By PETERSON GONZAGA
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—While remakes of classic TV shows have gone the route of becoming comedic theatrical films, director Dean Israelite’s “Saban’s Power Rangers,” based upon the TV series “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” pays homage to the original show while creating a new original story that caters to longtime fans as well as newcomers to the franchise.
Mostly unknowns star as the Power Rangers: Dacre Montgomery (Jason/Red Ranger), Naomi Scott (Kimberly/Pink Ranger), Becky G. (Trini/Yellow Ranger), Ludi Lin (Zack/Black Ranger) and RJ Cyler (Billy/Blue Ranger). Joining the Power Rangers are Rita Repulsa, played with more menace than the character in the original series by Elizabeth Banks and Bill Hader, who voices the robot Alpha 5 as well as Bryan Cranston as Zordon.
In this redux of Power Rangers, Rita Repulsa has killed off the original Power Rangers but Zordon has ensured a new group of Rangers will be discovered through the hidden crystal he buries that gives individuals the strength of the Power Rangers. The young teen outcasts end up becoming friends as they inadvertently find the crystals Zordon hid millions of years ago. After discovering the crystals, the teens must tap into their inner self to understand how to morph into the Power Rangers and defeat Rita Repulsa.
The actors portraying the Power Rangers along with director Israelite, writer John Gatin and cast members Banks, Hader came together for a press conference to talk about the reimagined “Power Rangers.” The five leads agree they were happy Israelite gave them leeway in shaping the story and the characters of this newest Power Rangers incarnation.
Q: This film is filled with stunts, from fight sequences to underwater shots. Can each of you talk about the training you had to go through to get physically conditioned for your role?
Cyler: We all trained in our own living environments. I trained at 87/11. Also, Becky trained at 87/11. It was mostly physical training and then stunt training, which consists of being able to respect distances and knowing that your partner in the scenes is your partner and our safety is the most important thing. Everybody is safe without bloody noses. We got Team Vancouver for post-production. We trained for choreography. Our stunt team was really good. They made us feel safe doing our stunts, even though the harnesses are one of the most uncomfortable things.
Scott: What was interesting about the fact was that Becky and I trained before we got to Vancouver. It was more about the stamina for us to get through the shoot and for us to be strong. I don’t think it was necessarily a pure aesthetic thing. At the end of the day, we are playing teenagers in school. Not all teenagers look like Ludi Lin. (She laughs.) We can only try. That was important for us, especially being girls, that we look like girls.
Becky G: We wanted to make it look real.
Montgomery: I wanted to look as ripped as possible. No, it was a lot a fun. I didn’t come from a lot of sports or physically fit background. Spending 2-1/2 months in training and leading up to training was amazing. I learned so much about my body, my flexibility and my diet. I had to have the stamina to go through the shoot but I also had to learn how to be safe on set. The choreography and stunts on set were important.
Becky G: Definitely. We should take a moment of silence as well for all the teenage girls who’ve fainted every time they posted selfies shirtless, the (Power Rangers) boys. At one point, me and Naomi were going to print out pictures of the boys’ six pack abs and take pictures of them and then post them. It was interesting because I grew up in Inglewood, California, so the concept of fighting was natural. Just kidding. It’s like what RJ said, this person is not your opponent, they’re your partner. Learning to fight for camera and stacking, safety zone, safety boxes and announcing, “Okay. I’m getting on the wires now. I heading up”—all that was new for a lot of us. It was so much fun more than anything.
Lin: Yeah. For myself, I don’t think training is training. It’s not hard for me to do. I take it as playing. I can do it all the time. I can do it for half an hour. I can do it for six hours if you give it to me. But I learned that I overplayed and I overtrained. The first day that we did some camera tests, they had a problem with my man arms. I obviously overplayed those too much. But I learned through training.
Hader: (deadpan) I have that problem also.
Banks: When I think of man arms, I think of Bill Hader.
Hader: It constantly comes up in everything I do.
Banks: He’s training six hours.
Q: Dean and John, the original TV series was campy and fun. There are purists out there so when rebooting this franchise did you have concerns of alienating those fans? What were your efforts in preventing that from happening?
Israelite: We tried to come at it from a place of “Listen, I grew up with the show; it’s my childhood too.” That made me feel like I had a true north all the time. I would call myself a lapsed fan, so I grow up with it and then grew away from it and so I thought about what I would want to see in a reboot. So, I just used that kind of true north. I’ve been asked if we were nervous when started to approach it. Honestly, I don’t think we let that factor in. We were excited to be bold in how we were going to reimagine and reinvent it. I felt like we needed to keep the spirit of the original show in terms of the feeling, the warmth, the joy and the heart that it epitomized it. I felt if we were true to that then I we would have a lot of latitude. So, we were just excited about the reimagining and hoped if we did that properly and stayed true then the diehard fans were still going to appreciate it.
Gatins: The only thing I’ll add to that is that we wanted to honor both the original series but also try to put in a world that we thought a young audience could recognize themselves in as well.
Q: With the wealth of resources from the TV show and the script, did you let the script talk to you or did you go back and re-watch the show for inspiration?
Montgomery: I just wanted to say a big thank you to Dean and the studio because I think it’s a huge incentive from the creatives to add our own touch. I’m a newcomer, so what do I know? But I also think that’s fortunate. We are pretty lucky have put our own little spice into the roles and bring our own (interpretation to the characters).
Becky G: Me and Naomi talked a lot about making a conscious decision not to revisit those things because I wanted to take that first impression it made on me and how it’s inspired me and stuck with me and build off of that. What intrigued me the most was when I had the first conversation about this script about my character with Dean, and he said that while all these names may sound familiar, you are meeting your characters for the first time. It’s taking place in 2017 with relevant and current issues, which like John said, a lot of kids can identify with and somehow relate to one of our characters in a way.
Scott: For me, I wanted to kind of start fresh.
Lin: I grew up with the original Power Rangers series and when I read the script, it struck me as an original story of these kids. We get to go deeper into their backgrounds. So, for the TV series, I found that people had a lot of time to love these characters through each episode. In the script, you have to dig deep to make them fall in love and to relate to these characters within the movie. I didn’t go back to the original American series, but I did go back to watch a few episodes of the “Super Sentai” series from the Japanese TV show and it kind of inspired me to think about how different things can be because in that show, everything was different. The Yellow Ranger was a guy so it gave me a lot of motivation to actually put my own creativity into this character rather than follow convention or memory.
Q: Elizabeth, your Rita Repulsa is pretty scary. When the first images came out, there was a lot of criticism. But I think you pulled it off.
Banks: I haven’t read anything. Tell me. Was she too old or too ugly?
Becky G: This is the sexiest we’ve seen Rita Repulsa I’d like to say. I think that’s dope. Everything goes together so well. I thought it was sick.
Cyler: It’s like, “Oh. Rita Repulsa.”
Becky G: Can I get your number?
Q: Elizabeth, what was your approach to this character that so many people are familiar with?
Banks: This script is pretty different. We can see the character in a really modern way. She was so campy in the past. I loved the Rita Repulsa in the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” etc. because she’s so larger than life and she’s insane and she’s got this crazy laugh so I wanted to preserve some of that energy in the character but we also had to deal with what was on the page in front of me. I also thought it was important that these guys felt they were up against real stakes, that she was threatening and didn’t give a flying crap about them, humanity, Earth, cars or their parents. None of this makes sense. She’s an alien. She’s 65 million years old.
Hader: I have to give her props. She learned that language. She could fully speak Alterian. I had to do it phonetically and I could not do it and Dean was like, “Elizabeth, she learned it.” I’d watch a scene of hers and I’m like, “She did it and she was good. It’s like her first language.” That’s amazing. That’s super hard.
Banks: I Skyped with the woman who created our language whose entire job was to come up with a fake language.
Israelite: Bill didn’t Skype with her.
Haden: I was like, “If I don’t get this right, someone from that planet might be in the audience and be angry.”
Banks: To be honest, I only did it because I was told that Bryan Cranston learned the language.
Hader: (to Banks) Bryan and I were doing it phonetically and it didn’t sound the way you did it. That was really awesome. I don’t know how you did that.
Q: I love that this film is about diversity and about someone who is on the spectrum and possibly questioning their sexuality. How was it taking that bold step because that’s something fans have wanted for so long and it hasn’t happened in the show? What was the inspiration to do that?
Cyler: It was exciting to play a character on the spectrum mostly because it challenged me to learn about something I had no idea about. It was like starting school again. Also, it kind of rekindled a friendship from my high school years. I called a friend, Andre, to get an insight because he’s on the spectrum. He’s one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever come in contact with. It was really cool to step into that world and do the role justice. It’s something a lot of people don’t understand but we’re all affected by it in some way. It’s like that’s cool just to show how the world reacts to it and how people on the spectrum react to the world.
Becky G: As a new actress, I want to be very aware of what messages I’m taking on or what character this message is carrying. I feel like this movie is so diverse in so many ways. First off, the color of our skin and where we come from are different and that isn’t even mentioned in the movie because it doesn’t matter. We’re all equal and that’s amazing that we’re diverse as genders go. You have two female leads in the “Power Rangers” who are working with three male leads and we say, “Together we are more,” when we’re not the same. That’s awesome as well, being about that girl power.
It’s awesome to know there will be young girls out there watching this film saying, “Hey, she looks like me. I can do that too.” As far as Trini and her identity issues and figuring out who she is, I think that is something very relevant and very current to our generation. We deal with self-identity issues and cyberbullying. Billy being on the spectrum was really meaningful to me as my little brother was diagnosed with autism at a very young age. So, to know that he’s going to watch this movie and say, “That’s me,” and he can identify with that character, is great. We need all people to share positive messages like that because we need to right now. It’s truly an honor be a part of all this.