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Hulking Calgary Expo guest Lou Ferrigno talks about how going green changed his life

Shortly after getting the awesome news that I would be interviewing Lou Ferrigno for his Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo this weekend, I had a thought: “Y’know, If I were a hearing impaired celebrity, I would HATE giving phone interviews. Hell, I miss about a quarter of what people say to me over the phone anyways!”

With that in mind, I fired off a quick e-mail to the good people at Deaf & Hear Alberta, asking for practical advice and etiquette tips for communicating with hearing impaired persons over the phone. In no time at all, I received a page full of useful advice on the topic, along with a cheery invitation to call if I need more assistance. Thank you Alan Jones, for your wonderful advice, and thank you Deaf & Hear Alberta, for providing such a valuable service!

Suitably prepared, I pick up the phone and immediately admit to Mr. Ferrigno that my girlfriend has a crush on him. (She’s been a fan ever since the Incredible Hulk TV series, and nearly hyperventilated when I told her I’d be speaking with the famous bodybuilder.) With a warm chuckle, he replies, “You have to bring her to the convention!” Clearly, he hears this kind of thing a lot.

We chat about Calgary (his last visit here was in 1989, and he’s amazed at how much our city has changed), and about the numerous times he got to play “himself” — in I Love You Man (2009), …And God Spoke (1993), and the sitcom The King of Queens. All great shows, but it doesn’t take long to get onto the subject of his most iconic role as the rampaging green monster in The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982).

“I was an avid reader of Hulk and Superman comics, because as a kid I was obsessed with ‘power.’ It gave me a path to bodybuilding and fitness, because as a kid growing up, I had to overcome my hearing and speech impediment. I’ve been overcoming adversity my whole life.”

“I did the movie Pumping Iron (1977), with Arnold Schwarzenegger; a docudrama. That gave me a chance to realize that I love being in front of a camera, so that’s how I got hired for the Hulk.”

What about the first time he saw himself in the Hulk’s green makeup? “I remember the first day I got made up. I looked in the mirror and saw these white eyes and teeth! I was nervous about how people would perceive me, because I thought I looked more like a freak! But when I went out there, boy — every time I did a scene, the crew clapped! They just got into it; they shared that whole scene as much as I did.  I just loved playing that character.”

The television version of the Hulk never spoke, which presented a challenge to the neophyte actor. Studying pantomime was a big help, and the Hulk remained an extremely emotional character; a sympathetic figure who raged and suffered throughout the series.

Acting in the cartoon hit Adventure Time was kind of the opposite of playing the Hulk, in that this time he performed with his voice only. “I play the role of Billy. Voice acting is different. It’s difficult because you can’t interact with the other actors in front of that microphone. When you talk into a microphone you’ve got to be creative and improvise, and there’s no connection with the other actors. It’s a challenge, but I like that challenge. My whole life is about challenges.”

After the Hulk TV series wrapped up, Ferrigno travelled to Europe to make films. “I was in Italy for three months at a time. My family’s from Italy! Playing Hercules (1983); at the time I was in my best physical shape, and I wanted to put that on film. Because film is permanent!”

We chat about various Italian filmmakers, such as Enzo G. Castellari (“I love working with Enzo! Wonderful person”) before discussing upcoming projects. “I’m doing a TV series called Pumped. It’s like the Celebrity Apprentice of fitness and bodybuilding, on the Discovery Channel.” 

What else should we know about Lou Ferrigno? “For the last 15 years, I’ve been a deputy sheriff! I went to the Academy — I do a lot of patrol, I do a lot of search and rescue.”

That’s right — it could still happen. You could be saved by the Hulk!

Lou Ferrigno will be a special guest at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo until April 29 on the Stampede Grounds. For more information go to www.calgaryexpo.com.

John Tebbutt is the Video Vulture. He has been writing about obscure and ridiculous cinema since 1997. You can keep up with his nonsense on his websiteFacebook and Twitter. Check out the latest episode of his online series here.

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