“Saban’s Power Rangers” is a fun, cool reimagining of the popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise directed by Dean Israelite from a script by John Gatins that brings new layers and dimensions to the story. Israelite grew up watching the Power Rangers on South African television and was always a huge fan. He brings an inspiring yet grounded vision that marries more realism to the original concept while staying true to the spirit of the characters. The new movie is a pitch perfect combination of nostalgia and now, with a positive message and diverse characters, including one on the spectrum and another questioning their sexuality. It explores issues that today’s teenagers can totally relate to.
At the film’s recent press day, Israelite, Gatins and cast members Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader, Ludi Lin, Becky G, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler revealed how the actors trained for their roles, the challenge of rebooting a franchise that would appeal to diehard fans as well as a young new audience, how the script served as an origin story that combines good character development with awesome action, why Banks wanted the villainous Rita Repulsa to raise the stakes for the Rangers with the right balance of scary and sexy, how she learned to speak alien fluently, and how the Power Ranger characters serve as role models for a new generation.
Check out what they had to tell us in the interview below:
This film is not only huge fun, but it’s stunt heavy with lots of fight choreography and underwater sequencing. For all the young actors, can each of you talk about the training that you had to go through to get physically conditioned for the role?
RJ CYLER: We all trained in our prospective living environments. Becky and I trained at 87Eleven. It was mostly physical training and then also stunt training, which consisted of being able to respect distances and also knowing that your partner in the scene is your partner and your safety and theirs are most important, so we can keep everybody safe without bloody noses. Then, we got to Vancouver for production and we trained for choreography. Our stunt team was really good and they made us feel safe and made us safe doing our stunts, even though harnesses are still one of the most uncomfortable things.
NAOMI SCOTT: Becky and I trained before we got to Vancouver. It was more to do with having the stamina to get through the shoot and for us to be strong. I don’t think it was necessarily purely an aesthetic thing. At the end of the day, we’re all playing teenagers in school. I mean, not every teenager looks like Ludi Lin. We can only try. That was really important. Becky and I talked about it, especially for us, as girls, that we wanted to be normal girls.
BECKY G: We wanted to look real.
DACRE MONTGOMERY: I wanted to look as ripped as possible. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t come from sports or a physically fit background. Spending two and a half months in training in the lead up to shooting was amazing. I learned so much about my body, my flexibility, and my diet. Yes, there was the stamina to go through the shoot, but also to learn how to be safe on set, and the choreography and the stunts were so important.
BECKY G: Definitely. I think we should take a moment of silence as well for all the teenage girls that fainted every time the boys posted shirtless selfies. At one point, we were going to print out pictures of their six packs and then take pictures of them and then post them. It was interesting. I grew up in Inglewood, so the concept of fighting was very natural. It’s like RJ said, this person is not your opponent. They’re your partner. Learning to fight for camera and stacking and safety zones and safety boxes and announcing, “Okay, I’m getting on the wires now and I’m heading up,” all that was very new for a lot of us. But, it was so much fun more than anything.
LUDI LIN: For myself, I don’t think of training as training. It’s nothing. It’s not something that’s hard for me to do. I think of it as playing, so I can do it all the time. I can do it for half an hour if I have it, but I can also do it for six hours if you’re good to me. I learned that sometimes I overplay and I overtrain. I believe when we were on set and we did some camera tests, they had a problem with my man arms. Obviously, we played those too much.
For Dean and John, with your attempt in rebooting this franchise as far as design, looks, costume, and tone go, did you have concerns about alienating some of the purist fans? What were some of your efforts to prevent that from happening?
DEAN ISRAELITE: I grew up with the show. It’s my childhood, too. I would call myself a lapsed fan because I grew up on it and grew away from it. That made me feel like I had a true north all the time in terms of what I would want to see in a reboot of it. I just used that as kind of true north. I’ve gotten this question a lot about were we nervous when we 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 if we kept the spirit of what the original show was in terms of the feeling, in terms of the warmth and the joy and the heart that I think epitomizes the original show, if we were true to that, then I thought we would have a lot of latitude. We were just excited about the reimagining and hoped that if we did all of that properly and stayed true that the diehard fans are still going to appreciate it.
JOHN GATINS: The only thing I’ll add to that is just to say that we wanted to honor both the original series, but also try to put it in a world that we thought a young audience could recognize themselves in as well.
For the actors, with the wealth of resources that you have with the TV show and then also the script, did you let the script talk to you or did you go back and re-watch the show for inspiration? What was your process?
ELIZABETH BANKS: I just wanted to say a big thank you to Dean and the studio, because I think there was a huge incentive from the creatives to add our own touch. I’m a newcomer, so what do I know? But, that’s pretty fortunate. We were pretty lucky to have had that opportunity to put our own little splice into the roles and bring our own touch.
BECKY G: To add to that, Dean and I talked about it a lot, but we made a conscious decision not to revisit those things, because I wanted to take that impression that it first made on me, and how it’s inspired me and stuck with me, and then build off of that. What intrigued me the most when I had the first conversation about the script and my character with Dean was, that although these names may sound familiar, you are meeting our characters for the first time, and it’s taking place now in 2017 with really relevant and current issues that, like John said, a lot of kids can identify with and somehow relate to one of our characters in some kind of way.
SCOTT: For me, I wanted to start fresh.
LIN: I grew up with the original Power Rangers series, and when I read the script, it struck me as an origin story of these kids who get to go deeper into their backgrounds. For the TV series, I found that people have a lot of time to grow to love these characters through each episode, while in the script you really have to dig deep to make them fall in love with and relate to the characters within this movie. What I did is I didn’t go back to the original American series, but I did go back to watch a few episodes of the original Super Sentai series from the Japanese TV show. It inspired me to think about how different things could be, because in that show everything was different. The Yellow Ranger was a man. It gave me a lot of motivation to actually put my own creativity into these characters rather than follow some convention or memory.
Elizabeth, your Rita Repulsa is pretty scary. Did you feel any pressure? What was your approach?
BECKY G: This is the sexiest we’ve ever seen Rita Repulsa. I think that’s dope. The aesthetic and everything goes together so well. I thought it was sick.
BANKS: This script is pretty different. We conceived of the character in a really modern way from when she was so campy in the past. I loved the Rita Repulsa in Mighty Morphin and the Power Rangers because she’s so larger than life. She’s insane and she’s got this crazy laugh. I wanted to preserve some of that energy in the character, but also I had to deal with what was on the page in front of me. I felt it was really important that these guys felt like they were up against real stakes, that she really was threatening and didn’t give a flying crap about them, humanity, Earth, their cars, or their parents. None of this makes any sense to her. She’s an alien. She’s 65 million years old.
BILL HADER: I’ve got to give Elizabeth huge props. She learned that language. She fully could speak Altarian. I had to do it phonetically and I could not do it. And then, the whole time, Dean was like, “Well, Elizabeth, you know, she learned it.” The whole time I’m watching her and thinking, “She did it and she’s really good. It’s like her first language.” What she did was super hard.
BANKS: I skyped with a woman who created our language whose entire job was to come up with a fake language.
ISRAELITE: Bill didn’t skype with her.
BANKS: Bill didn’t skype with her?
HADER: No. Then, I thought if I don’t get this right, someone from the planet might be in the audience.
BANKS: I’ll be honest. I only did it because I was told, and this might not be true, that Bryan Cranston learned the language.
HADER: No, no. He was doing it phonetically. He did not sound the way you did. That was really awesome. I don’t know how you did it.
Elizabeth, does the outfit have a psychological effect on your performance?
BANKS: Oh yeah. Of course. For sure, it does, just like all of the hair and the make-up. I wear prosthetics in this movie as well, which I’ve never done before and may never do again. It changes your role. I like to sleep in the make-up chair because I’m there for four hours. When I wake up and I look in the mirror, it’s a totally different person sitting there. I never feel like the character until I’m walking in their boots and carrying the staff and all of it. It changes your body language and how you’re perceived in the world and everything. Also, it made my ass look really good.
LIN: I can attest to that actually. The first time I met Elizabeth on set, she was literally in costume, great ass and all. She says it affects her performance, but it definitely affects our performance as well just seeing the whole thing on display in front of us.
One of the great things about Power Rangers is its diversity. This movie has characters that are not just different colors of skin, but also has someone on the spectrum and someone who’s questioning their sexuality. What was the inspiration for boldly going with that and what was it like playing that?
CYLER: It was exciting to be able to play a character that was on the spectrum mostly because it challenged me to learn about something that I had no idea about. It was like starting school over again. Also, it rekindled a friendship from my high school years. I called my friend, Andre, to get the inside, because Andre is on the spectrum, but he’s one of the most brilliant guys I’ve ever come into contact with. It was really cool to be able to step into that world and do that role justice. It’s something that a lot of people don’t understand, but we’re all affected by it in some way. It was cool to be able to show how the world reacts to people that are on the spectrum and also how people that are on the spectrum react to the world.
BECKY G: Personally, as a new actress, I want to be very aware of what messages I’m taking on and what message this character is carrying. I feel like this movie is so diverse in so many ways. First off, the colors of our skins and where we come from are very different, and that isn’t even mentioned in the movie because it doesn’t matter. We’re all equal and I think that’s amazing. And not only that, we’re diverse as far as genders go. You have two female leads in the Power Rangers who are working with three male leads and we say, “Together, we’re more. Without one, we’re not the same.” That’s awesome as well, being obviously all about that girl power. It’s awesome to know that there is going to be young women watching this and saying, “Hey, she looks like me” or “I could do that, too.” Then, as far as Trini and her identity issues, as far as her figuring out who she is, I think that’s something very relevant and very current to our generation. We deal with self-identity issues, cyber bullying, and being on the spectrum has a special place in my heart. My little brother, Alex, was diagnosed with autism at a very young age and [it’s great] to know that he’s going to watch this movie and be like, “That’s me,” and he can identify himself in that character. All we can ask for is for people to share a positive message like that. We need that right now more than ever, for sure. It’s truly an honor to be a part of all of this.
I had never seen the Power Rangers before and I had a blast. To me, this is like “Breakfast Club 2017.” For Naomi and Becky, after you read the script, how did you want to go about making the character your own?
SCOTT: With the Pink Ranger, you think of this kind of valley girl. I don’t know what comes to mind, but for me, my responsibility is just to do the character justice. When I got the script, I was like, “Okay, who is Kimberly and what’s she going through?” She’s not perfect. She does something that she regrets, but it’s how does she learn from that mistake. These aren’t perfect kids, as we’ve said. They’re all going through things. That’s how I view it. I just want to do the character justice. It’s how she learns from her mistakes, rather than just being one thing. We’re not all one stereotype. We have different layers going on.
BECKY G: As somebody who worked with your character, building Trini actually had a lot to do with talking with Naomi and how she was building Kimberly. One thing that we always talked about was the sisterhood and how do we make that real. And also, how do we not make it seem like we’re pitted against each other, because two women can be successful in one thing. It doesn’t have to be one better than the other, or one prettier than the other, or one cooler than the other. I loved the contrast between our two characters and how they still, at the end, come together, especially as young women. That’s how we broke down that barrier because you have the total outsider and then you have the queen bee.
Bill, the Power Rangers and Rita got to don this cool armor to get into character. I was just wondering what were the challenges you faced playing a character that doesn’t allow you to physically appear on screen?
HADER: I ran out of voices so I just did my own voice. He’s really excited. He’s been waiting for a long time. And to be honest, I’m being totally honest, I watched these guys acting. I watched their acting and it was just like we were in a scene together. I’m watching what they’re doing and I’m just reacting to what they’re doing. They’re really good. They’re really, really great. I just kept saying that to Dean. There’s probably tons of audio of me in the middle of a scene going, “God, that was good! That was great.”
ISRAELITE: I thought you were talking about your performance.
HADER: No. Yeah. Aren’t I fantastic? No, but they were really good. I’ve done a lot of animation. I’ve done a lot of these things. It is hard when you’re just in a little room and they’re going, “Okay, so it’s a spaceship and there’s this and that, whatever.” But, getting to watch these guys made it real easy.
John, this is a great film. You did such a great job writing the screenplay. Where did you come up with all the inspiration for the relationships between the teenagers? Are they experiences you drew on from your background growing up?
GATINS: Thank you. The first teenage movie that I worked on was “Varsity Blues,” and that was another movie where we had this collection of kids who have to find each other, overcome some obstacles, and things like that. Dean and I, in trying to come up with these characters, wanted to reflect what the world would be today. Somebody else referenced “Breakfast Club,” which is an amazing movie from my youth that I loved. What would those issues and what would those characters be today? What would they be facing? The idea that these guys have already talked about were things we wanted to bake into what we were trying to represent today.
Dean and John, from a fanboy perspective, this movie clearly takes some inspiration from the first episode of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show, “Day of the Dumpster.” How did you balance wanting to have those references for the fans with also wanting to have a good movie for the general audience?
ISRAELITE: It was all about conceptually did it fit into the movie. If there was a reason for it and there was a philosophy behind it, we felt like then it would be germane to the movie. For all of those fans that would get those references, it would mean a lot. For everyone else, it still feels organic to whatever is going on so it won’t bump you out of the movie. That was the way we approached things like that.
GATINS: We definitely wanted to honor all of the things that the fans have enjoyed for so many years. Obviously, like Deans says, there’s Easter eggs in there. I know you’re nodding, going, “Yeah, I saw that and I saw that,” which is great because there will be a younger set that won’t totally get that yet, but may get invited back into it.
Is there a message that you hope kids will get from the movie?
LIN: I do hope a lot of young kids go and see this movie. I hope that they feel what I felt when I watched superheroes on screen as a kid, and I hope that through this movie they get something more. The most important message I want them to get is that it’s okay to be yourself. Your imperfections are the things that make you unique and they’re the things that make you stand out. As long as you find people around you that are good, that accept you for your imperfections and accept you for yourself, you guys can get together and do something better.
“Saban’s Power Rangers” opens nationally on March 24th.