Titans star on character's 'beautiful' exit: 'The decision was made for me, and it was for the best'
Warning: The following contains spoilers from Thursday's Titans, titled "Souls."
Titans officially said goodbye to one of its original members.
Alan Ritchson, who played Hawk/Hank Hall, Dove's (Minka Kelly) crime-fighting partner and love interest, officially exited the HBO Max super-team drama in Thursday's episode, titled "Souls." The move isn't completely surprising given that the Smallville vet was recently cast as Jack Reacher on Amazon's forthcoming drama and, more importantly, Red Hood/Jason Todd (Curran Walters) murdered Hank in season 3's third episode. Nevertheless, this week's episode brought Hank full circle and gave him a proper goodbye.
In "Souls," Tim Drake (Jay Lycurgo), who was shot at the end of last week's episode, wakes up in the afterlife, where he meets Donna Troy (Conor Leslie) and Hank. Together, they find a bridge that will lead them back to the land of the living. Unfortunately, it starts crumbling as soon as they set foot on it and a hoard of soul-sucking ghouls ambushes them. Hank volunteers to stay behind and hold them off so that Donna and Tim could make their escape, thus he finds himself stuck in limbo. Luckily, he's not alone because he reunites with his brother Donny (Elliot Knight), the original Dove, and they team up to help other lost souls in purgatory. In other words, Hank was a hero to the end — and beyond.
"Would I return to Titans? Yes. Do I feel like I found closure and peace? Absolutely," Ritchson tells EW about his character's fate. "So I'm satisfied if I never return and grateful for the time that I had."
Below, Ritchson opens up about finding out Hank was going to be killed off, what he learned from this character, and playing Jack Reacher.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was this officially your last episode?
ALAN RITCHSON: Is anything ever really finished on this show or any superhero show, right? [Laughs] I spoke with the producers and writers before leaving, and was just very humbled by how gracious they were and how open-ended they left the conversation. "Would you ever come back if we wanted to have you back?" And I said, "Absolutely."
I don't know if they'll ever feel like servicing Hank and that Hawk-Dove storyline again, but I do love where we left it. I think it's really beautiful. This journey that Hawk was on mirrored my own life in such an eerie way. His ups and his downs really, I don't know who was channeling who, but it just seemed to really parallel where I've been in my journey, and the fact that he sort of crossed over, and he's made peace with that, and he's now living in a world where he has committed to continuing to help people and accept that. Not to get too pseudo-enlightened, but I think I left a piece of myself there on set [and] on screen when he died. It really was the end of an era, and I kind of found myself on the show.
In what way?
This is really kind of the life lesson that this show gifted me: When I came on the show, I was still in my mind, "I'm just a young kid working alongside everybody else." Even though I'm with Teagan Croft, I don't know how old she was [in season 1], but young, and Ryan Potter and Curran Walters, these phenomenal young talents. They were very young, and I just saw myself as one of them. But there was a way that they approached me on set, like, "Hey, Mr. Ritchson, can I ask you something? If I ever wanted to get in producing, Mr. Ritchson, do you have any advice?" The way that they spoke to me made me realize, "Oh, I'm much older than them. And they understand that. I should understand that about myself, too. I've got to grow up a little bit." So it was a rude awakening for me because I think I wanted to rebel against that for a moment. So, this show sort of taught me that and showed me that, and I walked through that journey, and then sort of left a part of myself there, and took it upon myself to accept a different purpose in life, which is really more oriented towards others than satisfying the self.
How did your exit come about? Was this something you approached the producers about, or was this their decision?
I do believe in this connective tissue that we have through the quantum realm. I think we share a creative energy on some scale. I think I was ready to move on and try something else and enter a more mature phase of life. And strangely I ran into it immediately in Jack Reacher, this next role, but no, I was surprised by the call. I was content with the show. I really enjoyed the character, and I enjoyed the schedule. I have three young kids and a wife, and I want to see them grow up, and I'm always caught between this really difficult position of how much do I invest in my career versus how much do I invest in my family at home. I was on a show where I could come in, shoot a few days a week, and that's my contribution to that episode, and then I would fly to see my family. It's a luxury that I didn't take for granted because I've been the lead of a show before, and it's all consuming, and you have no life. No, I'm not complaining. It just is the reality. So understanding that going into Titans, I did not take for granted the gift of sharing the screen with so many great actors. It lightens the load for you on a personal level, and I really enjoyed that. So I would've stayed for 50 seasons probably if I'd never been confronted with leaving, but no, really. The decision was made for me, and it was for the best.
I think the show has improved significantly in the third season because the storylines have been focused, the cast has been tightened and slimmed down, and we're now getting the best of what Titans can do. I think it took a little while to find its footing and figure out in a world that can be so big, who do we tell these stories about? [In] season 2, the cast was enormous. You can only spend so much time servicing those characters before you start to almost forget, "Where was that storyline? Oh, yeah. They're over there in Wyoming or wherever, Montana on a ranch. I forgot about them." And you don't really want that. You want to keep people invested in the characters you love most, in the storylines you love most, and it's really gone that way. And I know HBO really encouraged that as the show evolved from [airing on] DC Universe to HBO Max. And I think it's really for the best. I think it's got a bright future on the path that it's on.
How long did it take for you to come to terms with leaving the show?
I was really surprised. I'll just tell you my experience. I went on the first date I'd been on in a year with my wife and we decided to go down to Malibu. We were at a nice sushi restaurant, and I got a phone call from my agency; it was like 9:30 or 10:00. So I stepped outside and my team was on the phone and they go, "So we just felt like we needed to tell you right away, but we just got a call from one of the producers who's a friend of mine, and he's really broken up about this and wanted to tell you right away, because this is so hard. But the decision's been made, they need to let you go." And I was like, "Wow, okay." Because I'd been hearing that Hawk is well-liked by the fans and by the producers and writers, and so they were like, "It was really difficult, but we have to reduce the cast. We have to slim down who we're talking about."
I was never really meant to be on the show, so I always held very loosely to that. My initial deal was for two episodes, and I had a separate deal for a Hawk and Dove spin-off. And when we shot those two episodes, they really enjoyed us as Titans and invited us to join more episodes in the back half of the first season. And I said, "Of course, but if we do that probably means we're going to be enmeshed in this group, and there will probably not be a Hawk and Dove show." And of course everybody's like, "No, everybody loves Hawk and Dove. There's going to be a spin-off." I was like, "All right. We'll see." But I just was always feeling like I needed to hold loosely to this. So when it happened, I was surprised, but it was like, okay, that's all right. So, I went back and sat down, and my wife could see I had a bit of a smirk on my face because I was like, "This is not news that you're going to expect, but they just let me know that they're going to kill me off on the show." And she was like, "Okay." My wife is an absolute superhero. What she's been through as the spouse of somebody in this business, the trouble that finds us sometimes whether it's the uncertainty or certain people that we deal with, but she's just a trooper, and she accepted it right in stride. She took my hand, and we enjoyed our meal, and that was it.
So we put the word out that we were available and looking, and Warner Brothers was very generous to accommodate. They could have kept me pinned down for another year per my deal, but they let me go look for another job, and we were fortunate to find one pretty quickly [on Amazon's Jack Reacher show]. So it did work out, but no, we were okay with it, and I think that's really the secret. If we resist, we suffer, and suffering is a choice. We choose not to resist all of it. We just accept what life brings us, and that's what we did.
How did you feel about the way in which Hank was written off — with him reuniting with his brother in the afterlife?
I think Hawk on the show could have resisted a death and dying, and the next life, the afterlife. And I think he was. This episode was one of the funnest episodes to shoot because his energy is what I [try to bring] in life, what I did when I started producing films. I had to generate this massive amount of energy to force these cubes up a hill, and then you get it there, and you're like, "I did it, but wow. Was it worth it?" Maybe, I don't know. He's forcing his way out of this reality back to the life he knew. And by the end, he's accepted what his brother offers. [His brother's makeshift supersuit] is a symbol of just being willing to do whatever you can with whatever you've been given to help others and being content with that lot in life. That's a really beautiful thing that he's willing to move on. I think we can all learn from that. I loved that about this episode and being able to leave it there is a real gift. It's the best kind of closure.
How did you handle the transition from playing Hawk to playing another pop culture figure, Jack Reacher?
Both of these characters are well-liked and beloved by many fans of the literature that they come from. But the size and scope of those [Jack Reacher] books, what Lee Child has created, [means] it comes with a new kind of pressure to please everybody who's making it and everybody who's waiting for it. So it's a dream come true because I'm a massive fan of the books. I could retire after this and be totally content. So, it's with a full heart and a ton of gratitude that I stepped into that role, but it's also with the understanding that it's a massive responsibility.
New Titans episodes arrive every Thursday on HBO Max.
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