[INTERVIEW] Francois Chau Talks Turtles, GI Joe, and Lost

For those that grew up in the 90s, there are few things that define childhood better than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The successful marketing of comic books and action figures led to the creation of a series of live action movies. The movies brought the cartoon turtles to life and elevated the national craze surrounding the turtles.

Francois Chau portrayed Shredder in the second movie, Secret of the OozeChau went on to star in the hit series Lost and has played supporting roles across various genres. Now, he is coming to DFW and fans will be able to personally meet The Shredder this weekend and Retro Expo. Chau will be greeting fans and discussing his work. We met up with him earlier today to get some answers of our own! Read below to see what he had to say.

We'll start with the beginning of your career. You were initially born in Cambodia, but you moved around a ton growing up, spanning multiple continents. Why did you move so often?

I lived in Cambodia when I was very young, I think must have been like four or five. We left Cambodia and we moved to Vietnam. Then, because of the war, we left Vietnam. My mother went ahead without me first, to kind of get things set up and settled. So, I lived with a family in France for about a year, maybe a year and a half, before I moved to United States. I lived in the Washington, DC area, and then, because of work, we moved to the Congo in Africa and lived there for about two years. Then, we moved back to the States and that was it for traveling around for a while.

With all of that traveling and all that moving, how did you wind up in acting?

I got interested when I was in high school. I got pretty bored and I decided to try something new. So, I auditioned to be in a play. Once I started doing that, I found something that I really thought, "Oh, wow. This is great! This is something I can get into." That's how it started. I went to the university later on and got a BFA in theater and acting. After that I thought, "Hey, I'm just going to give it a shot and go and try to do this."

I grew up in the 90s, so my first experience with your acting was as Shredder in Secret of the OOze. Did James Saito give you any advice prior to taking over the villain in the second movie?

No. I know James and I had worked with him a couple of times in theater before that, but no. I'm not sure why they changed the cast. I thought the first movie was great. James was great, but I heard that there were some people that thought it was a little too violent for little kids, so they decide to change it. As you know, the Secret of the Ooze is a bit different. They kind of made it more like a Disney or Nickelodeon type of movie, less violence, a little more cartoony, and not as dark as the first movie. So, maybe that was why James and also Judith, who played April, didn't do the second movie. That might have been it.

What was the most difficult thing about filming the movie?

Nothing that I can remember; it was a lot of fun. I do remember watching the first movie and there was a lot of action. When I got the role for the second movie, I thought, "Oh, great. I've been doing martial arts for all my life; this is going to be fun getting to do all that stuff." Then I find out Shredder basically just kind of stands around and orders people to do stuff for him. It wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be.

Was that suit and the helmet as cumbersome as they look?

The suit was fine especially compared to the suit the Turtles had to wear. Now we see all these superhero movies where the suits are all they look great but back then it was just a cloth suit. The only thing that was a little difficult at first was the helmet, which they made out of real metal for some reason. It was a little heavy but do you get used to it.

It was never really explained how Shredder returned for the second movie. The last time we saw him he was being crushed to death in the first movie, and then all of a sudden, boom, he's there in the second movie. Were you ever told how he survived? 

First of all, I can't believe it's almost like 30 years ago, right? My memory is a little vague. I don't really remember how the writers brought him back. I'm sure they must have had some good reason to bring him back.

And did you ever watch the new live action Ninja Turtles movies?

I did and I enjoyed them both, but things change with new technology and stuff. I kind of really missed the guys in the suits. It felt a little more genuine. Maybe it was just my bias because I'm from that period. The CGI stuff in the new movies changes a lot. They look good, but I don't know. The turtles seem a little different. When I was watching the first one I thought, "Wow, these turtles are huge!" In the first scene, you see them throwing these metal containers around and you think, "Wow, they're not like the little turtles that hide in the sewers." So, with the technology changes and the different style of movie, I didn't think it was as charming as the original ones were.

You've done lots of work from voicework on GI Joe to Ninja Turtles, Lost, and a number of other things. What would you consider your most challenging role?

Well, GI Joe was really my first ever professional acting job. I had just moved to La in '84 and I was lucky enough to suddenly get this voiceover role. I had never done voiceover before and I felt like I was being thrown into the deep end of the pool. The first day I showed up for work, I went in and did a read through of the script with all the other actors. Then we got up one by one to start recording. So, I had to sit around the table with all these credible voice actors. I was like, "Holy cow, what am I doing here?" It was very intimidating and it was a great learning experience to watch those guys do their things. I had to go up there and do the same thing every day, and every time I went in, I was hoping I didn't get fired.

In interviews, you've mentioned that you only learned about your character on Lost one filming session at a time. What were your thoughts when you finally figured out what was going on with your character?

Well, first of all, I’m not sure I’ve figured out what was going on with my character. I am sure some people have figured it out and I’d love to talk to them. It was fun. It was somewhat secretive; they kept everything close to their vest. I would never get the whole script to begin with, just my stuff. In the beginning, I’d get the script the night before and deliver my lines the next day. Each time, it was a little different and a little weird. Most of the time, as an actor, you just get the script and do it without any questions asked. I just went along with it and figured that they must have known what they were doing, even if I didn’t know what I was doing. As the seasons went along and I learned more about my character and thought, “I wish I would have known that back then because it would have turned out a lot different.” But, I guess it all turned out okay.

Retro Expo offers a huge selection of collectible from notable vendors. The expo also offers big guest names, reasonable pricing, and free parking! Retro Expo is located at the Plano Convention Center and will be there November 12th and 13th. For tickets and more information click here!