Alan Ritchson finds heroism in story of struggling dad in 'Ordinary Angels'

Alan Ritchson's film "Ordinary Angels" opens in theaters Friday. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
1 of 5 | Alan Ritchson's film "Ordinary Angels" opens in theaters Friday. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

NEW YORK, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Alan Ritchson says he wanted to play a real-life struggling single dad in Ordinary Angels because he was so unlike the heroes he has played in Reacher, Titans and Smallville.

"It's not every day you get to portray real characters and talk about the trauma and the healing that they have experienced," Ritchson, 41, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


Ritchson received the script right after Season 1 of Reacher premiered.

"It was an overnight hit and I had probably 40 or 50 films by Monday morning and almost all of them were action films. But this one was the most different of all and the most beautiful and heartbreaking and real. It was the one where you couldn't rely on fists to punch your way out of the problem."

Based on a true story, the film, in theaters Friday, takes place in 1990s Kentucky and follows Ed Schmitt, a working-class widower trying to raise two little girls, the younger of whom is awaiting a liver transplant to treat the life-threatening condition that killed her beloved mother.


Hilary Swank plays Sharon, an alcoholic hairdresser determined to help this family she doesn't know, while Nancy Travis plays Ed's mother, Barbara, who is trying to hold everyone together.

After reading the script, Ritchson, a real-life married father of three, said he fought hard to convince director Jon Gunn that he was the right actor for the role of Ed.

"The first thing he said to me was, 'Dude, you're really not what I had in mind for Ed,'" Ritchson laughed. "Because I look like somebody who is going to 'superhero' his way out of a blizzard."

He may not have looked like the real Ed, but Ritchson felt he understood the man's heart and mind.

"The real Ed was much more gaunt and very blue-collar and just didn't look as well-fed and resourced. So, aesthetically, we're just very different," Ritchson said.

"I just had to convince [Gunn] that having three kids and a lot of the same similarities to his personality -- somebody who is a lone wolf that doesn't know how to ask for help -- and I could bring the essence of this character to life," he added. "I was gifted the part and I feel really lucky."


Ritchson -- who is tall, physically fit and accustomed to battling bad guys on screen -- went through the emotional wringer to portray a man overwhelmed by medical bills and concern for his children in this frequently tense, but uplifting film.

"I'll be standing over a hospital bed with a little girl in it and she has makeup on and an IV in [her arm] and we're acting out the scene, but, as you're experiencing that, all these very real emotions are coming up because you are part of this very heartbreaking tragedy," the actor said.

"Your body thinks it's all real and so you can carry the residue of these characters for quite some time and it can be very painful. It can be jarring and it can be very hard to reset," he added. "I'm not able to turn it off like a light switch."

Ritchson said he is happy to put out into the world a story that imparts messages of hope and community at a time when so many people seem to need to hear them.

"This movie is so necessary and that's why it's a medium I love so much. It has the opportunity to be a loud megaphone and a call to action," he said about the film's reminders to help when you can and accept help when you need it.


"Sometimes, it's just important to escape into a popcorn film and a world that's pure fiction," he added. "That is important, too, but I think we're really living out our highest calling as storytellers when we find these stories that plant a seed and remind us what our potential is as human beings."

He praised double Oscar winner Swank for her "phenomenal" performance and noted her character is a great example of how you don't have to be rich or perfect to make a difference in other people's lives.

"Sharon is not put together. She doesn't have it all figured out. She's at a very dark place when she decides to help this family and you've got Ed, who doesn't know how to ask for help and has no answers," he said.

"You have two very broken people making miracles in each other's lives. That is the takeaway. We should not wait until we have all of the money, the time, the resources, the best ideas or the best team around us to help. Just find somebody to love and help."

Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson attend 'Ordinary Angels' premiere in NYC

Hilary Swank arrives on the red carpet at Liongate's "Ordinary Angels" New York premiere at SVA Theater on February 19, 2024 in New York City. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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