They tell you never to meet your heroes. But when we were given the chance to sit down with the original Power Rangers at MCM Comic Con London, my inner six year old went into overdrive.
After bumping into David Yost (Billy, the Blue Ranger) it took most of the morning to regain my composure before joining him again, along with Austin St. John (Jason, the Red Ranger), Walter Jones (Zack, the Black Ranger) and Karan Ashley (Aisha, the second Yellow Ranger) for a fond trip down memory lane and a look at the enduring success of history’s mightiest teenagers with attitude…
So how did you originally get to become Power Rangers?
Austin: Well, after I retired from Star Wars… Oh, wait, sorry, wrong life…
David: They put something out in one of the papers that they were looking for five actors, and they had a different breakdown for each one. Austin’s character was called Victor in the beginning, and I actually auditioned for the role of Victor. Three times. But I didn’t get it. And then I begged to read for Billy, and they were like “no”, so I said “Pleeeease can I read for Billy”, and they were like “no, thank you” and I begged and begged and eventually they let me read for Billy and I got it. But it was an open casting call. Literally thousands of people.
Austin: If you ever wanna feel like you’re in an absolute meat market, go to an open audition in Hollywood…
Walter: I actually had an agent, so he sent me in. I got to miss a lot of that early stuff.
Karan: It was kinda the same for me. They had an open casting call as well. A friend of mine saw an article in the newspaper just looking for new people to join the cast of Power Rangers. They were searching nationwide. All three of us, me, Steve (Cardenas) and Johnny (Bosch) all came from Dallas, Texas, which was totally luck of the draw. We waited all day to get twenty seconds to impress the casting directors. It was crazy. When we joined the cast, we thought we were just doing that; joining the cast. We didn’t know we were replacing anyone, so we had some really big shoes to fill, and we were honoured to do that.
Did you have any idea of how huge the show was going to turn out?
Walter: Well, that’s what my psychic told me! (laughs) Man, when we did the pilot, I wasn’t even sure it was gonna air on TV.
David: Obviously it’s very humbling and we feel very blessed. We filmed almost the entire first season before it even started airing, so we had nothing to gauge it on. And then when it started airing, it shot straight to number one, not only in the states, but throughout the world.
Walter: It’s the oddest thing to have three generations of fans at this point. We catapulted into the icon phase. I mean, the fact that we have comic books where we’re with like Superman and Batman… We’re in print with the people that we’ve grown up with as heroes and legends. Superman is one of my biggest idols, and there’s a comic book with me talking to Superman!
Austin: I got Wonder Woman…
Karan: You lucked out!
Walter: It’s just incredible. We get people coming to our table, and we don’t know who to talk to, ‘cause there’s little kids, and we gravitate to them right away, but then you look at the parents, and the parents are actually the ones who are like “oh my god!”
Austin: Meeting people, watching them trying not to let their inner five year old burst out of them, that’s the best part of it all. Just hearing people tell us that we didn’t suck… Who wouldn’t love to have that job?
Walter: To be able to make someone so happy, just by being myself… To meet somebody at a bar, or at dinner, and they say hi and then walk away like this… (shyly puts his head down like an embarrassed toddler) It’s so amazing. There’s just so much love.
Why do you think Power Rangers has had such a lasting impact on popular culture?
Walter: It’s dinosaurs man. It’s dinosaurs and gymnastics and martial arts. It was a diverse group of kids together as a group of really close friends who were overcoming evil in the world and helping to bring goodness about.
Austin: It was rated “G” with extra cheese!
Karan: And they all were teenagers with attitude! All kids at some point in their life wanted to be a superhero, and this was the show that actually showed some kids being superheroes, so it’s our greatest dream being fulfilled!
Did you ever watch any of Super Sentai when you got the parts?
Walter: Not till later. It was shown to us later with a kinda “this is where it’s coming from”. Haim Saban bought the Japanese show, and we had no idea what it was gonna look like until after we saw the pilot.
David: And our show is very different from the Japanese one. The Japanese one is a lot darker, bloodier and scarier…
Austin: People die in that one…
Walter: People die???
David: It’s a really different show.
Speaking of dark and bloody, how did you feel about the new movie’s take on your characters?
David: I was really happy with what they did. I thought RJ Cyler, who played Billy, he really knocked it out of the park.
Karan: He was amazing…
David: He was so funny, and brought so much depth to that character. I thought it was cool that he was the first one to morph. Overall, I thought they really brought them all into 2017, taking on issues such as Billy being “on the spectrum” as they say, and the allusion of the yellow ranger questioning her sexuality. I like that they’re putting it out there to kind of an older audience, and it’s still that ethnically diverse group of kids. I was really blown away, and I’m really happy with how it’s gone.
Austin: I think it’s the natural progression of things too. Go back and look at the original Batman and Robin, pow, bang, boom, and today we have The Dark Knight. I’m pretty excited to see how far it can go. I though the effects were insane too. You definitely couldn’t have done that in our day… Y’know, last week! The one thing though, when it was time to go to battle? What’s the line?
Walter: IT’S MORPHIN’ TIME!
Austin: Where was it in the movie??? It wasn’t in the movie!!!
Walter: It was there. He did say it.
Austin: Was it??
Karan: Yeah, it was…
David: He just said (lacklustre) “It’s morphin’ time…”
Karan: And they built up to that moment, so it was weird they didn’t make more of it.
Did you ever see the super-violent short film?
David: Of course.
Karan: Yeah! I loved it! I just thought it was cool. Obviously it wasn’t Power Rangers. But it was grown up. We’ve all grown up. But it was too violent. I liked the new movie because I felt like it rode the line nicely with taking it into now, but also keeping it so your kids could see it.
One thing that always comes up, especially with the recasting of the new movie is the “colour coding” of the Black Ranger and the Yellow Ranger. Was that something that you and Thuy were conscious of at the time?
Austin: Wait a minute! You were the Black Ranger??? I can’t believe I missed that!
Walter: You know what, it was coincidental more than anything else. The original Yellow Ranger was Audri Dubois, who was Latin. I was always the Black Ranger. It was only when Thuy got hired that we were like “hey! You’re the Black Ranger and now the Yellow Ranger’s Asian! HA!” People made it into this big thing that it was negative or something, but it was never that. The fact that it reached people all over the world, and we inspired so many people, I don’t think that we really cared what colour suit we were wearing, we just cared about the characters we were portraying.
Karan: What was even more amazing about it, was that it was a multi-cultural cast. The show was really ahead of its time to have that many different cultures and backgrounds, it was so amazing that they were all best friends. It’s a story that even today people are trying to figure out, but these kids figured it out. Everyone saved the world, everyone saved the day. When we came on the show, they never made the conscious effort of looking at me, and looking at Johnny being Asian and switching it. The Yellow Ranger was a girl and the Black Ranger was a boy. That was that. It wasn’t a big deal to us.
Going back to the old days, every time I go to watch the original movie, I genuinely have it in my head that Jason, Zack and Trini are gonna be in it, but of course, it’s Rocky, Adam and Aisha. How did it feel for you guys leaving before getting the chance to be in the movie?
Walter: You wanna bring this up right now man? (laughs) No, I was disappointed. I really wanted to be part of that film. The film was the build up of what we created; we had two huge seasons, and it building up to becoming a movie, and the thought that I didn’t do it was really disappointing. (wistfully) It’s in the past…
And Karen, how was it for you, coming in as the new girl and being immortalised in the film?
Karan: It was amazing to be a part of it! When we got the jobs on the show, we knew that the movie was happening. It was just an amazing experience. We got to go to Sydney, Australia, and we were there for about six months. It was larger than life! All the sets and the costumes; they put so much detail into things, so it was amazing. It was such a great experience for us, because we had only been on the show maybe a month, so we didn’t really know each other, but when you get shipped to a country and it was just the six of us, we really got to become friends. So, I always look back to the filming of the movie very fondly because I actually got to know everybody. It was amazing.
As a kid, I remember trying to copy Billy’s lines in the playground. Looking back at the show now, your lines were ridiculous. How did it feel every time you got those scripts? Did you actually understand what the hell you were meant to say?
David: Errrrrr…. No. (laughs) I mean, I’m not smart like my character was at all. I was an average student. So, when I received the scripts, I would literally have to get a dictionary and I would have to go through and look up the words and figure out what he was saying. Then I would really have to practice to make him sound somewhat normal. I didn’t talk that that at all, and half the time I was trying to remember what the words meant. I’m grateful, because I became smarter! I became smarter because of my character. My favourite line, to this day is “a fully sentient, multi-functional automaton”!
How does it feel looking back on the show a decade and a half later?
Austin: Not many people have the incredible fortune that we have. I don’t mean that like a monetary fortune. Forty countries, ninety languages around the world, we can go anywhere and we can spend all day talking to people and all we hear about is how much they love our work. That doesn’t suck.
Karan: It’s a great job.
Austin: Grown men break down into tears (I blush, having done so a mere hour earlier…) Apart from being Santa Claus, I don’t know how it gets better than that.
Karan: Every person that walks up to our table turns five years old again. We hear all these amazing stories, and now we’re having the chance to stop and smell the roses, ‘cause now we realise how it changed your life. We were living our dream becoming actors, but we didn’t think that twenty-four years later, here we’d be in London talking about Power Rangers!
Walter: And now you vocalise it! Like, when you were kids, you were too shy, but now you tell us these stories about how we improved your life in some way. “You made me into a martial artist”, “You made me wanna join the military”, “You made me into a scientist”, “You made me desire to be more than what I was…” To hear that from you guys is amazing.