Every superhero franchise is getting a reboot—why not Power Rangers? The campy TV show about colorful, masked teens who fought intergalactic evil was a mainstay of 90s Saturday morning programming for the youth; it makes sense that the Power Rangers are being trotted out again for a big-screen release in March 2017. But fans looking to relive the show's nostalgia were somewhat shocked to see one of the series's main villains looking quite different. For next year's "modern and edgy" big-screen version, the Power Rangers' long-standing nemesis, Rita Repulsa, will be played by Elizabeth Banks, sporting gold talons and a reptilian green bodysuit.
This is a clear departure from the villain's original look in the American series, which was itself a re-imagining of the original Japanese show about a color-coded fighting squad. The first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers used dubbed clips from the Japanese version of the show, in which Rita Repulsa was played by Machiko Soga. When that footage ran out, Carla Perez took over as the alien witch from 1994 to 1998. The American actress, who was born in the Philippines, delightfully wore her hair like a horned helmet and along with a full-on cone bra like her predecessor. While Rita Repulsa was always voiced by another actress, Barbara Goodson, Perez carried out the image of the villain with theatrical camp and physical humor to match her over-the-top costume.
Fans across the Internet felt like the new interpretation was a huge injustice, so we talked to Perez—who is currently working on a new film called False Affairs—about whether we should really be that mad.
BROADLY: The Wikipedia page for "Rita Repulsa" describes the character as "an evil humanoid alien witch bent on galactic domination," which is exactly how I'd want to be described. How did you get the role?
Carla Perez: I never auditioned for the role, exactly. When I was in my early 20s, I had an audition for another movie that Shuki Levy [a director on Power Rangers] was directing. I didn't get that role, but he told me to come in and do a screen test for another character he had in mind. I went the next day, and he showed me the Japanese footage of Machiko [Soga] for reference. I was like, whoa, you want me to play her? In my audition they wanted me to be as over-the-top as possible. They were like, Rita Repulsa is out there. I didn't think my screen test was that great, but the next day they called me and said I got the role. I guess [Levy] saw her in me.
I have to ask, do you practice witchcraft off-camera?
No, no witchcraft. But it was fun to pretend.
What was it like playing just the physical role of Rita Repulsa? I know scenes from the original Japanese series were dubbed for use in the American version, but why was a different voice actor used for your character in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?
I didn't know that they were going to do a voiceover when I auditioned. But when I started the show, the producers told me that they were going to keep [Barbara Goodson] as the voice because the kids were already familiar with it and a change would probably confuse them. It was what it was, and I was just happy to be on the show.
I actually met [Goodman] for the first time a few weeks ago at the Lexington Comic Con. Isn't that funny? We were like, after all these years! It was so good to meet her. They would record the voiceover in a sound studio after I taped so I never met her while we were filming the show.
Some fans seem to be concerned that the character is no longer played by an Asian actress. How do you feel about Elizabeth Banks being cast in your role for the reboot?
I was quite surprised when they announced it, but she's such a good actress. I don't think the fact that she's not Asian really matters. There's a new generation of kids who will watch it so it really doesn't matter. Rita's alien anyway.
What do you think of the new costume? I'm sad that she's not wearing a cone bra.
[Laughs] Yeah, where'd the cone bra go!? When I first saw the costume, I didn't see Rita at all in it, especially because the green threw me off. But after you look at it for a while, it's a pretty nice costume. I get that they want to go in a different direction for a new generation. I do like the costume though—it's so sexy. If Rita had a costume like that back then... wow.
Yeah, the new costume is definitely more of a minimalist interpretation. Yours was so elaborate. Was the cone bra hard to wear?
Oh my goodness, yes. That was one of the heaviest costumes ever. The dress itself—without all the jewelry, the cone, the collar, the helmet—must have weighed about ten pounds. Adding the accessories, it was probably 20 pounds altogether. Luckily at that time I was young and I could handle it, but at the end of the day I was exhausted.
Do you have any theories as to why Rita Repulsa is now green? Since it's Power Rangers, the color must mean something, right?
I think the costume that was just revealed is not the only costume. I think it's one of two, or one of several, she's going to wear throughout the movie. I think she'll wear the green costume when she introduces us to the evil Green Ranger. Somehow, some way, she's going to take it and transform it onto the Green Ranger. She's the one who created him, so I have a feeling that's going to happen. After she gives him the costume, or transforms it into him, I think we'll see the revamped Rita costume that a lot of people have been hoping to see. Hopefully she'll be wearing the cones!
Are you going to see the new movie when it comes out in theaters?
Yeah, of course I am. It looks like it's going to be pretty good.