AMP IT UP! Troy Slaten on the Making of Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad!

Photo © Troy Slaten.

Troy Slaten is an actor who began his career at a very early age and found success in a variety of television shows. Mr. Slaten’s best-known role is that of Jerry Steiner on Fox’s early ’90s television hit Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (in which he appeared one of the three leads). He also appeared on the program Cagney & Lacey as Michael Lacey in every season, as well as guest spots on Diff’rent Strokes, The Wonder Years, Who’s the Boss?, Step by Step, and Greatest American Hero. His first job, which came at age five, was a commercial for the Revell Funster Funbird model car with future Married with Children star David Faustino, who was then six years old.

Vantage Point Interviews readers will recognize Mr. Slaten as the quirky character Amp from Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad (1994-95), which Americanized Tsuburaya Productions’ Gridman the Hyper Agent (1993-94) for Western audiences. Now a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, Mr. Slaten spoke while on his way to court with Brett Homenick in this 2008 interview. 

Brett Homenick: How did you get cast in Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad?

Troy Slaten: I went on an audition, just like any other. Agents submit actors, and casting directors choose from all the submissions that they get. The casting directors generally choose 30, 40, 50, 60 people or more, and then they generally narrow it down to about 10 or 15 that get submitted to the producers. The casting director chooses what he or she thinks are the 10 or 15 best people, and then the producers whittle it down to about two or three that the network or the production company, or whoever’s putting up the money, gets to make the final decision, obviously in conjunction with the producers. So there was probably about three auditions.

BH: That’s how you got cast.

TS: That’s how I was cast.

BH: My next question is, after you were cast, were you shown any of the original episodes of Gridman, which was the Tsuburaya show that was adapted into SSSS?

TS: No, we were never shown any of those episodes. We knew that that’s what the show was being taken from. We knew that all of the action sequences with the guys in the rubber suits — we knew that that was taken from a Japanese show called Gridman, but we were never shown any of the episodes or footage of it. I actually never saw any of it until the episodes were completed, and I saw a completed episode. That’s when I first saw that stuff.

BH: What was it like to work with Matthew Lawrence, who played Sam Collins, on the show?

TS: He was cool. He was really great, great guy. He comes from a family of actors. His older brother is Joey Lawrence from Blossom, who did the “Whoa!”

BH: (laughs)

TS: I guess he was also in a (series called) Gimme a Break!, I guess with Nell Carter. (Matthew Lawrence’s) older brother was the little kid on that, Joey. So Matthew Lawrence comes from a show-biz family, so he was very good. He knew what he was doing, and he was a great guy to work with.   

BH: How about Glen Beaudin, who played Malcolm Frink?

TS: Oh, he was great, the way he put on the dark character like that. He was very talented. I really liked him, as well as the actors that played Tanker and Syd.

BH: So in other words, they were all great to work with, and there were no sort of squabbles on the set or anything like that.

TS: No, I wish I could give you something more exciting. I wish I could give you some sort of scandal, but I really can’t.

BH: Oh, that’s great.

TS: The director of the show, Brad Kreisberg, has gone on to some other things. I think he is the director now on Hell’s Kitchen. I think that’s what he’s doing now. So he’s doing that, and he was very good.

The one thing that was really interesting that I recall about doing the show is that it was shot very fast. It wasn’t a huge-budget production. We had about five or so different sets. I don’t know how well you know the show, but there was the set in Sam Collins’ basement, there’s the set in the school, in the hallway, there’s the cafeteria, there’s the sets in each one of our cockpits, and that was pretty much it. Maybe there would be one other set that that would change once in a while. So what they would do is, we would shoot about five different episodes at a time, and during any one week we’d be shooting about five different episodes.

A normal show shoots one episode a week, and you go through, and you go to the different sets, and you shoot that show, a show that’s done with three cameras, like this one. But the way that this one was different is that, since there was no studio audience, we didn’t have to keep any kind of continuity for the studio audience. So in order to make things easy, we would shoot five different episodes all on one set at a time, so that way they could get everything ready on that set, light the set, do the set dressing, and get all the cameras set up. Say we’re in the basement, Sam’s basement, we would shoot five different episodes, and it’s all the different scenes from those five different episodes in one day. So all the crew would just have to get that one set ready, and then all the actors would have to keep changing our wardrobe, keep changing our outfits, because we’d be doing a different episode.

So that was kind of interesting and nothing that I had ever done before, but it makes perfect sense because it makes the most economical (sense), instead of taking one episode and going around to all the different sets. It would take so much more time. They just did it all per set, which was kind of confusing for us and tough on the wardrobe people in that we’re constantly having to change outfits and really don’t even know what’s going on in the rest of an episode because we’re just reading our lines and doing things for so many different episodes because we’re just on the same set. So that was kind of strange but makes perfect sense, economically.

BH: Absolutely. When and where were your scenes shot?

TS: They were shot in a studio in Glendale. It was shot on a studio. I don’t remember the exact name of the studio. I know it was in Glendale, and I know that it’s where Buddy Ebsen had a cable show that he shot out of the same studio, but where he’s just behind a desk, and I think he did a political something-or-other talk show, and it was at that same studio. I remember he had his little set right there at the studio where we were shooting.

BH: Do you remember the time frame when the show was shot and filmed?

TS: Yes. Let’s see. I was a student at UCLA at the time, so I’m thinking it was ‘94, ‘95.

BH: Do you remember any of the months at all when it first started and ended?

TS: No, no. I don’t remember that. We’re talking 12, 13 years ago.

BH: You talked about Brad Kreisberg a little bit. What kind of direction would he give you? How would he direct you in a scene?

TS: He was hands-on. He really had a picture of what was going on. Reading the script, I don’t think that I even got what was going on until I saw an episode of it. I didn’t really get what they had envisioned, with all the Japanese live-action stuff. I didn’t even really realize what they had pictured until I saw an episode, so I guess that’s a big compliment to the director because he was able to direct us and help us to create his vision of what they were creating.

So he would give us good direction, but then he would also let us go with it when it was appropriate.

BH: My next question is a two-parter. Were you given any freedom with your character? Whether or not you were, how did you approach your character?

TS: I think my character was the most fun out of everybody because every different episode I got to do all different types of things. I got to be in crazy outfits from full scuba gear to weird makeup and great wardrobe. I got to be in a lot of different things. I actually still have Polaroids of a lot of my different outfits, some of my crazy, different outfits that I got to be in. One episode, like I said, I was in scuba gear. Another one, I had eyes painted onto my eyelids. So my eyes were closed, but it looked like my eyes were open. Then I open my eyes, so it’s a really weird effect. I was given a lot of freedom because my character was a lot of the comic relief. I was sort of like the Kramer (from Seinfeld) type of character. I was allowed a lot of freedom to kind of improv what I was doing. It was a lot of physical comedy, and so that was definitely a lot of fun. I would say that my inspirations for the character were Kramer and Jerry Lewis.

BH: (laughs) Very nice. Do you have any just other interesting stories from the set, any memories of practical jokes or anything else that may have happened?

TS: I seem to remember that there were some practical jokes going on. I remember that one of the cameramen was sort of an amateur chiropractor. He would do this thing where you would lie down, and he would push on a knee or something, just like in the middle of the set. I’m in my full wardrobe, and he would come give an adjustment, push down on one knee and one of your shoulders and moving your knee across the other knee, pulling your leg up, bending at the knee, and then kind of twisting, and he would push that direction, and then on a shoulder, and could crack your entire spine. That was really good.

I think at one time, after lunchtime, we all grabbed a bunch of bread rolls, and when the director or stage manager said, “Roll please!” to tell them to roll the videotape, everybody on the whole crew pulled out a roll and threw a roll at him.

BH: (laughs)

TS: “Lights are ready. Okay, quiet down, everybody. Ready, and roll please!” We all threw a roll at him. So that was pretty neat.

BH: (laughs) Excellent. What did you think of the show when you saw it, when it was all finished?

TS: I thought it was cool. It was in the same genre, I felt, as Power Rangers. So I thought it was very similar, that maybe we were trying to grab some of the success of Power Rangers because, at that time, Power Rangers was absolutely huge. Obviously, we didn’t get to anywhere near that kind of notoriety, but I think that sometimes when a popular thing comes out, you see a few others pop up. So we were a little bit of a copycat of that, even though the premise of the show was completely different. So I guess we were trying to build on some of that success, and I thought it was entertaining.

I know that at one point, we were graded or rated by some communication department at some university — you may be able to find this out with some research; I don’t remember exactly what university or what study — but it was something that rated violence on television for children, and unfortunately, we were, I think, at the top of the list or maybe even the number-one most violent show for kids, which I’m not very proud of, but I guess it is what it is.

BH: It’s an interesting footnote, nonetheless.

TS: Yeah. So it was interesting, and I don’t really think it was that violent because they’re kind of like cartoon characters. It is live-action, and I guess it was sort of violent, but apparently it was rated by some university as the most violent show for kids.

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