‘Reacher’ Star Alan Ritchson on Faith, Stardom and Mental Health

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‘Reacher’ Star Alan Ritchson on Faith, Stardom and Mental Health


Tattoos are a relatively new obsession for Alan Ritchson. His collection is growing and each piece is thoughtfully selected. There’s a lotus on his wrist to honor his wife of 17 years, Cat. “She’s the flower, I’m undoubtedly the mud,” he says. There are separate tattoos inspired by the couple’s three young boys — a peaceful dove for Calem, an abstract flame for Edan, and a crest with a shield and swords for Amory. There’s a massive skull with a crown on his bicep and another down the way inspired by a Richard Gere remake of the Japanese movie Hachiko about a faithful dog that is meant to symbolize loyalty and devotion.

But the newest one, finished during a 16-hour session in February in Toronto on a day off from filming Reacher, the Prime Video juggernaut that has made him one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading men, is just for him. It serves as a permanent reminder of what happened during his darkest days and who he is now as a result of surviving a near-fatal incident. The tattoo features the two overlapping masks the ancient Greeks used to represent comedy and tragedy, joy mixed with pain. “Tattoos, I realized, are very much an opportunity for me to tell my story and the things that matter most to me: family, the story of my wife and our connection, what loyalty means to me, faith. But this right here,” he says, rubbing the skin on his forearm, “is as close as I’ll get to a personal identity. It has a dual meaning for me in the extremes — the happy, the sad, the ups and the downs — as somebody who lives with bipolar and ADHD on a daily basis. Being bipolar has wreaked havoc on my life many, many times. I would wish it away if I could, but it’s so much a part of who I am now that I should celebrate it a little or, at least, accept it.”

Ritchson’s tattoo, done by Toronto-based Pavlo Pozhydaiev, aka Pasha Ink. Other pieces that he attributes to being “strike babies” feature a Tree of Life and the words “devotion” and “boundaries.”

Courtesy of Alan Ritchson’s Instagram

Ritchson started getting the majority of the ink only in the past couple of years, after the breakout success of Reacher and after the breakdown he refers to as his existential crisis. “Mental health is an everyday conversation for me,” he says. “I was just texting my psychiatrist on the way over here for my daily check-in, and she asked, ‘How are you?’ I was, like, ‘I’m great!’ That, to her, is not always a good sign. ‘Are you really? Too great?’”

Life has never been better for Alan Ritchson. He arrives at West Hollywood’s Blackwood Coffee Bar on an early morning in March at a time when there are billboards across Los Angeles featuring his work. Some are supersized to promote the second season of Reacher, which made him famous playing a muscular savant who kicks ass in spectacular fashion. Others promote a turn as a sensitive family man hell-bent on saving his daughter from a fatal disease in the faith-based tear-jerker Ordinary Angels, opposite two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank. By the time this is published, his face will be high up with two Henrys (Cavill and Golding) advertising a guns-blazing actioner from Guy Ritchie called The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, a film that finds him annihilating Nazis (with fists and feet but mostly bow and arrow).

Life looks good on him, too. Ritchson, 41, stands 6-foot-3 and is 240 pounds of muscle with model good looks. He settles into a seat on Blackwood’s back patio, removes a pair of black Celine sunglasses and rolls up the sleeves of a chambray shirt to reveal the mask tattoos, accessorized with a special-edition Rolex inspired by James Cameron’s record-setting deep sea dive (“a reminder that I can make a contribution to mankind that’s bigger than my career,” Ritchson says), a tennis bracelet with a string of diamonds measuring 1 carat each, and a killer white smile that could stop traffic. Once Ritchson starts answering questions during a conversation that will stretch past two hours, he transforms from larger-than-life action star into who he really is: an unfiltered, faith-driven family man who is unafraid to show his scars as a way to fulfill God’s wishes and live in service to others. He’s also very funny.

Ritchson as Anders Lassen in Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare from Lionsgate.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Like the masks, Alan Ritchson is a study in duality. He is a devout Christian but eviscerates the religion’s hypocrisy. (He also swears liberally and admits to past drug use.) He is entirely devoted to his family but can’t deny workaholic tendencies that will keep him booked for the foreseeable future on back-to-back projects, with only six days off in between (including travel). He is a wall of muscle but leans into vulnerability and sheds tears at two separate points during an interview in which no question is off limits, no subject that is presented gives him pause. His stock is still very much on the rise in Hollywood but he does not speak in publicist-approved soundbites, nor are there any topics stricken from the record in advance. He goes deep fast, to talk about his mental health challenges, a harrowing suicide attempt and a shocking incident of sexual assault he faced during his modeling days. He’s got no whiskey to shill or brand to build other than being himself. He has stepped into stardom knowing exactly who he is, and those around him have already taken note.

“He’s been putting in the work for a long time,” says friend and Fast X co-star Jason Momoa, who calls him a “brother.” “We both share that together because it’s not been an overnight success.” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon and MGM Studios, is working closely with Ritchson through Reacher and an extended production deal he signed there and recognizes that his impact extends beyond what he can accomplish on screens. “What makes him unique is that he is very brave and open in talking about mental health. He’s a modern leading man in that sense, and he comes to it all so honestly, through life experience,” she says. “Though it’s been tough for him, he will share his story with anybody.”

Ritchson photographed at Quixote Studios in West Hollywood on Feb. 27.

Photographed by Julia Johnson

Alan Ritchson was born in Grand Forest, North Dakota, to parents David and Vickie, and as a middle child between two brothers. “It’s weird because people there sometimes claim me as ‘our North Dakota celeb,’ but I was only there for two months,” he says. That’s because his father served in the Air Force, and the family was often on the move. From Grand Forest, they went to Guam until Ritchson was 2, at which time they packed up for Illinois. The summer before Ritchson entered fifth grade, his father was transferred to Eglin Air Force Base, the largest in the world, located on Florida’s Emerald Coast. The Ritchsons settled in nearby Niceville, Florida, a small town on Boggy Bayou that opens into Choctawhatchee Bay.

While David commuted to the base, Vickie kept a close eye on the boys by running the school’s writing lab. “Really, it was an excuse to be right down the hall from our classes,” Ritchson says. “She could pop her head in and make sure that we were dutifully present and not skipping class.” Those sharp eyes also kept watch at home, which was strict and faith-filled in following the precepts of the Catholic Church. “We went to daily mass. We were altar boys. I was president of the youth group. I was a music minister. We were involved deep,” Ritchson says. “The rules at home followed that same strict tradition.”

With an austere home life, Ritchson found ways to loosen up at school. He leaned into creative tendencies, performing in school musicals and doing improv around the cafeteria — much of it inspired by Jim Carrey. “He was my hero,” says Ritchson. “When Ace Ventura came out [in 1994], I was in sixth grade, and I was enamored. He was so physical, goofy and unafraid. I’d never seen anything like it. I dressed up as Ace Ventura for three Halloweens in a row. I showed up to school and wouldn’t break character the entire time. I had the hair, the business card and I would walk up to people at their lunch tables and say, ‘Excuse me, I’d like to ass you a few questions,’” he says. “People hated it, but I love that it made most people laugh. Jim Carrey knew how to do that and it’s a gift.”

Bonus: A few years after the release of Ace Ventura, Carrey happened to be in nearby Seaside, Florida, filming Peter Weir’s 1998 dramedy The Truman Show. Accompanied by his mom and older brother, Eric, Ritchson posted up on a lawn near the scenic town center with a poster for Carrey to sign. “We waited for him to come out of his trailer,” he recalls. “My mom spotted him and went, ‘There he is!’ I unveiled my poster and said, ‘Hey, Jim!’ He looked over and did this big belly laugh by arching his spine backwards. My brother and I ran over to him, but a security guard was there. He put his hand on a gun and said, ‘Don’t go any closer.’ Jim was caught in this place where he wanted to sign it but had to go to work, so he just wandered off. That’s as close as I’ve gotten.”

A late bloomer, Ritchson lacked body hair on his legs or arms in high school, a fact that strangely didn’t sit well with peers who repeatedly bullied him. To kick-start puberty and calm the haters, Ritchson threw himself into the gym. He took to working out from the jump and by the time senior year rolled around, he was voted “best physique” of his graduating class. Ritchson developed other habits in that period. “I started running away pretty early,” he says. “I was fiercely independent and didn’t want my parents paying for anything for me because I felt like it gave them power over me, and I wanted to make my own decisions.” He made a big one by buying a used Toyota truck and an air mattress, which he put in the back cab so he could sleep there permanently.

“I bought that crappy black truck with my own money that I saved up from little jobs. I felt like I deserved it because I paid for my phone, insurance and I put gas in my car. I was a good kid, but I was also interested in girls and didn’t understand why I couldn’t be out on dates past 9 p.m., so I left,” Ritchson says. “I went and lived behind a grocery store in my truck. I slept out there for a long time.”

After a couple of months, his father turned up at school. “He found me in class and said very little, but I could see the pain of our situation in his face. He said, ‘Please come home.’ I was, like, ‘All right.’ I wanted a relationship with him, I just didn’t want the rules.” Ritchson has always admired his father as a man of integrity — during tough times in his childhood, David got a second job in security at the airport to make ends meet — and when he retired as chief master sergeant in 2001, Ritchson performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the ceremony.

Ritchson moved back in with his parents for “quite a while,” until the walls started to close in once more. “I ran away again and moved in with a girlfriend whose mom was the coolest mom in the world. I lived at their house for a few months, until I could afford to move into the projects,” he says of signing a lease in Niceville’s subsidized housing. Despite appearances, he repeats, “I was a good kid. I didn’t party. I didn’t drink until I was 21, and when I did, it was with my parents.” For the record, it was a pitcher of sangria at the suggestion of his mother, a decision he immediately regretted. “I hated it. My mom was, like, ‘That’s what alcohol is.’”

Not only was he eager to live on his own, Ritchson couldn’t wait to get going on a college degree, so he pursued a music theater degree before graduation. “I started taking college courses in high school and that led me to take dance classes at the state college,” he notes. It was during a ballet course that he encountered a young woman named Catherine, who would eventually become his wife. “I thought she was a college student, so I was afraid to talk to her. I figured there was no point because she’s going to be older than me, but I found out she was doing the exact same thing that I was. We finally spoke and then did a play together that summer. We ended up dating and I was madly in love, but she also lived far enough away that when the play was over, I figured we were never going to see each other again.”

They remained friends and reconnected years later. In the meantime, after high school graduation, Ritchson accepted a full ride to study music and theater arts at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville. But being close to home and having the chance to nurture his passion for performance wasn’t enough to hold his attention, because he felt stage acting was too small for his ambitions. He dropped out after two years and says his parents were furious. But he wasn’t stalled for long. Ritchson took a job making sandwiches inside a local gas station. One day, he caught the eye of a customer who suggested he put his good looks to use as a model. He quickly moved to Miami, where he landed representation at Next Management.

“The first thing I heard when I walked into the Next offices was, ‘We’ll put you to work but you have to lose weight, get smaller and you have to shave your armpit hair,’” he says. “I was like, ‘Shave my armpit hair? I’m a man who waited 19 years for this.’ Plus, I was always fighting my body’s natural desire to be 205 pounds. I would fight it and run and run and run to stay small. I wouldn’t use weights. I would do pull-ups, push-ups, dips and sit-ups in a park. They made me feel like some kind of gross ogre at 205.”

Ritchson photographed at Quixote Studios in West Hollywood on Feb. 27.

Photographed by Julia Johnson

The job took Ritchson around the world. He modeled for Bruce Weber in his Abercrombie & Fitch days, did catalog work and had a stint modeling racy underwear. “I did a little bit of runway, but I was too big for most of the Milan runways. Those guys were like 135 pounds and built like birds,” he quips.

I ask whether he enjoyed modeling. The conversation gets dark, and Ritchson unloads. “There are very few redeeming qualities to working in that industry. Let’s be honest, it’s like legalized sex trafficking. The industry is not regulated, and it’s a widely known secret that if you’re hired on a job, you’re basically being passed off to a photographer to be trafficked. The number of times and situations where I was put in horrific environments where sexual abuse was the goal and the paycheck that you were desperate for in order to survive was the carrot, I can’t count on two hands. It was quite often.”

He grew to love safe, low-profile gigs, like modeling for onetime department store powerhouse JCPenney. “Honestly, that was one of the best chapters for me,” Ritchson remembers. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I would do Sunday catalog shoots at their Texas headquarters. They would hire me once or twice a week. It was like, ‘Thank God,’ because it meant I was finally able to eat a little because they paid $2,500. I’d fly in, shoot for 30 minutes and rip through the outfits and go home. Nobody was trying to get you naked and oiled up in the back of a hotel room so they could sexually assault you or threaten you that if you didn’t do it, you wouldn’t get a campaign.”

It was an impossible situation for models that could be even worse for women, he acknowledges. “You’re always dancing around this very terrible line of, ‘How do I keep the job and not completely offend this photographer or this agent or whoever set this thing up, and how do I not get raped?’ I completely empathize with women who deal with dynamic power struggles with predatory people in the workplace. It’s still unfair, but if I really had to, I could get myself out of whatever room I was in through a physical altercation. Most women don’t have that option. Imagine how terrifying it must be.”

I ask if he ever found himself in such a situation. “Yes,” he says. “I was working a lot at the time, and was one of the highest paid models at the agency. I was booked for a shoot for this very famous photographer. I was sent into a hotel room to do nudes with the promise that if I did the shoot, he would offer me a very lucrative campaign for a magazine and a clothing line. I was sexually assaulted by this guy. I left and drove straight to the agency that I was at in L.A. I stormed in and said, ‘Fuck you for sending me there. You knew what was going to happen, and you did it anyway.’ There was a coy smile [on this agent’s face], knowing he got caught. ‘It’s OK,’ he said. ‘Not a big deal, calm down. I won’t send you back there. I know he’s a little aggressive.’ I said, ‘No! Fuck you!’ I told them to never call me again. I quit the industry and it was the last photo shoot I’ve ever had. Those pictures were never seen or published. That was it. I swore it off and thank God acting found me at the exact same time so I was able to make a switch to a new career, but it left some scars.”

Ritchson’s path to Hollywood involved a pit stop on the iconic reality competition series American Idol. After a failed audition for season two, he made his way to Atlanta to audition for season three by performing Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Paula Abdul was smitten. She hugged him and refused to let go, and voted yes, as did Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. The unanimous vote booked Ritchson’s ticket to the Hollywood rounds for the season that aired in 2004. Ritchson got cut during the round of 32 (Fantasia Barrino won the season) but opted to stay in L.A. and pursue acting. “I had buddies that were going out on stuff, and they would slip me auditions,” he says. “I went in for things not knowing what I was doing.”

He learned along the way, cutting his teeth on the first role he ever got, a meaty part in a 2006 low-budget horror film called The Butcher. Ritchson’s character meets a bloody fate and gets cut in half by a chainsaw. The role convinced him to keep going. “It was a real sign that I was going to be OK,” he says. “I was going purely on instincts at that time, but I kept getting lucky.” Good fortune arrived with a role on Smallville as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman. He appeared on four episodes across multiple seasons, and then came a crushing blow. Ritchson was promised a spinoff, but then UPN and The WB merged to form The CW and that network’s new boss squashed Ritchson’s potential star-making vehicle in the middle of negotiations.

Like so many actors, he was barely eking out a living. “I’d be running out of cash and then some episode I’d filmed nine months earlier would air,” he says of the lean years, during which time he had a “nightmare” side hustle managing an apartment building in Sherman Oaks. “Every time I thought I should get a different career, something would come. The universe always had a way of timing it out just right.”

Ritchson at Quixote in West Hollywood on Feb. 27.

Photographed by Julia Johnson

Ritchson booked his first series regular role on the raunchy college football comedy Blue Mountain State on the now-defunct Spike TV. He was determined not to let another big break slip through his fingers. “I’m not sure my character was ever supposed to grow on the show. I think he was supposed to be an antagonistic character for a season. So I felt like my job was in jeopardy every day,” he says of playing Thad Castle, a dim-witted, hard-partying jock not unlike Seann William Scott’s Stifler from the American Pie franchise. “I went into work with an intention to steal every scene and fill every frame in a way to get noticed. That way, my presence would be missed if I wasn’t there.”

He chalks it up to creative desperation and a desire to continue on with the show should it get picked up for a second season. “I was doing all these things that were distracting, which was not a friendly thing for my castmates,” he explains, citing examples like doing a wild Michael Jackson dance in the background. As a result, Ritchson was always being reprimanded by directors. “I would get yelled at all the time, and they would say, ‘Just fucking sit still.’” With one unnamed director, it escalated into an intense shouting match. Another gave him a gentler reprimand. “Jay Chandrasekhar from Broken Lizard directed a few episodes, and he pulled me aside. He was very patient and honest in saying, ‘Listen, the studio and the network warned me that you’re very big and try to steal every scene. They told me to help calm you down.’”

But when the show came out, Ritchson proved to be a fan favorite for his balls-to-the-wall performance. “All the conflict and tension and pain I was experiencing from getting yelled at paid off because it was right for the audience, which loved how crazy I was,” he says. “But people don’t know the struggle behind the scenes.” Blue Mountain State lasted three seasons, and Ritchson’s Thad Castle inspired 2016’s wild stand-alone film, The Rise of Thadland, thanks to fans who launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $2 million. The experience left him with what he describes as an inflated sense of self. “I became very arrogant creatively. I expected the jobs to roll in and be handed to me. I was like, ‘I’m the comedian. I’m doing what Ryan Reynolds is doing, and I should be a leading man.’ My work reflected that attitude.” (He has also said that he used to drive his agents crazy with phone calls, talking about the empire he was building.)

Instead of offers, he got a rude awakening. “I auditioned for Thor, and they had been looking for a long time across thousands of actors. I just phoned it in,” he reveals. “It was such a half-assed effort and I didn’t have the craft to back it up. It was my part to lose and I lost it.” Ritchson vowed never again to receive the feedback that he didn’t have the chops to pull it off.

“I took a break from the business so I could recalibrate,” he says of the period, which lasted about eight months total. “I hired an acting coach, and we worked on [the Thor audition scenes] every day until we got it to the point where it was what it should have been.” Then he heard about an acting master class taught by veteran casting director Deb Aquila for young up-and-comers. Though he admittedly didn’t fit the bill because he had enough credits on his résumé already, he begged for a shot. “She invited me in but told me that if I goofed off or didn’t take it seriously enough, I would be out on the streets,” he says. He listened.

Not long after joining the class, he watched two students act out a scene. It was a 15-minute exchange featuring only sign language. When it ended, Aquila began analyzing the performance with input from the actors. “I was like, ‘Hold on. They talk?’ They had learned 15 minutes of sign language to perform the most beautiful scene. I was crying watching this drama unfold. It made me realize that I had been this arrogant working actor and meanwhile, here were these dedicated performers who spent that much time and effort on something that only 15 of us would see.”

Ritchson emerged from the class with a “whole new arsenal, understanding and appreciation for the craft” that began to be reflected in the work he booked in higher-profile films and TV shows. Though he missed out on Thor, he dipped his toes in another blockbuster franchise with a supporting role in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The Francis Lawrence-directed film had a starry world premiere at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 2013. For the occasion, Ritchson dressed like a movie star, borrowing a vibrant green suit from Versace, which he wore on the same red carpet walked by the film’s leads Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci and guests like Kylie Jenner and Jaden Smith. (His wife, Cat, also attended and was pregnant with one of the couple’s three sons.) Two months after the premiere, Ritchson accepted an invite from Donatella Versace to attend the Atelier Versace runway presentation as part of Paris Fashion Week Haute Couture in January 2014.

Ritchson in Versace at The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Los Angeles premiere in 2013.

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

What should have been a glorious opportunity to socialize with the fashion set — guests included Lady Gaga and A-list designer Riccardo Tisci — turned into a nightmarish flashback to his modeling days. At the runway show and a VIP dinner afterwards, Ritchson was seated next to Mario Testino, one of the industry’s most prolific photographers, who later that year shot Vogue covers featuring Beyoncé and Amanda Seyfried, a spread featuring Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner, and a Vanity Fair cover with Taylor Swift. “He wouldn’t keep his hands off me,” Ritchson says. “The entire time we were sitting at dinner, he was trying to rub my crotch under the table. I was like, ‘Get your hands off me, dude. I lived that life with people like you where you feel like you can just have anybody. I’m not an object to you. I’m way past that now, dude.’ But he was entertained by it. He thought it was the funniest thing.”

The rejection seemed to make Testino more aggressive, Ritchson claims. “I’m trying to enjoy conversations with the playmakers in the industry and the whole time, he wouldn’t leave me alone. I ended up leaving early, but he called my hotel room later that night and begged me to come over. He said, ‘I’ve never googled someone right after meeting them. What have you done to me? My car is out front.’ Then he said he loved manly men ‘because they kick harder.’ He was disappointed that I wouldn’t come to his place,” Ritchson says, adding that Testino went so far as to offer him a cover of Vogue if he slept with him that night. “I was like, ‘I don’t give a shit about the cover of Vogue. I don’t give a shit about whatever opportunity you want to dangle in front of me.’”

Four years later, almost to the day, The New York Times published an explosive investigation that detailed allegations of sexual misconduct by Testino and Bruce Weber. Fifteen male models who worked with Weber and 13 male assistants and models who worked with Testino came forward with claims of sexual misconduct and coercion. “I’ve had problems with both of them,” says Ritchson, who recalls seeing the investigation at the time it was published in early 2018, months into the tidal wave of #MeToo claims that surfaced following exposés about Harvey Weinstein published by the Times and The New Yorker in late 2017. “Some of the stories were just like mine. I was just starting to build a platform and get my voice in the business, and I wondered, ‘Should I say something?’ Because all of the stories that those models were telling were my own. It’s all true.”

Reps for both photographers denied the claims to The New York Times at the time of publication. The Hollywood Reporter reached out to Testino and Weber but did not hear back as of press time.

After the Paris incident, Ritchson returned to Los Angeles to capitalize on his momentum. He appeared in episodes of Black Mirror and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, starred as a series regular on Syfy’s B-movie-style Blood Drive, gave Raphael a voice in the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, played an MMA fighter opposite Megan Fox and Olivia Thirlby in Above the Shadows, and joined the DC Universe as Hank Hall in the small-screen series Titans.

He expanded his résumé by doing behind-the-scenes work as a producer in arranging financing for projects and mounting a debut as a filmmaker with the hacker thriller Dark Web: Cicada 3301. It was a time of “tremendous success,” as his skill set proved valuable to deep-pocketed individuals. He noticed that one such unnamed individual was being taken advantage of during the postproduction process, so he stepped in to bail them out, free of charge.

The goodwill sparked a partnership on a film fund that together they hoped to grow into a prestigious, Annapurna-type brand. Their work took them to the Cannes film market, which coincides with the film festival every May, in search of international deals. After a day of meetings, Ritchson dropped his female partner at her luxury hotel, the famed Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. Before exiting the car, she fired off a threat. “She gave me an ultimatum to come to her room and said that if I didn’t, she would destroy the business and she would destroy me by calling TMZ to claim I sexually assaulted her,” details the actor, who was blindsided.

The threat arrived after he had been working upwards of 20 hours a day to fit in acting jobs while building the financing business. “It was really disappointing and became a perfect storm,” he continues. Upon returning to the states, he retained counsel and prepared for battle, though nothing came from her threats. It did, however, lead to the demise of their business and sparked an existential crisis for the actor. “It really broke me in that moment, and it took me a while to recover. I was super depressed and didn’t know how to navigate that.”

At home in Encino, where he lived with his wife and their sons, he tried to focus on other projects. At the time, he was in postproduction on Dark Web: Cicada 3301, which he co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in, but he grew despondent. “I was reeling from the fallout and the fatigue, and it got to the point where I was stuck in bed for weeks. My wife and kids were concerned, and I could see confusion in their eyes. Nobody knew what was wrong,” he explains. He credits D.J. Viola, one of the film’s producers who also happened to be a director, for stepping up to save the project. “He saw me completely falling and so he set up an editing bay next to my bed. He would quietly edit and point the monitor my way. I hated myself for being in that position. But his patience saved the day,” he says, his eyes filling up with tears. “Sometimes you just need someone to pull the chair up next to your bed.”

While the movie found a lifeline, Ritchson was still suffering and sinking further into a dark place. One day in 2019, he couldn’t take it. He went to the attic, where he had built a loft to double as a tree house for a short film he directed. He found a green extension cord and climbed to the top. Ritchson tossed the cord over the rafters, wrapped it tightly around his neck and let go. “I hung myself,” he says. “It all happened so fast, and I was dangling there.” He attributes what happened next to divine intervention. His sons, who are now 11, 10 and 8 years old, appeared in a vision from the future in their mid-30s, just a few years younger than he was at the time. “They calmly asked me not to do it, and told me that they wanted me to be here, alive and part of their lives.”

Ritchson credits his experience doing “a million pull-ups” in his life for being able to pull himself up before he blacked out. The intensity of what had occurred prompted him to call a doctor immediately. “I was diagnosed as bipolar right after,” he says of receiving the bipolar diagnosis at age 36. (ADHD was a later revelation, at age 40.) It took a minute to process, and then his behavior over the many months and years made sense. All the ups and downs and periods of mania had an explanation. But it wasn’t immediate. First, he told the doctor to fuck off and stormed out, only to get as far as the parking garage before he turned around. “Deep down, I was comforted to know, ‘OK, there’s a name for this.’ I walked back in his office and he didn’t miss a beat. I’m sure he’d had like 300 patients over the years do the exact same thing.”

Following a dark few months, a friend suggested that Ritchson and his wife, Cat, head to Las Vegas on an adventure to reconnect as a couple — and do MDMA. “I had never done drugs but I was truly, like, ‘Well, I might kill myself tomorrow, what do I have to lose?’ So, I did it. I swear to God, the biggest light bulb went off, and it rewired my brain in the best way. MDMA is a proven therapy to treat PTSD in veterans, and it’s something that can work in cognitive therapy settings,” Ritchson confirms. “The moment it hit, I looked at my wife. We had not really seen each other in a long time because I was just missing things around me. I said, ‘We are one. We are one,’ over and over again. I held her and we talked about suicide, and she’s like, ‘Please don’t do this to us.’ I kept saying, ‘I won’t. I won’t.’ But the problem is I loved it and wanted to do it every day. She never did it again. But, for me, for a year or two, it became like therapy. It allowed me to write and be productive. Thankfully, I was able to move past it.”

Ritchson poses with a Ducati, just like the one he owns.

Photographed by Julia Johnson

He says he simply “crowded it out” when his life ballooned with obligations, responsibilities and more work. “I came out of that whole thing asking myself, ‘OK, if I am going to choose to be alive here — a decision we all make, some to a greater degree than others — what am I doing? Why am I here?’ What I kept falling back on was the meaning and purpose of life as someone who believes that there is a creator and we are created beings, our purpose in life is, without qualification, to make the world a better place and serve others. That is what life is all about.”

Ritchson’s epiphany shifted his focus to more professionally fulfilling work. Enter Reacher. British writer Jim Grant, now 69, was a late bloomer himself who published his first novel, Killing Floor, in 1997 under the pen name Lee Child. The thriller introduced the world to Jack Reacher, a former major in the United States Army Military Police Corps. Every year since, Child has dropped a new Reacher mystery that finds the brooding introvert roaming the country and pitching in to investigate mysterious situations, usually pummeling bad guys along the way. The way the story goes, Child, along with the producers at Skydance, were hoping to zero in on an actor who matched the character’s dimensions — a hulking presence at 6-foot-5 and 250 — more closely than 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise, who played Reacher in a 2012 film and 2016 sequel.

An extensive casting process ensued. “It took a fair amount of time,” recalls Amazon Studios chief Salke. “Everyone was passionate about finding somebody who could physically embody Jack Reacher, this very unique character. They placed a really high bar on that physicality, but at the same time didn’t want to in any way compromise with the level of actor and performance that we would get.”

Name actors were floated, but the team remained open to breaking someone new, Salke notes. Ritchson auditioned and as he remembers it, the scene in question didn’t have a lot of dialogue — classic Reacher — so he tried to give as much as possible through the eyes by channeling another unhinged type, a character called Drifter from Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, played by veteran character actor Kim Coates. Ritchson didn’t get the part, but neither did anyone else. Months later, “they went back through the tapes,” he continues, “and apparently, they saw energy and a level of compassion in my eyes. It was another eight-month fight to win the part.”

If a battle existed on the other side of the table, Salke didn’t say. “Lee, Skydance and [series creator Nick Santora] got really excited by the possibility of Alan. The minute I saw [his audition], I was really thrilled. From the moment I looked at it, I remember this very clearly, he had everything. He had the stature, for sure, he’s got the sparkle behind the eye, he has the intelligence and the complexity of the character. He was delivering so many layers of the performance. Jack Reacher is sometimes a character of few words, but you can never feel like he’s got nothing going on. I always feel like a really rich inner life emanates from Alan as an actor.”

Ritchson in the premiere episode of Reacher from Prime Video and Skydance. “Fans of Reacher approach me all the time and I always ask what it is that they love. Women tell me they love the fight scenes and action sequences, and guys say they love the mystery and trying to figure it out before Reacher does. There’s something for everyone to love,” he told THR.

Courtesy of Prime Video/Amazon Studios

Reacher was a runaway hit straight out of the gate, snagging a spot on the top of the streaming charts, a first for Amazon’s Prime Video. The streamer reported that it was among the most watched series debuts ever — racking up 1.84 billion minutes of watch time during its debut week — and within days it was renewed for a second season. Within months, Amazon locked Ritchson in under a three-picture deal. Ritchson responded to the near-immediate success of Reacher by doubling down on his commitment to be the best No. 1 on the call sheet that he could be. “To me, Reacher has and always will be a fight to prove that they made the right decision. On set, I am always thinking, ‘How can I work hard enough to make them feel good?’ It’ll never go away,” he says. “What got me ready for Reacher was all the losses that I took early on.”

The hard work hasn’t always been easy. The schedule for season one was so intense that “it almost broke me,” he recalls, adding that something in him actually did shatter. “I think I was over-training and I broke a bone quite badly in my shoulder. I just knew there was something wrong with it when I couldn’t even get my hand up during one of the fights. I would also get fatigued easily,” he details. “The second we finished filming, I had a doctor’s appointment. After checking out the broken shoulder, we noticed that everything was off, including my testosterone levels.”

Ritchson says the doctor put him on testosterone, something a lot of action stars would never confirm. “Look, I’m 41 now. Even without the stress of a major television show, your body stops producing as much, but as men we need it. It’s responsible for a lot of mechanics in our body. It’s a mood stabilizer. It helps build lean muscle and engages those synapses. I built my body for Reacher in season one without any of that. It never even occurred to me that that was a possibility. Being on testosterone, it just makes all those things easier, building muscle, staying healthy, repairing your body, staying lean. Why would I keep that a secret?”

Ritchson in an episode from Reacher’s second season from Prime Video and Skydance.

Amazon Studios

He’s also open about the windfall that came as a result of the Reacher’s success. Ritchson estimates he received upwards of 40 offers after the show’s debut. He was ready to strike while the iron was hot, but in a strategic way. “I am very selective about what I do,” Ritchson says, a process that led him to Ritchie’s Ungentlemanly Warfare and a surprise online meet-and-greet. “We got on Zoom. He was in London and I was in Toronto filming, and we just talked about barbecues, grilling steaks, his favorite pub. We just got to know each other as two dudes for 45 minutes,” he says. “I kept thinking, ‘When is the question going to come about the movie and what we are going to do?’ At the end, he said, ‘I really like you. I think we can have great fun together. Do you want to do a movie with me?’ Of course I said that I would love to. He’s a legend. A couple weeks later, an offer comes in for Anders Lassen.”

Based on the book by Damien Lewis, the story follows a covert organization formed in 1940 at the urging of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and aimed at secret missions to take down the Nazis. Ritchson co-stars with Cavill, Golding, Eiza González, Alex Pettyfer and Hero Fiennes Tiffin. Playing Lassen offered the chance to become “the baddest dude I’ve ever seen on paper in my life,” Ritchson says. “It was the greatest gift I’ve ever received.” Though the film is a highly fictionalized take on the covert mission, Ritchson’s character is modeled after a real-life Danish soldier who was especially skilled with a bow and arrow. “When I wasn’t filming Reacher, I would go with Ryan Tarran, my stunt double, to archery ranges and learned how to become an archer. I hired a dialect coach, Rea Nolan, to help develop the accent.”

He poured himself in the work. “I wrapped a night shoot on Saturday morning in Toronto, and was scheduled to be filming with Guy on Monday in Turkey,” he says. “By the time I landed, I was an archer and had the script memorized. But then, on the first day, somebody came to fetch me for a meeting with Guy in his trailer. Henry Cavill was there and they were talking about scene work for that day. A little confused, I said, ‘Wait what are we doing now?’ They said, ‘Forget the script, we’re not shooting the script. We’re going to come up with something better.’”

Ritchson (center top) stars in Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare opposite Alex Pettyfer, Henry Cavill, Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Henry Golding.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Ritchson, who had grown accustomed to being overprepared for everything, learned to go with the flow. “It was a blast,” he says. “This is the coolest movie and one of Guy’s best in a long time.” Cavill, too, had some compliments ready to roll. “I’m a big fan of what Alan brings to set and to a room — he’s always on time, he works hard and puts the extra time in that is required for tricky challenges like fight scenes. Not to mention he is also very good at them,” he tells THR.

The film opens April 19, and Ritchson won’t have much time to celebrate. He’s shooting the action-comedy Playdate, starring opposite Kevin James for director Luke Greenfield, and will soon segue to a lead role opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Man With the Bag for Amazon and MGM and director Adam Shankman. In late March, it was announced that he’s teaming with rival streamer Netflix on War Machine for writer-director Patrick Hughes (The Hitman’s Bodyguard). Ritchson says his upcoming slate “is chock full” for at least the next couple of years with, at most, six days off in between projects including travel. Among them is a reported Blue Mountain State revival, and of course more Reacher and more Amazon. When Playdate wraps on April 19, Ritchson heads back to Toronto for continued filming on Reacher’s third season, which is based on Child’s seventh novel, Persuader.

“He’s got movies in the works with us, series ideas. It’s not about the volume but about picking a few really special things,” Salke says. “We’ll have Alan as long as he will play Jack Reacher. No end in sight for that, hopefully that’s for a very, very, very long time.” Adds Ritchson: “I owe it to the audience to explore as many of these books as my body will allow, and I owe it to the people that took a shot on me when I was a huge risk for them. They have given me a real career.”

Money is coming in, but Ritchson says that after all he’s seen and been through, that’s not his focus. “I’m very well taken care of. Amazon especially has really shown their commitment to our future together with our deals and what we have. I’ve got deals with other studios around town that have been very lucrative. But I’ve come to learn that it’s not what matters most. I try to keep my eyes fixed on opportunities to serve others. It’s faith, family, mental health, business practices, all of it is sort of prioritized in the right way that it can work together well in concert.” He also takes the opportunity to quote his onetime idol. “In his own way, Jim Carrey said that he hopes everybody gets as rich as they dream, and then they realize that that’s not what life is about.”

Cat and Alan Ritchson at a fan event for Reacher’s second season at the Culver Theater.

David Livingston/Getty Images

Ritchson went viral a few months back when an Instagram photo from the summer of 2020 resurfaced showing him walking a dog in a T-shirt that read, “Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor.” The 26-year-old Black woman was shot and killed by police in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment as part of an botched drug raid operation. It whipped up a frenzy among social media users because of Reacher’s appeal among conservatives and the armed forces. As with every question he fields, Ritchson is quick and unguarded in his response. “That was a tragic case,” he says. “Cops get away with murder all the time, and the fact that we can’t really hold them accountable for their improprieties is disturbing to me. We should completely reform the way that we do it. I mean, you shouldn’t have to spend more time getting an education as a hairstylist than as a cop who’s armed with a deadly weapon. We should make it very hard for people to make mistakes or abuse power in our institutions.”

No matter how busy he remains in paid acting gigs, he’s finding time to stay on camera for a volunteer hobby he calls InstaChurch, a video series he posts on Instagram and a dedicated YouTube channel. Before he started posting the freewheeling clips, which find Ritchson exploring scripture and how it relates to daily life and his work as an actor, he warned his wife. “I told her that it could be the last time I worked in this business,” he explains of worries that he would be shunned in Hollywood for speaking so openly about religion and faith. But he couldn’t help himself. “I’m a Christian quite simply because of what Jesus calls us to do. Love other people until death. It doesn’t mean we’re all to be hung on a cross, but how can I suffer for you? That is a beautiful thing.”

That simple message, he says, has become twisted in today’s fraught political landscape. “Christians today have become the most vitriolic tribe. It is so antithetical to what Jesus was calling us to be and to do,” he explains. It also upsets him that some Christians have so closely aligned with former President Donald Trump. “Trump is a rapist and a con man, and yet the entire Christian church seems to be treat him like he’s their poster child and it’s unreal. I don’t understand it.” His mother remains staunchly Catholic, but he quickly swats away any associations. “It’s worth saying that the atrocities that are happening in the church that are being actively covered up, even to this day with people not being held accountable, is repulsive,” he says, as the tenor of his voice changes. “I can’t for one second support the Catholic Church while there are still cardinals, bishops and priests being passed around with known pedophilic tendencies.”

Don’t expect him to be seated in any pews anytime soon, but he will continue his InstaChurch series while delivering unexpected content across his social media platforms, whether that be shirtless shots, behind-the-scenes clips from whatever set he happens to be on, or showing off his pipes like he did recently by singing a few bars of the R&B classic “Weak” from girl group SWV. The clip, shared to his 2.7 million followers on Instagram, went viral and has been viewed nearly 8 million times. There will also likely be more ink to showcase. It probably won’t be full sleeves, because he’d like the pieces to stand on their own and not blend into one another. “It’s storytelling,” he says. Plus, he doesn’t want to look like anyone else. “I am super prone to be a cliché. It’s my greatest wish in life that I am not predictable.”

Grooming: Kerrie Urban at The Wall Group. Set design: Danielle von Braun. Art production: Greg Garry.
Ducati Panigale V4 S courtesy of Ducati.

This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.



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