Lou Ferrigno terrified children with his portrayal of the Incredible Hulk in the 80s TV show of the same name, and he still today voices the CGI version of the character in the latest Marvel Studios films. A world-class bodybuilder whose struggles to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger were well documented in Pumping Iron, he is still huge and muscular today at 67. At MCM London on the 26th-28th of May, Lou talked about his career, the adversities he has faced, and how they have affected his career.
He started off the interview by talking about his recent film Instant Death, which was filmed over here in Bristol:
It’s a great film. It’s a film about a guy that was in the special forces that comes back to England to rekindle his relationships with his daughter and granddaughter. There’s a drug gang that go after them, and you see me go down the path of revenge. It’s a great action film, that is very emotional, and it’s probably one of my best acting roles. It comes out on the 4th of June on Amazon.
He was then asked about some of the people he’d worked with in the past; what was it like to work with Bill Bixby during the filming of The Incredible Hulk, and how was it working with Arnold Schwarzenegger on Pumping Iron:
Working with Bill Bixby was wonderful because he was like my mentor. I was a big fan of his work before I did the series. He’s an actor, director and producer, so working with him I learnt a lot because when I did the Hulk series, I’d never acted before. As for Arnold, I see him all the time and I’m always teasing him, but he was my hero growing up as a bodybuilder. It was phenomenal what he did for the sport. I still see him in the gym all the time working out. Out of the two of us he was the only one to make it into the mainstream because until Pumping Iron came out, no-one knew what bodybuilding was. You would never see a woman working out at the gym but since then it has all changed. You have couples working out together, young kids and families all working out together, but at the time it was a very male orientated sport.
Moving on from who he’d worked with, Lou went on to explain the biggest challenges he has faced throughout his career:
My biggest challenge was overcoming adversity. When I was young I lost around 80% of my hearing, and that made me extremely introverted as a child. I had to work very hard on my speech, but I also got involved in bodybuilding because I was bullied my whole life. Kids would make fun of me because of my hearing aid, and that was my biggest challenge, learning to overcome all of that. Becoming a stage actor, becoming a film actor, a bodybuilding champion, and now also being a Deputy Sheriff for 12 years, all of these dreams came true after years of being told I can’t do it.
In The Incredible Hulk series, they tried to introduce other Marvel characters and failed, Lou told us what he thought at the time about them trying to expand that universe compared to what it’s like now:
At the time, they did it because they were hoping to create a series with Daredevil and Thor, but it was still a Hulk show. I think now because of CGI, the writing and the A-List actors, it works for Thor. Thor Ragnarok shows him and the Hulk, but it’s such a huge film. In my time when we did The Return of the Hulk and we had Thor I loved it, because we had Stan Lee involved too, but I think it wasn’t ready at the time. Luckily the Hulk has sustained all these years.
I am voicing the Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok too, and there’s a couple of surprises I can’t tell you about, but this is a huge budget and I’m excited, especially seeing the Hulk in the arena with the sword. You see all the comic characters, but when I see the Hulk, it just stands out. There is no competition, especially in the Colosseum. I have the statue at home, with the sword and the helmet, and now its in the film.
Lou was then asked what the Hulk would be doing now if the series had continued:
When we had the TV show called ‘Death of the Hulk’ we were going to come back and have a show called ‘Revenge of the Hulk’, where I had David Banner’s brain instead of just being the Hulk. When the show first began, they changed the name from Bruce to David because they thought Bruce sounded gay, but now it’s back to Bruce. I see the Hulk being much more sophisticated. The Revenge of the Hulk would’ve been a story-line where they brought the Hulk back to life after finding one blood cell, but never happened because Bill (Bixby) passed away from prostate cancer. He directed the last two, and I couldn’t have had a better teacher and director, and it brought a lot more flavour to the show.
Moving on to how the Hulk has managed to stay so popular for so many years, Lou explained why he thought the character was still so loved today:
We all have a little Hulk inside us. We all want to break windows, throw people around and smash cars when we get angry and we all want to express how we really feel. The Hulk does this for us. You know sometimes when you’re stuck in traffic you get frustrated and want to scream and yell and push the cars out of the way. Also, we all feel a connection to power. We all have this powerful thing inside of us, and that’s how we connect to the Hulk. The Hulk expresses that anxiety, emotion and anger for us, and that’s why we’re connected. As a kid I used to fantasies about those being the things I wanted to do, but I was the only that had the opportunity to destroy things on set. It was great because every time I did a scene the crew would clap. They clapped because I expressed their anger. It was a great experience
Asked about if he thinks his disability gave him more of a connection to the Hulk, Lou had this to say:
Definitely, I was the Hulk my whole life. I used to read the Hulk comics all the time because it gave me that chance to escape. I was like a real-life Walter Mitty. I used to fantasise about being the Hulk. All the other comic characters had costumes, but the Hulk had the muscles, and because I was trying to get into body building, for me it was about power and strength. I wanted to be powerful, so powerful I could defend myself. I knew when I went to audition for the part no-one could play it better than I could because I knew how the Hulk thinks and feels.
Lou was then asked about what advice he would offer to young people who might feel isolated, bullied or just not good enough:
Those people that are being bullied, whether it be online or from someone they know, the most important thing is to not internalise it. Go to someone to deal with the bully himself, because the bully is the one that has got the problem, not the victim. They are the ones expressing their anger and taking their frustrations out. The problem is these people don’t take actions sometimes, and sometimes it can cause suicide or harm on yourself, sometimes they’ll end up doing drugs, and it can also affect family members too. I’ve seen that situation because I talk a lot about bullying. The victims need to express that it is OK, as much as they are threatened. Sometimes they can change a bully’s life. If you don’t take action, no-one else is going to, and that’s the best advice I can give.
Finally, Lou was asked whether, with the Hulk being such a big influence on his life, there were any other characters that had influenced him, or that he would have loved to have been given the chance to play:
When I was young, I loved James Bond and Sean Connery. He was suave, he was an agent and he was intelligent. Those are the sort of characters I liked. Also, Hercules, because it was the first time I’d ever seen a muscular bodybuilder on the screen, so when I saw him pulling those two pillars it changed my whole life, as that’s what I wanted to be. I got the chance to play Hercules, but films like the Bond films, they’re like my new film Instant Death. Those are the characters that affected me most when I was younger.