Dark Web Cicada 3301 lets Alan Ritchson break out on and off screen

Alan Ritchson in Dark Web Cicada 3301. Photo credit: Lionsgate/Courtesy of DDPR
Alan Ritchson in Dark Web Cicada 3301. Photo credit: Lionsgate/Courtesy of DDPR /

Alan Ritchson’s new crime drama Dark Web Cicada 3301 is his breakout project. Ritchson’s a talented actor—you know him from Titans most recently—but this film puts fans on notice that he’s also a writer, director, and producer. Audiences have never seen him do as much as he does on and off screen with this movie.

The film focuses on a hacker (played by Jack Kesy) who finds himself in the sights of Ritchson’s ruthless government agent after he and his friends uncover a “treasure hunt” on the infamous dark web. It’s a crime story, a thriller, and even a little bit of a comedy, and the story behind the movie is just as interesting.

Alan recently spoke to Precinct TV about how the film came together and his journey in making it; learn more in our interview before you stream the movie now.

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Precinct TV: Audiences may not realize that you not only act, but you write, produce and direct. What made you decide to do all those things in the same film?

Alan Ritchson: I don’t know what got into me. (laughs) I’ve been producing for a little bit and I really wanted to start directing. I started directing through this short film that I made, Treehouse Time Machine, which was like a proof of concept for a show that I’d written, and just fell in love with directing.

I wrote this script in 2014 when I stumbled upon this phenomenon of Cicada 3301, the secret society. After some time behind the camera, I just felt like this was a great one to start with and to direct a feature with a little bit of magic in it, this is the one. I just went for it and learned a lot through the process.

PTV: How was that for you in execution? Some actors enjoy the added responsibility while others have said it can be an adjustment to take that extra work on.

AR: Acting and directing at the same time is not easy. The acting side of things, I’ve been doing it for so long it’s a little effortless in the sense that you’re just very comfortable. Okay, it’s my turn into work, so I go in and I work, and then I wait for lights and cameras to move, and we do it all over again.

But when you’re directing, every time you say cut, you’ve got a hundred questions that come at you. “What about this, and what about this? Should we adjust this? How do you feel about this? Do you want to try that again? What if we moved over here?” It’s a thousand questions at once. And I liked that. I actually really enjoy hammering this stuff out, beat by beat.

When you also have to be in this character’s head space and then between each of those, you have to slip back in, there’s really no time to analyze the work that you’re doing as an actor. So I wonder if the work suffers or not; I don’t know. It seems like people have enjoyed the performance that have seen it so far. But I’m like well, I don’t know. I didn’t have time to think about the acting. I was answering other questions. So it’s tough doing both.

Dark Web Cicada 3301
Alan Ritchson (left) behind the scenes of Dark Web Cicada 3301. Photo credit: Lionsgate/Courtesy of DDPR /

PTV: Playing an NSA agent is also a new type of acting role for you. How was that to portray in general? In another crime drama, you could’ve been the hero.

AR: The government agent is a new look, but being an idiot is not. (laughs) I’m good at that, so Agent Carver was a little natural for me, but it was fun. It was fun. He’s an NSA agent who isn’t the brightest bulb. That was a lot of fun to play, but yeah, it was nice looking into a different character for a change.

PTV: Crime dramas in the hacker space so easily get bogged down by terminology and flashy graphics. How did you avoid that pitfall with Dark Web Cicada 3301?

AR: The resolution for me was the unreliable narrator device. We’ve got this protagonist who’s telling this story, and he’s not always being honest. It veers into these really wild rabbit trails, and to me, that’s the fix to keep it entertaining and fun and not get too heady or bogged down in computer lingo or hacker jargon. It needed something like that, and I think it works. I think the way this is laid out really works well, and you don’t have to be a computer person or somebody that even understands what Cicada 3301 is to enjoy the film.

PTV: There’s also a strong comedic element to the movie that we don’t typically see in this genre.

AR: I think the comedy is what stands out to me as something that’s different. I think there was an expectation and I, throughout the process of making this, had to continually remind people that we were making something fun. That it was okay to be funny. We’d get done shooting a scene where I was improv-ing banter with Jack Kesy, who was brilliant. And [people] were like, I was laughing. I was laughing the whole time. I’m sorry. And I’m like, Guys, this is fun. It’s okay, it’s okay.

It veers in and out of these different genres—the dramas, the thriller, the action adventure and the comedy. But the comedy is what I liked the most. The scenes that I really enjoy are the really cinematic ones where there’s a lot of magic and realism taking place, and the comedic scenes that almost feel like a departure for a moment, but in a really fun way.

PTV: Did any of that comedy involve a Titans joke since one of your castmates from that show is also in Dark Web Cicada 3301?

AR: It crossed my mind. We definitely had a few off-camera for sure. Conor Leslie, who plays Wonder Woman [in Titans] is really great in the film. I really enjoyed working with her, and to see her do something a little different than Donna Troy. It was cool to see her expand, and she did a great job. I really love Gwen, her character in the film.

PTV: This is obviously a major project for you personally. So what did Alan Ritchson take away now that the film is out? What are the things you’re going to carry with you?

AR: There’s a lot of takeaways. This was a very tricky film to put together. Tonally, it’s hard. The original script was a drama and I realized, for anybody to actually enjoy this, this needs to have a slightly different shape to it. I started to infuse some of the comedy and the magic in it. It was hard putting all that together, but I think where we landed works.

For me, I just don’t want to wear as many hats at the same time. I feel like there’s a law of diminishing returns. Rhese days we have to do what we have to do to get something made, because nobody’s going to do it for you, and it’s very hard to get something made that’s original. Ro make something that nobody’s seen before that doesn’t have existing IP, it’s not easy. You have to do it all yourself.

I want to just focus. If I’m going to direct, I direct, if I write, I write, if I act, act it. For me, that’s the takeaway. I’m going to try and limit my exposure on a film from now on.

PTV: You mentioned the tone of the original script. How different was that film from the movie we’re watching now?

AR: There was a lot of different drafts of this. The first draft was probably a hundred million-dollar James Bond movie where the UN is blowing up. It was a crazy end of the world action movie, and obviously that wasn’t going to get made. It became a more character driven, contained thing. A lot of it which happens in somebody’s mind.

I’m happy about where it landed. But the scripts are different, and the script that we shot is about 45 minutes longer than the film we ended up with. There’s some really great sequences that I love that are beautiful, beautiful moments and dramatic, but at the end of the day, I’m not making a three hour movie here. Something had to go. There’s a different movie there that’s on the cutting room floor as well.

PTV: It’d be great to see you continue forward as a writer and director after this, but you also have some wonderful acting projects lined up, most notably the lead in Jack Reacher. So what comes next for you after Dark Web Cicada 3301? Does the directing et al have to sit on the side for a while?

AR: it’s a very high class problem I’m grateful for—trying to navigate a schedule that doesn’t want to leave a lot of room for me to go direct. My perspective is as a creative, I always want to be doing something, and I like generating new content. I always have that next thing ready, but I’ve learned to be patient with when that comes to life. I used to push really hard and I got burnt out for a little bit because I would force the issue. If the world wasn’t moving fast enough, or at my pace, I would make it, and that’s a pretty exhausting existence.

I had to let go of that and I’ve learned to just enjoy the ride and the plate that’s in front of me. And the next thing for me is Reacher. I have a few projects that we could pull the trigger on right away, but where they slot in the future, it’s hard to say. I try to take it one day at a time.

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Dark Web Cicada 3301 is now streaming on digital platforms including Amazon Video.