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Ricky Schroder: From ‘Silver Spoons’ to scary sci-fi

At 38, he’s no longer a child star — but actor Ricky Schroder has embraced his first name after an 18-year struggle to change it to ‘Rick.’ His latest project is a new version of sci-fi thriller ‘The Andromeda Strain.’
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Like other child stars, Ricky Schroder has made a mistake in his life. It just wasn’t the kind that would land him in rehab or on a police blotter.

The mistake, he confessed to TODAY’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, was changing his name from “Ricky” to “Rick” 18 years ago in an effort to sound more mature.

“When I turned 18, my agent was like, ‘You should change from Ricky to Rick.’ So I thought it was a good idea,” he said.

He stuck with it for the next 18 years, but with everyone he knew, including his wife and his mother, still calling him Ricky, Schroder finally gave up.

“Rick never really fit,” he said. “I tried for 18 years to make it work, and no one wanted to call me Rick. It should always have been Ricky. That’s what it always should have been, so I’m going back to it.”

Schroder’s 38 now and still the amiable blond heartthrob he was as a kid starring in the prime-time series “Silver Spoons.” Though he hasn’t reached the levels of stardom he did as a kid, he’s had steady work both as an actor (including “NYPD Blue,” Lifetime’s “Strong Medicine” and another TV sci-fi thriller, “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” a few months ago) as well as a writer and director of films and country music videos.

He was on TODAY to promote his latest project, a two-night A&E miniseries remake of “The Andromeda Strain,” based on best-selling author Michael Crichton’s first novel. The story revolves around an alien virus that invades Earth and threatens to destroy the entire world. Schroder plays Maj. Bill Keene, a virologist who works for the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease. With co-star Benjamin Bratt, Schroder’s job is nothing less than saving the planet. The thriller will premiere over the Memorial Day weekend.

Schroder said he hadn’t seen the original movie nor had he read the book, but he jumped at a chance to work with Bratt again (with whom he co-starred in a previous miniseries, “James A. Michener’s Texas,” back in 1994) as well as with producers Ridley and Tony Scott.

Chess kingMaking movies, Schroder said, “is tedious.” To pass the time between takes, he and Bratt played endless games of chess, each winning as many as he lost. “I play a lot of chess,” he said. “I probably played 200 games while we were making ‘Andromeda.’ ”

Kotb asked him why his life has gone so well — married young, still in love with his wife, Andrea, doting father of four — when so many other child stars have crashed and burned.

“A lot of people gave me a helping hand when I needed one — as a child actor going from 7 years old in ‘The Champ’ all the way up,” he said. “I always got a job when I needed one to help me transition into the next stage of my career.”

He met Andrea when he was 20 and they’ve been together 18 years. That’s helped, too, Schroder said.

“That was so much better for me — that option — than what could have been, which was whoring around and going to clubs all the time,” he said.

“I tell my son that every day,” Gifford quipped.

From acting to directing
Schroder, who was one of the youngest actors ever to win a Golden Globe — for his work opposite Jon Voight and Faye Dunaway in “The Champ” in 1979 — directed his first feature film, “Black Cloud,” in 2004. The following year, he won the County Music Association’s Best Music Video award as well as the Country Music Television Director of the Year award and the Academy of Country Music Video of the Year award for “Whiskey Lullaby.”

He has another film in production, “Blood Done Signed My Name,” a historical drama about a young Methodist pastor who tries to integrate a church in the South in 1970.

Schroder agreed to take some questions from the audience. One asked what his favorite age is.

“Probably right now, actually,” said the man who will always be Ricky. “I’m 38. I feel I know what I want, I’m focused and I’m not distracted.”