Just last month, the most vaunted assembly of mutated turtle crime-fighters turned 25 years old. Mikey, Raph, Donny and Leo first crawled out of a sewer of toxic waste in 1984. The world would never be the same. With the help of their fabled master, Splinter, they honed their skills and slowly took the world by storm.
This culminated with their peak of notoriety in the late 80’s and early 90’s which included a syndicated cartoon show, a hit live action film, and a best-selling line of action figures.
But, the 21st century hasn’t seen these turtle boys slow down. A revamped cartoon series and a CGI film have kept them at the cutting edge of mutant crime fighting. We at SoD had a chance to sit down with Raphael, the ever-brooding and dissident member of the group to get his thoughts on life, his legacy, the Foot Clan, and the future.
SoD: So, how does it feel to be 25?
Raph: Ha. Good. We are a little slower — maybe we can’t do everything physically that we could in our teen years — but we make up for it with wisdom and experience. A GPS tracking “bug” on a fleeing suspect doesn’t hurt, either.
SoD: What do you remember about those early years before you guys really hit it big?
Raph: Well, I personally loved those times when it was just the four of us against the world. We didn’t catch every bad guy but that was okay. It was really quite a romantic time when you think about it. Swashbuckling, nearly dying every night. Exhilarating really. Look, everybody knows I had my share of issues later on but in the early days everyday was an adventure. I wouldn’t trade those times for anything.
SoD: What did you think the first time you saw Shredder?
Raph: That the dude needed a new tailor. Seriously though, when you’re in the moment, you don’t think about stuff like that. You are just trying to keep your wits about you. The training takes over at that point, you know?
SoD: What was you’re favorite moment from those early successes?
Raph: The first movie. To this day, I love it dearly. I think it has held up very well. It will stand the test of time.
SoD: What exactly did you go through after TMNT really hit it big in the early 90’s?
Raph: I became really distant from the group. It was an ego thing and probably a teenager thing. I think a lot of it was based in immaturity. I felt I had all the answers and that the others were often times holding me back or not respecting my position on certain directions that TMNT should go.
SoD: What did you want to do differently from the group at that time?
Raph: Things were happening so fast. We were getting all kinds of offers. Leo wanted to do the live action thing. We loved the first movie. We had a blast making it. But, after that it was all Leo wanted to do. Some of us were reluctant to give up on some of our other endeavors. Honestly, I was also never a fan of the whole merchandising and action figure thing. It was like selling out, you know? Plus, it’s kids in sweat shops making the stuff. Just bad news all around. I voiced my opinion on these things — which is well-documented. Maybe I said some things I shouldn’t have but, again, it was a crazy time.
SoD: What was the relationship like amongst you guys at that time?
Raph: Nonexistent really. We’d show up, do our thing, and then go back to our respective lives. We had all moved out of the underground lair. I had my penthouse in Manhattan. Mikey was in the Bronx. Donny had a place in the Village. I mean it was a business relationship, pure and simple.
SoD: What was Splinter’s reaction to all this? Even he couldn’t keep you together?
Raph: Look I love Splinter. You’re not going to get me to say anything bad about him. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. None of us would. But, when things were going crazy in the 90’s, Splinter was — like all of us — being pulled in a million different directions. He was developing his line of self-help books and tapes. He had a martial arts workout video to promote. He was getting offers to advise all kinds of different celebs. Most notably, Cobain and Tarantino, as well as some of up-and-coming crime fighters like ARBBH. When he could, he helped. But, ultimately it was up to us to sort it out for ourselves. That was Splinter’s way. And, in the end, it made us stronger. That’s the genius of Splinter.
SoD: When did you guys hit rock bottom?
Raph: The third live action movie was an utter disaster. I mean it’s a living testament to how unhappy we all were at the time. We all knew the script was crap but we didn’t care. We cashed the checks and went through the motions. To this day, if you watch closely you can see it. Donny doesn’t finish his roundhouse kicks. Mikey is basically reading his lines off cue cards in every scene. I walked off the set at least ten times. Leo wouldn’t have it though, and eventually they convinced me to come back.
SoD: What finally happened to turn it all around for you guys? Was there a single moment you characterize as the turning point?
Raph: Probably the whole “Venus de Milo” incident. You know we genuinely thought we had a baby sister…excuse me…this is a little emotional for me…and that initially rallied us back together. But, when we found out it was a scam, it really hit all of us hard. We realized that we were one of a kind and that we only had each other to rely upon. The others may disagree, but I believe this was the point where we all began to set aside our differences.
SoD: Tell me about the CGI film-making experience you guys went with in 2007.
Raph: Very cool, man. They put these white ping pong ball things all over our body and faces. Then we go through most of our basic moves so they can capture it all on the computer. I mean Donny just flipped over the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, there is no substitute for live action. I think we all agree that is the best format but it takes so much time and effort to get our schedules coordinated, etc. I think we all mostly prefer the new CGI medium over straight old-school animation. It’s a little more work for us but I think it gives the fans a much more accurate capture of what we do. Leo would disagree but he is a traditionalist when it comes to these things. If it were up to him, it would be live or nothing.
SoD: Any truth to the rumors that you and April O’Neil are getting back together?
Raph: Ha. I knew you would go there. April and I are friends. We always will be. When you go through what we did, you will always share that common bond.
SoD: Not exactly a “no,” Raph.
SoD: How does Casey Jones feel about all this?
Raph: The “Casey Jones” thing is funny. April gets this all the time you know. In our films and cartoons, it’s always Casey and April, April and Casey. Understandably, people are confused sometimes between what’s life and what’s art. Casey and April started out as paired romantically in these stories because the powers-that-be felt the world just wasn’t ready for a human-turtle relationship. Which is a topic for another day. But, true fans know that April and Casey were never actually a couple in real life.
SoD: What does the future hold for TMNT?
Raph: We are staying busy this year promoting the whole “25th Anniversary” thing. After that, who knows? I know Leo is really excited about his non-profit work with his charity “Turtle Power.” Mikey is, of course, debuting his new Cirque du Soleil show “Tortue” at Caesar’s Palace this fall. Donny loves poking around in his shop on his ranch in Montana. I mean, we will see where it goes. I think we are all in a really good place right now.