You never forget your kindergarten teacher... especially when that teacher was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thirty years ago, the Austrian muscleman took a time-out from action favorites like The Terminator and Commando to star in Kindergarten Cop, a high-concept comedy about L.A. cop John Kimble, whose latest assignment requires him to go undercover as a small-town Oregon kindergarten teacher. Directed by Ivan Reitman, the film introduced Schwarzenegger to his most formidable opponents yet: a classroom filled with rowdy 6-year-old kids. Flash-forward three decades, and Schwarzenegger Zoom-bombed a half-dozen of those now-grown kids in a 30th anniversary Kindergarten Cop virtual reunion organized by Yahoo Entertainment. We’ll let their shocked reactions to this surprise appearance tell the story. (Watch the video above.)
Released in theaters on Dec. 21, 1990, Kindergarten Cop quickly became a ’90s favorite, grossing more than $200 million worldwide and launching an entire genre of “big dudes hanging out with little kids” comedies. (See also: Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, Dwayne Johnson in The Tooth Fairy and Dave Bautista in My Spy.) But few of those imitators measure up to the original, and Schwarzenegger gives the credit for Kindergarten Cop’s longevity to the young cast. “Without any doubt, it was the performance of you kids that really made this movie,” Mr. Kimble told his former pupils with obvious pride. “That’s what made it endearing, that’s what made it successful, and people wanted to watch it over and over again.”
Of course, the actor deserves some credit for Kindergarten Cop’s longevity, too. Along with “I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista baby,” the movie is responsible for some of his signature lines, from “I’m the party pooper” to the immortal “It’s not a tumor!” Schwarzenegger says that he and Reitman — who previously collaborated on the 1988 hit, Twins — knew that the latter line would be a classic when the kids couldn’t stop laughing on set. “There were certain lines that, because of my accent, the kids were laughing. So I would just screaming, ‘It’s not a tumor, it’s not a tumor at all!’ and the kids would be laughing instead of being scared. Ivan told me, ‘If the kids are laughing at the way you sound, then I think the audience will laugh, too. And this is exactly what happened.”
Schwarzenegger credits his time in Astoria Elementary with teaching him how to be a better parent to his own kids. The actor shot the film months after he and his then-wife Maria Shriver welcomed their first child, Katherine Schwarzenegger. “It was a warm-up for my kids,” the father of five says. “By hanging out with you guys between the breaks and talking to you guys and all that, this movie really helped me become a better parent myself. It really helped me raise my kids.”
The actor signed off by promising to organize an in-person reunion with the cast when the coronavirus pandemic ends. “We’ll have it at my house, we’ll get together and have a party and get the gossip going!” he vows. “I want all the details about how you got here from 30 years ago. I’m proud of all of you, so keep up the good work.” Sounds like there’s a new contender for the Teacher of the Year award.
Even before Arnold logged on, the Kindergarten Cop reunion was the party of the year, with the young actors sharing memorable behind-the-scenes stories and revealing what they’re up to 30 years later. Here’s our catch-up on Astoria Elementary’s most popular kindergarten class.
Christian Cousins (Dominic)
John Kimble’s specific assignment in Astoria is locating the wife and son of notorious drug dealer Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson). That child turns out to be Dominic, played by identical twins Christian and Joseph Cousins. Kindergarten Cop was the siblings’ first feature film after a busy TV career that included a regular role on the Dallas spin-off Knots Landing as Bobby Gibson Ewing. During the audition process, Christian remembers getting a crash course in how cut-throat big-screen movies could be. “A kid I’d seen in audition rooms a number of different times literally stood up and interrupted Ivan and Arnold, saying, ‘Has the role of Dominic already been cast?’ It was like, ‘OK, I’m dealing with stage moms!’”
But the Cousins brothers won the role in the end, beating out eventual co-stars Adam Wiley and Krystle and Tiffany Mataras, who auditioned when the filmmakers were still undecided about whether the character would be a boy or a girl. “I don't know if [the final decision] was something to do with Arnold's preference or if the dynamics with Penelope Ann Miller — who played my mom — made more sense to have a young son than it did to have a daughter,” Cousins says now.”
While shooting on location in Oregon, Christian and the rest of the kids lived in the same beachside apartment complex and balanced fake school with real school. The fact that Dominic was central to the movie, though, meant that he and his brother logged more on-set hours, an experience he describes as “exhausting.” But there were also plenty of fun times while the cameras were rolling — like the scene when he was repeatedly dropped from a tower on a harness. “There was a zip cord attached to my backpack, and I had a whole harness underneath me,” he recalls. “They dropped me like 15 to 20 times on that thing! At first I was scared, and then the second time, I was like, ‘I can get used to this.’ By take 10, I wanted an annual pass.”
The Cousins siblings continued to act after Kindergarten Cop blew up big time at the box office, before retiring in 1995. Today, Christian is the vice president of retail development at the home furnishings supplier LumiSource and keeps himself busy with other businesses as well. “After 30 years, I want to thank you again for saving my life from Richard Tyson in the locker room,” he tells Schwarzenegger. “And I'm glad you ended up with my mom for that movie. That was awesome. It was a pleasure playing Dominic with you.”
Miko Hughes (Joseph)
Miko Hughes was only 3 years old when he filmed his scene-stealing role as Joseph — so it’s no surprise that he doesn’t remember much from the experience. In fact, he’s never even seen Kindergarten Cop in its entirety. “I can’t stand watching myself — maybe that’s why,” he says, laughing.
Fortunately, his mom has been more than happy to fill him in on what happened during the shoot over the years, starting with the origin of his classic line: “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina.” According to Hughes, that was written at the last minute. “From what I understand, they wanted to use me for something and it was on the fly that they came up with the line. She really thought about it for a long time if it was a good idea. Like, ‘How is this going to play off?’ and ‘Is it going to affect me later?’ Eventually she thought, ‘It’s innocent, it’s cute — why not?’ I’m glad she went for it.”
Funnily enough, Hughes was coming off an even more disturbing role in the 1989 Stephen King adaptation Pet Sematary, in which he played young Gage Creed, who comes back from the dead and menaces his family. “Murder is fine,” he jokes, adding that he didn’t entirely grasp the meaning of Joseph’s memorable piece of dialogue anyway. “I think I just knew it was something that was kind of adult to say, and that it made adults laugh. It was pretty benign.” Schwarzenegger, for one, praises Hughes for his expert delivery. “That is the classic line,” he raves. “The way you delivered it was not like you wanted to say something obnoxious. It’s kind of a revelation — like, ‘Do you know that?’ It was so matter-of-fact and so fantastic.”
With reviews like that, it’s no wonder that Hughes has stayed in the business. Besides appearing in movies like Mercury Rising and Tropic Thunder, he’s also a musician and has written and directed a short segment in the 2013 horror anthology Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear. And maybe one day he’ll get around to watching Kindergarten Cop. “It’s on the list!” he promises. “Maybe I’ll watch it tonight.”
Krystle and Tiffany Mataras (Tina and Rina)
Like Hughes, identical twins Krystle and Tiffany Mataras — who played the pony-tailed siblings Tina and Rina — were assigned their classic bit of dialogue on the spot. “We were supposed to say something very generic,” Tiffany remembers of the scene where Mr. Kimble asks the class to reveal what their fathers do for a living. It was so generic that when the cameras rolled, Krystle completely forgot the line. “I went blank!” she confesses now. So the writers came up with something they wouldn’t forget: “Our mom says that our dad is a real sex machine.”
“He had to rush our parents on set to get approval for us to say the line,” Tiffany says. “When they asked our dad, we saw him with friends and he was like, “Yes, say that, yes!” Adds Krystal: “Our mom was like, ‘Uh,’ but he was so happy. It made him the happiest man on Earth.” His daughters, meanwhile, where just happy to get the scene over with. “We had sort of a shallow understanding of what it meant,” Krystle says. “It was last minute, so we didn’t have time to think about it too much.”
Asked whether they were ever intimidated to be acting alongside the Terminator, the twins recall one instance where Schwarzenegger made them nervous. During the scene where Kimble completely loses control of the class and unleashes an epic, “Shut up!” they were off-camera lifting their skirts up and down. “We had these little shorts that wardrobe put under us, and we were lifting our skirts in between takes joking around with the boys,” Tiffany says. “Arnold did not like that! He looked at me, and we stopped!”
After Kindergarten Cop, Krystal and Tiffany went on to appear in Problem Child 2 and Single White Female before segueing out of acting and into careers as twin entrepreneurs. The two are involved in several businesses, including the alcoholic dessert company Wasted Desserts and the online women’s lifestyle magazine Twins Dish. They’re also invested, literally, in Schwarzenegger’s career. Tiffany bought stock in Genius Brands International, which is currently producing an animated show based on Kindergarten Cop. The late Stan Lee created the cartoon, and Schwarzenegger is voicing ex-superhero Captain Courage, who trains a new generation of super-powered kids. “That’s fantastic,” Schwarzenegger tells them. “You invested wisely.”
Brian Wagner (William)
Brian Wagner knows he has a very specific claim to fame: he’s the only person in movie history to spit food on Arnold Schwarzenegger and get away with it. In the film, Mr. Kimble stumbles upon Wagner’s character, William, noshing on other kids’ lunches. Bodily lifting him up, the frustrated cop demands that the boy “Stop it,” and dodges a mouthful of chewed Cheetos before dropping him to the floor. “We did it 17 times,” Wagner says. “The script was written so that Arnold would set me down. The first time it happened to him, he was so disgusted, he just dropped me.”
Fortunately, the young actor had a soft landing. “We were on soundstage, so I’m not hitting concrete floor, I’m hitting a floor that’s built on top of the floor, so there’s a little bit of give there. I was also one of the older kids on set, and taller than most of the kids in the class. So being dropped onto a soundstage floor that’s carpeted, there was no issue there.”
As if Schwarzenegger wasn’t already grossed-out enough, Wagner said that he made an in-the-moment acting choice that grossed out the entire crew. “On the very first take, I had spit out the Cheetos. He walks away and the camera pans down: I was 7 years old and still didn’t know what I was doing. I picked up the Cheetos from the ground and put them back in my mouth!” It won’t shock you to hear that he generally avoids those salty, cheesy snacks today. “I’ve maybe had the original Cheetos three or four times in my life.”
Wagner’s other acting credits after Kindergarten Cop include roles in 3 Ninjas Kick Back and Camp Nowhere. Since leaving Hollywood behind, he has entered the restaurant industry — a career path that delights Schwarzenegger to no end after their previous on-set interaction. “You are now in the food business, and that’s hilarious!” he tells Wagner. “Here you were playing this character, and stealing everyone’s lunches! You played it so well.”
Adam Wylie (Larry)
Adam Wylie is the unofficial historian of Mr. Kimble’s kindergarten class. Besides collecting on-set photos and other mementos from the shoot, he’s also got the scoop on the versions of the film we didn’t see. For example, his character, Larry, played a big role in a subplot that was filmed, but cut out of the theatrical version. “My storyline was supposed to be that Mr. Kimble thinks that I’m Dominic,” Wylie explains. “I’m the one that’s supposed to be protected, and I was so traumatized by my father that all I say is “Ooo-cuts,” the entire movie. I even have a jacket that has it written on the back.”
That plot thread was supposed to culminate in a scene that does still exist in the film. During the climactic school evacuation scene, when Kimble pursues Crisp through the fiery halls of the building, Larry points at the drug dealer and loudly says, “Stranger!” “It was this big “a-ha moment,” Wylie says now. “But that, of course, wouldn’t have made sense because they went with with an alternate storyline, which I think served the movie way better.”
Wylie also reveals that Reitman filmed alternate endings for the movie, including one where Schwarzenegger dies of his gunshot wounds. “I don’t remember if the kids were actually used for that ending, but there were definitely alternate endings. There was a lot of choices between what to go with, and it ended up with what it is now, which I think is the right choice.”
Thirty years after Kindergarten Cop, Wylie is still acting in movies and television shows, and has a side gig as a world-champion magician. And now, he’s in the position to teach Mr. Kimble a thing or two: after watching Wylie do one of his tricks, the actor requested a personal lesson. “You gotta come over here and show me how to do that,” Schwarzenegger says. “I'm always jealous of people that are able to do those kinds of tricks. It’s amazing how you do it when you’re really good.” Looks like someone’s getting a gold star on his report card.
Kindergarten Cop is currently streaming on Hulu and Starz.
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo
Watch our full Kindergarten Cop reunion below
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