By ROB DUGUAY Before superhero films became a major part of Hollywood with Marvel and DC having their own cinematic universes, there was another era of actors playing superheroes in front of the camera. This was during the '70s, when Wonder Woman, the
Before superhero films became a major part of Hollywood with Marvel and DC having their own cinematic universes, there was another era of actors playing superheroes in front of the camera.
This was during the ’70s, when Wonder Woman, the Six Million Dollar Man, Shazam and other characters had their own TV series.
One of those other characters was the Incredible Hulk, who was played by bodybuilding icon Lou Ferrigno as part of the TV series of the same name from 1977 to 1982 with Bill Bixby playing the meek alter ego Dr. David “Bruce” Banner.
Ferrigno also starred in the documentary “Pumping Iron” and has acted in numerous other films and TV series since.
From Nov. 5-7, Ferrigno will be hanging out, taking pictures and signing autographs at the Rhode Island Comic Con happening at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center at 1 La Salle Square and the Rhode Island Convention Center at 1 Sabin St. in Providence.
We recently had a talk about how he got the role as the Incredible Hulk, trading his comic books for muscle magazines, how much fitness has changed over the years and a new miniseries he’s involved in.
ROB DUGUAY: Back in the ’70s when you were the Incredible Hulk, how were you approached about the role? Did you audition or did you get noticed because of your bodybuilding career?
LOU FERRIGNO: First of all, I was training for the 1977 Mr. Olympia competition. About six weeks before, I received a phone call from a casting agent who was looking for someone to cast as the Incredible Hulk because at the time they originally had Richard Kiel, who was over 7 feet tall, who didn’t fit the part. I went down for the screen test, I was hired on the spot and they started filming the next day. The rest is history.
RD: How was it like for you wearing all the green paint? Did it chip on you or was it a special kind that was easy to shower off?
LF: The paint and the makeup was horrific because on my face they had to use appliances and they put a different makeup on my face than the makeup on my body. On my body they put on three to four coats of this pancake makeup and it had to be retouched all day long. It was extremely uncomfortable because I couldn’t sweat and if I started to sweat then the makeup would start to run. It was an ongoing process all day long and it would take an hour and a half to remove it. It was very uncomfortable.
RD: I can totally imagine. Did you grow up reading comics as a kid?
LF: I was a huge fan of the Hulk, Superman and Spider-Man, I used to collect all their comic books and read them religiously. I would fantasize being one of those characters because I had to overcome adversity in my life. That’s why I relate to the Hulk the most because he’s the only character who didn’t wear a costume and I liked the fact that he showed his muscles because at the time I was obsessed with power and that attracted me to the Hulk. Eventually I started trading my comics for muscle magazines, which led me to bodybuilding because I wanted to build strength and admiration for myself.
RD: That’s awesome. You’re one of the first people to ever portray a superhero on either TV or film and these days it’s a billion-dollar industry with both Marvel and DC having their own cinematic universes. What are your thoughts on the growth of superhero films and TV shows, especially over the past 20 years? I know you did some voice acting for Hulk for a couple of the Avengers movies, so it must be pretty cool for you.
LF: When I did the pilot for “The Incredible Hulk,” at the time both Captain America and Spider-Man failed as TV series while my show became successful. In my opinion, it opened all the doors for today because my show was a pioneer. If it weren’t for “The Incredible Hulk” TV series, you wouldn’t be seeing the Marvel Cinematic Universe because great actors weren’t going out to play superheroes back in the ’70s. Now some of the greatest ones like Robert Downey Jr. are playing these various characters and I think it’s fantastic because everybody during this time and era while dealing with the pandemic and depression want an escape. That’s why they enjoy these superhero films so much, to make a certain kind of positive connection.
RD: You’ve talked about your bodybuilding career and you’re a figure in the fitness industry, you even have your own equipment that you sell. What do you think has grown the most about how people view fitness?
LF: When I was young growing up, people said that working out would make you muscle bound and you’d never be able to do athletic events, it would stunt your growth and all these other things. I started playing football and then I entered the World’s Strongest Man competition and since that time, working out is viewed as an important part of your health. Actors, athletes, all kinds of people are working out because it increases your stamina, it increases your flexibility and it’s the opposite of what people originally thought 50 or 60 years ago. They didn’t respect weightlifting but now it’s a bigger part of our culture.
RD: What do you have going on for the next few months? Do you have any projects that you’re working on these days that you’d like to share?
LF: I’m doing a huge, huge miniseries called “The Offer” which is about the making of “The Godfather.” I’m playing Lenny Montana, who played Luca Brasi in the film, and we’re filming until January. It’s going to be marvelous. It’ll be streaming on Paramount and it has all these big actors. Miles Teller, Juno Temple, Giovanni Ribisi and Colin Hanks are in it and it’ll have 10 episodes. Everybody is going to be very pleased when they see the series.
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