They don’t look like turtles. Not teenage, mutant, or ninja turtles. They are grown men draped in body stockings, faces and limbs meticulously coated in dots, with ping pong balls affixed above their heads as an eyeline. Nonetheless, the four stars of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows feel like the titular turtles the moment they open their mouths.
Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), and Pete Ploszek (Leonardo) share an affable ease, a ball-busting playfulness and an ardent love of the franchise made world famous by a 1980’s cartoon show and ’90s live-action trilogy. And they’re doing their full-bodied best to do right by fans they know felt burned by 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Last June, Screen Rant sat down with this friendly foursome for a set visit while they were shooting in Manhattan’s East Village on a multi-floor location so convincingly made up to look like a police station this reporter may have stopped a “cop” for directions. Late into the night, we’d witness these guys in action, making an explosive entrance in a curious action sequence. But first, we sat down with the turtles to talk Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, what fans have to look forward to, and what the hell went wrong with that first film.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How does it feel to be back for round two?
Alan Ritchson: It feels good. I got to be honest, I was a little nervous about coming back because the first run of this–the first trial run of the first film–was pretty tough. Pretty tough.
Ritchson: Well, we shot three different versions of the movie for one. So–
Noel Fisher: Getting the tone right.
Ritchson: Getting the tone mixed with getting the technology–
Fisher: Yeah, sharp learning curve.
Ritchson: Dealing with the politics–not us so directly but seeing it–it just made for a really tough shoot.
Pete Ploszek: I think that has informed our approach to this one though in the sense that I think we’re all very aware of the movie we made last time. What worked. What didn’t work. When you see what made it and what didn’t make it (into the final cut), it really informs your choices as an actor. Even just seeing your translation of yourself to a motion-captured turtle, it’s pretty damn educational. So that’s sort of greased the machine for us this time around. It’s been a good fast start.
Jeremy Howard: A much better start.
What specifically do you think worked the first time around that you wanted to bring to the second movie?
Fisher: For me just the energy of the turtles. Us four as people have a really great natural chemistry that’s been there from the get-go. We really genuinely like hanging out and busting each others’ balls, like brothers would. I think that’s the main thing we’re bring along with more of the turtles in this movie. So we got the opportunity to bring all of that energy to it.
Ritchson: I think the comedy and the chemistry of the turtles was what seemed to work the best the first time, and what is the emphasis this time.
Ploszek: I think that was clearest in the elevator the first time.
Ritchson: (Teasing) This whole movie actually takes place in an elevator.
Ploszek: We get off on some floors, we get back on on others in different outfits.
Ritchson: If it works once! Why not?
Ploszek: But you know what I mean, the beatbox scene. I think it’s creating opportunities for more of that.
Have you adjusted to the motion-capture suits and being covered in dots?
Ploszek: By the end of the first film, it all disappeared for us, and I think for Megan.
Ritchson: So you guys understand, when we’re wearing the contraptions, part of the mechanics of that is the eye line of the actor. That’s those crazy pingpong balls that are up there (on our foreheads). It’s got to be hard for an actor. Megan is used to looking us in the eye. Then we put this on, and she cannot look us in the eye. I don’t know how they handle it. But they’ve gotten used to it.
Howard: Megan’s more used to seeing us in dots than out of dots. We’ve gone into four restaurants in at lunchtime with dots on. It’s New York. No one gives us a second glance.
Fisher: Going for coffee in our outfits is super fun.
Is Raphael the introduction to Casey Jones (like he was in the first Turtles movie franchise)?
Ritchson: (After conferring with the onset PR rep) No, I would say it’s more of an ensemble. It’s hard to describe the scene.
Fisher: It’s not really through us at all.
Ploszek: But the turtles pay homage to it in how you–
Ritchson: I would say we tip our hat to that relationship, and hopefully we’ll see that develop as something that’s more familiar to the origin story. But I would say it’s the turtles are more of an ensemble.
Howard: Raph’s not on his own when he meets Casey Jones, let’s put it that way.
Next Page: Director Changes, Motion Capture & VFX
What lessons did you learn about motion-capture performance from having finally seen the first film?
Ploszek: Pablo Hellman of ILM has been instrumental to us, really learning and understanding this technology, learning what it can do, but also learning what it can’t quite do yet, and how far it’s come. It’s learning what we have to do as actors to help animators on the digital side really understand what we’re doing, what story we’re trying to tell in terms of body language and how we use our faces.
Ritchson: That’s really well said. Because what we’re used to doing as actors is–there’s a relationship from the human eye to another human being where nuances that we’re used to seeing, we get. When we’re trying to bring the turtle to life, the animators need to see something, but I think there’s an expectation because this is an animated character that there is a different kind of life and movement. So, for me at least, my movements are more exaggerated, sort of overemphasizing anything that I would do naturally. So that if the animators need to tone it down, they can. But that idea is there, so there’s a lot more life in him. One of the notes we’ve gotten this time is that we were leaning more into a dramatic performance (in the first movie), where everything is very internalized.
Fisher: And real. Yeah.
Ritchson: Where you’re doing less but you’re filled with more. And for some reason that came across as lifeless to an animator.
Fisher: That’s something I want to follow up on about my experience too. Just learning to up it just a little bit. It also has to do with who the characters are. They’re a little over the top. They’re talking ninja turtles! So the whole thing is kind of amp it a little bit more, walking that line between realism and–
Ploszek: Theater in a way.
Fisher: Yeah, yeah exactly. It’s like you’re on stage–
Ploszek: I think too, the fact that we’re playing 6-foot plus turtles presents a different challenge than I think playing an ape that has human features, emotional features. Our faces are being stretched wider. We’re being made so much taller. So things don’t translate the way they would–I think–onto an ape, like Caesar (from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”) (Sheepishly) Um, not to compare myself to Andy Serkis.
Trying to toe that line, are you getting feedback from Dave Green or whoever telling you to reign it in a little more or give it a little more?
Ritchson: Pablo (the VFX head) is definitely a guy that’s always there to make sure that he (can help us). He loves the turtles, so it’s great to hear (his input), because he loves the characters so much and sees what we see in our heads. So we trust him, and we do get a lot of live feedback. It’s usually like “More.” We’re there to bring the truth of the emotion alive. As a human being, you don’t need to do a lot physically to do that. But we’re given the sense that it could use more. But also dovetailing on the fact that we made several different versions of this movie last time, tonally trying to find what this was. We’re not making Dark Knight here. It’s definitely a comedy. We all saw it and it was like, “Oh! This is a comedy.”
Ploszek: Not just a comedy, but a family comedy.
Ritchson: This is fun for the whole family, I mean two to ninety-two everyone can go enjoy this. So it kind of gives you–
Ritchson: Some freedom to go for it.
When did you realize it was a family comedy?
Ritchson: When we saw (the first one finished). (The others laugh.)
Ploszek: I think it was a mystery of what survived from the first shoots, into reshoots and beyond.
Ritchson: Yeah, there’s a whole other movie (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) on the cutting room floor. A couple.
Was the other possibility darker?
Ploszek: Yeah. (Joking) Three of us died.
Ritchson: The final image was me eating Mikey.
Fisher: He loses it. Really dug into the anger of the story.
Besides just the fact that there were these startlingly different tones, what would you say are the biggest differences between Jonathan Liebesman’s approach and Dave Green’s approach?
(There is an awkward pause, where the four look at each other. Fisher giggles nervously.)
Ritchson: Who wants to take this one?
Howard: Kindness. (The others stammer for a moment, as the reporters exchange surprised glances.)
Ploszek: Well, I’ll put it this way Dave Green is 32. He grew up with these guys (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Not that Liebesman was much older, but he is from South Africa.
Ritchson: (Joking) They don’t have TV down there.
Ploszek: But with Dave, what was communicated to us early on was how much of a fan he is, and really gets it. I think he was able to watch the first movie–like we all were as an audience–and see, okay that works, that doesn’t work. I love that let’s do more of that. I connected to that or I didn’t connect to that. So, that’s where he has a leg up this time around, as anyone would coming back to a sequel.
Fisher: Again once the tone was set, I think that was a big strength for Dave Green. He focuses a lot on the heart of how the brothers interact, showing a lot about the love there. And we get to explore that a lot more this time. That’s kind of what I look forward to.
Ritchson: To be fair to Liebesman, everybody was trying to figure it out (on the first film) as we were going. How do bring this story to life with this technology with this opportunity that we have? And Liebesman had a vision that was different than the vision we’re doing today. And I think it’s to Dave’s advantage. He desperately wants to make a love letter to the turtles, and the origin story, the author and to the fans. As do we. And there’s a lot less to battle to make that happen.
Ploszek: To Liebesman’s credit, he brought us together. He had a big hand in that. So that’s where this is only possible because of him.
Fisher: (smiling) Still I don’t know why he chose Alan, his one bad choice.
Howard: (Joking) We have our guesses.
Ritchson: (Rolling with the dirty joke implication) I do whatever it takes to get the job, guys. (They all chuckle).
Next Page: Growing Up With TMNT, New Toys, New Tech
Were you fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up? And if so, did you get to play your favorite?
Fisher: I think we were all fans.
Ritchson: Am I playing my favorite? No.
Ploszek: I think I am.
Fisher: Leo was your favorite? Leo’s no one’s favorite.
Ploszek: That’s why I’m playing him! (Laughs) I for one grew up one of five kids, four boys and a girl. And it shook out really well when we played. I grew up with a love of them.
Ritchson: Was you sister Shredder whenever you guys played?
Ploszek: No, no, no. She was Splinter. Nah, she’d put her yellow jacket on and be like, “What’re you doing?”
Ritchson: I think we all grew up with it. We’re just at that age. It’s still really funny to me to go to the zoo, and there’s like a 35-year-old dad with his five-year-old son and they’re both wearing Ninja Turtles shirts.
Fisher: Jer, are you playing your favorite?
Howard: Yeah. I can still remember: I loved him so much I had a broomstick and a purple mask. So, I guess Donny was my favorite. Yeah, so I love playing Donny, and I definitely have the computer tech link too.
Fisher: He’s our go-to guy (with tech stuff).
Ritchson: If you need anything in regards to a computer, just call him.
So Noel, is Michelangelo your favorite? And Alan you mentioned Raph wasn’t yours.
Ritchson: Yeah, my favorite was Mikey! I’m still waiting for something tragic to happen to him (gesturing to Noel Fisher).
Fisher: He keeps saying this, and it’s not even funny anymore.
Ritchson: I’m in the planning stages, all right? (They laugh).
What are some things that you guys got to do in this film that you didn’t get to do in the last film?
Fisher: Is there anything that we haven’t…
Howard: As characters? Or as guys running around New York?
Ploszek: What I’m most excited about with this movie is it’s a lot more emotionally driven amongst the brothers. You’re really going to see four brothers being brothers, and fighting and trying to make up and telling each other how they feel and I think it’s the point now where we’re all a little bit older. I mean, you and I are essentially, almost, no longer teenagers, you know, and so with that comes, I think, your own identity. You’re going to see that, and see the four of us realize that we’re pretty different from one another.
Fisher: Back to that heart thing, you get to see a lot more of that and explore a lot more of that, for all the turtles. That’s the one thing I’m pretty excited about.
Well, and I would imagine not having to tell an origin story–
Fisher: It helps. (Laughs.) Yeah, yeah, it makes it easier. It’s already, the relationships are established, and I think that makes it easier to kind of throw trouble into that. ‘Cause it’s already like, you’ve already seen how these guys interact.
What are some of the new toys you guys get to play with on this one?
Ritchson: Dude. The turtle van.
Fisher: Turtle van is dope.
Ritchson: That’s gonna be something that may travel from location to location with us. Is it? Can we say that? It’s that awesome. It’s like the coolest.
Ploszek: It’s really good to use it, to put it to use.
Ritchson: It’s like the coolest thing. That’s one of the coolest set pieces I’ve ever interacted with.
Ploszek: Yeah. It’s really cool.
Howard: Donny’s got a great interactive hologram now that spreads out in front of them. It’s pretty awesome.
Like Iron Man?
Ploszek: Our lair was destroyed the first film, so we’ve had to relocate and we’re actually going to get to get in there. So it’s going to be soon, real soon. So we’re really excited to see how we’ve rebuilt our lives.
Has anyone teased it to you yet?
Fisher: We’ve seen pictures.
Ritchson: Oh, we’ve seen — It looks amazing.
What can you tease us about what you know about the lair?
Ploszek: Lot of little ravines.
Howard: Sewer ravines. But let’s not focus on that.
Ploszek: They’re ravines.
Ritchson: It’s like everything else. It’s analogous to the film in general. I think it’s truer to sort of what I remembered as a kid, for what that’s worth. But everything as a kid seems bigger, you know, larger than life. The scope of this set, as is the turtle van, is exponentially bigger, and more interactive than before. As is the movie itself.
Ploszek: I was going to say, in the film, the storyline.
Ritchson: Everything, the scope of the story, is a lot bigger this time.
Fisher: It’s Turtles 2.0, in like a really big way.
Howard: Hundred-foot waterslide, there’s your teaser.
I just want to clarify a detail. Noel, you mentioned that there are a lot more turtles this time around. Can you clarify what you mean by that?
Fisher: I mean, the story revolves a lot more around the four brothers…There’s a really great emotional arc, for how brothers interact when faced with challenges and have differences in how we are, how we view life and how we view ourselves.
Ploszek: That’s funny, I remember hearing that about this movie, is that there’s a lot of heart in the story. That was the word, that was the phrase that was thrown around, a lot of heart. And then Dave (Green) was hired (to direct) and I watched Earth to Echo. And you can start putting it together, and you get it. You get why he’s around.
Howard: The first movie was one-third turtles, this is two-thirds turtles of just screentime alone.
Ritchson: Yeah, I mean, I understand the constraints, the financial constraints that were on the first one, not knowing how this would perform, of sort of an educated structure you know as far as like how much screen time because for every second of turtle onscreen it’s–
Fisher: Is it fifty a shot?
Ritchson: A lot of money…So the first time around, it was like, we can’t — we need to build a story here for the first fifteen minutes and then we’ll see them on the roof. In the dark. (All laugh.)
Fisher: Say your line as quickly as you can: Go!
Ritchson: Yeah. (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helmer Jonathan) Liebesman, his favorite thing was like, (affects Liebesman’s South African accent) “They’ll be in the shadows for most of this, yeah, you don’t have to photograph their face. They can’t see you. We can’t afford to see your face.” New York was the shadowiest city ever! This time, not so much. (The first film) did well (financially), so they’re taking I think a little from the pot and really doing justice to the story. So the first time, if it was April’s story, this time it’s the turtles’.
Has that informed your performance, knowing how much money they spend every time you move your mouth?
Fisher: Not at all.
Ritchson: No. That’s their [problem].
Howard: There was a lot of frustrating issues with the first one, as a viewer, as someone, you know, being in the movie and then seeing what they edit out. I mean, there’s a weapons ceremony. You see Leo get a sword in it cut away.
There’s a whole scene there where we all get our weapons and train with them, you know, and those budgetary restraints on that film, it was very difficult to watch knowing what could’ve been fleshed out. And we all know that we’re lucky to be back. We made money, we’re all actually here viewing this movie almost like what we should have made the first time, just because in scale, in the shots that we’re seeing, I mean, there are some — there were no real artistic shots in that first movie. A lot of it was reshoots, a lot of it was time and budget. But this time, it looks beautiful. We’ve already shot some action pieces in Buffalo, I mean these car chases, mind blowing. We got the guys from Fast and Furious to come in and do it. And it looks epic. It looks like a summer blockbuster movie this time. So we’re all very excited that we got to come back and do that.
Can you talk about the villains in this movie?
Fisher: Alan’s tried several times, he keeps being told to shut up.
Ritchson: I still think the rhyming thing…
Ploszek: Don’t ask him to rhyme words. Don’t ask him.
Fisher: Don’t ask him what it rhymes with.
Ritchson: Maybe I can rap it. Maybe I’ll rap…
What about Pig Latin? Is Pig Latin allowed?
Ploszek: (Jokingly.) Yes, do you know it?
It’s been a while. Little rusty.
Ritchson: It’s, again — the diehard fans are gonna get a great film. They’re gonna be very happy with who’s here.
Ploszek: Yeah, and I think everyone’s paying attention to how people felt about the first one, and what they want to see, and what faithful means, and what it doesn’t mean. I think there is a sort of awareness now to do right by the franchise and to–
Howard: And credibility. I mean, Laura Linney is in the movie.
Ploszek: She brings a lot of weight to this film.
Who does she play?
Howard: Raph’s mom.
Ploszek: She plays… police chief, Rebecca Vincent, the bureau chief, with whom we have a, um… on-again, off-again relationship?
You’re all dating the police chief, is that how this ends?
Fisher: No! (General commotion.)
Has the design of your characters been tweaked at all, do you know?
Ritchson: Yeah, little enhancements here and there.
Ploszek: We aren’t wearing the same clothes, I guess you could put it that way. I forget exactly how much time has passed.
Howard: Leo’s tossed his loincloth.
Ploszek: I come in, they blur me from my waist down the whole movie.
Because family friendly.
Ploszek: I believe this storyline takes place eight or nine months–
Studio rep: Two years.
Ploszek: Two years. Two years?
Studio rep: We’re going on real time.
Ploszek: …Two years since the last one. So just with that comes the changes from the lair to what we’re wearing, to our gear. And merchandising, obviously. Can’t merchandise stuff you already wore the last movie.
Ritchson: It’s true.
Howard: Donny’s a lot less gear in this one, which I think some fans will be excited about. I’m excited about that too. I think he was a little prop-heavy in the first one.
Fisher: But wasn’t Pablo saying they were actually a little bit less bulky? Just like a little tiny bit in terms of our movement, he really wanted us to have… Just a little bit. We’ve done more cardio. We’ve focused more on cardio.
Cutting out pizza a little bit?
Ritchson: It’s gluten-free pizza now.
When you guys were planning on your physical performances, did you look at actual turtles at all?
Fisher: I did, I did! I don’t know that we were — I haven’t been able to put really that much into it.
Ritchson: I watched a video of this turtle doing it.
(Laughs.) We (the very professional reporters) were just talking about that! It was unrelated to the movie though.
Ritchson: I watch it all the time.
Purely for science purposes.
Fisher: It’s very creepy sounds.
Ritchson: It super is.
Let’s hear your imitation.
Ritchson: It’s actually the best.
Fisher: (Makes turtle sex noises that are dead on.) (General laughter.) (Studio rep reminds us we can’t use the audio for the interview.)
Ritchson: The problem is gonna be how to spell that sound.
How far into the shoot are you right now?
Ritchson: We’re right past the halfway point. … That flies by. It’s so much more…
Howard: Halfway, but we have like 80% of our stuff still to do. Yeah, we had a human-heavy schedule in the beginning and a turtle-heavy back end.
Just motion-wise, did you work at all with Bebop since he’s the new guy?
Ritchson: Is this some kind of… Am I getting faked?
Fisher: They’re cornering us!
Well, I mean, we’ve seen Bebop and Rocksteady. Like, those photos are out.
Ritchson: (Jokingly) No, you haven’t.
Ploszek: We haven’t worked with them yet. But I got a chance to meet them. I don’t know if you guys have.
Fisher: I haven’t, no.
Ploszek: They’re great. You see them and you get it right away.
Fisher: We’ve been secluded.
Any jealousy that they get to appear on cameras themselves?
Ritchson: (Jokingly.) Um, no.
Have you guys run by, like, ‘Well, we could just be in the background of a scene.’ You could just be like featured extras that have no lines.
Fisher: That’s something that I love about the first Turtles movie, is that some of those guys are on it. What’s the one that you always like?
Ploszek: It’s the guy that played Raf in that. Raf leaps over from the can. It’s like, what the hell was that? That’s him.
Fisher: We just run in front of the camera.
I know you can’t spoil too much, but is there one set piece or action sequence that you think is going to be the highlight of the movie?
Ploszek: The car chase.
Ritchson: I would say the opening, the first act.
Fisher: Yeah, the car chase.
Ritchson: The first act is essentially a giant, amazing action sequence. The film starts out super explosive and it just doesn’t let up. We’ve actually seen some of it already cut together and it’s pretty mind blowing.
Fisher: But then again, the final scene, we haven’t seen, we have no idea what that’s going to be, and that could be great.
Ritchson: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, so far I think the opening act is pretty amazing.
Ploszek: Yeah, and I think the quieter moments between us four are gonna be fun and powerful, too. To see us going at it.
Howard: Yeah, you’ll see some turtles losing their tempers in this one.
Fisher: (Joking) Mikey kills all of them.
Ritchson: (One-upping) Donny has a drug addiction.
Studio rep: Don’t write that.
“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS” is the sequel to the 2014 hit film “TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.” The film is based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlescharacters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman and is directed by David Green (“EARTH TO ECHO”). Michael Bay (the “TRANSFORMERS franchise) returns to produce alongside his Platinum Dunes partners Brad Fuller and Andrew Form (“ TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES”), with Galen Walker and Scott Mednick (“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES”) also producing.
Also returning for the sequel is Megan Fox (“TRANSFORMERS”) as April O’Neil, Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) as Vernon Fenwick and the Turtles: Alan Ritchson as Raphael, Noel Fisher as Michelangelo, Pete Ploszek at Leonardo, and Jeremy Howard as Donatello. Rounding out the cast is Stephen Amell (“Arrow,”) as Casey Jones, Tyler Perry (“GONE GIRL”, the “MADEA” franchise) as Baxter Stockman, Academy Award nominated actress Laura Linney (“The Big C”, “LOVE ACTUALLY”) as Chief Rebecca Vincent, Brian Tee (“JURASSIC WORLD”) as Shredder, WWE World Heavy Weight Champion Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly as Rocksteady and Gary Anthony Williams (“THE INTERNSHIP”) as Bebop.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows opens June 3rd, 2016.