To some he will always be Cousin Oliver, the bespectacled moptop from “The Brady Bunch.” Others know him as the voice of Michaelangelo in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” films. More recently, he has come to viewers attention as the bus driver in the camp horror classic “Sharknado.” Robbie Rist is all that and more. The self-described “Entertainment Guy” (aka multi-faceted entertainment force) met up with West Coast bureau chief Keith Valcourt over lunch at Chili John’s in Burbank, California to talk about his “Brady Bunch” past, musical stylings and all things “SHARKNADO!”
Rocker: Let’s start with the phenomenon that is “Sharknado.” What are the latest developments?
Robbie: It opened in some theaters here in Los Angles. Midnight screenings. Then they did it in Australia, and in Canada. And the response is the same.
Rocker: How did you get involved with “Sharknado?”
Robbie: I’ve been friends with the director (Anthony C. Ferrante) for twenty-some years and done music on his last 3 or 4 movies. In an unrelated story, last October I was talking to a production company about maybe doing a voice-over job for them. He had just come from the American Film Market (a yearly event where filmmakers meet investors) in Santa Monica, and I said, “Did you see anything at the film market that was interesting?” He said, “Oh my god. I passed by The Asylum Film booth and they had a poster with sharks in a tornado and they are calling it “Sharknado.” Besides the image, all the poster said was “ENOUGH SAID.” We both were like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait for this to come out!” We’re both genre nuts.
What Asylum does is knock off movies of popular films. At the time Anthony was doing his version of “Hansel and Gretel” which I did the music for. He said, “They just offered me a film called “Sharknado” and I jumped out of my chair, grabbed him by his lapels and said, “I don’t know why, but you MUST get involved with this thing!” And then I said, “And if you do, I have to be in it.” So he took the film, and they wrote me a part.
Rocker: You also did music for the film?
Robbie: I co-wrote the theme song, and did six other pop songs in the film.
Rocker: For those who haven’t seen it yet, tell us about your character and how he meets his end.
Robbie: I’m a school bus driver that is stranded in water that has sharks in it. Ian Zerring comes and rescues me and the kids. On the day we shot, Anthony said to me, “Yeah, there are a bunch of lines written, but if you have anything you wanna improve and wing it, then go ahead.” He used all my stuff. I’m the only person in the film that doesn’t get killed by sharks!
Rocker: I read that “Sharknado” was your first red carpet premiere. How is that possible?
Robbie: I never went to a premiere before. If you think about the movies I’ve been in,… I mean I don’t think they had a red carpet premiere for “Iron Eagle.” I don’t think there was a red carpet for “Busting” in 1973. “Stump The Band” didn’t have a red carpet. It didn’t even have a screening (laughs)! Hasn’t quite reached the “cult status” I would like.
Rocker: Will you be in the “Sharknado” sequel “Sharknado 2”?
Robbie: I think it’s called “The Next One” or “Another One.” I won’t be in the sequel because my character does meet his demise, but I’ll probably do music for it. They’re filming in New York and it’s a low budget movie. Not like they are going to fly me out.
Rocker: Maybe they’ll give you a bus ticket.
Rocker: You’ve been in some iconic cultural projects in your career.
Robbie: I’ve been trying to market myself by saying “Make your project iconic. Put me in it!” I’m not saying it’s necessarily true, but I was on “The Brady Bunch,” I was in the (Teenage Mutant Ninja) Turtle movies, I was in “Sharknado,” (laughs)… Apparently me being in it ups the possibility of something getting really crazy.
Rocker: You’re the good luck charm.
Robbie: Yeah, Totally!
Rocker: I know you are also a voice-over artist. How did you land your role on Disney’s “Doc McStuffins?”
Robbie: Just an audition process and luck. I had a terrible run of 10 years of doing nothing. A decade of almost no work. It was looking pretty bleak. God bless Chris Nee who invented this thing and created the show. It came along at just the right time and she took a chance on me. I’m really grateful. I can pay my bills. Yay! I’m the voice of Stuffy on Doc McStuffins. It’s a show about a little girl who is a doctor, and it has captured the imaginations of all these young girls who now want to be doctors. It’s great. It’s a real job, and the folks at Disney are making what they call a “walk around” (giant character costume for them parks and public appearances.), which doesn’t mean any money for me, but it shows they are committed to the character. The show is doing really, really well though.
Rocker: what did you do in that decade of non-work?
Robbie: Robbie: I was doing little gigs here and there. I did a lot of music and odd production jobs. People’s voice-over demos. Whatever I could to maintain. It was really brutal. I worked, but a lot of it was really running thin the whole time. I would think “Oh crap! My parents were right.”
Rocker: Were your parents supportive of your show business career?
Robbie: Yes, they were. But in a strange sort of way. They would buy me instruments but then say, “You know entertainment is not a good idea though. You should have something to fall back on.” I would then say, “I have something to fall back on—Acting.” Well. What do you have to fall back on from that? “Music.” Oh.
Rocker: You were in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films, what do you think of the two reboots, the animated series and the upcoming Michael Bay film?
Robbie: The series I’m fine with. From what I understand everybody who was a fan really likes the cartoon. So I’m all good with that. The live action movie they are making, I have concerns. Wrong producer choice if you ask me. There isn’t a happy “Transformers” fan out there. I don’t know how those movies made so much money. They are basically doing the same things with the Turtles feature. My guess is the turtles are going to be second class citizens in their own movie. Just like the “Transformers” movies. I wanna be wrong. I do. But I’m not. (Laughs)
Rocker: Are you doing any other voice over work?
Robbie: Mostly “Doc McStuffins.” I read all the time . Every once in a while I do the odd commercial. I’m trying to get a web series off the ground. Primarily, I want a job in the entertainment business so I can fund other things that I want to do in entertainment.
Rocker: Let’s go way back and talk about your “Brady” past. How old were you when you played Cousin Oliver on “The Brady Bunch?”
Robbie: I was nine years old.
Rocker: How many episodes did you do?
Robbie: Six episodes.
Rocker: Really just six episodes?
Robbie: I know. It’s really strange forty years, almost exactly forty years to the day, and we are still talking about a six week job that I had. It’s really odd. It’s cool too.
Rocker: At the time you had no idea that you were creating this iconic TV character?
Robbie: Of course not. I was nine!
Rocker: A lot of critics have said Cousin Oliver was the character that made the show “Jump The Shark.”
Robbie: People said that I brought down the show. So basically what they are saying in a nine year old child has the power to bring down a television dynasty? Wow! I wish I would have known that back then, I could have been an industrial saboteur! “You want something destroyed in entertainment? Hire me!”
Rocker: Was there a camaraderie among the kids?
Robbie: Yeah. They were super cool. They had been doing it for a long time at that point. I basically walked into the assembly line and just became part of the thing. They were all super cool.
Rocker: Are you in touch with any of your Brady co-stars?
Robbie: I still talk to them. I talk to Susan (Olsen) all the time.
Rocker: I know you also do autograph shows. Is it weird to be approached by people who love you from something you did when you were nine some 40 years ago?
Robbie: I used to find it odd. But really what those shows are is – for lack of a better word – fan events. They have something they have always wanted to talk about with somebody who did something that they admire, and now they get their chance. It’s not about me at all. It’s not about the actor. It’s about them, about their event with you. So I think it’s kind of cool. They get something out of it. I get something out of it. Fine.
Rocker: Have you ever had any over the top crazy fans?
Robbie: Oh yeah. Every once in a while there is that person that doesn’t realize that the conversation is, in effect, over. And they’ll just sort of linger for a while. And you’re like, “So…um. Other people in line.”
Rocker: …Have you seen Susan Olsen is here too?
Robbie: That’s right. “Butch Patrick is right over there!” (Laughs)
Rocker: Are those events fun to do?
Robbie: Yeah, I’m fascinated by the human zoo anyway. You meet every kind of everybody. It’s pretty amazing. And usually there is travel involved. That’s kind of fun. I like being in airplanes. So Yay! I just did a show in North Carolina a couple months ago. There’s one coming up in Cincinnati. I like traveling and I like people. So hey!
Rocker: And money.
Robbie: And it’s a job. Why not?
Rocker: Have you ever had any “Cousin Oliver” groupies?
Robbie: I’ve never, even in band world, I’ve hardly ever gotten lucky because of the fact that I was in entertainment. Strange I know. Apparently females see a nine year old head on my 49 year old body and that ruins it for them. If it doesn’t ruin it for them than that’s a little alarming!
Rocker: When you look back on the role of Cousin Oliver, ultimately was it a blessing or a curse?
Robbie: I’ve gone back and forth with this. It was a blessing. Okay, look. Like I said, A six week job and we’re still talking about it forty years later. So it was a blessing. There was a point in history where I was a little concerned that that role might be the only thing that I was ever going to have any notoriety for. It must suck for the high school cheerleader whose glory days are past. I used to worry that I peaked at nine. But as it turns out it wasn’t true. So I’m totally into it. It’s on the top of the resume.
Rocker: What else are you working on? Musically?
Robbie: I play in this power pop band from Virginia called The Mockers. Mostly we play in Spain. A lot! We’ve been there 8 or 9 times. We have a following there, which is great. We are doing a single for a WFMU compilation. I have a band of mine on I’m also working on. I do whatever. I don’t even consider myself an actor or a musician. I consider myself an “Entertainment Guy.” I’m into just working on whatever I can. I’m helping someone write a screenplay now. Someone told me in entertainment a long time ago, “Don’t specialize.” I think being able to do a lot of things is great. Because you never know where the money is coming from.
Rocker: Anything else fans should know, about contacting you or whatever?
Robbie: Just go to my Facebook page. I’m pretty available. I don’t go for the living in an ivory tower thing. I don’t have time for that. For all things Robbie Rist see my Facebook page