Best known for playing Rocky DeSantos in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Power Rangers Zeo, Power Rangers Turbo and two feature films—Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie—actor and esteemed martial artist Steve Cardenas has built quite a career for himself over the years. After leaving Power Rangers due to contract disagreements, Cardenas opened up martial arts studios in Burbank, CA and Texas. In 2009, he launched a program geared toward kids at Hollywood Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in West Hollywood. Then, in 2011, he opened the Force/Balance Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Yoga school.
Additionally, Cardenas has become a regular on the convention circuit, attending his first one, Power Morphicon, in 2007. In doing so, he has reconnected with a large portion of the Power Rangers fanbase and gained quite a social media following. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Cardenas about his experience on Power Rangers, his upcoming film project The Order and his love for Game of Thrones. Check it out below!
Your role in “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was your first major acting role. What was it like for you not only as a young actor but also as a young adult to have that franchise be your introduction to the industry?
(laughs) Well, that’s exactly what it was; it was like getting thrown into the deep end, you know? I had no aspirations to be an actor or anything like that. I was just a martial artist who heard about this audition on the radio in Texas. Basically, they were like “We are looking for people who can do martial arts and gymnastics,” and I just went for it. I never dreamed that I would get the part. There were about 4,000 people there so I was blown away from the start by how many people wanted to get on the show. I was familiar with the show because I had watched the first season of it, but I really had no idea. When I got hired, I had no acting training of any kind, so to go in there and have everything be 100% on the job training was quite an experience. They hired an acting coach for me and they were very understanding on set. Overall, it was very difficult, especially with all the people behind the cameras watching your every move—it was very weird. Fortunately, everyone was cool. They understood that this was very new for me and everyone was very encouraging, which allowed me to become more comfortable.
What were some of the lessons that you learned over the course of the show in respect to acting?
Everything was so new to me. I didn’t only learn how to present myself on camera. I learned little subtle things like: you don’t want your movements to be too big because the camera catches so much so if you move too much, your head bobs so much (laughs). Anything that might seem over-the-top—stage acting, for example—you really want to try to take up as much space as possible. With the camera, you really want to hold still because the camera has to keep you in frame. So, things like that I learned, and also stuff about camera angles and lighting and hitting marks and all that other production stuff that I would have never considered. Even if I had taken acting classes, I wouldn’t have known about that kind of stuff.
I almost feel like you learn more when you’re kind of thrown into it and have to absorb stuff quickly, you know?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. That’s definitely how I am. People will often ask me: do you prefer academics or apprenticeships? And I was always one—I mean, I did fine in school and everything—but I didn’t go to college because I didn’t think I’d be able to get a degree and use it right away, you know? I had to do a lot of martial arts on the job training and, even as a young kid, I was learning not only how to do martial arts but also how to teach, deal with customers and sign people up. As I got older, I was making night deposits for my instructor. It was really a full-time job and I was learning all the ins and outs of how to run a business. So I feel like what I learned in that apprenticeship and through my martial arts training afforded me the skills needed to open up my own studio and run it well once I was able to leave “Power Rangers” and open up my own school. So, I don’t think I would have learned any of that stuff in college.
Was the atmosphere on “Power Rangers Zeo” similar to the atmosphere on “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” or was it very different?
Everything was pretty much the same. The only thing that really changed was the name and the costume colors. For the most part, it was the same cast and it was all the same people behind the scenes—the crew, the directors, etc. Nothing substantial changed so it wasn’t any different for me.
As far as your character, were you able to develop him more in that show?
Yeah, actually. That was one thing that was a little bit different. Because I had a little more experience due to being the Red Ranger and being in the movie and everything, when it came time to do “Zeo”, they actually gave my character more personality. In that regard, it was a little different because my character was a bit more present, I think. Rather than little one-liners here and one-liners there, they actually gave my character some depth and put kind of a comedic spin on my character, which was pretty cool. So that was one thing that was different between “Mighty Morphin’” and “Zeo”: there was a little more development in my characters and more to do, which was fun for me.
So, you’re really active on social media. Have you connected with a lot of the “Power Rangers” fanbase over Twitter and other sites?
Oh yeah. Over social media, I’ve been able to reconnect with a lot of my fans, which has been amazing because social media and the conventions go hand-in-hand. Over social media, I’m able to say, “Hey, if you’re in the Dallas area, I’m going to be at such-and-such convention at such-and-such time.” So, on social media, I’m able to interact with them that way and then when I actually get to see them in person, we are able to do photos and autographs and such. So, it’s awesome.
Speaking of conventions, you’re at San Diego Comic Con this week. Who are you excited to reconnect with? Are you pretty close with all the original cast?
That’s just it: about forty weeks out of the year, I’m gone touring and doing comic-cons practically every weekend, but all the other Rangers do these kinds of things, too, so I see them all the time. Most of them live in LA anyway, so I’ll see them out and about, and we get together and hang out. We’re really like a big family. And then, of course, when we travel on the road, there’s always one, two, three of us from different series who travel together, so it’s not like I haven’t seen these guys for a long time where I would have to reconnect with them, you know? But, we always have fun. In different cities, we like to go out and check out the nightlife and stuff like that, so it’s always a blast.
Are you going to go to the panel for the new “Power Rangers” movie that is going to be coming out?
I’m not sure. I don’t know exactly when the panel is or if it overlaps with the times that I’m there—I’m going to be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday from about 10:00 am—2:30 pm—but I’d like to go check it out and say hi to everybody and meet the new crew. It would be cool if we could do photo ops together so that people could see that we’re supporting it, too. We also have another convention coming up called Power Morphicon, which is a strictly just a Power Rangers convention, and that’s a fun one. We do that every other year and it’s always a blast. There, I see a lot of people that I haven’t seen for a while so we definitely reconnect. So, I imagine the cast of the new movie will be making an appearance at that convention, too.
In the years since being on “Power Rangers,” you’ve been really involved in martial arts instruction, and you mentioned that your interest in it predated the show. Can you tell me about your school, Force Balance Brazilian Ju-Jitsu?
Force Balance is a school that we opened up in 2011, I think—and I had other schools before that—and it’s been going really good. It’s been really successful. My role there now, though, is a lot different because it’s been pretty difficult with me traveling almost non-stop over the last few years for these conventions. It was becoming kind of taxing for me to be gone the majority of the week and then the rest of time to be running that school, you know? It was taking its toll on me so I’ve since stepped back from the leadership role in that school. Some other people have taken over that school for me, so I’m now more like a figurehead, kind of. I’m still there in the mornings and I train with some other people just to do my part and keep myself in shape, too. But I don’t really run that school anymore because I’m traveling so much. Maybe in a couple of years when the cons calm down, I might take a bigger role again or open up another studio or something like that.
Also after “Power Rangers,” you kind of took a step back from the acting world for a time, but I did notice that you recently signed on for the drama “A Brother’s Badge.” Is that project still in the beginning stages?
Yeah, we started doing a little bit of it, but unfortunately with that project, it didn’t get the adequate funding to move forward. The funding kind of fell apart on that one. Since then, we’ve started working on a different project. It’s like “The Expendables” in the sense that all the Power Rangers from different series and different seasons over the years, we all came together and we’re working on another film called “The Order.” It’s sort of like “The Expendables” meets “Divergent.” It’s a post-apocalyptic type of project, where one person is kind of pulling the strings in this universe to try to change the order of the planet. And there are two sides that are supposed to defend together that are forced to fight each other now. It’s an all-star Power Rangers cast; there’s nobody else from any other genre that’s going to be in this but it has nothing to do with “Power Rangers” at all. It’s more violent and much more action-packed, so that’s a fun one that we are working on now. So, people can check out the trailers and such for that at www.the-order-movie.com. I think it’s expected to come out in the third-quarter of next year.
So besides martial arts and acting, what are you passionate about?
A lot of the stuff that I’m doing now is what I’m passionate about. Through doing conventions, I’ve been able to travel around and reconnect with a lot of my fans. It reminded me how much I’d missed that. For many, many years after I left the show, I didn’t have anything to do with acting or “Power Rangers” at all. When I did my first “Power Rangers” convention back in 2007, I remember walking through the lobby to the ballroom where they were having the opening ceremony and stuff, and the whole crowd was just cheering. I was like, “Wow, this is pretty cool!” I didn’t realize that the fanbase was that strong and that there was still so much enthusiasm for the show, so I was blown away by that. Every weekend now, I get to see people, and they get to relive their childhood and I get to give that to them, so it’s very fun. Those are the things I’m really passionate about right now and I’m really grateful that I get to do both of them. It doesn’t afford me a lot of time to do different things but that’s ok; nothing’s permanent. When the dynamic kind of changes and the conventions slow down, I’ll be able to explore other things.
Are there any books, movies or TV shows that bring out the nerd in you?
(laughs) Yeah, there are quite a few, actually. I’ll tell you some of the shows that I’m watching right now. First of all, “Game of Thrones” is one of my all-time favorite shows. I’m obsessed with it, you know? I’m really bummed right now that the season is over and I can’t wait for the next one. So “Game of Thrones” is one that I watch all day—and, of course, I watch a lot of the superhero ones, too: “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” all of those. I think it’s important to keep up with those as well because the type of fans that I see at conventions are also fans of that kind of stuff, so it helps to keep a connection with them. My favorite, though, is “Superman.” He was my biggest hero growing up. I used to dress up like Superman just to go to the grocery store and stuff when I was a little kid (laughs). I made my own Superman outfit, and my mom was all embarrassed that I was eight and still going out dressed like that. But I’ve seen all the movies that have come out: “Man of Steel” and “Batman vs. Superman,” so I am kind of a nerd in that regard for sure.
Steve Cardenas will be at the San Diego Comic-Con on the following days and at the following times:
(AA=Autograph Area; the number listed afterwards corresponds to the table number)
Friday—AA-23, from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm.
Saturday—AA-31 from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm.
Sunday—AA-15 from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm