A recent “Saturday Night Live” skit featured a talk show with some of young male stardom’s “sassiest” men. “And here’s Ricky Schroder,” the host enthused. The Schroder figure, replete with a ‘tude from hell, growled back, “It’s Rick, dammit! Not Ricky! Rick !”
Happily, this is a case of art not imitating life. Just a few minutes with the real Rick quickly dispels the notion that the young actor who got his start in the film “The Champ” at age 7 has turned into a surly egomaniac.
“I didn’t see the skit, but I heard about it,” he says, grinning. “When I was around 18, it probably felt important for me to grow up fast and be ‘Rick.’ Rick or Ricky now--it doesn’t matter.”
The polite, self-assured 22-year-old is speaking from a production office where he is poring over 8x10 glossies of actors and considering locations for his directing debut, a modestly budgeted cable movie about a modern-day Huck Finn and his adventures out West. Shooting for the film, currently titled “Huck and the King of Hearts,” was scheduled to begin this month.
Schroder’s dressed in khaki shorts, a striped T-shirt and white-white Adidas. Add his trademark blond hair and green eyes to the picture and the trim, New York-born actor looks like the quintessential California athlete who might seem more at home on a volleyball or tennis court than behind a camera.
“I decided I wanted to direct because it seemed like a natural evolution for me,” he says. He’s convinced he’ll be a quite capable director.
“I’ve had a long career already and have done a lot of difficult things, and didn’t fail in those,” he explains. “I don’t wilt easily, and a director can’t either. He’s the captain of the ship and he’s got to be in total control. He also has to have respect for the people he’s working for. From being an actor and being on a set my whole life, I’m very comfortable there. And I’m not afraid.”
But Schroder has no intention of giving up his thriving acting career, which has included a four-year stint on the TV series “Silver Spoons” and numerous film roles. He’s just completed a starring role as John Thornton in the new television movie version of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.” “I liked the way London got into the psyche of animals,” he says.
Schroder’s canine co-star--Gordon Tootoosis stars as his Native American friend Charlie--is an amazingly emotive German shepherd who plays Buck, the dog who becomes Thornton’s constant companion as he plunges ever deeper into Yukon territory in search of gold. Fortunately, Schroder has more than a passing familiarity with animals--he owns seven dogs. Still, many scenes were a challenge.
“I had to remain very consistent and focused as the trainers were yelling voice cues or waving hot dogs at the dog, trying to get his attention,” he says. “Out of maybe four or five takes of a scene with animals, usually only one would work.”
Though the setting of “Call of the Wild” is the turn of the century, Schroder had no problem relating to the protagonist, who is also 22. “I’m a young man trying to find my way in the world separate and independent from my family, and that’s really what John was struggling to do,” he says.
These days, Schroder makes his home on a Colorado ranch with his own family: wife Andrea; baby Holden (named after William Holden, with whom Schroder co-starred in “The Earthling”), and another baby on the way.
Schroder brings his family with him whenever he’s working on location, but finds that his Colorado homestead provides a vital oasis of normality.
“I have a completely separate life there that’s very fulfilling and rewarding for me,” he says. “We have a set of friends out there, and 16,000 acres that need lots of hands-on management. I don’t derive my self-esteem from my job.
“Call of the Wild” airs Sunday at 9 p.m on CBS.