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Toronto Comicon Interview: Lou Ferrigno on ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ Overcoming Challenges and His Warrior Approach to Life

March 18, 2022Ben MK

Best known for his role in the live-action The Incredible Hulk television series, Lou Ferrigno has played many characters throughout his career, including his reprisal of the iconic Marvel Comics superhero for The Incredible Hulk animated show, and his part in the upcoming Paramount+ series The Offer, chronicling the making of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Still, it's his portrayal of the super strong, angry side of scientist David Bruce Banner — a character that arguably helped set the stage for the Marvel Cinematic Universe iteration of the Hulk — that continues to mesmerize audiences over four decades later. And with Ferrigno making his way to Toronto Comicon this weekend, some of those viewers will get the chance to see the 70-year-old actor in-person, as meets and greets fans and shares stories of bringing his version of the Hulk to the screen.

I caught up with Lou Ferrigno ahead of his appearance at Toronto Comicon to chat about the Hulk and the various challenges he's had to overcome throughout his life, as well as to find out more about his role in The Offer and his new series of NFTs. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

First of all, how does it feel to be doing conventions again, after the pandemic put everything on hiatus? And what have you missed the most about the fans?

Ferrigno: That I get a chance to see them in person. Because when you're isolated [due to] the pandemic, you're not around people as much. It makes you realize how important it is to be around people, because you can't survive without people. I'm excited about coming back to Toronto, because I can get to see the fans and hear their excitement, and [see all the] people getting out and wanting to have fun.

Of course, you're best known for your role as the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk. Can you share a bit about how that role came about for you, and what being the Hulk has meant to you?

Ferrigno: I was training for the 1977 Mr. Olympia, and they were shooting the pilot with another actor named Richard Kiel, who played Jaws in [The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker]. He didn't fit the part, but they found me and I went down for the casting call. It was perfect timing, and the rest is history. So I'm happy that my show became successful. Especially today, because we have three generations of fans that have seen The Incredible Hulk, and that opened the door for everything we see today that has to do with the Marvel Universe.

The Incredible Hulk lasted five seasons, followed by several TV movies, but clearly the legacy of your portrayal has lived on. What do you think makes your version of the Hulk so endearing to so many people, and what was your most memorable moment from playing the Hulk?

Ferrigno: What made the Hulk so popular is because every one of us has a little Hulk inside of us. The Hulk expresses how we feel, the things we wish we could do in life, like turning over cars and smashing phone booths when we get frustrated. I also had a chance to travel all over the world, because every country embraced the Hulk. It's beautiful, because every one of us has that superhero connection — we connect with the Hulk. At the time I did the series, people didn't believe my body was real because of the way I was built. But that made the show successful. Not just showing the emotions without speaking, but also the physicality of it.

I remember, a guy came to the set one day. He knocked on the door. I was inside the motor home all made up, and a guy walks in. He had salt-and-pepper hair, and he brought a kid with him. He closed the motor home door and he said, "Excuse me, my name is Cary Grant. Can you take a picture with my nephew?" I was so ecstatic, I didn't know what to say. I had never met a movie star before. I almost fainted. It was a moment I could never forget, because that was respect from one of the greatest actors of our generation.

Your physicality is what you're primarily known for. However, some might not realize that you also had to overcome some adversity in your life. Can you talk about overcoming those challenges and what it means to you to see more inclusivity these days in the media, in terms of on-screen representation?

Ferrigno: I'm the kind of person that always like to maximize myself. When I was young, I had to deal with over 80% hearing loss, and I had a severe speech impediment. So I had to learn to speak the best I could speak and also wear hearing aids my whole life. And to escape the pain, I used to read comic books like The Incredible Hulk and Superman. Now I'm a public speaker, so I tell people to maximize their personal talents. Don't compete with other people. If you compete with yourself, maximize yourself, your passions. That's the best advice when it comes to life. That's what I've felt my whole life, because if I listened to the naysayers when I was young, I wouldn't be where I am today. So I took the warrior approach — I fought harder than the average person to succeed.

It's a huge part of Hollywood now to accept individuality. We need that, I'm glad that Hollywood is accepting that. Because years ago, they didn't want to hire me because of my speech impediment and my hearing. They were afraid to use me, because I didn't fit in. But now it's all changing, because there's room now for everybody.

You also have a role in the upcoming Paramount+ series The Offer, which is all about the making of The Godfather. Are you a Godfather fan, and can you tell me a little more about the project?

Ferrigno: It's great. Because this year is [The Godfather's] 50th anniversary, and people get to see the whole process — how Francis Ford Coppola came along and how a producer named Al Ruddy wanted to gets this movie made. You can just see how it builds up to the premiere. Also, we have all these different actors playing Brando and Pacino. I enjoyed playing Lenny Montana because it fits me perfectly. I'm a huge fan [of The Godfather]. I remember it came out when I was 20 years old, and my friend couldn't stop talking about the film, because it was perfect. If you look at the film, you can't find any flaws. And now the billions of people that have seen the movie can see what the movie went through to get made. I think it's fascinating. I can't wait to see it myself.

You also just launched your own series of NFTs. Can you tell me more about that?

Ferrigno: Yeah, the NFTs are fantastic — these high resolution pictures that [were taken back] when I was very young, at the age of 21. My daughter came up with the idea, because I've got these rare pictures people have never seen before. So I said, "Why not?" Because that's the future.

Last but not least, do you have a message for all the fans coming to Toronto Comicon to see you?

Ferrigno: I'm looking forward to meeting my fans. And the fact that I can interact with them, because I've been home for 13 months with the pandemic. I hope [I can] give them motivation, so that they can walk away with a smile on their face, knowing they [have] see the Incredible Hulk in person.

Toronto Comicon runs March 18-20 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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