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Alan Ritchson made ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ more violent than Guy Ritchie wanted



Alan Ritchson says he had always dreamed of working with Guy Ritchie, but when the opportunity finally came along, the experience was a wake-up call to the realities of working alongside a director with a singular creative vision.

“He’s so particular — he knows just what he wants the aesthetic of the character to be,” Ritchson tells Entertainment Weekly of his The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare director. “He’ll come in and tweak your beanie just sideways enough to look cool, and he will tilt your glasses just so to make sure that everything’s got the look that he wants. But when it comes to the creative … ” Ritchson pauses and laughs before continuing, “I’m just glad that I worked at the character, the dialect, and the script so much before getting to set so I can understand the character, learning archery before coming out, so that was all in place because what we ended up shooting on the day is all completely new.”

Alan Ritchson in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’.

Daniel Smith/Lionsgate

Ritchson had no idea that the legendary director would tell him to “throw out the script” and improv for the majority of filming. “I had memorized the entire script before I got out there because I was so nervous about playing this character with this high English accent that was learned through a Danish aristocracy — it’s a very difficult accent,” he says. “I learned every line with a dialect coach, and then I come in and Guy’s like, ‘Forget about that. We’re not shooting that movie. The real movie’s going to be the one we find on set.’ So suddenly we’re just improv-ing scenes and I’m hoping that I’ve got this character and this accent right, but that was horrifying for me.”

Ritchson stars with Henry Cavill, Eiza González, Alex Pettyfer, Henry Golding, and Cary Elwes in the comedic action film (in theaters Friday, April 19) that’s based on real historical events uncovered in recently declassified British War Department files about the creation of the first-ever special forces organization in World War II. The espionage group had a major impact on the Allies’ eventual victory over the Nazis, which is why Ritchson felt added pressure portraying his character, decorated Danish soldier and real-life war hero Anders Lassen.

“I really wanted to pay respect to Anders Lassen and to the team of people that paved the way for the rest of us to have real freedoms and equality,” Ritchson says. “That story matters, even though it’s definitely got this almost fanciful spin on it with the Guy Ritchie fingerprint — we’re still talking about the thematics that are really important, so I wanted to get this guy right. And he was an animal. He was the first to campaign to make the bow and arrow an official weapon of war, and got it done.”

That’s why Ritchson spent “every waking second” that he had in between training and shooting season 2 of his Prime Video action series Reacher learning how to expertly use a bow and arrow. “Me and my stuntman, Ryan Tarran — who’s been a double of mine for a while now — would go train together at an archery course to the point where we would be prepared for any scenario that we’d find on set,” he says. ‘I could run and dive and slide and shoot arrows from any position, moving forward or backwards.”

And all that training paid off since he had literally no time in between wrapping Reacher season 2 and filming Ministry. “I wrapped Reacher season 2 on a Saturday, I flew on Sunday, landed at 11:30 at night in Turkey, had to go straight to the fitting so that I had wardrobe for the next day, because I went to bed, got up in the morning at 7:00 and I’m on set,” Ritchson says. “And the first thing Guy has me do is, he’s like, ‘See that twig over there? I want you to shoot that twig and then shoot these guards and then march down to the fence.’ All right, here we go.”

He laughs as he adds, “No preparation. We’re just flicking these arrows. And it was fine! It was fine because we’d worked really hard at it.” And as production continued, Ritchson was even more grateful for his extracurricular prep as he learned just how “on the fly” Ritchie’s directing style was — even for the action scenes.

“I realized once we got there that there wasn’t really a plan for the action,” he explains. “But it’s a war movie, and we’re going into these enemy encampments and slaughtering Nazis, and I read four books about my character before we got there, and this man hated Nazis. He put all his physical energy into stopping this movement, and so he was inventive and creative, and he was sinister in the way that he would go about doing it. And he was cunning. And as there was really no plan for the action — I felt like we were missing that and needed to see that on screen.”

Alan Ritchson in ‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’.

Daniel Smith/Lionsgate

That’s when Ritchson made a risky career move by getting into a “creative argument” with Ritchie where he fought for his vision to make the movie even more violent. “I told Guy, ‘Look, man, if we’re going to do this action sequence tomorrow, I don’t think it could be something where we just throw a dagger and dispense a couple guys,” Ritchson says. “‘This guy hates Nazis, so this should be murder; this should be malice-filled. He came from Danish aristocracy, half his family sided with the Nazis and half his family did not sympathize, and so there was a civil war in his own family. They were killing cousins and brothers. That really left a scar on this family, so when he survived and fought back against this movement, it was very personal.’ So I was pitching this idea that this should feel incredibly personal when he goes to kill these Nazis. There’s real bloodlust there.”

Ritchson laughs as he remembers, “Guy looked at me like I was nuts. And he was like, ‘I don’t know, man.'” It took some convincing from one of Ritchie’s producing partners who supported Ritchson’s vision to at least give the idea a chance. Ritchson and Tarran worked all day and night to design a “brutal” sequence to show Ritchie the next day. “Guy walked onto the set and he was like, ‘Where do I sit to see this?’ He was almost angry about it. He was like, ‘Show me.'”

The action sequence follows Anders in hand-to-hand combat, making his way through the inner hallways of a ship and taking down the many hordes of Nazis in his path. “And Guy loved it,” Ritchson reveals. “He was like, ‘Great, love it, shoot it. Have fun.’ And he leaves. We then spent all day making what we had pitched, and it’s in the movie and it’s in the trailer. When you think of the action of this movie, that’s what you think of, that scene. It’s hyper-aggressive, but it’s action-filled with a different kind of purpose than a lot of the action movies we get. I don’t think there’s a greater motivation than what Anders Lassen was fighting for.”

After successfully convincing producers to increase the stunt performer count from 10 to 20 for the extended action sequence, Ritchson faced one more problem: finding an adversary who could believably overpower him. “There was a moment where we were trying to have a guy come out of a doorway and take me down, and nobody was big enough or experienced enough to do it well,” he admits with a laugh. So he convinced his own body double Tarran to “put on a sailor costume and beat the crap out of me” instead. “By the end of that fight, he and I were high-fiving because we got all the things we wanted. We got all the kills that we wanted, it was super stylish and cool, and we even got to ax a couple Nazis. That was a proud day where we just dreamed that up on the fly and it worked.”

Throughout filming, but especially when he convinced Ritchie to follow his violent vision, Ritchson gained a new confidence. “This is still what I was born to do — I can actually get into a creative argument with Guy and go, ‘Dude, I think you’re wrong about this. Let me tell you why I think we should do this,’ and convince him to give something a shot that ends up in the movie and ends up adding value,” he says. “I’ve fought these fights with the best filmmakers in the world now and come out the other side better for it. It’s not that I’ll never be nervous again, but if I can do that and I can work in that environment under those conditions, there’s nothing I can’t do. This was life-changing for me, really seriously, in a big way.”

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare opens in theaters April 19.

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