April in Turtleland
For Paige Turco, happiness is also a Teenage Mutant Ninja
By now, the sight of four masked, man-sized turtles practicing the martial arts should be a familiar one to April O’Neil. And yet, a year after she first came tumbling down through a manhole and into their lives, they are as extraordinary to the TV reporter as her own appearance may be startling to those who’ve followed her previous adventures.
“It’s like being in a fantasy land,” admits Paige Turco, who replaces Judith Hoag (STARLOG #154) as the half-shelled heroes’ human companion in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. “I said to a friend of mine it was like being a little kid and going to Disney World, except they talk to you. My first day was like. ‘Wow! They’re talking to me! This is amazing!’ And I found myself, as an actress, talking to Michaelangelo, not to the actor. Once in a while, I would go, ‘This is really weird. I’m turning a little silly here,’ because the actor inside can see me really empathizing or having fun with Michaelangelo.”
“And each of the Turtles has their own separate personality, which I had trouble with before I started the film because I thought, “Oh. God! I’m going to have to memorize their colors.’ Somebody had said to me, ‘No, they all have their own personalities.’ I remember thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ And when I got there, they really did!”
“It was great!! I mean, it was keeping the child alive in you. You have to in order to do a film like this one. The child in you sparks up and lives for a little while, and it was wonderful to be a part of that.”
A soap opera actress better known to fans of ALL MY CHILDREN as Melanie Cortlandt, Turco was simply looking for a change of pace when her agent, without telling her, got her the audition for what would become her film debut. But once she won the role, beating out 100 others (“That’s information to me. I didn’t know there were that many people up for this”), the actress’ turned to neither the cartoons nor Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Turtles comics to prepare herself for becoming their heroine. Likewise, she took no inspiration from her predecessor.
“I don’t know Judith,” she says. “I’ve never talked with her. I saw the movie a long time ago and didn’t base anything of what I was doing on what she did. Judith and I are very different, and much of the way you create a character, you use a lot of yourself. To try and re-create, or create something from, somebody else’s work is a very bizarre concept to me. I’ve never even attempted it. I wouldn’t want to. This April is my April, the way I perceived her.”
“The one thing that I did do was really concentrate on the reality of who she was. It’s not all that in-depth, you know,” Turco laughs, “but I didn’t want a two-dimensional caricature. I really wanted to create a person. So, I have a friend who works for a network and he’s a field reporter, and I took two days and followed him around. I spent some time in a newsroom and out on locations. So, that was fun, just to get some idea of where this woman is coming from and what her day-to-day life is so that it could be interrupted by four absurd turtles.”
“I definitely think she’s a little quirky to be able to live with these Turtles,” the actress confides. “She’s a very ambitious, very centered person who knows what she wants, she goes after what she wants, and she’s very’ open to accepting things. And very loving. She’s very caring, sisterly… I mean, they’re like teenage brothers, you know? I think she might have been a little bit conservative before she met the Turtles. But she has a really neat perspective on life.”
The Massachusetts-born Turco was forced to change her own perspective when an injury abruptly ended her early ballet career. Turning to other stage work, she appeared in assorted plays and musicals, getting her first taste of life as a comic character when she performed in college productions of ANNIE and YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. “They’re real people to me,” she says both of those roles and April. “But maybe their flavor for excitement seems to be a little more exaggerated.”
Taking pans in afternoon TV dramas, she began playing to considerably larger audiences, joining the cast of, first, GUIDING LIGHT and then, in 1988, ALL MY CHILDREN. But while her soap opera experience had inured her to shooting a script out of sequence and enduring seemingly endless days, the actress confesses she hasn’t become accustomed to every aspect of filmmaking.
“I’ve never seen myself before on a big screen,” comments Turco. “In fact, I was saying to somebody, T hope that I get to see it at some point,’ because I don’t want to show up at the premiere and be sitting there, going, ‘Oh, my God! I’m huge up there!’ You know, that’s a strange feeling. I went to a film last week, and I sat there, and suddenly it hit me! I went. ‘Wow! Like, that’s, that’s real big up there. I’m a little scared about all this.’ And when I went to do the looping, I was a little shocked at first, but you get used to it.”
One person she most credits with helping her acclimate herself to her new working environment is her co-star David (Star Trek V) Warner, who here plays the inventor of the secretive ooze. “I loved him! He was working with me on one of the first days I worked, so I was really learning how everything worked, even down to simple things, and he was real helpful. He was right there, very giving. It’s hard to give specifics. It was just an overall feeling of the way he deals with this medium, being able to keep it alive. I wish I had had the opportunity to have more scenes with him and to really work with him – and maybe someday I will! But he’s a great guy. He’s really a neat person. People are going to love him. He was great as the professor.”
On the other hand, although she has nothing but admiration for their creators, the Turtle suits proved troublesome.
“The actors were great, and they helped me out as much as they could, but there was only so much we could do because it’s so technical,” notes Turco. “One of the things that was very difficult about it was when a line was spoken, the puppeteer spoke at the same time as the actor in the Turtle costume, and when the actor inside said his line, it was extremely muffled because all I heard was machinery moving the faces. It was definitely a challenge. There were a couple of times after we had been working all day where I would stand there and think, ‘Where’s my puppeteer? Could somebody please move my face?’ ” She laughs. “It was kind of strange to go back to working with humans. Very different.”
Yet as problematic as an outfit could be under normal circumstances, the actress comments, “it had to break down sometimes. So, every once in a while, one of the Turtles’ faces would freak out. I mean, it would make really funny faces out of control. Or one of the guys in the suits would go, ‘It’s not happening.’ Like, it just wouldn’t move. You would hear somebody talking, but the face wouldn’t be responding to you.” And if that wasn’t enough, she recalls with a laugh, “I tripped quite a bit. The Turtles had marks that were elevated off the floor because they couldn’t see them. You know, they saw out of little slits. So. I tripped a lot.”
However, there was one occasion when it wasn’t one of the actors’ marks that caught her underfoot. “A part of it was cut from the film, but there was a scene where I had to cross over to grab a purse very, very quickly in my house and one of the Turtles is hiding. And I was so damned determined to get that pocketbook, I went to jump over the Turtle, not thinking there’s this huge shell on his back with a bo, and got stuck. I was sitting on the Turtle’s back in the middle of this scene and started to laugh.”
“There was something funny that happened off set. I got stuck in an elevator. Actually, that wasn’t very funny. What happened was the power went out during the hurricane. I was finally found after an hour, and the guy that found me – his dog found me actually – said to me when I was in there, ‘You’re working on that Turtle movie, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, where are they now? Aren’t they supposed to save you?’ And I was sitting there, thinking, ‘All right. I know that was meant to be funny, but I’m not in the mood.'”
Joke or not, April’s having a reputation solely as a damsel in distress isn’t something Turco would like to see the character keep. “I’m actually contracted to do the third film,” she reveals. “I don’t think they know for sure what they’re going to do, but one of the things that I would love to do would be to get into the martial arts of it all and maybe get into more of the action sequences. That would be fun. I haven’t seen it, but from what I understand, in the cartoon, April runs around with a gun, the suit, and does a lot of the stuff with them. That wasn’t the case with the film. I would have loved to, because I am athletic.” However, Paige Turco remarks, “I think I could pass on the yellow jumpsuit.”
STARLOG MAGAZINE – May 1991 – Daniel Dickholtz