Interview with Michelangelo voice actor Robbie Rist
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: You started off acting at such an early age…Was there something in your life that influenced your decision to become an actor when you were just a kid?
ROBBIE RIST: Well, when I was a kid I was a big fan of the Universal Monsters movies of the 1930’s and the 1940’s. I loved movies like The Wolfman (1941) and Dracula (1931). I really wanted to be in those movies. Eventually I started nagging my parents about it, and it turned from, “I wanna be in a monster movie! I wanna be in a monster movie!” to “I just wanna be in a movie.” So I think my parents just thought that if they took me to one audition I’d see how boring it was and I wouldn’t wanna do it. But I ended up getting the part, and I got a bunch of roles after that as well. So I guess you could say that Lon Chaney Jr. from The Wolfman was my biggest influence!
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: Of course people know that you were cast as a kid in the role of ‘Cousin Oliver’ on The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)…But what would you have seen yourself doing if acting hadn’t worked out for you as a kid?
ROBBIE RIST: I might have been too tiny for it, but I wanted to become a professional tennis player. I was a pretty good tennis player as a kid, but ultimately I just don’t think that I have that jock mentality needed for sports. To be a sports person…There is a never say die attitude you have to have to succeed. The first thing I say is “die…” If you beat me, I just give up…laughing
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: You’re really into music though, right?
ROBBIE RIST: For sure. I’ve been playing music for a long time. I was playing music back then when I was playing tennis. The crazy thing about the entertainment industry now is that you can’t do just one thing. If you’re focusing in on just one thing you’re pretty much doomed. The idea is not to do just one thing. That’s the way its set up at this stage in the game. I think the idea now of being a performer in this era of social media saturation means that you have to be an actor, a musician, a stand-up comic, writer, or a director. Focusing in on one thing doesn’t take up all of your time. Look at director James Cameron for example. He knows every position on his film set. He can do all of the jobs on his movies better than his crew members can. I think that artists have a better chance at making great art if they know as much about every different area in the industry as they can.
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: What has been your most memorable acting experience thus fur in your career?
ROBBIE RIST: Oh god…I’ve been doing this since I was six years old. That means that I’ve been in the industry for forty-three years! There have been so many cool moments. I think the most memorable thing to me is just to think back about all of the amazing people I’ve worked with. Either that or its when Susan Olson on The Brady Bunch broke my face. Or when I got to do huge stunts for Disney on The New Mickey Mouse Club in the mid ’70s. There was a little five minute serial show that ran in the middle of Mickey Mouse Club called The Mystery Of Rustler’s Cave that I did, and that was really cool. I don’t know what else to say…I’m going to save these stories for my book!
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: What about the McDonald’s commercial you did in the ’70s?
ROBBIE RIST: That’s funny. I don’t know if I should apologize or not for doing that. I inspired people to eat Quarter Pounders. Don’t hold it against me! I was only like seven or eight years old when I did that. When I watch that now and I see myself…He’s a kid that’s going somewhere. He has a very purposeful walk to him. He’s really excited to get to McDonalds…laughing
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: How did the opportunity to voice Michelangelo in the Turtles movies come about for you?
ROBBIE RIST: I was just lucky really. I graduated high school in 1982 and my entire class….We brought that type of “surf speak” to the masses. Do you know that Frank Zappa song, ‘Valley Girl’? That song is about my childhood neighborhood. All the people I grew up with all talked the way that the Ninja Turtles do. Talking that way was something I had already been familiar with, so when the opportunity to do Michelangelo came up I knew him already. I had went to high school with him. Today, I still use words like “Totally.” and “Bitchin“. It’s just part of my Valley vernacular. The cool thing about the Turtles is just how timeless it is to the fans. Here we are now twenty-five years later, and we’re still talking about the Turtles. It’s pretty awesome.
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: Who did you think that Michelangelo was when you read the script for the first time?
ROBBIE RIST: Well, when I read the script for the first time I knew that these guys were just like, again, these stoners that I went to high school with. I understood and knew that syntax and cadence of speech really well.
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: Have you seen the new Turtles Nickelodeon series?
ROBBIE RIST: I haven’t seen the new series yet, but I did watch the latest Turtles CGI movie that came out a few years ago. The one that has Mikey Kelley in it? I really thought that was great. I have heard though that the new animated series is really awesome, and I’ve also heard that the new series is really giving the fans what they want from the Turtles. And I’ve heard that the fans are rewarding them for that too. I doubt we’ll get that same thing from Michael Bay and his new Turtles movie though.
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: One of our favorite Michelangelo lines is “God I love being a Turtle!” You wrote that line didn’t you? Do you have any other favorite lines from any of the other Turtles movies?
ROBBIE RIST: Sure did. There are so many favorites. The Turtles movie that everyone hates is the third movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993), but I have a huge soft spot in my heart for it. They asked me to help punch up Turtles III. They came to me and told me that some of the dialogue wasn’t very good. So they asked me to punch it up. My favorite line that I came up in Turtles III is “Oh, He who dings the shell must *pay*” I still say it sometimes…laughing There were a bunch of jokes in that third movie that I came up with. Of course…My jokes had to be in a movie that everyone hates…laughing
The fans don’t like that third movie because the filmmakers stopped caring about what the fans wanted. The reason why that first Turtles movie still strikes a chord with so many fans is because it gives them what they wanted all along from the Turtles.
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: What are your thoughts on the new Michael Bay Turtles movie?
ROBBIE RIST: Hmmm…I’m sure it’s going to be fine. How about I say that…laughing I don’t know what to say. I hope they took everything that the fans said to heart. The whole alien back story thing is a load of crap. April O’Neil as a porn star? Really? C’mon now, give me a break. A lot of the things that have come out online seem to be pointing this in a bad direction.
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: Did you ever get to spend any time with either Kevin Eastman or Peter Laird while you were working on the Turtles movies?
ROBBIT RIST: You know, I never even met them! I’d love to meet them someday just to say thanks for giving me a shot in the arm. I was a fan of the Turtles comics way before I ever worked on the Turtles movies.
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: If you could choose to voice a character in the new Michael Bay film would you choose Michelangelo?
ROBBIE RIST: Of course! Sure….But I gotta say that I really feel like I’m on the right side of Turtles history here. A couple years ago…I did this fan movie called Casey Jones [2011; Directed by: Polaris Banks]. It was a Turtles fan movie and the fans really respected it. I’ll voice “Mikey” any time I’m asked, but I’d just like to do it in something good. I was surprised that I didn’t get asked to read for “Mikey” for the new Nickelodeon series, but what can you do?
TEENAGEMUTANTNINJATURTLES.COM: Thanks for your time Robbie.
ROBBIE RIST: Thanks guys!