I couldn’t be prouder that, 40 years later, The Incredible Hulk still resonates with people
Back in the late ‘70s, Friday night television was sacrosanct. Before the days of DVRs and VCRs, families all over America gathered together to spend time together as they watched their favorite TV stars grace the small screen. There were JR and his evil way on Dallas and overtly sexual antics on the high seas on The Love Boat, and we all Schlemiel and Schlimazled with Laverne & Shirley each and every week.
The one show that most captured my young impressionable mind was comic book hero The Incredible Hulk brought to life. Sure, the stories involving Dr. David Banner, played by Bill Bixby, were intriguing, but the real star of the show was Lou Ferrigno, who played Banner’s rageful alter ego The Hulk. When The Hulk showed up—complete with green makeup and wig—you just knew cool stuff was going to go down. When he would beat up the baddies in slow motion, it was everything.
St. Louis will be fortunate enough to get up close and personal with the man who made the legend, as Lou Ferrigno will be attending the Wizard World Comic Con at the America Center from April 1 to April 3.
I caught up with Ferrigno to ask him some questions about his bodybuilding career, his time during The Incredible Hulk, and his role as Bobby/Billy on my new favorite show, Adventure Time.
You were known as a bodybuilder before you an actor. What was it about bodybuilding that drew you to the sport?
The feeling of power first drew me to it, when I was young I was bullied, in part because I was so shy because of my hearing loss. So when I discovered bodybuilding, it helped me gain that sense of power, that I could get stronger and not feel intimidated.
The movie Pumping Iron, which showcased you and Arnold Schwarzenegger competing for the title of Mr. Olympia, launched you into the limelight. What is your fondest memory of taking part in that documentary?
Really everything about it. It was my first time really on the screen, and it helped lead to getting the audition for The Incredible Hulk. Just the process of having our story told, of showing what the sport was like behind the scenes, the work that went into it, the personalities.
Your acting career seemed to really take off in the ‘80s: the decade of excess. How did you stick to your discipline of bodybuilding while everyone else was eating more, drinking more, and all-around indulging more?
I think, in large part, it was instilled by my parents: Work hard and you’ll see the results. And bodybuilding forces you to do that. You see progress when you keep at it, and at that point I had been the IFBB [International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness] Mr. America and IFBB Mr. Universe, and when I was able to learn more of my acting craft, I wanted to do more in that world, so it made sense for me to stick to those goals.
The Incredible Hulk was a massive success. When you would burst onto the scene, I would squeal with glee. It wasn’t until many years later that I fully understood the true inner struggle between Dr. Banner and his inner rage. When you were filming the series, did you and the rest of the cast fully realize how emotionally deep the show ran?
We knew we had something special there. Bill Bixby helped me tremendously learning the business, and his performance in that series is so outstanding, it set the tone for everything. The way he showed Dr. Banner’s strength and fragility, with all that happened to him, we had the sense that this would affect so many people positively. The show was not about drugs, sex, or violence; everyone could relate to it.
How long did it take you to get in and out of makeup?
Sometimes six hours. One time, shooting ran so late, I just drove home in the makeup. That was quite a shock to anyone on the road!
What was your favorite aspect of playing the Incredible Hulk?
Besides learning so much from Bill Bixby—really, he was a mentor and father figure to me—I’d say being able to show the other side of that character. Growing up, I loved comics and especially the Hulk, so when it came to playing the character, I felt like I knew the Hulk better than anyone.
You seem to have been typecast in subsequent roles, seeing how you played roles like Hercules and Sinbad: big, tough men. Was there ever another type of role you wish you could have played?
Well, I am a big tough man. [Laughs] Seriously, even though most fans know me as the Hulk, sometimes they’ll come up to me at Wizard World conventions and want to talk about King of Queens or Hercules or I Love You, Man, or of course Celebrity Apprentice or some of the other roles. But I have no regrets about what I have been cast in. Some have been more popular than others, but I’m happy with how it has gone.
Even in animation you still play the big, tough guy. I was giddy to learn you voice the character of Billy/Bobby in Adventure Time, a favorite in my house. What has your experience been like working in animation?
It’s a whole different experience. You don’t have the physical way to express; you have to put your stamp on the character just with voice, sighs, pauses. I’ve really enjoyed it.
You did work on The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, doing some voice work for the Hulk character. How was that experience? Did you ever think you would have the opportunity to work in that role nearly 30 years after the first series ended?
I always like to say that I’m the Hulk you can see and touch, shake hands with, get an autograph from. No CGI here. [Laughs] But next year will be the 40th anniversary of the start of the series, and I couldn’t be prouder that, all these years later, it still resonates with people, and that I’ve had opportunities to represent that franchise for all of that time.
Is there another side to Lou Ferrigno the world doesn’t know? What would be the one thing about you that would shock your fans?
Well, if they know me, it may not shock them, but I really try to be as personable and encouraging to everyone. When I meet fans at Wizard World and other pop culture shows, it gives me the chance to hear how something I have done has touched them or inspired them. As fun as I think it may be for them to meet me, I think I get more out of seeing them and hearing their stories, too.
What will we see—or hear—from you in the future? Any big projects in the works?
We wrapped shooting on a new film, Instant Death, which will come out this year. I play a Special Forces operative who is struggling with adjusting to the “real world.” We shot it in England; I think fans will enjoy it.
If you had to pick one word to sum up your life, what would that be?
Well, the easy answer is “Hulk”; is that a word? Maybe “perseverance” is better. I think having had to overcome hearing loss as a child, using bodybuilding to gain that inner power, and maintaining it over time, hopefully I’ve inspired others to push through hardships.
To see Ferrigno live in person, along with a whole host of comic book/sci -fi celebrities, be sure to check out http://wizardworld.com/comiccon/stlouis to nab your tickets. New to this Con will be an expanded area for video gamers. If this year is anything like 2015, there will be fabulous panels where you can ask celebrities your questions; chances for you to find love among other cos players; and more fantastic exhibitors [including PLAYBACK:stl’s very own Comics Editor Jason Green, who will be promoting St. Louis-based comics collective Ink and Drink Comics. Stop by booth 122 to snag a copy of their latest release, Spirits of St. Louis II: Hair of the Dog.] than you can wave a wand at—some of them quite cheeky, if I remember correctly. Oh, and the best part? Kids under 10 are free! (Two kids with every paid adult.) Join in the fun, dress up as your favorite superhero, and let your freak flag fly. | Jim Ryan