to win. As long as everyone’s working for the betterment of the movie, and not for their own egos, than the film will work. Jay was really great about asking everyone what they thought, and would have a conversation about it. That’s a great way to go about filmmaking.
SY: Since the film is a crime thriller that focuses on the bank robbery Mike, Sam and Owen commit, what was the process of creating the stunts for the film, particularly the robbery scene? Do you enjoy balancing the physicality with the emotional aspects of your characters?
JR: In general, I love performing stunts, but there are times when I’m told that I’m not allowed to, because of safety reasons. On this film, we did most of our own stunts, and there are amazing action sequences in the movie, which were also done by professional stuntmen. But whenever we could, we would dive in the way of gunshots. I always like when we can do our own stunts, because sometimes you can tell when they’re using a stuntman. But I think all the stunts in the movie were so well-done that you can never really tell if the actor or stuntman is performing them.
Written by: Karen Benardello