Exclusive: Steve Cardenas on the Power Rangers’ legacy, new movie, Comic-Con, and more

With San Diego Comic-Con coming up later this week, there’s a whole lot to be excited about … and the same may go for all “Power Rangers” fans out there. There’s a new movie on the way, and former Rocky the Red Ranger Steve Cardenas is going to be appearing at the convention from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. from July 22nd until the 24th.

To prepare for that appearance, and also to discuss all things “Power Rangers” in general during this fantastic time for TV nostalgia, we were lucky to interview him this past week.

CarterMatt – I know you’ll be at Comic-Con later this week, so what sort of fun do you have at these conventions now? Do you enjoy the chance to meet up with people who watched and love the show?

That’s exactly it. It still surprises me that after all these years, people who grew up watching this show that were four, five, six, and are now in their mid-to-late twenties are and they still love it. Just to be a part of that is still so amazing to me. It’s great, plus I get to travel all over the world and see some cool, interesting places that I otherwise would not have done. It’s a fun thing, and the Comic-Con itself is so positive. It’s a place for these people who have been alienated for all of their lives to come together, and a place where it’s acceptable to be a little bit out of the ordinary and be a geek. Everything about it is positive, and there’s not a lot of negatives about it.

For you, can you relate to them in the sense that there is someone out there who you looked up to as a kid, and would be really excited to meet?

Absolutely. I totally get it. When these guys come up to me and say ‘you’re the reason I got into this [or that],’ I can relate to that 100%. When I grew up, one of my heroes was the Karate Kid. When I saw that movie in 1984, it really inspired me to want to learn martial arts. When I was a young kid I used to be bullied all the time, and so when I got into martial arts it totally changed my attitude, my confidence, and my whole perspective on life.

When I started to do these conventions, one time Ralph Macchio was at one signing autographs, too. I got to meet him, and I walked up to him geeking out saying ‘you’re totally the reason that I got into martial arts.’ It’s one of the things that fans say to me all the time, so it was so funny. We got to do a picture together, and it was just a really epic moment for me.

How did it feel coming into the show right at the height of popularity? Were you able to process at the time how big it was? Did it hit you right away?

Because of [my interest in] martial arts at that time, any show or movie that had martial arts, I liked to watch them. Even when ‘Power Rangers’ came out I was a teacher at the time, and these kids start talking about ‘Power Rangers.’ I was like ‘what is this Power Rangers thing,’ so I started checking it out. So I started watching it, and I used to watch it for the fight scenes and all of that. I thought it was pretty cool, but I was watching it saying ‘I could do some of that’ jokingly, never knowing that I’d get the opportunity.

I was very familiar the show, and the popularity of it during that time. At the time you’d hear all of the news stories about all of the toy stores running out of toys, so I was very aware. So when I heard about the audition on the radio, I said ‘let me go check it out,’ but I never dreamed I would get the part. They were rolling through Dallas at the time, and that was where I was living at the time … I went to an open casting call, they called it a cattle call. There was about four thousand people there when I got there, so I thought ‘there was no way I was going to get this part.’

That’s interesting to know it was in Dallas, because I grew up there. I could’ve been a Power Ranger!

Two of the other ones got hired from that same time, too: Johnny Yong Bosch and Karan Ashley, who played the Black Ranger and the Yellow Ranger, we all got hired on the same day and we all came to Dallas. They were doing a whole tour; they were traveling all around to New York, Florida, California, and a few other places, and they ended up picking up three people in the same place.

I’ve talked to people over the years who have said that production went by quickly and it was hard to even remember everything that happened, every episode. Did you have that same experience, or can you kind of separate things and individual episodes?

Of course I remember little things here and there, but we did shoot a lot. It was like a soap opera in that we didn’t have a hiatus like normal shows did. The show came on every day, so we had to crank out new episodes all of the time and never had much of a break. In the two and a half, three years, that I worked on the show, I must have filmed more than 130 episodes, which is massive compared to a show like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ who then has [several months] off. We never had that; we worked straight through.

There were a lot of episodes that I don’t remember, but then the fans come up and say ‘do you remember the episode where this happened,’ and I’m like ‘kind of’ (laughs). There are some memorable moments to be sure, but most of it was stuff that was behind the scenes like Jason David Frank, the Green Ranger, he was our leader, but he was also this huge cut-up. He used to make practical jokes on people from time to time. There used to be times where I’d be taking a nap on set and I’d wake up with a butt in my face or something (laughs). Just stupid, silly stuff that guys in their [early twenties] do.

I was talking to a friend who was a big ‘Power Rangers’ fan, and he kept telling me to mention the episode with the Pachinko machine…

I do remember that one! That was one of the first episodes that was solely based on my character. I had never done any acting before, so I was already out of my comfort zone to begin with. So to go into an episode like that where I had to be so ridiculous and over the top, the show was already ridiculous so to be that much more was very weird for me.

Watching that episode for the first time when I did, nowadays people are used to having cameras to their faces thanks to their phones. Back then, it wasn’t normal unless you had a camcorder and were recording things. You weren’t used to hearing your voice or seeing your face! I was very weirded out by it (laughs), so on top of that just acting all goofy and stuff, I hated all of my facial features. It was an awkward one for me; I’m kind of over it now, but at the time it was very weird seeing myself like that.

Has it become easier to see yourself on TV? Do you feel comfortable doing that now?

Yeah, I do. Some of the episodes I cringe at a little bit thinking ‘oh, the acting is so bad,’ but part of it was meant to be that way, too, when I was in my learning curve. Some of those episodes were a little tough to watch for me.

What were the differences between the movie and the show in terms of size and scale and the sort of work you put in?

With the TV show everything was so fast-paced because we had to do everything so fast. We would do maybe one or two takes on something, stop and change the camera angle, and do another take. It was done very fast, whereas the movie was a much bigger production with a much bigger production and a lot more cameras, so they really took their time. The sets were more elaborate, but aside from all that everything was very slow paced. Our director, Bryan Spicer, would do fifteen or twenty takes from every angle.

It felt a little bit more monotonous, because we were so used to that fast pace.

Has the movie coming up brought more excitement and fun to the franchise? Have you noticed more excitement or people coming up to you?

Oh, mostly definitely. When the fans come up to my table at Comic-Con or whatever, many of them have kids now who are like four or five years old, they tell me ‘my kids love Power Rangers too, but they’re interested in the old-school stuff and they like it.’ We’re sort of bridging that generation through Netflix and all of the old episodes. So I feel like there’s definitely a lot of [interest].

Would you want to be a part of the new movie?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they’re doing any cameos; I think if it anyone is doing a cameo it may be [Jason David Frank] and that’s about it. If they were ask me to, I would most definitely do it. I had actually spoken to Lionsgate about wanting to be a part of it, and they said at this time, they weren’t going to really do it.

But, it’s going to be a saga for sure, so who knows what the future might hold for it.

That’s a bummer, I really think people would like that.

Well, they’re going back to an origin story, which I was not part of, and I guess canon-wise it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have me in there.

Yeah, but I wish they could just find some other role…

Hey, I’m just giving you their justification, do you know what I mean? Put me in there like a Stan Lee, like let me be an assistant at the Juice Bar (laughs)! I would be fine with anything.

Do you think we could see a rebooted series down the road? Do you think that could work in 2016?

I don’t know. The way that they work, their main big thing is to push their merchandise … They have kind of gone old-school to release some of their old legacy stuff, like releasing a legacy Dragonzord and a legacy Megazord from 20 years ago. But as far as a new TV show with the same old story, I feel like they’re probably saving that for the movie. I don’t think they would do it for a television show.

So what are you up to? I know you teach Jiu Jitsu, and you’re also doing Comic-Con.

I’m teaching Jiu Jitsu a couple of days a week when I’m home [in California], but the rest of the week I’m on the road, I’m traveling. 40 weeks out of the year, I’m gone. I’m traveling all over. I’m talking to you right now from Pittsburgh, then San Diego, then the next weekend I’ll be in San Antonio for a convention out there, and the week after that it’s Vegas.

Has there ever been a place you’ve gotten to visit where it still feels surreal that you’re there?

Oh sure, tons of place. I’ve been to Brazil, I’ve been to the UK many times, I’ve been to Dublin, I went to Australia — we filmed the movie in Australia, but I’ve been back. Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Later this year I’m going to Scotland, Amsterdam, so I’m very excited about the different places I get to go, and I feel very fortunate in that respect.

We want to give a special thanks to Steve for being gracious with his time and chatting with us about the “Power Rangers’.

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