From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
"I got shot last night," says Jason Ritter matter-of-factly. It was just another scene in The Event, his NBC thriller about an everyman stuck in the middle of a government cover-up. Luckily, it's easy for Ritter to take things such as a (possibly) fatal shooting in stride-after all, the actor has spent much of his life on-camera. At 9, he made his debut in a TV movie alongside his parents, actress Nancy Morgan and comedy legend John Ritter. "I still remember this scene where we ate tapioca pudding," he recalls, laughing. "I was so nervous. I didn't want to mess anything up."

Now, at age 30, Ritter says some things still haven't changed. "Your fears never go away," he says. "You just get more comfortable ignoring them." For years Ritter also did his best to ignore his father's iconic comedic status, staying far from his dad's Three's Company fame. "I didn't want any attention," he says. Ritter grieved the loss of his father, John, who died suddenly in 2003 from an aortic dissection-"You're sort of forced to move forward in a direction no one wants to.... I try not to think to myself of what could have been," he said recently about the loss. Grappling with the tragedy while pursuing his own career, "I was so terrified of doing comedy, [it] messed me up in a lot of auditions," Ritter says of the expectations attached to his last name.

Finally, spurred on by advice he had received from John-"My dad was really good at finding opportunities [to be funny] between the lines," he says-Ritter landed the 2006 sitcom The Class. His wackier side is no secret to those close to him. Growing up in L.A., when guest musicians visited his high school, "Jason would break-dance like a maniac in front of 400 judgmental teenagers," recalls his longtime pal, Big Bang Theory actor Simon Helberg. "All the girls were fawning."

Now, living with his girlfriend of the past 11 years, writer-director Marianna Palka, Ritter can enjoy a rare sense of stability thanks to the success of The Event. But he's ready for whatever curveballs come next. "I like being challenged," Ritter says. "That's the only way you grow."