By: Adam Harrison (@AdamRHarrison) –
“You won’t like me when I’m angry!” Or at least that’s the phrase we know to describe The Incredible Hulk character. But in reality, it’s difficult to imagine Lou Ferrigno, the man who played the original Hulk, angry – he’s like a big friendly giant. The Hulk himself discussed his experience playing the legendary superhero, his current involvement with the role, and his commitment to bodybuilding and training with Aesthetic Magazine’s Adam Harrison.
Ferrigno explained that he was first offered the role of the Hulk while he was simultaneously training for the 1976 Mr. Olympia competition. “I was six weeks away from winning the Mr. Olympia competition, so I had to make a decision. But I wanted to really play the Hulk because I knew they were going to shoot the pilot and if I put it off they were going to use somebody else. So I figured it was a golden opportunity.”
Bill Bixby, who played alongside Ferrigno as Dr. David Banner, was a major mentor to Ferrigno at the start of his career. “Bill is very professional, he was a writer, producer, director and actor… Sometimes when you go into show business you have to learn about the camera angle, being in front of the camera. Even though it wasn’t a speaking part, I’ve learned what you call pantomiming, acting without speaking.”
Most people don’t realize that even with the recent re-launch of the comic book movie genre, Ferrigno is still playing The Hulk as the voice actor for the character in the 2003 and 2008 movie renditions as well as in The Avengers and the upcoming sequel. Ferrigno admits, “voice work is hard, because you have to almost show how the Hulk thinks and feels.”
In the recent movies, Eric Bana, Edward Norton, and Mark Ruffalo have all played The Hulk character. Ferrigno says Norton was the closest to the Bixby version of Banner. His favourite is a hard choice, but he picks Ruffalo solely “because he’s doing another Hulk movie… but hopefully they won’t keep changing Bruce Banner.”
“Voice work is hard, because you have to almost show how the Hulk thinks and feels.”
Ferrigno explained the difference in trying to break into show business today compared to when he did. “In the 70’s it was very hard because back then we had channel 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11. And rarely a pilot would get picked up for a series; it’s always very lucky. Today you have a chance because you have so many networks, you have reality shows… and sometimes there are so many shows I’ve never heard of before… It’s a big mixture, so if you want to be very successful, then you have to do an A film or a hit TV series.”
Before the big screen, Ferrigno’s first love was professional bodybuilding. He was known for his intense competition with the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It was a lot of fun because he was my idol and it was always him and I on stage for like the two biggest in professional bodybuilding. Still today, Arnold and I are the two biggest names. We did Pumping Iron. I think it is still by far the best docudrama ever made.”
Ferrigno became the personal trainer for Michael Jackson back in 2009 to prepare him for his series of concerts in London, UK, right before he died. “He was great. He was so excited about the tour. He was in debt for like $430 million and he had a lot of stress on him because of the big comeback and he was like 50 years old. When I trained him, he was fine. But I think the stress got to him and unfortunately we lost a great icon.”
Ferrigno even had a brief stint early in his career with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League. “I tried out for the New York Jets and they said I needed experience, so they signed me to play for the Argonauts. I played two inter-squad games, and I stayed here [in Toronto] for like four or five weeks… It was funny because we had a scrimmage twice a day and I went to the coach and I said to him, ‘I don’t like hitting people’ and he says ‘Hey, get out of here, go back to bodybuilding.’” Ferrigno admits regardless of the outcome he had a great time with the local Argos because he was in his early twenties and got to party with new friends like Wally Highsmith.
“When I trained [Michael Jackson], he was fine. But I think the stress got to him and unfortunately we lost a great icon.”
Even to this day, Ferrigno still trains six days of the week, whether he’s travelling or not. He runs his own fitness blog called Ferrigno Fit as well as his own body building competition called Ferrigno Legacy. He shared the following advice with us for aspiring bodybuilders: “You have to take it one day at a time because if you want to compete, you have to go into local contests, if you want to train for yourself, take pictures of yourself every three months, and just be patient because everybody’s built differently. Some people could take longer to put on size and muscle. You have to train and you have to work hard.”
You can catch Ferrigno in an episode of the online TV series Star Trek Continues. “You’ll see me, five hours of makeup, I’m shaved, I have a bald head, Fu Manchu. I play the evil slave trader. We worked pretty hard because we wanted it to match the original series. They have the same sets, the same kind of characters. It’s a lot of fun because I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek.” You can also see him later this year in the upcoming Scorpion King movie, The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power. “Also the movie I’m filming now, with Paul Sorvino and Judd Nelson, it’s a comedy called The Bandit Hound, and I get to play a thug, you know, kind of rob banks.”
Ferrigno, who is now in his 60s, could comfortably retire, happy and healthy, but instead, he continues to develop his acting abilities with intentions to prove that he’s more than the one-dimensional Hulk character. Not to mention, he’s still got bigger muscles than most of the meatheads in your local gym.