Interview with Greg Cipes, TV’s Michelangelo

We chat with Greg Cipes (Michelangelo) of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles about the show, his childhood, Halloween costumes, and cowabunga/booyakasha.

Greg Cipes is Michelangelo; both on television (Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series) and in real life. He’s a sweet and caring person; as soon as our phone line was connected, he started asking about my day and wishing me a good morning. He’s full of joy and zen-like thoughts, as you’ll see throughout the interview. And of course, he loves pizza (sprouted buckwheat crust with avocado and green algea). I’m craving raw food now, so enjoy this interview while I make a grocery run for spirulina.

Den of Geek: As a child of the 80s, were you a viewer of the original TMNT cartoon?

Greg Cipes: Yeah, it was my favorite show as a kid and still is. Every Halloween for six years I was a Ninja Turtle and Mikey was my favorite. The turtles really made me who I am today. They got me into martial arts, meditation, surfing, skateboarding; big time influence on who I am today.

I probably got my first surfboard because I remember watching the turtles surf through the sewers and I was like, “I wanna do that,” and my mom eventually got me a surfboard for Christmas, probably at the age of 9. And skateboards as well and then I just never stopped. I became third in the US as a junior pro surfer. It’s a surprise, but I’m also like, wow, this is kind of all perfectly connected.

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DoG: How much of yourself do you see in Mikey?

GC: A lot, really. I get texts from Ciro Nieli (executive producer) all the time. He has to put a lot more work in the show than me. I show up and do my lines and get to be an actor, where Ciro Nieli and his crew kind of have to be there every day, all day, 24 hours a day. Sometimes he texts me, “Man, I feel like I get to hang out with you all day long because you are Mikey. When I’m animating, I’m drawing you, and I’m listening to your voice, you’re there.” There’s not much a difference between the two of us except Mikey definitely could kick my butt in real life.

DoG: For Halloween, were you always Michelangelo? Did you go as any of the other turtles?

GC: It was mostly Mikey… Raph… Leo, you know what, I’ve been them all, actually. I really have. I’ve been all the turtles. I just remember by all my weapons, I’ve had all the weapons.

DoG: You were in elementary school when the show came out; did you often play as the turtles at recess/after school?

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GC: Oh, for sure I did. It’s been a long time so I can’t really remember what I did during recess. [Laughter] Role playing games as far as I can remember always had to do with the turtles. I loved the nunchucks. I always had nunchucks and sai and I had a walking stick that I found when I would go camping and would use that as my Donnie staff. Swords were a little harder to come by so Leo was the harder one to be.

DoG: You’re very involved in nature. Do you still camp a lot? Are you involved in outdoor activities?

GC: I do as much outdoor stuff as I can. What I’ve done is I bought a house in the middle of Hollywood but, I live in the forest. I literally live in an area that looks kind of like where I camped as a kid, but in the middle of Hollywood. It’s called Laurel Canyon. It’s beautiful. There’s creeks and trees everywhere and there’s definitely more traffic and more houses, but ultimately I live in the wilderness, I live in the woods, in nature. It’s either I have to be in the trees or in the ocean, otherwise I lose my mind. I have to get connected with nature, otherwise I don’t feel very good. And that’s what life’s about, feeling good, so nature knows best for me.

I found a turtle that became my best friend as a kid. Interestingly enough, his name was Spike, which is the turtle’s name on our show. I found him while camping in the Georgia Mountains on the side of the road.

DoG: In the recording booth you’re very active. How often do you get to record with the rest of the cast and how often do you crack them up?

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GC: I would say 90% of the time we’re together and sometimes we don’t even get through episodes because we’re laughing too much. We don’t even get through a whole episode sometimes because we’re having so much fun, and that comes across. You feel it when you watch it. There’s an organic connectivity between all of us. The scripts that Brandon Auman is writing are so good we’ve become this well-oiled machine that allows us to have even more fun, so it’s wild.

DoG: Have you recorded the episode with the 80s turtles? How was that experience, working with your childhood idols?

GC: I thought it was really cool that they brought them in and to honor the different phases of the turtles, but I couldn’t remember what Mikey even sounded like in the original show. I didn’t go back and reference it when I auditioned for Mikey. I just brought whatever Mikey did for me in real life to the character. I was told they were coming in and I was like, “That’s awesome, that’s awesome.” So there’s this big poster at Nickelodeon Studios of the new show in the recording booth and we all signed it, right. And when the turtles came in, [Townsend Coleman] signed right on top of my Mikey! Like, he’s messing with me! I signed to the side of Mikey, and he drew all over the character with his signature and wrote, “Cowabunga!”

DoG: No, It’s gotta be booyakasha.

GC: It is Booyakasha, and kids love it. I do a lot of outreach programs for kids. I just sat with 4,000 kids this past weekend for an event where they bring underprivileged kids together and give them professionals to show them potential career paths. They brought me in and it’s so wild and overwhelming and amazing to see how kids love our show. The first thing I said was, “Booyakasha,” and I go, “You all know who that is?” and all four thousand kids are all “MIKEY!” So booyakasha, really is a very powerful catchphrase. I think it is bigger than cowabunga is now. Kids don’t know what cowabunga is. But for me, when I was a kid, cowabunga was a big deal. So for me to have been able to create the booyakasha catchphrase is pretty rad and to see how kids love it and love saying it. It really means something special too. It’s a positive affirmation; it means bringing love in to the now, in to the situation. Booyakasha.

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DoG: I love that positivity! It’s really great that you do all that charity work.

GC: It’s becoming my main focus. It’s what makes me feel best. I love being around children because they are unconditioned and ultimately they’re what Mikey is. They’re innocent, they’re wild, they’re free, they just want to play, they want to have fun, they want to live life and when you’re around that it inspires you as an adult to get back to your roots. So it’s kind of all I want to do. Whenever I get the opportunity to go speak to kids I take that, because it makes me feel so good to share with them what I learned and also honor who they are, which is something they should never lose. Kids are the future and I let them know that but I also let them know that there are going to be things that might take them away from what they love and I let them know that [you] don’t do anything that you don’t love because if you do what you love you wind up having it and you get it in a way you never could have imagined. Better than you could have imagined, every time. Getting the role of Mikey is an example of that.

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