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Although Steve Reeves wasn't the first actor to play Hercules onscreen, his appearance in "Hercules" (aka The Labours of Hercules, 1957) is responsible for starting the cycle of muscle epics. By 1993 Hercules was known to many, even familiar with mythology, as the central character of heaps of movies - most of them were sword and sandal nonsense or anachronistic thrill-a-thons.
 

Directors always used big men, often bodybuilders, to fill the job of Hercules in a movie production. The reason was to show off their physique. So they were barechested and barelegged (though once - in 1965's "Conqueror of Atlantis" with Kirk Morris - Hercules got to wear long pants). Some of that Herculeses were bearded, some beardless, but as far as I know, there were no one light- or long-haired. They all were strong, taciturn, good, with flashes of bad temper and great interest in damsels...

 
As the result, producers, writers and, of course, the leading actor of the new Hercules movies had a lot of stereotypes to overbalance.

 

"We tried to give it a timeless quality." Robert Tapert
 
"Hercules: The Legendary Journeys' is the brainchild of film-makers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, whose company 'Renaissance Pictures' was responsible for the 'Evil Dead' films, as well as 'Darkman', 'Hard Target', 'TimeCop' and the late-lamented 'American Gothic'." (12.96 SFX)
 
Robert Tapert: "David Eick [who later became co-producer on the TV-movies and series] called us and said "The studio wants to do a 'wheel', and one of the spokes of the wheel is Hercules. They want to do four two-hour movies, and all you need to do is sell this. That's all you gotta do." I didn't hear anything else for awhile but Sam shot a promo. It said things like "Get ready for ACTION! Get ready for ADVENTURE! Get ready for Hercules!" The studio used this little promo and others from feature film directors and the executives were able to sell this "wheel". They came to us to do Hercules." (01.01 Whoosh!)
 
Robert Tapert: "We were approached by Universal Studios to do some Hercules movies for their "Action-Pack" series of television films; we wanted to do Conan, but the rights weren't available. So we watched the old Steve Reeves Hercules movies, and realized that we couldn't use that stilted dialogue and guys-in-togas. So we invented our own Golden Age mythology, with green pastures, no togas, and a conscious effort to modernize the dialogue. We also didn't want to emphasize Hercules' feats of strength. Muscle-bound guys are hard to relate to, so we opted for a more athletic, good-looking kind of guy, someone you felt you could talk to." (04.96 Sci-Fi Entertainment mag)
 
Robert Tapert: "We watched all the old Hercules movies and realized a few things early on. The problems with old Hercules-movies are the bad stilted dialogue, togas and people running around in Greek ruins." (2.06.96 TV & Satellite Week)
 
"Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert decided on an updated, viewer-friendly approach to the world of myth and adventure. Similarly, the approach to language was updated. "We always used, as a basis for the dialogue, 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. It's contemporary but not hip. We tried to give it a timeless quality," said Mr.Tapert." (19.05.96 New York Times)
 
Robert Tapert: "We were partnered at that time with a guy named Chris Williams. He had a bunch of good ideas, which were how to make the show acceptable by making Herc a really likeable guy. That's how we got started." (01.01 Whoosh!)
 
Executive producer Eric Gruendemann says a 'Good Morning America' special on Australia and New Zealand prompted his interest in filming the series in New Zealand. He saw the special just before he was assigned to find a location and was impressed by New Zealand's beauty. "We were looking for a primordial-looking, beautiful land with lush ferns and waterfalls." (27.01.96 Dominion)

 

Robert Tapert: "The trick was finding the right actor to play the lead character. The studio put a great deal of pressure on us to put Dolph Lundgren in the role. We approached Dolph with a big offer and he turned it down. And, boy, are we glad he did!" (12.96 SFX)

"Sam Raimi: We wanted to make him like a Western hero, not a muscleman in a toga." (05.06.95 Newsweek)

"From the beginning what Tapert describes as the "no togas, no Parthenon rule" was instrumental in defining Hercules and the world he would live in and set a precedent of casting aside the traditional means of portraying ancient mythology.The rule carried over to the casting of Kevin Sorbo in the title role. Though certainly capable of beating the tar out of his show's average viewer, Sorbo's musculature is a far cry from the physiques of the grotesquely huge, sculpted actors of years past. "We were looking for a Hercules who wasn't the world's biggest guy, but who was more like Joe Montana. Someone you could sit down at a bar and have a beer with," Tapert says." (10.95 Sci-Fi Universe)
 
"Downplaying the idea of Hercules as the strongest man in the world, they cast the buff but friendly Kevin Sorbo as a doer of good deeds who triumphs without ever killing anyone. "We kind of modeled him on a quarterback," said Mr.Tapert." (19.05.96 New York Times)
 

"After seeing more than 100 prospective Hercs, the producers finally cast a relative unknown, Kevin Sorbo. Anthony Quinn was then cast as Zeus to add some much-needed credibility to the project." (12.96 SFX)

 

"Q: What was your first reaction when you read the script for Hercules? -- Kevin Sorbo: I laughed. I thought it was a joke. You hark back to who it was that did this before. I mean, I'm not a little guy, but I'm not a huge guy either. I thought they'd want a Lou Ferrigno or Arnold Schwarzenegger. But after I read the scripts, I liked the humor. And I thought this is someone the women would like and the guys would want to go drink a beer with." (03.11.96 New York Sunday Daily News)
 
"When I first got the script I laughed," Sorbo recalls. It's not that he thought the idea of creating TV movies about the mythical demigod was nuts, he thought the producers were crazy for sending *him* the script. "I thought they'd go straight for the Gold's Gym guy, get the biggest bodybuilder they possibly could for Herc. Fortunately, they didn't go that way, and they never intended to, which is why they approached me." (27.12.96 Denver Post)

 

"Michael Hurst's expertise as a fight arranger, coupled with two decades of acting experience made him a shoo-in for the role of Iolaus. The actor, well-known as one of New Zealand's leading authorities on performing Shakespeare, says there wasn't a huge difference between his classic Shakespearean roles and the larger-than-life drama of Hercules.

"The way I got involved was almost out of the blue. I got a call from a casting director one day, who said, 'There's this role in Hercules, but it's a long shot,' because at the time, I think they were really looking to cast an American actor. Anyway, she said, 'Do this audition.' I turned up with one of my sprung steel double-handed broadswords - which is handy to have when you're doing this sort of thing - and I was looking pretty athletic, because I had been training. I did this audition, which I directed myself, and there were lines about monsters that if you didn't take seriously would never work. I took it so seriously that it became kind of humorous, and before I knew it, I got a call asking if I could meet with the director and producer. I remember walking into a room of six, very tall Americans. We had a meeting, and finally they asked me to do the American accent, which I did, and there was a great sigh of relief all around, and I got the part." (08.96 Starlog Yearbook)

 

25.04.94 - "Hercules and the Amazon Women" airs as part of the "Action Pack", a series of 24 original two-hour action adventures produced for Universal Television and distributed in national syndication by MCA TV.
   

"Robert Tapert: We basically just thought it would be a lot of fun to make these Hercules movies, and that would be it. There was never any talk of a series in the beginning." (10.95 Sci-Fi Universe)

When MCA TV in 1994 launched its Action Pack syndicated package of telemovies (featuring five different recurring movies by feature film producers and directors), Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert's H:TLJ was deemed by many the runt of the litter.

"Few people paid much attention to it or gave it much chance for success compared with the other projects," says MCA TV President Shelly Schwab. A 6.0 Nielsen gross average audience household rating after the five Hercules movies aired made it clear, however, that the superhero might pack a punch after all. (21.08.95 Broadcasting & Cable)

Robert Tapert: "We never really thought it was going to go to a regular television show. But lo and behold, it pulled the best numbers by far out of that "wheel". The studio had the right to launch two series out of that and they did Vanishing Son and Hercules." (01.01 Whoosh!)

 

Kevin Sorbo: We were into the third movie... <...> Well, in about a month, six weeks, sure enough the studio called and said, "Look, we want to pick it up for a season, maybe do a series out of it." The contract talks started happening. I just saw the appeal in terms of what the show is. There are dramatic beats, comedic beats. There are, you know, special effects. The fight sequences are done with sort of a wink. The large appeal of the show is that we don't take ourselves too seriously, and the audience knows it. We bring the audience in for the ride with us. And I think they really enjoy that because the initial run for the show was to say, "Hey, let's try to get the teenage kids and younger." But I get 80-year-old grandmothers writing me." (11.96 Total TV)

 

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