Editor's Note: To the Mat premieres Wednesday (Aug. 17) at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Ricky Schroder steps into the ring for To the Mat, the first made-for-TV movie to be released as part of the CMT Original Movies franchise, a newly-formed division of the network. During a visit to CMT.com, he talked about trying out his own wrestling moves, working with co-star Laura Bell Bundy, discovering country music and his work as a director on "Whiskey Lullaby," the award-winning video featuring Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.
CMT: What's the premise of To the Mat?
Schroder: To the Mat is a romantic comedy about a family-run wrestling academy in Georgia where we teach people how to wrestle and live out their fantasies as professional wrestlers. My character's name is Aaron the Ant. I'm called the Ant because I'm small compared to everyone else in my family.
My family has had a long history of wrestling in the movie. My dad, brother and uncles have all been giants. So Aaron was physically challenged in size. He went to Japan and became a big deal in Japan. He became known as the "Small Mighty Warrior" because he could do all sorts of cool things, but he was just small.
Now he comes back to Georgia from having this successful career in Japan to try to get the financial house in order for the school, and Laura Bell shows up to help us do that. And she's a Northerner from New York who's engaged to get married and knows nothing about the South and nothing about wrestling, and then a romantic tension develops between her and me.
What is it about this movie that you think might appeal to the CMT audience?
The laughs. It's very funny. Spandex and face paint. It's very Southern. We have lots of Southern food -- Waffle House. It's about wrestling. It's a fun culture and sport.
You get thrown around a lot in the movie. Is that you, another actor, or a little of both?
It's a little of both. I mean, I did some of the stunts. I actually did one of the stunts because the producers weren't there that day. I convinced [the crew] to let me do it. I got on the top rope of the three-ring ropes and did a back flip and landed on my opponent. On the second take, I landed on the cameras, but I did do OK the first take. And they actually used it in the movie.
Did you train to do that?
Nope. I just had to go for it.
What was it like working with Laura Bell Bundy?
Laura Bell is an absolute riot to be around. Her comedic timing is genius, and she's an amazingly hard worker. And just fun. She does all these crazy caricatures and voices and impersonations, and she just keeps it fun, rolling and light and laughing. It was a good time.
Did you have any input on the script or anything that happened in the movie?
The script didn't need any help when I got it. It was so good. It was just one of the best scripts I've ever read and been involved with.
If you were going to be in professional wrestling, what would your character be?
The Ricker. The Rockin' Ricker, maybe. Or the Rampaging Ricker.
Do you have any other projects coming up -- movies, directing, anything like that -- that you want people to know about?
Sure! I just wrote and directed my daughter in her first movie. It's called Wild Hearts. It'll be coming out in 2012. It's the story of a young lady who never knew her father and tracks him down on a horse ranch in Nevada. He catches wild mustangs for a living, and she falls in love with one of his mustangs. That was a great experience to work with my daughter. And then I'm working with the U.S. Army creating their first reality-style TV program. It's called Starting Strong.
Do you have any favorite country music artists?
Yes, many. Billy Joe Shaver, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert. Lots of them.
What's your impression of Nashville?
Nashville feels like a big little town to me. It's got lots of culture and lots of interesting things to do and lots of interesting people. At the same time, it feels very small and tight-knit and very close. Everyone feels like they know each other.
You're not new to country audiences.
I became a country music fan in 1990 when I moved to Colorado. It was my first exposure to it because I'm from a city. I've been a fan of country music ever since. I got to work with Tim McGraw on his very first movie called Black Cloud, that I wrote and directed, and then had some introductions to the Nashville world. I got sent "Whiskey Lullaby" as a song. And that was the first song I'd ever been sent to write [as a video treatment]. I came up with the "Whiskey Lullaby" music video concept which they decided to make. I had a great experience with that. And what a powerful song. I was just glad to be a part of it. I'd like to do more, although Nashville seems to be a very small town. And so hopefully, they'll let me in one day.