You might know him from "Surf Ninjas", "Rush Hour 2", "The Rundown", but the most famous role he is known from the 90's is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He played the character Keno in the second film, and was also Donatello in the first film. Ernie Reyes Jr. was nice enough to take time out of his day to talk with me regarding his roles in the turtle movies and his reaction to the new movie being developed. Part 2 will come Monday when Ernie talks about his Strikeforce career and how he has worked with a few MMA fighters.
How did you get involved with the Turtles movies?
Well Pat Johnson who I have known since I was 8 years old from the Martial Arts tournament circuit was the stunt coordinator for the Turtles movie. He had four guys from Hong Kong to come over from there to the United States to work on TMNT. One of the guys got hurt in the eleventh hour and Pat called me and said you would be the perfect guy to step in.
I was senior in high school and just turned 18 and even though I have been training Martial Arts for a few years, I was still surprised. I was familiar with the TMNT brand before the movies came out due to my younger brother. He had all the toys and was an avid watcher of the cartoon but the brand wasn’t as big as it got after the movies were released. I haven’t done a lot of work since my ABC show “Side Kicks” and I said sure I’ll do it.
I was excited and I knew it was going to be huge when I got onto set. With Jim Henson on set I just had a feeling it was going to be big and sure enough it happened.
Now while wearing the turtle’s suits how hot or tight were they during a production day?
A production day would go 12-14 hours a day and we were in North Carolina during the middle of summer. It was hard work, and there were two units filming, so I was literally losing five pounds of water a day. My body temperature got up to 102 a day and the suits were skin tight. The only positive was that I didn’t have to wear the animatronic head that the other actors wore. I had a lighter head when I did the action scenes, so that was a small positive.
Talking with the director and producers, was there always a plan to shoot a sequel to the first movie?
I don’t think they did when they started the first film, but when they started the footage coming back I think that was the green light. It was mentioned to me by the producers they were going to try to bring me back for the next one but nothing was really set in stone. I think they had a good idea that they had a hit on their hands. The stuff that was used was well ahead of the materials being used in other movies and that’s why it’s still a good film to this day.
Now in the second film you stepped out of the shell literally and got an acting part playing Keno. How did that role be introduced to you?
Well I got to know the producers from Golden Harvest really well and they were really happy with the work I did on the first movie. So the very next summer I got a call from my agent saying they were sending over a script and they made a role specifically for me. I read it and I was like this is a dream come true and the movie was becoming a huge success. Another positive was I didn’t have to wear the costume and dying of heat exhaustion.
Most of the stuff was filmed in North Carolina, but we were in New York for two weeks filming all over the place. April’s apartment, me running across the bridge and the opening scene with me on the scooter was all filmed in New York.
It’s really amazing that the Ninja Turtles has such a following and still affects me to this day. The last three or four years I just walk down the street and people turn to me and go “aren’t you that kid from the Ninja Turtles movie?” These movies have given me the inspirational spirit to develop my own things such as my upcoming comic book. The turtles have affected my life in more ways than one.
Now with third movie was there any contact from the movie creators to bring you back for the last part of the trilogy?
Yea they contacted me but I was working on “Surf Ninjas” at the same time and I had very little time to do another movie. From the feedback I’ve heard the third one was the worst of the three. I know they go to Japan and wear Samurai suits but I have never watched it, so my knowledge is the bare minimum. And for good reasons it seems it’s a good thing I never made an effort to watch it.
With Michael Bay taking over the Turtles franchise and rebooting the series, many fans have been showing their disdain towards his ideas. What is your opinion of the reboot of the TMNT film series?
I was brought in by two producers before Michael Bay came in to recruit actors for the new foot clan. This was about two years ago and this was an open casting call. With movies things change and then Michael Bay has come aboard along with his production company Platinum Dunes.
In the beginning nobody was really thinking about a TMNT movie after the last one. The last one was an animated and it kept the series alive, but wasn’t necessarily well received. With somebody as big as Michael Bay it shows that the turtles are a big franchise that they needed somebody big to bring them back to the big screen. Personally, I’m excited and awesome that they are coming back because I was a big part of the first turtles and want to see which direction it goes.
In terms of the whole alien issue, I think there has been a lot of confusion. I have a lot of confidence in the producers and I have faith they will stay true to the mythology of the originals films. With Kevin Eastman aboard he is a great mind and developing the comic book he will keep the turtles to what they were and still are.
With the uproar I think the fans are passionate about the turtles which is a great thing and don’t want to see another remake be an insult to the originals. I think the movie is going to be awesome and be introduced to a whole new generation.
I don’t think they are going to short change themselves with this new movie and I really do believe they have their heart set on making a great film.
Now has anybody from the new team contacted you regarding the new film and being a part of it in some capacity?
I haven’t heard from anybody from the new crop of as of yet. I know Scott Mednick and Galen Walker are still on the project but I haven’t heard from Michael Bay or his camp. I would love to be a part of it, but I don’t know how much room there is for a Keno character. I know the director has said that he wants to keep the things that are dear to the fans.
Keno was a great character and a big part of the franchise so hopefully they bring him back, even if I’m not the one playing him. I would love to be involved in any way they wanted me to.