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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blast From The Past: An Interview with Steve Mond from Different Strokes

Different Strokes has always been a favorite show of mine, and there has been one character on that show that I always enjoyed to watch. Whatchoo talking about, Mikey? No, I'm not talking about Arnold, Willis, Mr. Drummond, Pearl, or even the bicycle shop owner who molested Dudley. I'm talking about Arnold's "other" pal, Robbie Jaysen. With his bright red hair, and nasal voice, he always seemed to stand out for me. He was the kid who introduced drugs to Arnold, the kid who played in Arnold's band, the kid who participated in the ususal mischef with Arnold and Dudley. When the show ended, we never heard about him ever. I was on a mission to speak to him and ask the questions that nobody else could. Back in 2000, I was able to find his email address on a 80's Where Are They Now? website, and figured it was worth a shot to email the actor, Steven Mond, and see where life has taken him. What you see below is the results of my interview with an obscure 80's TV star. Enjoy!

When did you get your big break into acting?

There really wasn't a "big break." I started when I was about 3. I got thefirst commercial I auditioned for Playskool toys. I did lots ofcommercials after that. For kids that young, producers are really looking for someone that won't freeze up or start crying around lots of strangers with cameras and microphones, so the resume slowly built and built.

Have you appeared in anything before or after Diff'rent Strokes?
Lots of commercials. I was also in a TV miniseries called "Murder in Texas," and the Spielberg film "1941." Also there's a couple bit parts in Chips and some other TV shows and movies. I'm proud to say that my TV parents and stepparents included Farrah Fawcett, Cybill Shepherd, Sam Elliott, Catherine Ross, Ned Beatty, and Lorraine Gary.

What year did you join the cast of Diff'rent Strokes?
1980 was the year of my first episode.

How did the producers decide on you for the role of Robbie Jayson?
I wouldn't have any idea. There wasn't anything unusual about the casting process - just an audition and a callback, like anything else. I think that they liked that I was short for my age. I could deliver lines better than younger kids, and could still stay in a 2-shot with Gary.

Do you still keep in touch with any members of the cast?
Not really. Shavar Ross and I got in touch via e-mail a few years ago (shortly after the DS website had current e-mail addresses for us). We actually met up for lunch in LA shortly thereafter. But I haven't really kept current with him. Other than that, I haven't spoken to anyone from the show.

If Gary Coleman walked right by you in a shopping mall, do you think he would recognize you?
Probably not. I think I look pretty different now (for which I'm eternally grateful). I also think Gary's quite reticent to be reminded of the DS days. On the other hand, several years ago my sister saw him at a video arcade that he was managing/appearing at. She mentioned my name, and he seemed pretty friendly about remembering me. So I guess if I saw him and introduced
myself, he'd know.

Why did you decide to give up on acting after the show was canceled?
I had decided long before the end of DS that it would be my last acting role. I was into some pretty heady academics, and by about 8th grade I knew that my future lay there, not in acting. I just couldn't afford to give up a few afternoon hours a week for auditioning, in addition to the occasional full week off school to do DS. My family and I considered DS a commitment that we wanted to honor, so we told my agent that I would do a show if asked, but not audition for other roles. So when DS was canceled, I was "retired."

What was your favorite episode that you appeared in?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar guest starred in an episode I was in. I've always been a huge sports fan, so that was a big thrill.

What were your thoughts on the infamous "Gordon Jump" episode in which the bikeshop owner molested Dudley?
I really don't have any thoughts or insights on that particular episode. Sorry.

Was Nancy Reagan easy to work with on the infamous "Just say No" episode?
Other than to actually film her scenes, she wasn't really around, except for 1 or 2 rehearsals the day before we shot. I only spent a couple minutes with her other than in a rehearsal or filming. But she generally remembered her lines and was fairly pleasant, so I guess that makes her easy to work with.

Did you ever see any negative behavior from Dana Plato on the set?
Not at all. She was always very sweet - probably to the point of naivete. The closest thing to problem behavior that I knew of was that she chose to go skydiving the weekend before we shot the last episode of one particular season, rather than waiting a week when we'd be on haitus for the summer. Sure enough, she injured her leg, was in a cast, and that particular episode had to be rewritten to put her behind desks and couches in every scene.

Was there ever talk of a spin-off show featuring Robby?
Not a single time.

How many total episodes did you appear in?

I've lost count, but I think between 20-30 lies the truth.

How did you feel when they brought another cute red-headed child onto the show (Danny Cooksey)?
I wouldn't consider us competitors in any way. Bringing in Danny and Dixie Carter opened up new story lines, and with Todd Bridges's role reduced, it kept the older brother-younger brother dynamic. Danny was already an accomplished country singer when he joined the cast, so I think the producers liked that he could bring that element to the show. For other folks' thoughts on adding the new characters to the show, see :)

Any good behind the scenes stories during the tapings of the show?
Not really. My best memories are just generally goofing off with Gary and Shavar and Nikki between rehearsals, sometimes ad libbing things, and so on. We also shared a part of the Universal lot with Silver Spoons, Jeffersons, Facts of Life, Who's the Boss, so I had a kind of "eye-contact"/acquaintance friendship with most of the people from those shows. My wife and I ran into Kim Fields recently at an airport, and she remembered who I was. That was nice.

What made you decide to study law, and give up on acting?

As I said, I was much more into academics, right on from junior high. Law was just the direction I chose after college. And I've since moved on to a graduate program in sport management (just graduated). So I guess I now have enough letters after my name to play scrabble.

If there were a reunion show, would you be up for appearing on it?
Absolutely. Although the chances of that ever happening went from slim to none after Dana passed away.

Are you amazed at your acting skills when watching the reruns?
In which direction? I wish I had more acting skills - the reruns would be less painful to watch. I also wish my allergies weren't so prevalent (still a problem to this day).

What would you tell your kids about your experiences on the show?
That I had a great time, met a lot of interesting people, and that it was a lot of hard work also.

What are you doing at the present time?
Just finished my master's degree, and my wife and I are waiting to see where life takes us next. I'll update the DS website as soon as we're there.

Do you do a lot of gambling in Vegas? How about getting a stage act in one of the big casinos doing stand-up jokes?
No and no.

What do you think a Steven Mond autographed item would go for on ebay?
Probably about 50 cents. If my parents buy a computer and get on ebay, maybe $1.

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