September 26, 2004
The artist formerly known as Ricky Schroder surveys the sundrenched half-acre of north Scottsdale calls his own and intones the words repeated by so many Arizona family before him, so many times.
"The pool’s been giving us trouble,’’ Schroder laments, peering into the dancing blue water. ‘‘We’re gonna have to get someone to look into that.’’
Fame and upbringing may distinguish the blond, boyishly handsome actorfilmmaker from his neighbors, but household maintenance, apparently, does not.
Schroder’s sprawling ranch-style home in a gated community near the DC Ranch area bears other clues attesting to his toned-down, family-oriented lifestyle. A hockey net in the driveway. An SUV parked nearby, dutifully prepared for what Schroder calls ‘‘shuttle service.’’
Absent from the Schroder home are the prominently displayed mementos, autographs and vanity props that one might expect from a 25-year TV and film career. Affectations are clearly not his thing, and his mannerisms similarly belie his celebrity background. He is cordial and plainspoken. Like the characters he played as a child, he seems wise beyond his years.
The house itself is also "against type": It’s large, tasteful, but hardly extravagant. From the inside, the home appears about a tenth the size of the mongo-mansion in which little Ricky Stratton, the precocious hero of Schroder’s long-running TV hit "Silver Spoons" (1982-87) spent his formative years.
You’ll hear no complaints from Schroder. This is the life he chose when he quit the TV police drama ‘‘NYPD Blue’’ three years ago to invest more time in his family. Schroder and his Canadian-born wife, Andrea — whom he met 14 years ago in Calgary, Alberta, while filming the cable TV movie ‘‘Blood River’’ — also maintain a residence in Colorado, but Arizona is now the family’s year-round home of record.
‘‘I thought it was important to move back here,’’ says Schroder, who in years past twice made his home in Arizona. ‘‘My parents live here, and I wanted my kids to be around their grandparents.’’
‘‘And I don’t miss the traffic on the 405,’’ he adds, referring to the Sisyphean gridlock on Los Angeles-area freeways.
Still, Schroder hasn’t exactly gone native. On this hot September day, the 34-year-old father of four wears a black button-down with corduroy slacks and sandals, and he still has ambitions in the movie industry.
Friday, Schroder’s directorial debut, ‘‘Black Cloud,’’ opens in theaters nationwide.
Based on Schroder’s original script, the movie stars 22-year-old American Indian actor Eddie Spears as Black Cloud, an angry, alienated Navajo youth who goes toe-to-toe with his demons while training for the U.S. Olympic boxing team. Schroder — who changed his stage name to Rick after leaving ‘‘Silver Spoons’’ — credits his move to Arizona with spawning the idea for ‘‘Black Cloud.’
‘‘I didn’t know a lot about Indian people before (the movie),’’ Schroder admits. ‘‘I wrote it from the perspective of people I met and listened to. I read an article about this boxing coach in northern Arizona who was teaching kids to overcome their problems through sports, and thought that was an interesting basis for a story.’’
In a somewhat ‘‘Citizen Kane’’-ish stroke of selfcasting, Schroder plays his own villain, a bigoted and deeply jealous rodeo cowboy who attempts to pry Black Cloud’s girlfriend away from him. When that fails, Schroder’s character becomes increasingly violent and calculating.
Schroder swears that he never envisioned himself in the role while writing the script.
‘‘I originally had an actor lined up to play that role, but it didn’t work out,’’ he recalls, a bit ruefully. ‘‘He wasn’t even an actor, really. He was a cowboy. I thought it would be authentic, but he just froze when the cameras rolled. Got all tense. I thought: ‘This guy’s confident, he can do it. Just be yourself.’ But that confidence didn’t translate.’’
Film buffs will remember that an 8-year-old Schroder broke onto the acting scene as a plucky prizefighter’s son in ‘‘The Champ’’ opposite Jon Voight. When asked if ‘‘Black Cloud’’ and its boxing milieu was a conscious attempt to revisit his roots, Schroder demurs: ‘‘No, it just worked out that way. I wanted to make a movie that was commercial. I understand the realities of the business of movies. If you want to make more movies, you’ve got to make movies that make money. And so I thought this was an idea that was commercial, yet at the same time unique and interesting. An underdog story involving characters that are underrepresented in movies.’’
Financing ‘‘Black Cloud’’ — filmed on location on the vast Navajo Nation in the northeastern part of the state — proved to be an adventure in itself for Schroder, who says he hasn’t ‘‘found many receptive people in Arizona’’ interested in joining the ranks of film producers. Ultimately, he funded the production through the Tonto Apache tribe in Payson. To be sure, it paints a sympathic portait of the American Indian struggle. There are slithery federal housing officials and arrogant white lawmen and other establishment types who traditionally have had a lessthan-harmonious relationship with Indian tribes.
Nevertheless, audiences would be wrong to peg Schroder as a dewy-eyed liberal. He grew up watching John Wayne movies and is one of the few out-of-the-closet conservatives in the entertainment industry, having delivered a speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention in support of George W. Bush.
Schroder is also a religious man; four years ago, he converted to Mormonism, joining his wife, who was already a member.
Schroder’s enthusiastic devotion to family values stands in almost comic contrast to many of his child TV star contemporaries. That Schroder emerged from his 20s without having posed for a mug shot seems oddly astonishing, considering the dubious collective fate of the ‘‘Diff’rent Strokes’’ cast.
Sticking with his affinity for Westerns, Schroder wants his next directorial project to be about Mormon pioneers during their westward diaspora in the 1800s. Told from the perspective of a woman joined in a polygamous marriage, the movie would ‘‘show why polygamy existed and why it stopped.’’ Schroder already has a script. All he needs now is the ever-elusive filthy lucre. He’d prefer to find it locally and, in the process, jump-start an independent local cinema industry.
‘‘People are scared by things they don’t know,’’ Schroder says of the scarcity of Arizona film investors. ‘‘You’ve got to educate them. Sit them down, explain to them how you make a movie, how you keep it on budget and how you get your money back.
‘‘I think with success of ‘Black Cloud,’ it will open some doors.’’