Though she’s had recurring or regular roles on TV shows like Big Love and now Nashville, and has appeared in nearly 100 different film and television productions including I Am Number Four and Armageddon, to a swath of people who were children of the 1990s, actress Judith Hoag will always be the first person to play the news reporter and friend of reptiles, April O’Neil, in the first live action outing for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With the Michael Bay/Jonathan Liebesman retooling of the franchise, not to mention Megan Fox coming in to assay the role of April, we spoke to Ms. Hoag about her experiences with the Turtles and the legacy of being a childhood icon.
“I have to say that Ninja Turtle fans are so amazing. I’m amazed,” said Hoag with a chuckle as the topic of TMNT was broached. “I cannot say enough about the devotion and love that I feel from all those young boys and girls who are now men and women who love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s stunning to me.”
That film was released in 1990 and became a VHS staple for kids across America because of its characters, April specifically. However, in the sequels, Hoag was replaced by actress Paige Turco — something which is still a point of contention for fans. “I really wanted to go back,” she said. “That was New Line’s call. And then they actually came back to me for the third movie, to see if I would be interested, and I was. They got a lot of flak, I think, in the second movie, because it was like, ‘Where did April go?'”
Still, Hoag has no ill will toward the woman who replaced her. “Paige is lovely! It’s nothing about Paige,” she hastened to add. “It’s just what the kids – this movie made such an impact, and I think the second movie didn’t do as well, and so they revisited. They said the kids really miss [me], and then I guess somebody said ‘Yeah, but if you change it again, that’ll REALLY confuse them!’ It was like, whatever!”
One of the more impressive aspects of that first film was the animatronics for the heads of the turtles and Splinter the rat, designed by the Jim Henson Company. “That was cutting edge,” Hoag said. “Anybody who’s got any ounce of geek in them, mixed with scientist would think it was so cool to watch them do their thing. And the even cooler part, to add another layer of cool, was that all of the puppeteers were Sesame Street puppeteers, so Elmo was there and the Count was there.”
Despite the awe-inspiring nature of the puppetry work, Hoag remembers how the technology would go on the blink randomly. “It wasn’t smooth like it would become a few years later, and certainly the way it is now,” she said. “It definitely made for very long takes. We used to have something we called ‘Total Breakdown’. We would have Total Breakdown and when that happened, everything stopped. They had to get [the servos] moving again, and a lot of times it was my coverage, and there would be nothing there [for me]. There’d be a paper plate on a T-stand or something, because they just couldn’t keep the guys in their costumes. It was just too painful for them. They were suffocating in there.”
And as for the new film, which will be released in August, Hoag has nothing but excitement for the new April, even though people want her to be upset. “People wanted me to be upset that Megan Fox was playing April,” she said. “First of all, I’m too old to play April. Second of all, good on Megan Fox! I hope she had a blast!”
However, she had hoped for a small role in the new film, just as a nod to the fans of the first film. “I would have loved to have done a cameo in the movie,” she said. “That was my only disappointment about the movie, just because I have such fond memories of it, and it’s been so kind to me over the years, and how much people love the movie. But will I go see it? I don’t know. I don’t know. If I have time and I’m in the mood, I’ll go see it. If not, I’ll watch it on video.”
Interview conducted by Brian Walton.