Interview Date: 02/11/2010
Run Date: 02/22/2010
Ricky Schroder is a man with many guises. We’ve seen him as a child actor (“The Champ,” “Silver Spoons”), and we’ve seen him as an adult, dropping the “y” from the end of his name as he starred in such projects as “Lonesome Dove” and “NYPD Blue.” Lately, however, Schroder has been stepping behind the camera, and Bullz-Eye got the chance to chat with him in connection with the DVD release of his latest directorial effort, “Hellhounds.” But, of course, we also asked him about as many of his previous acting gigs as time allowed…and, yes, we also asked about the train on “Silver Spoons.” We had to.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Ricky, how’s it going?
Ricky Schroder: It’s going good, thanks! Where are you?
BE: I’m in Virginia Beach, which you may remember as the place where you filmed the legendary “Too Young the Hero.”
RS: Oh, man! Yeah, that was…what, 1987? ’88?
BE: Yep. Two of my friends were extras in that movie, and I’m still hearing about it to this day.
RS: (Laughs) Nice.
BE: Well, since our conversation has come about because of your latest directorial effort, I thought we should probably kick off by talking about that side of your career.
RS: Absolutely. “Hellhounds”! It’s supposed to be…remember the old movies like “Sinbad” or whatever, back in the ‘70s? It’s kind of an ode to that. It’s a fantasy flick with probably an even smaller budget than “Sinbad” had… (Laughs) …but we found creative ways around that, and…have you seen it yet?
BE: Unfortunately, I haven’t. It’s supposed to be heading my way, but I’m led to understand that it’s probably been delayed because of all the snow around the country.
RS: Well, it’s pretty good, I think. I’m proud of it. There are a lot of CGI shots for a small budget. We had over 50 CGI shots and some beautiful scenery. We shot in Romania, out in the country and in the mountains. It was a lot of work, but it was a good experience.
BE: I know it’s part of the “Maneaters” series. Were you a fan of that series, or was this just a project that came your way?
RS: No, I’d never heard of the “Maneaters” series ‘til this.
BE: So what was it like filming in Romania? Had you ever been there before?
RS: No, I hadn’t been to Romania. It was, uh, challenging. The language…my crew was all Romanian, so that was a challenge, but they worked their butts off for me. Luckily, we did a lot of exteriors, a lot of beautiful mountains and scenery. We got outside of Bucharest, which is really just kind of an Eastern Bloc Communist city, not particularly beautiful. But we were in the Carpathian Mountains, which is where Dracula’s castle is. It’s a beautiful country, beautiful mountains. Lots of dogs in Romania.
BE: Well, that’s appropriate for a movie called “Hellhounds.”
RS: Yeah, and they were vicious dogs! I’m serious. You won’t find a cat roaming the street in Romania. The dogs are all so hungry, ‘cause they haven’t eaten, and… (Trails off ominously)
BE: I know you directed “Black Cloud” in 2004, but was directing something you’d always had aspirations to do but just hadn’t had the opportunity, or was this a recent development?
RS: Well, it all came about after “NYPD Blue.” In 2001 or 2002, I wrote the script for “Black Cloud” and I got that made, and then I directed a bunch of music videos after that. And then this film came around, and…I really love directing. I love influencing every part of the filmmaking process and, you know, it’s so exciting for me to direct and to learn. There are so many other parts of the business that I just didn’t know about.
BE: With “Black Cloud,” not only did you direct it, but you wrote it and acted in it as well. What was it about the concept that intrigued you enough to want to wear all of those hats?
RS: Well, nobody was really going to give me a movie to direct unless I did it for myself, and…I grew up watching Westerns, loved John Wayne movies, and I always wanted to make a movie in Monument Valley, with that beautiful landscape of Northern Arizona, where those Western were made with John Wayne. The only thing out there, really, is Navajo Indians, and I heard a story about a Navajo boxer, and I was inspired to write it and then put it together financially. I learned an awful lot with that, actually, that helped me with “Hellhounds.”
BE: I know that Tim McGraw was in “Black Cloud.” Did that country music connection have anything to do with finding your way to, say, the “Whiskey Lullaby” video? Or was it just coincidence?
RS: No, that was absolutely connected, but it wasn’t through Tim. It was actually through my D.P., my director of photography on “Black Cloud.” He shot a lot of country music videos in Nashville, and he made certain introductions for me in Nashville, and that’s how “Whiskey Lullaby” came about.
BE: I’ll tell you that I posted the video on my Facebook page today, and I promptly made a couple dozens of my friends cry, so I’d say you did something right.
RS: I appreciate that. That’s a nice story. It’s…it’s kind of my grandfather’s story, if you will. He was a vet from World War II and had a drinking problem, so he was sort of the inspiration for that.
BE: Were you amazed when it ended up winning the CMA Award for Video of the Year?
RS: Oh, yeah. I mean, you never expect or think or plan for any award. That’s not why I work. It’s not why I do it. And then to be recognized and for other people to like it…? It’s extremely gratifying.
BE: I know there’s at least one more directorial thing you’ve done: you worked on “Locker 13.” You directed one segment, but you acted in another. Was that something you were always set to do, or did you start with one, and then the second gig came about because of the first?
RS: Well, I acted in one first, and…it’s kind of like a “Twilight Zone” concept, and every episode is connected to this Locker 13. You haven’t seen that, have you?
BE: Nope, just read about it.
RS: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I play an over-the-hill boxer who’s given a pair of special boxing gloves from Locker 13.
BE: Flashbacks to “The Champ” ensued, I’m sure.
RS: Absolutely! Actually, the same guy that choreographed “The Champ” and trained (Jon) Voight, I called him up. He’s still around, still alive, and he came and put on the mitts with me.
BE: I heard you say on “The Bonnie Hunt Show” that you still keep in touch with Voight.
RS: Yeah! I actually texted him yesterday. (Laughs)
BE: Those early acting experiences were pretty formative for you, I’m sure. Particularly “The Earthling,” given the name of your son (Holden).
RS: Oh, yeah, William Holden was a class act, and I named my son after him as a tribute to the example and the man that he was. And I liked the name, too. (Laughs) But, yeah, all of those actors I worked with as a young man or a young boy really did influence me. They were all very kind, left great impressions on me. Sir Alec Guinness was a wonderful, kind guy. Everybody I’ve worked with over the years…they’ve been very classy people.
BE: And, obviously, you’re still acting, because I know you’re in “Blood Done Sign Your Name.” Now, I’ve only seen a few clips, but I know about the book, so I know you’ve got a pretty important part.
RS: If you go to YouTube, you can see the trailer.
BE: Oh, okay, cool. Now, had you read Tim Tyson’s book prior to coming aboard?
RS: No, I got a phone call, and three days later, I was in North Carolina, working on the project. Somebody else, I think, had fallen through, so I kind of just showed up and jumped right in. The first day of work, I was giving a sermon in front of a congregation, so it was kind of sink or swim. (Laughs)
BE: It seems like a very moving story, from what I’ve read.
RS: It’s a powerful story. It’s wonderful how far our country’s come in forty years. It’s important to remember where we came from and to show the younger people where we came from, but I think we should all feel really good about where we are today in relation to where we were. There’s been so much racial healing in those 40 years, and now having our first black President…it’s a small miracle, really.
BE: I remember being really surprised when I saw you in the cast of “Crimson Tide,” because you hadn’t really done a whole lot of film work in several years up to that point. How did you find your way into that movie?
RS: I auditioned. I went and met Tony Scott, and I just fought for it, like actors do, usually.
BE: Was that something that you’d heard a lot about and were psyched about? Is that why you went out for it?
RS: No. I mean, you just sort of take the opportunities as they come, and…there’s a perception out there that actors sometimes have a huge choice of material, and it’s not always the case.
BE: When you did “NYPD Blue,” was that another case of auditioning, or was Steven Bocho already aware of you?
RS: Well, of course he was aware of me… (Laughs) …but I had to fight like hell to get that job. It was a long process.
BE: How many auditions did you have to go through?
RS: I’m gonna say about six auditions over six months.
BE: What was it like for you when you transitioned from comedy back into drama? I mean, it obviously happened well prior to “NYPD Blue,” but you’d done “Silver Spoons” for several years, and then you dove straight back into drama.
RS: Yeah, after “Silver Spoons,” there was a whole slate of quality TV films, like “Too Young the Hero” and “Lonesome Dove,” so I’m as confident and comfortable with drama as I am with comedy. Recently, I got to do “Scrubs.” About two years ago, I got to do an arc on “Scrubs,” which was a lot of fun to do. Now I’m starting to diversify even more. I’m writing…a horror movie right now, of all things. I’ve never acted in one or directed one, let alone written one, but I’m having a blast doing that. And I’m writing other things, too. I’m writing a cage-fighting movie, writing a bull-riding movie…actually, I’ve finished both of those. The writing thing is kinda new for me, but it’s a lot of fun!
BE: So are you hoping to direct those as well, or are you just writing them and you’ll see where it goes?
RS: Oh, no, I’m writing with the intention of directing.
BE: You mentioned “Scrubs,” and I was actually going to ask about that, the experience of playing Nurse Flowers. Obviously, it’s single camera versus multi-camera, but it was still your first sitcom work since “Silver Spoons.” Was it cool stepping back into the comedic mindset?
RS: Oh, absolutely. And the show’s creator and show runner, Bill Lawrence, what a talented genius. And the cast was phenomenally talented, and…it was fun. You know, it was a different experience because, like you said, it wasn’t multi-camera. It was single camera. But it was a wonderful time and a nice arc.
BE: You were talking about classic actors that you’d worked with in the past. What was it like working with John Houseman on “Silver Spoons”?
RS: Well… (Starts to laugh) …he was very, very old when I worked with him, and, I mean, he was a nice old guy. I use to feel a little bit sorry for him, because your memory’s not as strong the older you get, and sometimes he struggled with that. It’s funny that you mention him, because the other day I was talking with one of my acting friends, and he said, “Why don’t we get these things out of the blue, where people call us and say, ‘Be in this movie or that’?” And I said, “Because we earrrrrrn it.” (Laughs) And I couldn’t believe it, but he knew that it was John Houseman’s Smith-Barney commercial. “The old fashioned way.”
BE: Well, I have to tell you, I’m only about six months younger than you, so I grew up on “Silver Spoons.” For years, I considered a train running through one’s living room as the definitive rich-guy status symbol.
RS: (Bursts out laughing) I cannot tell you how many people were, like, blown away by that and lost themselves as kids in the world of “Silver Spoons.” And everybody asks about the train. Everybody! I think that train is in a train park at Griffith Park, over by Universal.
BE: Would you say that “Silver Spoons” jumped the shark after Jason Bateman left to do “It’s Your Move”?
RS: (Long silence) The show what?
BE: Jumped the shark.
RS: What does “jumped the shark” mean?
BE: It’s, uh, the turning point in a show, I guess you’d say.
RS: The turning point, huh? Hmmm. I don’t know. Let’s say “true.” (Laughs)
BE: So do you still keep in touch with any of the cast of the show?
RS: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen or talked to my friends from that show in a long time. I saw Joel Higgins, who plays my dad, maybe eight years ago, and I haven’t seen or talked to Alfonso in about four or five years. No, I really don’t keep tight with those guys. It’s just that everybody’s spread out. Joel’s back on the east coast, and everybody’s, y’know, in their own lives.
BE: I’ve just got a few more for you. I’ve always thought that, if I were a 9-year-old kid, “The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark” would’ve been one of the most fun sets ever. Was it?
RS: It was pretty fun, man. (Laughs) We were in Hawaii, working on the beach for months. It was a great, great time.
BE: So what can you tell me, or what do you remember, about the version of Stephen King’s “Apt Pupil” that you were supposed to have starred in?
RS: Well, we finished the movie almost, and then they literally ran out of money a week before completion. I was working with a guy named Nicol Williamson, who was the German guy that was in hiding, and it was really dark and intense. I mean, the guy was a murderer! I never saw the other version. That young actor, he passed away, didn’t he?
BE: Brad Renfro. Yeah, he did, unfortunately.
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
RS: I’ve got to say “Black Cloud.” I don’t think it got the love it deserved.
BE: Did it get a theatrical release at all, or was it straight to DVD?
RS: No, it did get a theatrical release. A very limited one.
BE: Did you hope that your series “Strong Medicine” would do better than it did when you came aboard?
RS: No, actually, “Strong Medicine” did very well. For a show in its sixth season, it had a higher rating at the time that it wasn’t renewed than it had in Seasons 1 through 5. So it actually did very well.
BE: And, lastly, you’ve gone back to going by Ricky rather than Rick. A friend of mine theorized that it was for the same reason that you hate being asked for ID when you’re 20 but you love it when you’re 40.
RS: (Laughs) That’s exactly right! I guess the older we get, the more we want to get younger again!