Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles star Ernie Reyes Jr. reveals what it was like to help pave the way and inspire Filipino Americans while working in the film and television industry.

Ernie Reyes Jr. is one of Hollywood’s most accomplished, well-known and respected actors. The Filipino American performer is also an accomplished martial artist and showcased his incredible talent in many Hollywood projects such as The Last Dragon, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Librarians, Red Sonja, Surf Ninjas, White Wolves 2: Legend Of The Wild, Poolhall Junkies, The Rundown, Redline, Indiana Jones: Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, the Uncharted Live Action fan film, Rush Hour 2 and many more.  

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Reyes is famously known for his work in the first two live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. He was the stunt double for Donatello in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film and had a significant role in the second film, The Secrets Of The Ooze, where he played Keno. Reyes’ work in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films helped cement him in Hollywood, his performance as Keno has been beloved by fans of the franchise, and his work on the series Sidekicks made him more widely known.

Ernie Reyes Jr. Shares His Experience

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We had the unique opportunity and incredible honor of interviewing Ernie Reyes, asking him what it was like to inspire Filipino Americans to work in Hollywood and if he expected the Ninja Turtles would have a massive following. We also asked Reyes about his reactions to getting a NECA action figure, and if he was ever asked to return to the Ninja Turtles franchise.

Illuminerdi journalist Jezzer Reyes conducted the interview at Pasadena Comic Con 2022.

I was a huge fan of Ninja Turtles growing up. Can you tell me what it was like paving the way for Filipino Americans in Hollywood?

Ernie Reyes Jr: I’m really proud of that part of my career. At the time that I got in, in the early to mid-eighties, there weren’t many Filipinos – if any – that were really working at the time. Even just Asians in general, even African American or Latinos, there wasn’t a lot of diversity in Hollywood in the early to mid-eighties. I was happy to play my part in being able to do that.

When we did Sidekicks, to have a Filipino American lead on a network television show was really unprecedented. I’m really proud of that. And there’s a lot of people that I’ve met over the years since then that have told me, “Hey, when I saw you on Sidekicks, there was nobody on television that looked like me, that I could relate to, and you were that person.” I’m really proud of that.

Ninja Turtles has had a huge franchise over the past 30 years. Did you have a sense of how big of a scope it would have?

Ernie Reyes Jr: I knew when we first started filming that we were doing something great, because when you’re filming movies, you have an idea. You don’t know necessarily what the box office is gonna be and that kind of thing, but you know whether you’re doing something great or not. I think like that in life as well. You know when you’re doing good work, and you know when you’re doing stuff that’s not so hot.

I knew we were doing something good and, when it became a success, that wasn’t too shocking. But what’s really more surprising to me is that 30 years later, there’s still a loyal fan base that grew up on those movies and really hasn’t lost the passion for those films and those characters. It’s really a trip to be able to go to ComicCon and meet people, and see their excitement for something that happened so long ago.

You were on one of my buddy’s podcasts last year and said that they’re gonna be releasing a NECA figure. Last week we got little teases of it. How does it feel to be immortalized in that way?

Ernie Reyes Jr: Yeah, it’s really super cool. A lot of people over the years have always asked me, “Hey, when are you gonna have an action figure?” Even back in the day, I would be like, “It would be cool,” and it just never happened. So, for it to be happening now, coming out in 2022, it’s really super cool. It’s like you get to capture that moment in time forever now. I think there’s a lot of people that are super excited.

In your career, were there any other times that Ninja Turtles asked for you to come back in any capacity?

Ernie Reyes Jr: Not really. When they first started bringing the movies back, I was kind of part of the process of relaunching the new Turtle movies that came out. But early on in the process, a new team of people came in, and it took different and twists and turns. I wasn’t part of making the three movies, which I think probably worked out to my benefit.

But we’ll see what happens. I know that they’re relaunching the Ninja Turtles. I heard Seth Rogen’s leading the way. Who knows? Maybe there’s [a chance] I get to be part of what they’re doing from behind the scenes or whatever. Hopefully,

Hopefully they gave you that call. Thank you so much for your time. This is probably one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do ever. I’m glad to see you doing better, since you were sick for a little bit.

Ernie Reyes Jr: Yeah. I had a kidney transplant a little over a month ago. I’ve been doing dialysis for six and a half years, so that has been a long journey. But now I had a kidney transplant. I have a new life, the start of a new era, and I’m just super grateful. Thank you.

Exclusive Interview: TMNT's Ernie Reyes Jr. Paves Way for Filipino Americans In Hollywood - The Illuminerdi

Ernie Reyes Jr. will forever be a beloved figure in Hollywood. His contributions to the entertainment industry besides Ninja Turtles are already an impressive feat, not to mention his short but impressive stint as a professional kickboxer. His work and career helped inspire many Filipino Americans to pursue a career in Hollywood, which is a lasting legacy for Ernie Reyes Jr. 

What was your favorite film or tv series that Ernie Reyes Jr. starred? Were you a fan of the 90s live-action Ninja Turtles films growing up? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media.

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