Jason Ritter has a reputation amongst entertainment journalists that he’s a genuinely kindhearted man and a great interview. I let him know as such and he rewarded me with an incredible interview experience for his role as Dark Spyro in the Netflix animated series Skylanders Academy (which he joined in Season 3). Ritter voices Dark Spyro, the evil version of Justin Long’s character Spyro, and there was more to this series and this experience than I could have ever imagined. He was kind to provide a bit of backstory into this program, and hopefully it will reach a large audience, as it’s certainly got me hooked.
Here is a condensed and edited version of our chat with the wonderful Jason Ritter.
Brief Take: What did you know about Skylanders Academy before signing on to the show?
Jason Ritter: I knew about it a little through the video games, but through the series you get to go much deeper into the story and the character development. It was fun for me to watch the first few seasons and see the sort of universe that it took place in, and then join up. Not even join up as a new character, but as an evil version, of a character that people love, yeah. It’s bizarre, initially, because Justin Long and Spyro is such an integral part, and there’s like a hole there in which you are like “is he in there somewhere?”. As it gets more complicated for Spyro as it goes on, I think that people will enjoy the journey, knowing that Justin Long is trapped somewhere deep inside. We all have our inner Justin Longs, it’s like Jiminy Cricket. [laughs]
BT: You seem to have been connected with almost everyone in the voice cast.
JR: It’s really exciting. I’ve known Justin (Long) for several years. He’s such a wonderful human being, and aside from that, incredibly good at what he does. It was exciting to be in the same room, in almost every way except for literally, with all of these great actors. Drunk History was the first time that I got to work with Justin, and I’ve had a few friends tell me that “you guys would be such best friends”, and when we did Drunk History it was sort of the first time we hung out all day, and it was so much fun. And it’s hard sometimes to start up a new friendship, we were both like, at the end of the day we were “so…do you want to get like…here’s my number”. [laughs] We exchanged numbers and yeah, he’s just such a lovely guy.
BT: How does it feel to be the Dark version of him?
JR: [laughs] It’s like “now my goatee makes sense”. I’m the Evil Justin Long all along. It’s such a fun character to play as well because he’s a mole. Welcomed back to Skylanders Academy, but he’s sort betraying the people that he loves on some level. It was really fun to be playing these scenes in which he is so terrible, and spying and doing stuff for Strykore that we wouldn’t think that we would see Spyro do.
BT: And you’ve been playing a lot of villians lately.
JR: When we encounter the villains in our life, they don’t immediately show all of their dangerous qualities upfront, so we are often fooled by people. I really enjoyed sort of leaning into that and trying to get people to like me. [laughs] All those sorts of things that have arisen from my strange history and using those for evil, it’s been interesting and it’s been rewarding.
BT: Tell me more about Dark Spyro and how you crafted the character in season 3.
JR: Yeah, there’s Dark Spyro and he’s just trying to win over everybody like “sure, I’m Dark Spyro, like don’t worry about it, guys, I’m fine, I’m just under the weather a little bit”. [laughs] And then as soon as they leave, the real side comes out. So he’s got to convince everyone to trust him. And what’s really fun is as the season goes on, the inherent goodness in Spyro starts to bubble up, and he starts to be a little bit more conflicted about what he’s doing and it becomes this really interesting dynamic in which he’s sort of in an inner battle with himself, and doing the right thing.
We talked about it in the room and it seems like The Departed at Skylander. [laughs] Kaos kind of feels shut out by Strykore, who’s now focused on Dark Spyro, so he kind of goes the other way. All of a sudden you have these two moles, with all of these ulterior motives and espionage, and all that kind of stuff. Dark Spyro can’t figure out how to open artifacts, which makes him crazy. So it’s really deep and fun in season three, and it’s got all the action of the first couple seasons and all the humour, and it’s a really fun, great show. I was super excited to be part of it.
BT: What can you tell me about your upcoming series Raising Dion?
JR: We’re in the middle of shooting it right now and it’s really great. It’s about this woman, played by Alisha Wainwright, who is raising her son by herself, because her son’s father, played by Michael B. Jordan, passed away before the show. Then the child shows that he has these sort of super powers, so it’s kind of almost like a superhero origin story but it’s more of a human story. It’s hard enough to raise a child, but then when they can teleport out of the room?! It’s a really fun show and very surprising. I’m excited for people to see that as well!
BT: Who’s your favourite superhero?
JR: I’ve always loved anything with a fantastical element, whether it’s superheroes or supernatural or aliens, or any of that stuff, I am into. Not that I am displeased with the reality of our world. I like projects that are slightly out of the realm of what we see and know of the real world. I think that Batman and Superman were sort of my gateway superhero drug, but also Green Lantern, randomly, somehow, that was my first comic book that my little eight-year-old, nine-year-old, ten-year-old mind latched on to. But I have always loved that superhero idea, that there is a powerful being that is doing good and bringing justice to those who have gotten away with things, and I love all of that stuff.
BT: Talk a little about your charitable work with Huntington’s Disease.
JR: One of the benefits of working on projects that people respond to or like is that you’re able to, like in this interview, shine a spotlight on things that you care about, and what people may not have heard about or know about, and for me, Huntington’s Disease is that thing. It was what Woody Guthrie died of, eventually. I first heard about it through a friend of mine, and it has gone through her family, and when I first heard about it, there was really nothing. They knew how to test for it, but once they figured out you had it, there wasn’t really that much you could do for it, so it was a choice for people if they wanted to know if this degenerative disease was going to come for them at some point, or whether they were free of it. Most people I know they didn’t want to know. Over the years they have made all of these incredible advancements, to the point where right now, they’re in human trials for this treatment, which is extremely exciting. I feel like we’re right on the cusp for a cure, which, I can’t even believe that I’m saying these words. The scientists are so incredible!
In the meantime, Huntington’s Disease is a pre-existing condition, and it can affect people’s insurance and it can really drain resources, so the HDSA not only helps fund research, but also helps families with resources and also helps to educate people about the disease, and so I got involved and it’s such a terrible disease, as you’re basically forced to watch a family member lose control of their mind and lose control of their body. It’s all extremely gradual and it happens over thirty years, they slowly go through this horrible process and for the people who love them, it’s awful. If there’s one thing that I can be a part of and driving this disease into the history books, so hopefully people can be like “oh, this is one of the diseases that I’ve read about, and they’ve figured out”. We have a treatment for it and it’s no longer a death sentence. They’ve made some incredible leaps and bounds, but there are some roadblocks.
BT: Do you want to highlight an essential part of your acting journey?
JR: It’s been such an incredible journey and I learned from everybody that I work with. I’ve been able to have conversations and be incredibly inspired by the people around me. One of the most incredible experiences for me, and I feel like it may be because it was very early on in my career and in my journey, and also it was an intense period of time in my life, but being on the show Joan of Arcadia with Mary Steenburgen and Joe Mantegna, who are just two of the loveliest sort of non-classical Hollywood people. I mean Hollywood in sort of the bad sense. [laughs] They are such lovely people, and it is just nice to see people like that, who are so incredibly talented, who also haven’t been twisted into egomaniacal, horrible…and that’s sort of been the gold standard. It’s been incredible to have some of the creeps be called out and it’s cleansing, as it used to be sort of like “watch out for that guy” or “watch out for that person, they’re mean or horrible”. And I feel like there is less and less tolerance for that sort of behaviour, no matter how talented you are are, and I think that’s a nice thing. Artistry is sort of important, but I think decency takes precedence over that, and I’m excited that it’s sort of been moving in that direction.
Season 3 of Skylanders Academy is now streaming on Netflix!