Kevin Sorbo

(02-03).97
MrShowbiz

Despite the fact that his godlike, Pam-coated physique has launched a thousand Web sites, Kevin Sorbo, the star of H:TLJ, was in fact begat by mortals - a nurse and a junior high school teacher, to be more precise. The fourth of five children raised in their strict Lutheran household in the Minneapolis suburb of Mound, Sorbo first knew he wanted to be an actor after he attended a high school production of Oklahoma! when he was eleven years old. Realizing this dream didn't exactly happen right away, of course. The practical-minded Sorbo attended the University of Minnesota on a marketing-advertising track, dropping out one semester short of obtaining his degree to move his dream of becoming an actor to the front burner. Sorbo joined a Dallas-based theatre group, and landed his first acting job at the age of twenty-one: a two-line, walk-on part in an episode of Dallas. The future looked bright.
The Midwestern kid with the stunning Nordic good looks soon followed a girlfriend to Europe, where he managed to find modeling work for print ads. In time, his rsum expanded to include jobs as pitchman in over 150 American and European commercials for such brands as Budweiser, BMW, Diet Coke, and Lexus. (He still earns healthy residuals from a Jim Beam commercial shot five years ago.) After moving to L.A. in 1986, Sorbo filmed a handful of dead-end TV pilots and bombed out on auditions for The X-Files (for the role of Fox Mulder), N.Y.P.D. Blue, and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (he was runner-up to Dean Cain for the lead). Episodes of Murder, She Wrote and The Commish marked high points in a career that was flowing like molasses in a Minnesota January.


When all hope of ever breaking out of commercial hell seemed spent, Sorbo was passed a script for a Universal Television TV movie based on the Hercules myth. After a tireless round of auditions, and despite the fact that studio executives envisioned Dolph Lundgren as their star, Sorbo prevailed, beating out a hundred other hopefuls for the role. The brainchild of filmmakers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, Hercules and the Amazon Women was a monster hit, as were the rest four of the two-hour, Sorbo-led movies that followed in the "Universal Action Pack" suite (all 1994). Based on their runaway success, Universal commissioned thirteen hour-long episodes for a series, and H:TLJ took the syndicated television market by storm following its debut in 1995. The following season, Hercules begat X:WP, which features that zaftig, sword-brandishing native of New Zealand, Lucy Lawless. Playing fast and loose with mythology, H:TLJ offers escapist entertainment with its elaborate action sequences (Sorbo does most of his own stunts and fight scenes) and cutting-edge visual effects. Filmed ten months out of the year in the lush environs of Auckland, New Zealand, the show integrates mythological story lines with contemporary allusions (tie-dyed togas, falafal stands, bingo). Sorbo's "Herc" represents a kinder, gentler answer to the previous Hercules interpretations of Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Lou Ferrigno - his mythical macho man speaks like a Southern California surfer dude ("I'm like totally buff!"), looks and moves like an N.F.L. quarterback (he was hired because he was exactly the "Joe Montana type" the producers were looking for), and evidences a sensitive and vulnerable side that many viewers, especially the female ones, find utterly endearing. With a wit every bit as brawny as his bod, his Hercules calls upon reason and humor just as readily as muscle to avoid scrapes. Viewers thrill to the show's surfeit of gladiatorial action, perennial parades of fetching damsels in distress, and computer-generated mythological beasties.


Now in its third season, the high-camp show, and its not-so-little little-sister spin-off, Xena, have muscled their way past reigning champ Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to become king and queen of syndicated drama. Not too shabby, considering the creators' modest goal at the beginning was just to shellac Baywatch in the ratings. With another spin-off feature (Young Hercules) and a direct-to-video animated adventure in the works, and a line of action figures and comic books selling like hotcakes, it's obvious that the show's proven winning formula promises a lucrative future. Sorbo's money-making potential tapped by Universal in Kull the Conqueror. The seven-figure salary he'll receive for the role suggests that Sorbo stands to make that bold leap of faith from the small to the big screen.
Despite his phenomenal popularity as the ass-kicking demigod Sorbo has managed to maintain his Midwestern accessibility - not all people who are immortalized in plastic can make the same claim. Now quite at home in New Zealand (he recently bought a house), Sorbo spends what little leisure time he has away from the set playing guitar.

 

 

Television's Hercules says he's really a softie at heart

(04).97
Net article-MrShowbiz-97

By Gillian G. Gaar

Mythological mighty man Hercules, Kevin Sorbo epitomizes the superhero of the nineties: he kicks butt, but he's sensitive about it. That means that in Sorbo's television kingdom of monsters, princesses in distress, and meddling gods and goddesses, violence occurs only when absolutely necessary. Rest assured, however, that the H:TLJ writers come up with a legitimate reason to stage a good brawl at least a few times an episode.
After starting out as a set of five made-for-TV movies, Hercules made its debut as a TV series proper in January of 1995, and quickly carved out a niche in the forefront of the syndicated market, jousting for ratings with Baywatch and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as
well as its own spin-off, XenKS: Warrior Princess. The show's success has resulted in a dizzying ride to stardom for Sorbo, a thirty-eight-year-old from suburban Minnesota; after beginning his career with commercials and bit parts on television, he now sees his image replicated on lunch boxes and pillowcases around the world. After three seasons playing the most celebrated Greco-Roman hero of all time, Sorbo has also become involved in other areas of show business. He directed a Hercules episode called "War Bride," which airs the week of April 28, and co-wrote the 1997 season finale.
The hulking, single actor spoke to Mr. Showbiz from his home in New Zealand between filming sessions on the final episodes of the current Hercules season. He offered his own thoughts on the man behind the legend. "I think Herc can be vulnerable," mused Sorbo. "He can still have things to learn. The way the character is now, he makes fun of himself. He'll make mistakes. That's what I think is his charm - he's an easily approachable guy." Charming? Approachable? If the conversation we had is any indication, you could say the same about Kevin Sorbo.

Q: I understand that seeing Oklahoma! as a kid sparked your interest in acting.
KS: I'm a big fan of musicals. I love 'em. Maybe it's the whole cornball, sappy thing. Carousel, Showboat, The Music Man, My Fair Lady - I've always loved really classy and well-done musicals.
Q: What was it about this particular show?
KS: It was a high school play in my local town. I remember being mesmerized by the whole process. I was like, "Wow! I want to do that!" It was an epiphany: this is it, this is what you're supposed to do with your life.


Q: How familiar were you with Hercules before getting the role?
KS: In seventh or eighth grade a teacher had us read mythology. And Hercules was the obvious choice, because he was the most celebrated. It ends up being a funny turn of events, because not in a million years did I think I would get my big break [playing] Hercules! It's fun for me to be now sitting in the driver's seat.
Q: How soon after making the five TV movies about Hercules did they decide to do a series?
KS: Pretty quickly. I had a really good feeling halfway through the third movie. The movies hadn't even aired yet and I said, "They'll make this a series." By the fifth movie they said, "We're gonna do it." We didn't have a for-sure go until a month after we wrapped on the movies but when I came back to the States I left a lot of my stuff down here! I had a good feeling I was coming back!
Q: What training did you go through for the role?
KS: The biggest training I had was that I was an athlete. I played football, basketball, baseball, all the sports. So I was prepared for it in an athletic sense, and was willing to put myself through the stunts they wanted me to. I've been hurt a number of times. It's kind of stupid I do them; I look at some of these stunts and go, "I can't, there's no way." And then they go, "Action!" and you just do it. Something happens once the cameras start to roll. They threw me into a training session with Doug Wong, who's trained Stallone and Schwarzenegger and all these guys, and he gave me a really intense six-week course. I crammed four years into six weeks. And through three and a half years of doing ninety-five percent of my own stunts, I've learned a lot more.
Q: After three years as Hercules, you're best known as a tough guy. Are you ever challenged to fights in real life?
KS: It's happened in this country [New Zealand], more than anywhere else. Probably because I live here. I don't go out often, but I go into restaurants or a pub to be with friends. The male ego is a funny thing. Maybe a guy's girlfriend says, "Oh, he's kind of cute," and then they want to kill me! You've just got to look at the guy and laugh and say, "It's a TV show. Relax." Or tell them, "I need my stunt choreographer first." Yes, exactly. When I throw a punch, I miss you by about a half a foot, and you're supposed to snap your neck and we'll have a really good sound effect, okay? The reality and the fantasy gets all mixed up in some people's minds, so they think I'm a tough guy. I don't think I'm a tough guy. I can handle myself, but do I think I'm some big brawler? No. I am the original lover, not a fighter!

Q: You do a lot of both on the show. What can you tell us about "War Bride," the upcoming episode you directed?
KS: It's an interesting story. I'm leading this princess across the country, and she's supposed to get married to this king, but she doesn't want to. And basically the show goes from Disneyland to Blade Runner in a hurry! It turns into a war between these two kingdoms, and there's a lot of people that want to keep the war going. So there's a lot of things that are done to undermine the wedding: there's a kidnapping, there's a new weapon that's introduced that's pretty violent in terms of the destruction it can cause on villages. And Herc has to come in and save the day. The first half is a lot of fun; there's a lot of good comedy. The second half turns into a full-on war.


Q: How did you get involved in directing?
KS: I hinted at it a couple times. And I may not be qualified to direct; actually, I'm probably not qualified to direct! But I know this show, and I think I'm qualified to direct it. I know the show, I know the beats of the show, I know the characters, I know my crew, my crew knows me, and they help me out tremendously. They give me an extra twenty percent when I'm at the director's helm. "The Apple" was an easier episode to direct than "War Bride" because I had time to get into it. I directed "The Apple" after a three-week Christmas break, so I had all of the information and facts I needed, and I prepped thoroughly. This last episode I was trying to prep while shooting another Hercules, and it was tough. This was a grueling last two weeks, and I'm just beat right now!
Q: Is it difficult to direct and act on the same episode?
KS: The challenge is there and I like that. But you feel like you cheat the level of your performance as an actor, and you possibly cheat the level of what a director would be doing, because your mind is just that much more distracted. You feel like you're not able to give it the hundred percent you want. That makes it frustrating, because I certainly am my own worst critic, and it drives me nuts when I don't do a good job. That happens a lot with television because you aren't given the opportunity to rehearse as much. I'm happy with some of the stuff, but I'm probably unhappy with most of it, because I know I can do better.
Q: Are you planning anything special for the 1997 season finale?
KS: We're doing an episode called "Two Men and a Baby" that I co-wrote. We crossed the line on this show--you know there's no rules on the show; we bounce around from century to century and that's what makes it fun. We did a Christmas episode, and I said, "Okay, now we've left mythological and we've gone biblical." I was always fascinated with the story of Moses, so we took a Moses-type story.
Q: You find a baby in the bulrushes?
KS: Exactly. You're with me--you know your Bible! And we bring Nemesis back, the Goddess of Divine Intervention. It deals with her baby. We think it could be Hercules' baby, but it's not; it's another god's baby, and there's a big fight.
Q: How much longer will Hercules run?
KS: We are contracted through March of '98. There's a verbal agreement to go through March of '99. And our executive producer told me they want us to go till 2001! Hercules meets the millenium--that's an obvious episode! It is, isn't it? There's a good twist in there. I think it'll work.
Q: Where would you like to see the character go?
KS: I want to be challenged more as an actor, so I want more dramatic beats brought in. I want to make the show a little darker. The comedy will always be there. We ad-lib like crazy, so the comedy I think will always be there, but I would like to go more dramatic.

 

Q: Did you enjoy last January's Hercules convention?
KS: In terms of going out there, I didn't feel the nervousness I feel if I'm on a David Letterman show, where maybe half the audience goes "I never even heard of this show!" But here you can walk out there in front of thousands of people and know that each and every one of them wants to see and hear you. The neatest thing is to see the kids and see what's on their faces. I put myself in their shoes and go, "You know, if this was Adam West in front of me as Batman, back in the sixties, I'd be doing the same thing. I understand how that kid feels." And it's so cool to see how much they love you.
Q: It must be weird having a line of toys based on yourself.
KS: When I first saw them, I looked at them and said, "This is so strange!" And then I walked into a Target store when I was home at Christmastime; I walked in with my parents, and saw this section of all these toys with my photo slapped on the box and the sword and the wristband and the action figure. I just find it so bizarre: I'm on a lunch box and on pillowcases. It's overwhelming--it truly is! People probably think, "He thinks he's hot stuff." I don't. I don't think the reality of what this show is and what it's done and how it's affected people will hit me until years after I'm done with the show, when I get a chance to think about it. I just haven't had the time to really put it in perspective.


Q: What can you say about your upcoming film Kull the Conqueror?
KS: It's a prequel to Conan the Barbarian. I met Arnold [Schwarzenegger] after I shot it, and we exchanged notes on it, and had fun just talking about how things don't change, what you have to go through. It was a good learning experience. In terms of the time we got to spend on it, you really got the chance to feel like you got the performances right. Some people will point fingers and say, "You're doing the same type of thing as Hercules." But Kull's a completely different character. To me the difference is, you watch Hercules and it's got that "wink-wink" to the audience type of thing. Kull is a world you could actually believe existed at one time, because it did! It deals with a barbaric era that as far as we're aware of in terms of the history and things, was there.
Q: Will there be a sequel?
KS: Oh, no question! I had to sign a three-picture deal. So it really depends on the audience. The audience has to make it a hit.


Q: And what about the Hercules-Xena cartoon?
KS: Lucy [Lawless] and I had a ball doing that. They like it so much that they've already scheduled two more. This first will come out in October. We'll voice-over the next one probably in July, and that'll probably come out the following autumn.
Q: Why a cartoon instead of a live-action film?
KS: Just a different market. And let's face it, there's more things you can do with a cartoon character than with real humans! Will they do a big feature film of Herc and Xena? If they're willing to do with Hercules what they did with Star Trek, I would do it in a heartbeat. The Star Trek movies are a huge success because they put millions of dollars behind them. They look great and they get good stories, so they don't cheat the audience, don't sell the audience short. They're not dumb.


Q: What has it been like for you, personally, as the show has taken off? How has your life changed?
KS: I'm pretty isolated down here, and it's been a slow realization of what the show's done. I don't expect people to recognize me, but then I go out in public and they do. You'd think I'd say, "Okay, I expect it now," but I really don't expect people to come up to me. The majority are very cool--they say they love the show, and it's one of the few shows they feel their whole family can watch. That's nice, 'cause to me it is a fun show. It's a sit-down-and-have-a-bowl-of-popcorn kind of deal.

 

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