We briefly spoke with Jason David Frank, who played Tommy in the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger series, on the eve of Wizard World’s Chicago Comic Con. See why he still loves Power Rangers and the fans years after the show premiered.
I’m a huge Power Rangers fan – can you briefly describe the experience of being a Power Ranger?
Jason David Frank: Experience, good question. It changed a lot of people’s lives and it’s really just about making people smile. I enjoy it. I just make it clear for people, I’ve been doing these shows for a very long time, and I have one rule, that I don’t take an appearance fee because I don’t want to take an appearance fee. It’s weird when I say that ‘cause a lot of people here are like, “Hey, I’ll get you here. How much you want?” I don’t want it. You can either buy stuff at the table, which is good, or you don’t have to. Cause the minute I start treating it like it’s my job… I don’t, I don’t do this for my job; this is for fun. You look at it like, my life, my god, how many Cons is he doing? I’m doing it. Trust me when I say I’m doing it for fans. As busy as I am, it would be nice to take time off. I’m a big skydiver, I’m into wind tunnels… but I [appear at Cons] for the fans, and the experience for me has been great, to be me and to change people’s lives. That’s the biggest thing for me. I guess the show’s changed a lot of people’s lives and you know, some people look at it as fun, some people look at it as… I mean, I’ve got deep stories, like “I didn’t have a dad, I didn’t have a family and Power Rangers saved me from committing suicide.” The stories get deep, and the deeper they get the more understanding you have that you’re here for a reason, and I just like making people smile.
Why do you think Power Rangers connected so strongly to kids?
JDF: To me, it was like a soap opera, and it was cool. It was Tommy and Kimberly and everybody was like a soap opera, and then when those guys got replaced, it started changing, and I love the second cast. I love them; I know them more than anyone, but to me, things started getting more weird, like the story lines, and I knew it was coming to that, the switch here and those changes. So to answer that, I think it was a kids soap opera, and you know the guy had the girl, had the love story. That’s why we were the most popular, ’cause all the girls loved the pink ranger, all the boys loved her and, you know, it touched your heart. Then it had karate, then it was colorful, you know, like all the kid’s shows are colorful, like the Teletubbies; it’s just the colors, you know? Then it was karate, then it was cool story lines, funky, weird, cheesy monsters, but kids love cheese, you know – it’s just what it was.
As an actor, did you ever try to implement aspects about suicide prevention into the show?
JDF: Man, I want to. There was one where we didn’t go too deep; they didn’t let us go too deep. You know they wanted us to interview in character, and I said no, we need to interview out of character just so that kids understand. Like the worst thing for me was that kids would say, “Hey, Tommy, how come you didn’t stop the Oklahoma bombing?” And it got to the point where I was like, okay look, kids think I’m a real superhero, so we’re going to have to do a public service announcement telling kids what to do and what not to do. But yeah, I’d like to. I’ve lost a lot of people through suicide, and when I’m on Instagram or social media, I try to look for that person that might need my help, you know what I mean? We all do; you know I’m not all happy all the time. People look at my Instagram and think, “Oh, what a great, cheerful life,” but it would be silly to tell you that I don’t go through dark days, I don’t have my times, and I don’t have my anger issues and all that stuff. We all do, but nobody wants to see it, nobody wants to hear that; the fans don’t want to hear that. I never made money, it was a racial thing. The fans don’t want to hear that, fans want to see, like Amy Jo, I wish she would do more. I tried to get her on this show. I wish she would do more Power Rangers stuff. I sent her a text two days ago, “Can I follow you on Instagram?” Even though I could; I just want her blessing to follow her. So you know I’m here to fulfill everyone’s dreams, and make sure I want to uphold the high standards of what a hero should be.
Speaking of darker days and depression, was that one of the reasons you started taking Karate and Brazilian Ju Jitsu?
JDF: Karate, I’ve been doing since I was four. I didn’t have a lot of self esteem when I was little, and I was shy and I was quiet, opposite of what I am now. Number one fear in America is Public Speaking; people can’t look in the eye. I [couldn’t] do what you do having a thousand people [watch you speak], but I can do it, and I guess it got in touch with my personality. It sounds weird like that but really the brotherhood, the dedication [helped]. You know I can punch abs, be silly, I can teach, I can express myself so it really helped, but what helps me now honestly is sharing experiences and leaning on fans [who are also] leaning on me. When I have a bad day, I open up Facebook and I see something that’ll make me smile, and it’ll make me want to post more, be more involved. So I guess I just do it ’cause I like it, and I feel blessed to be who I am.
When you looked four years ago, I wouldn’t have the crowd I have now, and I go to a show and I’m with all the other Rangers and my table’s just packed and I think, “Why am I the blessed one?” It’s just the energy I put into it, the time, and the belief, and the passion I put into it. And it’s not my job; I think that’s the key. You know if one day you guys do something, whatever you do, wherever you work you’re passionate about, all will fall into place. You’ll end up in some big spot and people’ll be like, “How’d you get this? How’d you do it?” Because you’re not worried about the content, you’re not worried about how much money [you’re] getting for this.
That’s how I started my reality show. I started it just for fun, like a YouTube page. Season one is okay; the next episode is coming out in two hours, and season two is so much better, and I just did it for fun, and it’s actually something now. And I just sold it to ConTV, which is a new network that’s doing pretty interesting stuff, superhero stuff, and a web series, so that’s part of the ConTelevision now. Wizard World owns it. So it’s a network driven for the Con people. So if you like Comic Con, this is a network 24/7 where you can see people on panels, you can see Comic Con oriented stuff. So that’s why I sold it to them.
Why haven’t you gone with UFC, aside from the whole contract issue?
JDF: I just don’t think people saw the big picture; they didn’t see the drive, the fan base I have. Do you know how many times I get calls for fights or movie interviews? I really think like, “Man, five years ago you didn’t give me the time of day.” I’m a real loyal guy, am I not? I’d rather go out with nothing than go out with everything and feel sold out. So at that time they didn’t believe in me, they would believe in numbers and that’s what I don’t like. I run a Mixed Martial Arts clothing company called Jesus Didn’t Tap. Nobody believed in it, but when I was selling everywhere around the world, the people that didn’t believe in it said, “Hey, can we get it in our store?” and I said no. Don’t believe in the numbers, and a lot of people do that. I want them to believe in the product and stuff like that. I’m a firm believer in [putting] your energy to the right people. Stay humble. When you’re on top of the world, everybody calls you, but when you’re at the bottom of the world, nobody calls you. I take those calls to heart now because they were calling me during that time. I mean during that time Power Rangers was a has-been, washed-up, this and that, but now look at it. Doing the shows that I do now, the biggest Con shows in the world, and all the little Cons that I begged to get on are like calling me now, and I’m like, “Dude, hey, four years ago I asked you to do your show; I begged for you to do your show, and you gave me no time.” So it’s like – I don’t want to say payback – but it feels good.
So to answer the UFC thing, that was kind of the reason. They didn’t believe in the numbers; to them, I wanted to get on a good card, and I want to be on a good fight, but I think God just kind of gives you those, spins your career on you in the right way. Like all of a sudden, I’ve got all these movies going, and I was just thinking, “Well, I just wanted to fight because I wanted to have fun.” It wasn’t about the money. Then it started turning into politics, that’s why [there’s] Con World. I’m with Wizard World only next year. I got 22 shows. I love all the Cons. They’re like family, they know what I’m about, and I’m about my fans. I don’t want it to be about anything else. I don’t want to start selling karate class; I don’t want to do any of that, my karate classes will remain free for the whole entire show including next year. I don’t want to be sold out.
Have you ever done ReedPop, C2E2?
JDF: Yes, I’ve done C2E2; those are good people too. I’m doing New York Comic Con for the third time in a row, and New York said, “Look, we don’t bring actors back like three times in a row and give you four days.” I got four complete days. New York Comic Con is kind of how it started. When I started these, I begged my time. “Can I please come to New York Comic Con?” and they’re like, we’ll give you an hour, just an hour, you pay your own way. I said that’s fine, I’ll pay my own way, and when I got there, and I didn’t see anybody, I was like, “Ugh,” it was like a confidence/pride thing, and my heart dropped, I walked out and it’s alright, we’ll go see the city, and I look and there’s a huge line all the way back, a six hour wait. So I was just blessed that when they stopped at one hour, stopped it and people were going crazy and crying and all that stuff. So that’s kind of what started it. Every year [this con] gets bigger and stronger. I’m excited to see what Wizard World, what we’re going to have this year.
JDF: When it went to Netflix, people started watching it. It was crazy, and it was like, that was a while ago, but I went back to Dino club ten years ago, and I could not get one interview. Everyone’s like, “Power Rangers?” The ratings dropped; I could not get one interview. Now it’s just blowing up all over again, just cause of the social media and the way it’s going now, like the reboot movie and all that. But the good thing is before all this blew up, I was still there doing what I believed in, which was Power Rangers, and that’s why we’re working on a web series right now. A Green Ranger web series, driven just for my character, the Green Ranger, and I’m hoping if I get that then I’ll be able to bring people back that I want to see like Kimberly and other people to the show.
Do you have any involvement with the new Power Rangers Reboot? Can I get your thoughts on how the franchise has progressed over the years?
JDF: The progression has been great. Saban (Saban Entertainment) sold it to Disney for a lot of money. Disney kind of brought the ratings down. Saban bought it for half price and re-launched the franchise again. I do know when the movie comes, it’s important to me that we keep it PG-13-ish; we keep the reboot great, we keep it true to how Power Rangers is. I’m on the top of the list for any cameos or any special characters like that, so I’m really tight with Saban. We’re working on the Green Ranger webseries right now. I’ll get that, it’ll feel great, you know, I’ll feel like my Power Ranger life will be fulfilled. I’ll be able to explain where Tommy’s been for the last ten years.