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‘The Tale’ star Jason Ritter reveals the rage he felt playing a predator

The actor also discusses how the film fits into the #MeToo movement.

Jason Ritter and Elizabeth Debicki star in

Jason Ritter and Elizabeth Debicki star in "The Tale" on HBO. Photo Credit: Kyle Kaplan / HBO

Over the last year, the #MeToo movement has made many people reflect on their own experiences with sexual assault.

A new HBO film speaks to the mental exhaustion some survivors go through. Based on the true story of director/writer Jennifer Fox (played by Laura Dern), “The Tale” is a bold film that centers on Fox’s fractured memories as she investigates her own assault that took place in the ’70s at the hands of Bill, her track coach (played by Jason Ritter) and the inappropriate relationship she was groomed into with Bill’s secret lover.

amNewYork sat down with Ritter to discuss the #MeToo movement and the challenges of playing a predator.

What was your first reaction when you read the script?

I had to sit there for about 15-20 minutes at the spot I had read it. I had never seen abuse talked about this way. I had never sat down and listened to someone tell their experience in-depth and all of the complicated emotions that went along with it, and how it can be framed for a child, and how they could carry that into adulthood.

What research did you do for the role?

I read an incredible book called “Tiger Tiger,” which had a similar theme, but mainly I talked to Jennifer over and over about it. She is as open and honest as her script is. She was constantly willing to explore uncharted territory by telling me things that were uncomfortable, and it really helped to have that resource there. She was my anchor.

Was it hard at the end of the day to shake this person off?

For the most part, we did so many things during shooting that not only helped us make it in the first place, but it helped psychologically. Any of the horrible and overt things that I say, I said them to a body double who was adult so it was easier for me to look at someone who is a peer and talk this way. I knew that there would be a certain amount of magic that would come together in the editing. There were a couple of times where I had to go home and let it all out.

Do you reserve judgment when you’re playing a person like this?

That was the biggest challenge for me. I, obviously, have incredibly deep emotions about this kind of thing. It’s an immediate physical reaction; I feel rage in every fiber in my body. So, to me, I held on to the fact that I was playing a memory of this person who had spun it in a way so much that in her adult life, Jennifer was calling it a relationship. I knew it was important to not be a mustache-twirling character ... because it would’ve undermined the whole point of the movie. The unsettling part is that he seemed like someone you could trust. In the community, people like him and trust him, and he was able to manipulate people.

We’ve seen films about sexual assault before, but the #MeToo movement has given us a whole new clarity. How do you think the film fits into this conversation?

I think it continues the conversation. One of the most incredible things about #MeToo is that, due to this instinctual safety in numbers thing, #MeToo created a place where someone could say something about an experience they had and feel, “Maybe I’ll be believed” as opposed to, “What was my participation level? What did I do wrong?” I think this film continues that conversation. One of the things that it does is that it teaches people to try and not put their own narrative on someone else’s experience, and say “You were a victim.” If you’re worried that your story may get taken from you and specifically labeled, you may never tell that story. You have to let the person come to their own understandings about it.

‘The Tale’ premieres 10 p.m. Saturday on HBO

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