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Interview with martial artist and Power Ranger Steve Cardenas

Steve Cardenas
Steve CardenasSteve Cardenas

No show has had so much of an impact on pop culture while staying relevant for so many years than Power Rangers. When the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers hit the small screen in 1993 it was like nothing kids had ever seen before. After some of the members of the original cast left the series they were forced to bring in some new blood who not only stepped up to fill their shows, but also stayed on for two feature films and numerous incarnations of the series. I had the chance to sit down with Steve Cardenas aka Rocky DeSantos who donned the Mighty Morphin Red Ranger and the Blue Turbo Ranger to discuss his career in martial arts and being a part of this morphenominal series.

Bobby: Before getting into the conventions and the Power Rangers, can you tell us a little about how you got started in the martial arts?

Steve: I started martial arts when I was twelve years old. There was a Tae Kwon Do school right around the corner from my house and I really wanted to train there but my parents didn’t have money to pay for classes, so I used to sit there with my hands and face at the class watching the other kids practicing. I really wanted to train and used to practice in my back yard all the time and I had a ninja costume I used to dress up in and wear it everywhere I went, the grocery store and everything. I was just obsessed with it and wanted to learn so bad. One day I woke up when I was 12 and had an idea and I went to the karate instructor at the school and said “look sir, I don’t have the money to pay for martial arts, but if you are willing I am willing to clean the school in exchange for lessons. Would you be willing to do something like that?” I thought for sure he would say no, but he said “sure no problem”. I was totally shocked, but took full advantage of it and the next day I showed up and cleaned the school, started taking my first lesson and I was hooked ever since. From there I not only learned the art, but also the art of running a martial arts studio. I knew that I wanted to be a martial arts instructor my whole life, the Power Rangers thing was just sort of a side thing that happened.

Bobby: So you never aspired to be an actor, you just went to one of their auditions?

Steve: That’s exactly right. My goal was to just run the martial arts studios and that is what I was being trained and groomed for, then I heard about this audition on the radio and they said they were looking for guys good at karate, gymnastics, and katas to go try out. I went and there was like 4000 people there and I thought there was no way I was going to make it, but I made it through the first audition and they said they would call me back. They said they wanted to film me, put my audition on camera, so I came back and did another audition for them again and this time they recorded it and took the footage back to California to show the producers. I didn’t think anything of it because I didn’t hear anything for a few days, but then they called me back and told me that they had shown the producers the footage and wanted to fly me out to California to meet me. I was floored that out of the 4000 people I was in the final three. I flew out there and they had flown out everyone around the country that had made it and we auditioned against each other and made it down to the three rangers that got the part. Right there they told me I had the part and by the way you don’t have time to go home we are going to start filming right away, so if you can have your parents mail you your clothes that would be amazing. So I had my clothes shipped to me and they put me up in a motel until I could get enough money together to get an apartment and the rest is history.

Bobby: With this show there had already been a core group and then when the others left was there any weirdness or anything trying to acclimate into the team?

Steve: Not at all, they were so welcoming and gracious. They made us feel totally comfortable and we didn’t have any problems at all which I was worried about. But the other cast members made their choice to leave and the others chose to stay so they knew they were going to be stuck with us anyway so they knew they had to make the most of it. They all knew the show was more important at that point and needed to keep the production going, so everyone was great and we all became really good friends. I am still friends with them to this day. David Yost, the Blue Ranger is my training partner; we go to the gym every day. Jason David Frank and I do a lot of shows together so I see him a few times a year as well.

Bobby: We know with the way the show is shot that there is a lot of stock footage from the original series used to make the show and that you guys obviously did your fighting out of the uniforms, but did you get to do any of it in costume?

Steve: A lot of it was stock footage, but there was also a stunt crew Japan called Alpha Stunts. They were also in America shooting second unit doing all the costume stuff while we were shooting plain closed stuff all at the same time.

Bobby: You got to be a part of the group heading into the feature films, how much different was your experience with that as opposed to the series?

Steve: The main difference was that with the TV show everything was very fast. We would do 2 or 3 takes and then set up another shot over and over. We had to do a lot of shows and had very little to time to crank them out so it was a very fast pace. When we go to the movie it slowed everything down. It was the directors first feature film and he took his time. The budget was much, much bigger with the sets and costumes more elaborate, but aside from that it was still slow, we got to do 20 – 30 takes sometimes, it was crazy.

Bobby: With the first movie they really stepped up the look of the film giving you guys more armored style uniforms. Was there ever talk of trying to transition that into the series or was that always just meant to be more of a standalone thing?

Steve: It was always going to be a standalone because there was no way we could match the stock footage. Plus those things were very expensive and didn’t last very long where the spandex lasts forever. So with the footage not matching and them constantly having to repair those suits the TV show budget would not allow that.

Bobby: When your character’s story started coming to a close, was that by your own choice or had they decided to start with the change of the cast every episode at that point?

Steve: I don’t really know what their thought process was behind all of that. In the beginning they wanted to brand the whole thing but I think they changed their mind about all of that over the years because the cast members were making such little money, and they had the likeness to their faces there was a lot of bad blood about that. We were the ones making the show popular and the kids liked us as characters but they didn’t want to compensate us or they were making 900 million dollars a year on all the licensing stuff. It was a little unfair from that perspective and they could have certainly paid us a little more and didn’t. Then they just realized that anyone could fit in the suit and they had replaced the first three with us and discovered it was more of the costume that everyone liked anyway so they would just find someone else to fill the suit if there was trouble. That’s really what the toys are selling anyways is the costume and masks so every year they needed to come up with new toys and costumes so why not just rotate everyone out so that no one gets too attached to any character and they only care about the toys. That’s why after the Turbo and we left that no one really knows those characters as well as the Mighty Morphin people.

Bobby: So when you left the show did you still have the acting bug or just go back to your martial arts teaching?

Steve: I went back to martial arts and opened my own studio in Los Angeles that I ran for many years, but I sold that one and then did some schools in Texas for a few years then I moved back here and have another school again called Force Balance Brazilian Jujitsu.

Bobby: I know you have been doing conventions as well, how did you get started doing them?
Steve: Like I mentioned, I kept in contact with quite a few of my cast mates and one of them had told me back in 2007 that they were doing a Power Ranger convention and I said yeah I would go. That’s when I noticed how many fans were out there and are all grown up now, but still into it. When you meet those little kids they are usually shy and can’t talk to you, but now they are older and can express how much the show mean to them. It was really cool experience and kind of how I got back into the scene again. From there I met a few other people that told me they could get me into this show and that show so I was like sure let’s try it.

Bobby: I know you heading here to Dallas in March for the Animation Celebration, is this your first one in Dallas?

Steve: This will be my first one in Dallas.

Bobby: Everyone always has their photos to autograph and what not, but with the Power Rangers a lot of them bring the helmets or do photo ops in uniform. Are you doing anything special for this show?

Steve: I am doing all of that actually. I will be doing a costume appearance in my costume for photo ops, I will be doing regular photo ops plain clothes where people can hold the helmet, I think I am doing a martial arts seminar there for the fans, autographs, I will t-shirts for sale and a lot of stuff. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Bobby: Do you have anything else coming up or other shows that you would like to promote?

Steve: I have a ton of shows coming up. You can go to my fan page which is https://www.facebook.com/stevecardenas123 and I post up there my schedule to which shows I am going to be at. I have three shows in March alone Lexington Con, then a show in San Jose the weekend after that and then Animation Celebration the weekend after that. Then I have some in April as well, I have two in Brazil and another in Chicago called C2E2 so yeah I will be a bit all over the place.

Bobby: When will you have time to run your school? (laughs)

Steve: (laughs) I know right? That’s what my students ask me too. I have a great bunch of instructors here that pick up the slack when I’m not here. Generally the shows are on the weekends so I am back during the week.

Bobby: I really appreciate your time and looking forward to Animation Celebration, it looks to be a lot of fun.

Steve: Yeah I am looking forward to it, see you then.

For more information on Animation Celebration head over to http://animation-celebration.com/site/

For more information on Force Balance Jujitsu head over to http://www.forcebalancebjj.com/index.html