Perhaps one of the most famous child stars in modern history, Ricky Schroder has evolved into an impressive adult actor, with TV credits ranging from the “Lonesome Dove” mini-series to NBC’s “NYPD Blue” to Fox’s gritty “24.” Now, he takes his first crack at romantic comedy as he stars in CMT’s first original movie “To the Mat” (premieres Aug 17) about a washed up minor-league pro wrestler who finds love while running a wrestling school in Georgia. And as it turns out, Schroder’s a whole lot more than an actor: He writes screenplays, directs movies and country music videos, and is even shopping a TV reality show sponsored by the U.S. Army. CableFAX Exec Editor Michael Grebb sat down with Schroder at TCA this month.
 
CableFAX: So a TV movie vs. the big screen… A lot different?
 
Schroder: Yeah. You’re on a timeline. There’s no pickup days to get stuff you missed, so you have to get it now because you’re not going to get it later.
 
CableFAX: Do you have prepare more than normal?
 
Schroder: I always prepare. I was just trained to prepare, show up prepared for work. I direct too, and that’s just one of the things I demand from my actors. It’s such a great job that we have in this business—actors, directors and writers. There are so many people that want to be in it. And if you’re not serious about it, move over. Let somebody else who is serious have that shot. That’s just how I’ve been trained.
 
CableFAX: So why did you want to be involved in “To the Mat”
 
Schroder: To the Mat was just a great script, written by the same writer as “Sweet Home Alabama.” The wit, the humor and the world of minor-league professional wrestling is a really rich world with interesting characters. I got a chance to wear spandex and face paint. [LAUGHS].
 
CableFAX: So are you a wrestling fan?
 
Schroder: I’ve been to Wrestlemanias. I’ve met Andre the Giant. I’ve met Hulk Hogan. I love the theatrics of it, the dramas, the villains. That’s all so appealing and interesting. I even remember back to the days of professional WWE wrestling when some people believed it was real. But what’s interesting is that these guys are amazing athletes. The moves they’re able to do without hurting each other. It’s phenomenal. It’s impressive. Jumping on top of each other from the top rope. It’s amazing. And I got to do that. I got to jump off the top rope. I back flipped.
 
CableFAX: No stunt double? That was you?
 
Schroder: I actually did it. I didn’t even train.
 
CableFAX: You just did it?
 
Schroder: I just did it. They were never going to let me.
 
CableFAX: Wasn’t insurance an issue?
 
Schroder: The producer wasn’t there. That’s the only way I got to do it.
 
CableFAX: This is CMT’s first original movie. Have you worked on anything like this before?
 
Schroder: I’ve worked in the music video world. Some country music videos, I’ve directed them. So I’ve had some of my music videos on CMT. I directed Alison Kraus in “Whiskey Lullaby.” It won music video of the year. [Schroder didn’t mention it, but he also starred in the video, which is quite poignant. Check it out here].
 
CableFAX: So you must be a big country music fan.
 
Schroder: I’m a huge country fan. I actually put Tim McGraw in his first movie, a movie called “Black Cloud” that I wrote and directed. I’m a New Yorker originally, but I moved to Colorado when I was 20 after I did “Lonesome Dove” and I bought a ranch and moved there. That’s when I was exposed to country music, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
 
CableFAX: Your son Luke was just here at TCA. As you know, he’s starring in a GMC original movie “A Mile in His Shoes” as a gifted baseball player with Asperger Syndrome.
 
Schroder: I heard he did great.
 
CableFAX: He did, and he was talking about the ranch because someone asked what his dad thought of him going into acting.
 
Schroder: The thing I tell my kids is don’t make it your only choice in life. You’ve got to have options. You can have your acting dreams, but you’ve got to have something else too.
 
CableFAX: And on the subject of acting, let’s get back on this CMT project. This is a big change for you. Things like “NYPD Blue” and “24” were more dramatic and frankly much grittier. How did it feel to suddenly switch gears and do a rom-com? Was it refreshing?
 
Schroder: Totally refreshing. I haven’t had a chance to do romantic comedy ever, so this was something fun, new and fresh. And working with [co-star] Laura Bell [Bundy] was a riot. She’s a comedic genius really. She’s just so funny. Her timing is amazing, and it’s just so refreshing. Some of those days on 24 and NYPD Blue, you come home just exhausted.
 
CableFAX: The word is that 24 was especially grueling.
 
Schroder: It can be grueling. But this time, I came home from work laughing after a really fun day.
 
CableFAX: Would you want to do a TV series again at this point?
 
Schroder: Absolutely. The right thing? For sure. I don’t know what the right thing yet is, but I love working.
 
CableFAX: Sit com or drama?
 
Schroder: I’m open to all of it. The sit-com thing is nice because you can have a life. You’re not there at all hours. A one-hour drama, it’s all consuming. But I’m open to both. It all comes down to the writing and who wants to be in business with me.
 
CableFAX: How much stuff comes your way?
 
Schroder: Stuff comes my way. It’s a competitive world out there though. But what’s interesting is that a lot of folks from film have been coming to television.
 
CableFAX: Because it’s so hard to get films made now?
 
Schroder: Right. It’s either the big blockbuster, tent pole pictures or the really tiny stuff.
 
CableFAX: If you had your choice, would it be acting or directing?
 
Schroder: It’s so hard to find good acting parts, good roles that you really want to play. You have to be so picky. The idea of being able to write my own screenplays now and put them together—I mean I just made a movie with my daughter called “Wild Hearts” that I wrote and directed.
 
CableFAX: That’s got to be fun.
 
Schroder: It’s great. So I love directing. It feels so comfortable for me to direct. I love being on a set. I grew up on a set. It’s the place I’m happiest in the world.
 
CableFAX: You did quite literally grow up on a set. What were you, nine, for “The Champ”?
 
Schroder: I was seven. I actually turned eight during The Champ.
 
CableFAX: Did you see that Smithsonian scientists recently rated your scene in The Champ in which you cry after Jon Voight’s character dies as the saddest movie scene of all time? How did you pull that off at such a young age.
 
Schroder: Well, it wasn’t acting. I can tell you that.
 
CableFAX: What do you mean?
 
Schroder: I actually feel the things I have to act. I convinced myself in my own imaginary world that he was dead. To me it was real. That’s why I think it was so authentic. I really, really, really liked Jon. He was a neat guy, and he’s still a friend of mine. So to really believe that he was dead.
 
CableFAX: And now science has declared your acting as the most emotionally disturbing in movie history.
 
Schroder: [LAUGHS] It was a beautiful love story between a boy and his dad. I can’t tell you how many guys have come up to me and said it meant so much to them because either they had that relationship with their dad or they wanted that relationship with their dad. There are a lot of mother-daughter movies made, but not a lot of father-son movies made. That’s just one of the great ones. I actually just wrote a movie that’s got some of the same kind of themes.
 
CableFAX: How many screenplays have you written at this point?
 
Schroder: Five or six. And I’ve gotten a couple of them made. I need to get into studio system so I can really get some funding to make them.
 
CableFAX: So you’ve made them independently.
 
Schroder: Independently or using my own money. It’s a risky proposition.
 
CableFAX: So what’s next for you?
 
Schroder: I’m producing a reality show for the U.S. Army called “Starting Strong.”
 
CableFAX: So it’s branded entertainment?
 
Schroder: The army owns it. And they will put it on TV.
 
CableFAX: So they’ll shop it around just like a production company.
 
Schroder: Yeah. The concept is that we take civilians into the Army and give them a week, behind-the-scenes tour of the specific job they would do in the Army—whether it’s a medic or an MP or a mechanic or a cook or an infantryman or a carpenter or a fireman or a vet—because the Army has all the same jobs. And we give them a look at what it would be like to be in the Army and doing that job.
 
CableFAX: So the Army still needs to find a network for that.
 
Schroder: I’m helping them.
 
CableFAX: Did they come to you or was the show your idea?
 

Schroder: It was my idea. And right now, I need a network partner. I’ve got 14 produced episodes with no cost to the network. The Army is a family business. Every generation, the kids and grandkids—they keep serving. But the Army wants to cast a wider net and bring more people into it. Therefore, if you expose the Army—not preconceived notions of what the Army used to be but really what it is today; it’s actually a very professionally run organization—then you’ll have more potential prospects interested in that as a career choice… and quality will go up. 

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