The actor/director says it was everyone's job to "humiliate" him as much as possible on set.
Alan Ritchson turned to one of his superhero friends when it came time to shoot his directorial debut, the new thriller "Dark Web: Cicada 3301."
"Titans" costar Conor Leslie -- aka Donna Troy -- joins him in the film, which he also cowrote, produced and stars in. Inspired by the real-life Cicada 3301 internet puzzles, the thriller revolves around a hacker (Jack Kesy) who tries to solve the online treasure hunt. He's assisted by a librarian (Leslie), with the NSA -- led by Ritchson's Agent Carver -- hot on their trail.
"She's brilliant. She's one of the smartest people you wanna know. She's smart, she's funny, she's easy on the eyes. She's like the perfect leading lady," Ritchson told TooFab of casting Leslie in the movie. "I'd be an idiot to not see if I can get her in a film, but one thing she has that I think is really special is that she hasn't concocted some sexualized persona for herself, and she leads with her mind."
"Gwen is a character we really wanted to focus on making cool because she was smart and savvy, and driven, and just all the best characteristics of a woman, minus [overt sexuality] because it's just not the most interesting thing."
While they both star on the same DC series, they actually didn't film that much together on the first season of "Titans."
"So working together really did start on this project with him in the director seat," said Leslie. "And so that was a really cool way for us to get to know each other and then we returned to 'Titans' season two and we're getting to know each other as costars. It was a really cool way for me to get to see him."
She also praised Ritchson for being a man of many hats with this project, giving him "a lot of credit for juggling all that at once and then coming back for season two just like that."
While Ritchson initially wrote a version of the script that would have starred him, he eventually decided he wanted to direct it. With a pretty full plate, he cast Kesy as Connor and made himself the comic relief. The movie is told from Connor's POV, but during certain moments -- many involving Agent Carver -- he stretches the truth. In one scene, he claims Carver led an assault while dressed as a giant, nearly-nude baby, while another has a more BDSM twist.
"I remember reading and being like, 'Alright, I got my version of it in my mind, but like what is this gonna look like?'" said Leslie of the more fantastical scenes.
"I had a version of the script, it wasn’t very good. I called my buddy (cowriter Joshua Montcalm) who's a much better writer than I am ... and he brought all of that to life, like the best parts of the script, he brought it to life," explained Ritchson. "It helped kind of unlock it for me. And I was like, 'You're right! This is how we make this a really fun action, comedy, thriller, adventure.' I want to blend all the genres and he opened up the world for me in a big way."
For the aforementioned BDSM scene, in which Ritchson looks like a naked Ken doll, he explained he really wanted to push production.
"They bought like standard BDSM outfits, half naked. I was at a production meeting and all the department heads and I was like, 'Can we go further? Am I missing something? What's the most humiliating thing that I can walk in and do?' And my first AD, my first assistant director who's just brilliant ... he goes, 'What about this?' and I died laughing, I don't think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life."
"And I was like, 'Done. Done.' And they're like, 'How are you even going to do that? Can you do that? How do we even do that?' And I'm like, 'That I can figure out. The idea is brilliant,'" he added. "It was a group effort. How can we humiliate me as much as possible, and everybody was happy to pipe in."
Leslie said the final result was even "better" than her expectations.
"It was so wild, and I remember getting to set and seeing the props that were being used. And I was like, 'I couldn't have made this up in my mind if I tried,'" she recalled. "That's kind of when I knew this is gonna be just entertaining. No one has seen something like this."
See if for yourself when "Dark Web: Cicada 3301" hits VOD Friday, March 12 -- and Blu-ray and DVD March 16.