Becoming a superhero has been the best thing for RJ Cyler. At 22 years old, the Jacksonville native saw his stock rise after saving Angel Grove in Saban’s Power Rangers earlier this year. While it’s uncertain if the Power Rangers will morph again — its lukewarm box office left the franchise’s fate in question — RJ Cyler still knows Billy Cranston.
His co-star, Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), recently told The Wrap that a sequel isn’t out of sight. Now Cyler tells Inverse his ideas what could happen in Power Rangers 2.
“Billy will definitely be the same Billy, but he’ll be more comfortable because he’s got friends who got his back,” Cyler says. “Billy has something else to do other than blow stuff up. He doesn’t just have science, he has Jason and Zack and Kimberly. In the second movie, you’ll definitely see more of a confident person. He’ll be more strong of a person.”
At the beginning of Power Rangers, directed by Dean Israelite, Billy is a misunderstood student at Angel Grove High who talks to his deceased father during moments of solitude. “When Billy lost his papa, it was almost like Billy losing the only person on Earth that he felt got him,” Cyler told Inverse in a phone interview. “He’s close to his mom, but she wasn’t into the science-y aspect that made that relationship between his papa mesh: You get to be my dad, you’re a geek like me, you don’t judge me for anything? I like that.”
Although Power Rangers underperformed at the box office, fans who enjoyed the mighty morphin’ ride came away in praise of Cyler, whose portrayal of a superhero on the autism spectrum was celebrated by critics and fans alike; Cyler was nominated for “Choice Scene Stealer” at the Teen Choice Awards this past summer. To honorably play a young person on the spectrum, Cyler looked to someone he admired in his personal life. “I went to school with this dude named Andre,” Cyler explains. “He played flute in our band. Andre is one of the most intelligent people [I know], literally, he’s a genius.”
Andre was on the spectrum, but Cyler says that there was “nothing extra” about Andre or his habits. “He doesn’t have tics. People take on that view of people with autism, that they’re not normal, I feel like that’s the most ignorant thing. So I wanted to be so far away of what people thought being on the spectrum [was like]. I wanted to be honest.”
Cyler says he met people on the spectrum for Power Rangers, but he chose not to imitate or interpret them on the screen. “You have to talk to people, but the tics and stuff that came from Billy, they came from me,” he says. “To being on the spectrum, I just wanted to be honest. The best way to do that is to show they’re just normal people.”
While fans await the return of the Rangers, Cyler will be everywhere in 2018. The actor has just joined the Season 3 cast of MTV’s Scream, his Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here has just been renewed, and he’s currently filming the crime drama White Boy Rick alongside Matthew McConaughey. His next movie, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, will have him co-star alongside Stranger Things actress Shannon Purser.
Until then, Cyler will remember what original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers star David Yost told him before shooting the film. “We had lunch in Calabasas. Driving to meet David Yost, someone you used to dress up for Halloween, the butterflies came.” To Cyler’s relief, Yost was everything one could hope an ex-superhero to be. “He’s just cool.”
Cyler tells Inverse what he learned from the legendary original Blue Ranger. “A lot of the stuff they went through, the naysayers, that was the thing he said not to pay attention to. The people that are negative, it’s a penny to a hundred dollar bill to the people who support the franchise. After me and David talked, people might not like it, but [it’s] okay.”
Saban’s Power Rangers is available now on Blu-ray and Digital HD.