After 40 years of being associated with the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno really understands the appeal of the green-skinned superhero.
“We all have a little Hulk inside us,“ he says, “so we can all relate to him.”
Of course, Ferrigno is a little closer to the character than the rest of us, having played him in the ‘70s TV show, in a series of ‘80s TV movies, and through appearances in the current raft of Marvel movies.
In town this weekend for Fan Expo Vancouver, Ferrigno will do a celebrity Q&A, participate in photo ops, and meet fans one-on-one for autographs.
Still boasting an impressive physique at age 66, the former two-time Mr. Universe explains that he hasn’t always had the, well, hulking figure he cuts today.
“I had a profound hearing loss when I was a kid, and it affected my speech and gave me a severe speech impediment,” says Ferrigno, on the line from his home in Santa Monica. “Growing up with that sort of adversity, I was bullied a lot, and it was hard for me to make friends because I was always rejected. I wasn’t the normal guy next door.”
“I was a real-life Walter Mitty, I was tall but skinny” he continues, recounting how he found solace in comic books, looking up to powerful heroes like Superman. Then, one day, he came across a muscle magazine.
“It had Mr. Universe Dave Draper on the cover, and I couldn’t believe that a man could have so much muscle. I took the magazine home and became obsessed, I started bodybuilding when I was 13 or 14 and slowly I began to grow in size”
Ferrigno became involved in competitive bodybuilding, and before long—at age 21—he would become the youngest man ever to win the Mr. Universe title.
“It was my life-long dream,” he says, “and I trained harder than anyone on the planet.”
Not long after, a great finish in ABC-TV’s Superstars multi-sport athletic challenge led him down a particularly Canadian path—as a defensive lineman in the CFL.
“I tried out for the New York Jets,” Ferrigno recalls, “and they sent me to play with the Toronto Argonauts because I needed to gain experience. It was tough, because I never played before. I played in two inter-squad games and then I realized it wasn’t my, uh, cup of tea. I told the coach I didn’t like hitting people—you gotta love the sport, and you gotta love the hits. But I made a lot of good friends and I had a good time.”
Ferrigno then gained a good deal of fame from his appearance in Pumping Iron, which documented the 1975 Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition. In the film, he shares a number of contentious scenes with then-rival Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which the future governor of California wages a mean-spirited psychological battle with Ferrigno.
When asked about it today, however, it’s clear that he bears no ill will toward Schwarzenegger.
“He’s admitted that he was kind of arrogant back then,” Ferrigno says, “but we’re friends today. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other. When we first competed we had nothing. We had to make a living, and hoped to get some attention for the sport.”
Of course, Ferrigno would wind up besting Schwarzenegger when it came to the Hulk: after the Austrian was rejected for not being large enough, the 6’5” 275-lb Ferrigno landed the plum role.
“I knew that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance because once it hit the air every country embraced the Hulk,” Ferrigno says. “Even now, 41 years later, everybody identifies me with that character, although I’ve done five TV series and over 40 films.”
One part of the Hulk experience which Ferrigno did not enjoy, however, was the makeup process, which he calls “horrific”.
“It took about three-and-a-half hours, and then I had to be re-touched, and then there was 10-12 hours a day filming, and then it took an hour-and-half to take the makeup off. I was the first one on the set and the last one to leave.”
Ferrigno’s star turn as the Hulk led to more movie and TV work, including the title role in 1983’s Hercules, and a recurring role—as himself—on The King of Queens. In 2012, he competed on The Celebrity Apprentice, surviving 9 episodes before being fired by future president Donald Trump.
“Donald respected me,” Ferrigno says. “He was good to me, and I was happy he helped me raise $100,000 for my charity, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It was a tough show but I learned a lot.”
When asked about Trump’s post-apprentice success, Ferrigno doesn’t seem particularly surprised by the developer’s current station.
“Well, I knew he would be very successful in whatever he chose to do. I’m not a political person, but I just want to say that I would not want to be in his position. It would be very tough to be a politician today.”
As it turns out, what Ferrigno—the son of an NYPD police lieutenant— does want to do is get more involved in law enforcement.
“I’ve been deputized in twenty states but I’m a certified deputy sheriff in Los Angeles” he says with obvious pride. ”I went through the academy – I’m not honorary, I’m the real deal. I put in about 30 hours a month, I do a lot of search-and-rescue, and I teach shooting. I’m glad to have the chance because I enjoy giving back.
Now, Ferrigno is looking forward to returning to Vancouver, where he filmed two Hulk TV movies in the 1980s, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and The Death of the Incredible Hulk.
“I was always very fond of Vancouver because it’s a great town. And I enjoy conventions—there’s an instant gratification, and I meet fans from three different generations. They appreciate growing up with the Hulk character, and I can put a smile on their faces because it brings back good memories from their childhood.”
Fan Expo Vancouver takes place from Friday to Sunday (October 12 to 14) at the Vancouver Convention Centre’s West building. See event listing for details.