How do you approach rebooting the characters of a long running franchise, especially one as beloved as Power Rangers? The characters in the original series, while somewhat paper thin by today’s standards, are iconic. The director and cast of this new movie grew up with them, and their nostalgia helped inform their portrayals.
RJ Cyler, who plays Billy the Blue Ranger, vividly recalls when Tommy turned evil in the original series. “My brothers (and I) went, ‘I don’t know if we can survive. It’s emotional right now I think we all need a nap.’ It was a lot for us,” he recalls. “It was one of the biggest plot twists in Power Rangers to be honest. That was the first thing that changed the face of what could be a superhero. I went, ‘Imma cry in my room, but I’ll forgive you if in the next episode he turns good.’”
Even director Dean Israelite grew up as a fan, “When I was a young kid I was super into karate,” he says. “I remember watching the show for that and what kind of moves they were doing.”
So with all of that love for the original series from both the director and actors, how do you bring a new spin to these classic characters?
Ludi Lin, who plays Zack the Black Ranger, directly drew inspiration from his own life to bring out a new side in Zack.
(Ludi Lin working with directot Dean Israelite on an early scene in the film)
Ludi grew up as an outsider, faced with culture shock as he moved from Asia to Australia and then Canada. “People were hugging when they said goodbye and we don’t really do that in China. We don’t hug for no reason. It just felt awkward to get into that,” Lin says. “How do the cool kids behave? What are they talking about? I don’t understand, right? (Later) I understood that these cool kids weren’t all that cool.”
In the film Zack comes off as too cool for school and doesn’t seem to give a crap about anything. He can do anything on his own and he doesn’t need companionship or friends. Lin reveals Zack, much like himself as a teenager, is actually “really insecure inside.”
As much as Zack is a cool character in the film, Lin wasn’t trying to only relate to cool people but to all outsiders, “All the cool kids? They are just as fragile as you are. When you get to know them they have these problems and they have their insecurities.”
RJ Cyler took a different approach to the character of Billy, drawing on the fears he believes everyone has. “In life we’re scared to do a lot of things. If anything scares a human being it’s stepping out of the comfort zone,” Cyler says. “I feel like Billy really kind of shows people the way of getting out of themselves. He’s used to being alone but now he has to face this fear of going out and actually meeting somebody else.”
He also put himself in the place of people watching the movie. “There’s a lot the audience will say during the movie,” Cyler says. “A lot of things they went to portray without being kicked out of the theatre. All of us, especially Billy, have that moment where we say what the audience wants to say.”
Both actors credit Israelite for helping them through the emotions of the film and finding their characters. Before filming began Israelite blocked out two weeks of rehearsal where he worked with the actors both together and one on one, “In the one on ones it was a lot of talking to them about their lives and their experiences so when we were on set I could recall some of that for them,” Israelite says. “Oh you know when you told me about x, I think it’s sort of this kind of moment. That’s the kind of thing that I do to really ground them.”
Lin observed that during filming, “Sometimes Dean would get into the scene even more than we did. We would hear this raw animal roar sometimes coming from behind the cameras and we knew that’s Dean. Or after an intense, emotional scene you’d see him crying.”
Cyler recalls, during a particularly frigid shooting night, Israelite reassured the actors, ”I know it’s cold but just act like it’s just me and y’all out there.” He goes on to add:
“That’s one thing I really loved about Dean. He’s so whole hearted. He loves actors. When he does have these talks with us he’s like, ‘I got y’all. If everything else fails it’s y’all and me. It’s us six.’”
Cyler jokes that Isrealite should be the sixth Ranger, “Dean would look good as a Power Ranger.”
Lin was thrilled about how Israelite handled their characters and that they were all able to portray three dimensional people who aren’t your archetypical superheroes, “that are super suave or super cool but something kids can really relate to in this modern day and age.”
While Israelite dug deep with the actors to find new dimensions to the characters, he also made sure to never forget the roots of the original series.
“The characters were an expansion of those original five. Once we have the spirit of who they are and the spirit of how they were in the show, now we can just dig depper and and furthur.”
Digging deeper while keeping the spirit alive, says Lin, “will bring back fans and what they felt when they first saw the Power Rangers and why they still love the Power Rangers so much.”
The Power Rangers movie opens March 24, 2017.
Shamus Kelley thinks Billy and Zack are happening! Follow him on Twitter!