Jeff Robinson
Interviewed By: Gringo

Regular visitors to this site (hello all three of you, etc. etc. tired joke about lack of visitors) will know that I have quite the obsession with the 1990's low budget movie Ninja Academy. Who couldn't love it? It's like Police Academy...with ninjas!

Anyway, in my quest to twist my life around that movie tighter than a boa constrictor around some hapless jungle explorer, I managed to score an interview with Jeff Robinson, the man who played the character of the Mime in the movie. But, as the interview shows, Jeff is a very talented guy with a lot more to him than that very special cinematic production would have you believe. Thanks to Jeff for agreeing to the interview!


Gringo: First of all, please introduce yourself.

Jeff: Hello, I'm Jeff Robinson.

Gringo: You played a mime in Ninja Academy but please elaborate on your history in mime.

Jeff: I started in December of 1974 with a college friend. We were offered a job for the grand opening month of a new shopping center. As a result, we started booking other performances. It was at that point that we started studying at the Richmond Shepard School of Mime in Hollywood and booking more and Mime gigs around the Southern California area.

Gringo: You were the mime in the French Pavillion of Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center. How long did you do that for, and what was the experience like?

Jeff: I was one of two original Mimes in the French Pavillion when we opened in October of 1982. My first partner was Abatar, a Mime/Magician from New York. One year later we were joined by Jackie Davis a female Mime and Juggler. I was there for about five and a half years. I was laid off and decided to move back to Los Angeles.

Gringo: What other work have you done with Disney over the years?

Jeff: A year after returning to L.A., I got a small job with Disney working on a film called "Mickey's Audition", the fictional story of how Mickey Mouse came to Hollywood and was "discovered" by Walt Disney. The whole film was shot in live action from Mickey's POV (point of view). I provided Mickey's hands by reaching into the shot from behind the camera to handle props with the live actors. Later, Disney animators covered my hands with animations of Mickey's hands.

Some years later, I worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a video reference actor. I would perform scenes on video tape and the animators would use my movements as a reference point as they drew the action.

Gringo: I understand you've recently returned to acting. Why the break from it, and what kind of acting have you done since returning?

Jeff: I had to take care of some "real life" issues and spent a lot of time studying the Michael Chekhov Technique of acting. I think musicians call it "wood shedding". In other words, spending some time away from performance to work on the craft.

Gringo: Okay, time for some Ninja Academy questions. How did you get the part in the movie?

Jeff: A good friend of mine and fellow Mime, Mitchel Evans was originally booked to play in the film. A scheduling conflict came up and he recommended me to the Director. I went down to the location in Topanga Canyon one day to audition, and I was shooting the next day.

Gringo: What was working for Nico Mastorakis like [the writer/producer/director]?

Jeff: Nico is a colorful character. He is obviously Greek and is, how should I say..."expressive". He knows what he wants and what works in his films. If you don't give him what he wants, he'll tear you a new one.

One cold morning, (we shot in December) there was frost on the ground when they called me out to set to shoot some of the final big fight scene. As I was rushing out to the set, I slipped on a patch of frost, slid under the grip truck and cut my lower leg rather badly. A crew member was helping me hobble/hop out to the set. As I approached, Nico was on a bullhorn saying something about my needing an engraved invitation. I was wet, cold and bloody, and had run out of patience. I let loose with an expletive laden explanation of the fall under the truck and finished with something like "so I just thought I'd stop the bleeding before we did the shot!". Nico was taken aback, I don't think he or anyone else on the set expected the Mime to speak quite so, um...colorfully. We got the shot, I got first aid and Nico never shouted at me again during the entire production.

Gringo: What about the rest of the cast - what were they like?

Jeff: We got along great. We were all freezing down in Topanga Canyon for a month on this movie, so there was that element of shared hardship and feeling of camaraderie. After the film was done, I went to work with Seth Foster (Addleman) as a chauffer for a couple of years. I still run into Robert Factor occasionally at auditions around town.

Gringo: What was the best thing about making the movie?

Jeff: I know I have a good story for Jay Leno if I'm ever on!

Gringo: And the worst thing?

Jeff: Jay will show a clip.

Gringo: What did you think of the movie once it was completed?

Jeff: It turned out to be funnier than I expected. It's easy to lose track of the fun when your feet are numb.

Gringo: Was there any word of a sequel? Low-budgets seem to spawn them.

Jeff: There was never any discussion of a sequel that I was involved in. The film was never released theatrically here in the U.S. I heard that it played briefly in Europe and then went straight to video after that. Nico had talked to me about playing a robot in a sci-fi film he was going to do, but that never panned out.

Gringo: No more Ninja Academy questions. Promise. Now, what television work have you done?

Jeff: I did some sitcoms in the 90's, Night Court, 227, Bagdad Cafe. Nothing significant. Mostly theater in Los Angeles.

Gringo: What other films have you been in?

Jeff: None, even though I'm listed in IMDB as having done some more. I think someone was using my name in a non-union shoot and I ended up getting credit for it.

Gringo: If you could have played any role in movie history, which one would it be?

Jeff: Anything Fred Astaire did.

Gringo: What do you like to do in your spare time and to relax?

Jeff: I'm on the Board of Directors of The Michael Chekhov Studio (www.themichaelchekhovstudio.org) as well as working various "day jobs" including managing an apartment building.

Gringo: In an interview with VeeKay the Clown, we asked him to provide a question for the next interviewee, Chuy the Wolf Boy. We forgot to ask Chuy to come up with a question for you, so here's VeeKay's: can you do anything funny?

Jeff: Yes ;-)

Gringo: Finally, what's the one question we should ask our next interviewee?

Jeff: What would you do differently if you had the chance?


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