Last November, in a 25 Questions review for the animated film Tangled, I made a somewhat flippant name comparison between the film’s lead character, Flynn Rider, and the actor who played Shawn Hunter on
Rider Strong. Funny thing about the Internet: within four days, former
star Rider Strong had contacted me to, um, discuss the finer points of my sarcasm. It turns out, these days, Rider Strong (along with his brother, Shiloh) has just directed a short film titled
—about a group of young adults who decide to relive their youth by playing a round of Dungeons & Dragons with what ends up being a way too invested dungeon master—which screened last month at the Tribeca Film Festival (and can be viewed online here). With Strong in New York City for the competition, we thought it would only be appropriate to subject him to his own set of 25 Questions to answer. We discussed a wide range of topics, including the origins of his quite unique name, the challenges of being a former child star breaking into filmmaking, Burt Reynolds’s temper on the set of
is so synonymous with college dorms and the illegal use of marijuana. Highlights:
Q: Is Rider Strong really your real name?
A: It is my real name. I had hippie parents—that’s sort of the shorthand explanation. If I was going to be a girl, they were going to name me Sierra—so I would have been Sierra Strong. But my dad said, “That sounds like a stripper name.” But it never occurred to him that Rider Strong was the biggest porn name ever. “Ride-her-strong”—it sounds like a joke. No one pointed it out to me until I was 15. My father’s name is King Arthur Strong.
A: Originally I don’t think it hurt me and, in general, people remember my name, which is nice. But now it sounds like an actor-y affectation or something. If I were a writer, it would probably be better.
Q: The trivia section of your IMDb page states that you “enjoy backpacking, swimming, whitewater rafting, soccer, rollerblading, writing and reading poetry.” Can I borrow that for future dating profiles?
A: [Laughs.] That’s like my profile from when I was 13 years old. That’s awful. Fuck, that’s terrible. It’s on IMDb? Oh, that sucks. Years ago, people kept changing my height to five-foot-three. And I was like, “I’m short, but I’m not
short.” I wrote to the IMDb people, and I was like, “I’m five-eight!” And they changed it, and somebody else changed it back to five-three. Who is this person who has an obsession with making me shorter?
A: The ultimate goal is usually to get financing for a feature. To make a full-length feature because people don’t watch short films. Now, we have scripts; we just need to find somebody to give us some money to make a feature.
A: Oh yeah. It’s totally based on a true story. We ran into a friend that we used to play D&D with, and we’re like, “We can’t tell anybody about this, but we should try it again.” None of us could remember the rules, so we invited a guy to come and he was pretty geeky. And we realized that we were the assholes in the situation because he was having a lot more fun, and we weren’t because we were so insecure about being perceived as geeky. We suck, so Shiloh and I decided to sort of run with that as a short film and, obviously, add some magic. All of that self-hating geek insecurity was interesting to us.
A: No, no. Shiloh saw it and he said it was pretty different. But now everybody is sort of saying that. Now everyone is like, “Oh, did you see that?” We shot ours a year ago. I don’t know when theirs did. Though, they did a great episode of
with D&D, where James Franco shows up and he’s the cool guy playing D&D and he ends up being great at it.
Q: Does being a former child sitcom star make it easier or harder to break into filmmaking?
A: That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I think it’s easier to get my foot in the door, but it’s harder to be taken seriously once I’m there. So I think that getting crew, for instance—people will meet with me. They go, “Oh, he’s actually legitimized in some ways. He’s part of the industry; he’s successful in some areas so I’ll meet with him.” But once I meet with him and they know the show, I’m just a child actor trying to do something else. So I have to prove myself against that. I’m not making anything that has anything to do with
so it doesn’t lend credence or value to my projects. [It] gives more publicity to our film because I have so many Twitter followers, or whatever. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to give my film an award. We’re going to have to earn that.
Q. As a child actor, what’s the fine line between being an Oscar-winning director like Ron Howard or turning to porn like Scotty Schwartz?
A: I don’t know, man. The worst example is someone like Jonathan Brandis, somebody who was from my era and somebody that I knew. And he killed himself. And that’s tragic. I think if most people just go through their high-school class, there are a lot of people who are depressed and get into drugs or screw up in any given group of people that you know at a young age. Predicting if where you are at in high school is going to somehow [determine] where you’re going to be at 30 is kind of pointless. I don’t know if child actors are necessarily more screwed up than most people.
Q: Is it comparable to being the most popular kid in high school, then you graduate and all of a sudden all of that adulation is gone?
A: Sure. Look, I think the traditional child actor is one of two things: it’s either “I want nothing to do with this ever again” or “I need this again! I need the attention, I need the love, I need the affection of the crowd.” I think the people who survive the best are somewhat in-between. When I was a kid, when River Phoenix died, there were all of those articles like, “Oh, drugs and the troubles of Hollywood.” People would ask me about it and I was like, “Are you kidding? I’ve seen more drugs at my high school back home than I do in Hollywood.” I don’t know, I think people are screwed up everywhere. Being a child actor, unfortunately, you just hear about it.
Q: Better television name: Benjy Robertson,your character in
with Mark Harmon; Adam MaGuire from
] Benjy Robertson? Oh, yeah, you did IMDb—white-water rafting and poetry. That’s so embarrassing. Yeah, I’m going to go white-water rafting tomorrow. Somebody get me my rollerblades.
Q: What’s your best memory of playing Julie Andrew’s son on
A: She was so awesome. I was young, I was only 11 or 12. I remember Blake Edwards—he directed every episode. And he was so not right for television. And if something funny happened, if some actor did something, he would rewrite the entire script on the spot. And we would add a whole new character and a whole week to the schedule. Shooting a sitcom, you just can’t do that. He was so old school with film and comedy; it was terrible for television but made for good comedy. And he never took his sunglasses off.
A: Yep. Oh yeah. You know, it’s funny, he just would lose it. He lost it on the prop guy—screamed at a prop guy because they didn’t give him the right thing. I remember being very kind of disturbed as a kid and he ended up directing my second episode. I’m friends with an actor named M. C. Gainey, who worked with Burt Reynolds and loved him—they became best friends. I said, “You know, Burt Reynolds, when I was a kid, scared the crap out of me because he was such an asshole on set.” And M.C. said, “Yeah, he was grumpy back in those days.” At that time, I think he was really pissed that he was doing a family sitcom. I think he thought that he was better than that.
Q: When I asked that question, I was hoping you were going to say, “No, he was a true professional. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes.”
A: Good question! I don’t know. I think, maybe, getting high gives you the proper amount of ironic distance to watch something made for, essentially, teenagers. So when you’re in college it was the cool way to sort of . . . I don’t know. But I’ve definitely heard that a bunch. A lot of people come up to me and say, “That’s how I got through college.” And I think it’s just because it’s a kids’ show but it also has some absurd elements. I mean, we would do a time-travel episode and weird shit. So maybe that’s it? I will bet you that people get high and watch
is interesting because it has a following today that those other Friday-night shows don’t. When is the last time you’ve heard
A: It’s really true. It was on for maybe longer than us.
has lasted in a way those other shows just haven’t. It’s nice to know we got under people’s skin, I guess.
A: Never. I haven’t seen the show since we ended. I’ve YouTubed the final episode. I’ve seen the final scene because we only did one take and we were all crying—that was all just genuine tears. So I watched that a couple of years ago.
Q: Did Corey Matthews and Topanga get married too young? Divorce rates are very high for those who get married before the age of 20.
A: This was a huge debate. ABC actually did an Internet poll for if they should get married. Michael Jacobs, the creator of the show, pushed for that. Because he said that we were going to get them married, and ABC was like, “You can’t do it. They’re too young.” And he said, “Put it out on the Internet and do a poll.” And they did and people wanted them to get married. So that’s why we did it. I think a lot of people agree that was the “jump the shark” moment. Because they got married in the middle of our last season as opposed to ending the show with their marriage. But, yes, he got married too young. Definitely. That’s my answer: yes, it’s ridiculous.
A: Probably. No, no
because the whole conceit of the show was that they were meant for each other. So I can’t say that. Of course they’re still together in magical happy land.
Q: How many young people’s lives were shattered when he or she realized that “cool teachers” like Mr. Turner do not exist?
A: Probably a lot. Though, I feel like people want more of a Mr. Feeny figure than anything. Because Turner disappeared, you know. He had a motorcycle accident and we never explained what happened.
became a hit. And ABC was like, “We need twentysomethings on every show. Including on this kids’ show that’s only watched by teenagers.” And, remember, they had him and they had the character of Eli, who was the black young teacher. And they were going to have this whole twentysomething storyline. I don’t know what they were thinking, but it was a complete disaster. It didn’t work at all.
Q: How many times did you make William Daniels do the voice of KITT from
A: Never. I wish I had. I should have recorded him doing it. Our executive producer’s name was Michael, so it didn’t hit me until our first note session when he was like, “Michael
” I was like, “Oh my God! I know that voice!” Everyone told me that he was from The Graduate. They don’t realize—they were all in their 40s—they don’t realize that as a kid from the 80s, that is the only thing I would have known. He was the voice of fucking KITT. He came to work one day and he said, “I just did an episode of
They had a talking car and they brought me in.” We’re like, “You are the coolest person in the world. Not only are you the voice of KITT, you’re the voice of mock KITT on The Simpsons. You’re God.” He didn’t even realize that it was a big deal.
It starred Marie Osmond, Betty White, Craig Ferguson, Dane Cook, and your brother. Most eclectic cast of all time?
A: Yes. Shiloh was only in the pilot—he wasn’t on the whole series. And the whole show only lasted half of a season. Dane Cook was on that? I had no clue. And Craig Ferguson? Oh my God. It was the same creator of
Michael Jacobs. He was trying to create shows at the same time, so there were lots of crossovers between us, but none of his other shows took off in the 90s. I had actually only gotten the part on
because Shiloh had worked with Michael Jacobs before. Shiloh was originally up for the older brother, Will Friedle’s part.
Mike Ryan is a frequent contributor to VanityFair.com. For any complaints, you can contact him directly on Twitter.
For more high-profile interviews, stunning photography, and thought-provoking features,
Matthew McConaughey’s Mom Confirms That the Oscar Winner Really Is "A Gift From God"
Is the Game of Thrones Finale Title a Massive Spoiler or Just an Inside Joke?
Beyoncé Might Have To Remove All Her Songs From Tidal
The Mad Men Plot Points Matthew Weiner Wanted to Address, But Didn’t, In the Finale
Season 6 Game of Thrones Casting News Brings a Long-Buried Plot Back from the Dead