Q&A with original Red Power Ranger Austin St. John
For some of us, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were a morning staple. From battling the evil Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa to transforming into a Zord, the Power Rangers had many of us captivated and inspired as kids. But what if I were to tell you that the original Power Rangers aren't only back, but they're back in Orlando?
Well, it's morphin' time, fans, because the Rangers are in town at the Holiday Inn & Suites near Universal Orlando Friday through Sunday. In attendance will be original Power Rangers Austin St. John (the Red Ranger), David Yost (the Blue Ranger) and Walter Jones (the Black Ranger). A full list of all the Power Rangers present, ticket information and details about the Superhero & Toy Comic Con 2 can be found here.
The Central Florida Future caught up with St. John, who led the pack of Rangers with his Red spandex and dreamy heart of gold. He filled us in on what he's been up to since his days as a 17-year-old on set and what lies ahead now that he's hit the big 4-0. He also let us in on how he's working with UCF, and some secrets from his days on the show.
CFF: What have you been up to since the show?
St. John: I left the show in my early 20s and after that I traveled and did a lot of martial arts learning and instructing all around the world. I finished up my Bachelor's Degree in Sports Science Health Studies. Then I went into emergency medicine and I ended up working about 12 years on the street as a paramedic … Then I went to the Middle East and spent the last four years as a medic with tactical operations attached to military operations taking care of our soldiers. (St. John spent time in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.)
Related: UCF veterans reflect on service
CFF: Why the Middle East?
St. John: I hear all the time how myself or one of my co-stars inspired them to stronger or to be better or to survive, and I don't think the fans understand that I was a late teenager, young man by the time I was leaving the show and I had all these people who were looking up to me and expected so much. I don't think they understand how they inspired me to try and do something with my life that I felt was deserving of their belief and their adoration … I felt this is something [going overseas] I could be proud of and this is a way I could save lives for real instead of just playing that on TV.
CFF: Where did you graduate from college?
St. John: Concordia University.
CFF: So what's next?
St. John: A buddy of mine was like "Hey, you're not going to believe this, but you've still got fans out there." And I said, "Really?!" And sure enough I was put in touch with a convention agent, and next thing I know, holy crap: One show turned into like 20 and now I'm on a global tour and I've got three movies in the works.
CFF: What's your background in martial arts?
St. John: I've been at it since I was 5 years old. My father was into the arts and he started showing me things when I was pretty much a sperm. As time went on, my mom put me into Judo. My father taught me Kendo, which was his background. Then we traveled a lot because he was a Marine so I'd end up in a different studio the next place we moved to — sometimes starting a whole new martial art because that was what was available. It's just what I've been studying my whole life, and a long time before I got on the show.
CFF: You've been an icon for so many years, what is that like?
St. John: It's kind of hard to believe. I left Hollywood for so long, 15 years just being out and about and trying to be a man. I hated going places where people treated me like I was special. I just wanted to earn my stripes and I felt like I needed to do that, so I've never felt like an icon. I've always just tried to be like one of the guys
… Being an icon for so many people, it's just hard to express. It wows me all the time, the things that people say to me. The stories they share are insane. What do you say to someone who walks up and says "Because of you when my parents died as a child you were like a father to me. You're the reason I didn't commit suicide or you're the reason I didn't do drugs, or you're the reason I was able to deal with being bullied in school." There's a wow factor attached to that if you have any true humility and sometimes I just lack the words for a response. It blows my mind. I'm just wowed and I'm so grateful.
CFF: Tell us about your work with UCF CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities)?
St. John: First I got involved with it as a medic on the street, long before I had ever heard of CARD. I had 911 calls to people's homes, and it wasn't always the individual with ASD who was having problems. Sometimes it was the caregiver, a mom, a sister who maybe got beat up because there was social disorder and an outburst. So it's a family that deals with ASD, not just an individual. It's really tough.
… I was asked if I wanted to work with CARD and put together something with them, maybe a documentary or something where we can get information out there. And I was like "Yes, absolutely. Let's set it up." … Now we're going to shoot this documentary that we'll hopefully turn into a small series and get awareness out there, help them raise funding and give people understanding.
CFF: What was your most memorable experience on set?
St. John: I had an amazing experience at Universal Studios in 1994. We were supposed to do one live show for like a thousand people. Well, they figured out two days earlier when people were camping out in the lines to buy tickets that that wasn't going to work too well. So they changed it to five shows and moved it to the biggest auditorium they had … and there were tens of thousands who were turned away because we couldn't get them in. Police had to come in and the local highway in LA was backed up for eight miles of people trying to get off and get into the studios. Universal Studios attendance records were broken that day and they've never had attendance like that since. It was just insanity … that was wild ... That's when it hit us all really, how big the show had gotten.
CFF: What was the best part of being a Power Ranger?
St. John: I was a young kid, I got paid to do martial arts and kick butt on TV. I got paid to be a superhero, but I was still a child, especially mentally. I had so much fun doing it.
… It was heartwarming, it was amazing, it was full of adrenaline, it was full of excitement, it was full of some truly humiliating moments. The highs and lows of that roller coaster are truly indescribable.
CFF: What was the worst part of being a Power Ranger?
St. John: No privacy. I couldn't go anywhere for probably 10 years, anywhere, ever without getting bum rushed … And it wasn't the kids, it was the parents who were absolutely crazy.
CFF: Who was your favorite villain?
St. John: Probably Goldar because I spent almost my entire career kicking his butt … I think I was the only ranger to kick Goldar's butt without having to morph or put on the suit. I'm the only guy that ever fought him one-on-one in an arena sort of setting, so Goldar is near and dear. And the guy who does his voice is still a good friend of mine.
CFF: What was your favorite Zord?
St. John: Well T-Rex is near and dear to my heart. T-Rex and Red Ranger, they're kind of like mom's apple pie. Everybody's had apple pie, everybody takes it for granted, but it's always the one staple you can go back to because it never fails. It's always good. That's kind of how the T-Rex and the Red Ranger character are for me.
CFF: The costume: Really uncomfortable or surprisingly cozy?
St. John: The spandex, you slip it on, it was like, you know, wearing spandex. You had to strap some things on to keep certain parts of your anatomy from being all over the page… but wardrobe was usually pretty good about helping keep certain things out of the public view. That wasn't bad, but the helmet sucked. It was hot, it was sweaty and especially when we were trying to fight or do stunts it fogged up. You couldn't hear. You had limited vision. That was tough.
CFF: Did you ever have a crush on the Pink or Yellow Ranger?
St. John: I might have had a little crush on Trini, but it was a little one. We certainly never acted on it … We were all pretty close, the original cast, none of us ever dated each other, but Trini was always near and dear to my heart.
CFF: Out of all the cast members, who was your closest friend?
St. John: Walter Jones [the Black Ranger]. We're still buddies to this day. Probably one of my best friends.