I remember it like yesterday. My friend Matt and I are talking to a friend of ours that manages one of the local theatres. We tell him what movie we’re going to see and he tells us to take a handful of napkins in with us. “That kid,” he tells us, “is going to rip your heart out.” Boy did he. The film was “The Champ” and the “kid” was Ricky Schroder.
Best known for his role in the popular 80s television show “Silver Spoons,” Ricky Schroder is the rare success story in Hollywood. From early roles in “The Last Voyage of Noah’s Ark” with Elliot Gould and “The Earthling” with William Holden through acclaimed performances in “Lonesome Dove” and “NYPD Blue” (where he ripped my heart out again as Detective Danny Sorrenson), Schroder carved out a successful career in front of the camera. But recently he has spent some time behind it, including directing and co-writing the new film “Our Wild Hearts,” which airs August 2 on the Hallmark Movie Channel. Schroder also stars, as does his daughter Cambrie and his sons Luke and Holden, named after his “The Earthling” co-star.
While promoting “Our Wild Hearts,” Mr. Schroder spent some time with Media Mikes to talk about his new film, working with his family and the perils of fatherhood.
Mike Smith: What was your inspiration in writing “Our Wild Hearts?”
Ricky Schroder: My daughter (Cambrie) was my inspiration. Honestly. She’s been wanting to be an actress since she was six. I knew that she would eventually pursue acting with or without me. I wanted to be her first director because even though I knew she had a lot of potential and raw talent I also knew she needed to be directed in the right way. I didn’t want her to be put in a situation where she couldn’t succeed. I told my wife (Andrea – who co-produced and co-wrote the film with Mr. Schroeder) “let’s make a family film – come up with an idea.” My wife and daughter came back to me with the concept of a dad who never knew he had a daughter, set on a ranch with wild mustangs. They had me hooked! I sat down and wrote the first draft. My wife did a polish on the scenes featuring Willow (Cambrie Schroder) and her mom. It was a great experience. All of my family members – all six Schroeders –were on camera. Everybody worked on the crew. They did what was needed. Carry sandbags…craft services…make up…wardrobe. Whatever needed to be done my family pitched in.
MS: You worked with your wife before as a producer but this was the first time you shared a writing credit with her. What was that collaborative process like?
RS: We would sit down and talk about plot and characters and I would write. And when I was stuck on scenes I would give them to her and she would write them. She focused more on Willow’s character – Willow with her mom, Willow in Malibu. Sometimes I would have trouble finding Willow’s voice and she could find it easier.
MS: You mentioned that your entire family is in the film. What was it like, especially for the first time actors, to work with your kids?
RS: It was a great experience. I would love to work with them again. I treated them as a performer and they treated me as a director. It was a very professional dynamic. There were lots of high stakes riding on this film and lots of people involved as well as a great partner company in Hallmark. We knew this wasn’t a home movie. We knew this was a real film that we were working on together and we all treated it as such. The only time my “dad” instincts kicked in was when my daughter had to do a stunt on a horse. I would feel the urge to pull her off a let the stunt lady do it.
MS: Something you alluded to when we were talking before the interview…as that very rare child actor who has gone on to a successful transition to adulthood, have you shared any advice with your children…especially Cambrie, who wants to pursue acting full time?
RS: I didn’t really share advice like that. Of course, if they ask questions I’ll certainly answer them. I think my kids have learned more by watching their dad and the challenges and struggles I’ve had while pursuing my career. Any actor always has trouble getting that next job. My kids have seen that. So when we got to make a movie together they really began to understand what dad was doing when he would leave for 14 hours a day. When he would go on set and be around sixty people in a high pressure environment. No wonder he was tired when he came home. Things like that I don’t think they had any insight into until they saw it from my perspective.
MS: You still continue to act but you’re also spending more time behind the camera. Is that your preference now? Is that something you want to pursue?
RS: I love acting and I’m always going to act. Hopefully there will always be good writing and I can get that opportunity. I’ve been focused more on writing and directing recently because I felt like I needed a new challenge…a new frontier to explore. To stay inspired. To try new things and to have new experiences in my life. I’ve done that. I’ve done music videos, I’ve done movies. I’ve never set out to say “I’m not going to act anymore.” But I had a real desire to learn about the other parts of this job…of directing and writing and producing….that I didn’t understand.
MS: What are you working on next?
RS: I created a reality television show for the U.S. Army called “Starting Strong” that’s running now. (NOTE: Adam Lawton spoke to Mr. Schroder about this program recently – his interview can be found here). I’m really proud of that. It runs on FOX on Sunday mornings. It’s done well so I’m hoping to get another order to make more of those. I’m also writing a couple scripts – an independent feature and another television film. I’ve also written a one-hour pilot I’m trying to get set up. And in between all of that I still go out on auditions when I can. I meet people, shake hands and try to get the best acting jobs I can
MS: Thank you again for your time. I hope your daughter feels better (right before phoning me one of Mr. Schroder’s daughters had fallen off her skateboard and injured her wrist).
RS: Thank you.
MS: One thing I’ve learned as a dad is that kids bounce.
RS: Very true.