Three years ago, we looked at trivia about the famous action television show Xena: Warrior Princess. That show was a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. It aired from 1995 to 1999. Here are some facts that you might not know about it.
1. Series creator Christian Williams looked at how Hercules had been presented in both the Greek myths and modern films, such as the 1958 Steve Reeves movie Hercules. He decided that the show should present Hercules with “a completely American persona.” His model for this character was Joe Montana (left), an American football star.
2. The franchise was conceived of as a series of televised movies, not a regular television show. The title role was offered to Dolph Lundgren (right), who was most famous for his portrayal of Rocky Balboa’s Russian opponent in Rocky IV.
3. The title role was given to Kevin Sorbo. He wasn’t the most muscular actor to audition for the role, but he conveyed the right personality for the character. Producer Dan Filie said that Sorbo’s Hercules seemed like “a guy you wanted to hang out with . . . a regular, good guy.”
4. The role of Zeus was offered to Charlton Heston. He passed. The producers then offered the role to Anthony Quinn, who accepted it.
5. Producer Eric Gruendemann searched for the right place to shoot the show. He wanted someplace in the southern hemisphere in order to get longer daylight outdoor shooting hours. He considered South Africa and Australia. But then another producer suggested New Zealand.
He and his colleagues explored New Zealand and found that it was an inexpensive place to film that offered great scenery. Gruendemann said, “Within two or three hours of Auckland, we can do so many different kinds of looks.”
7. The martial arts instructor for the series was Douglas L. Wong. He spent 6 weeks giving Kevin Sorbo an intense introduction to White Lotus Kung Fu. You can see Wong demonstrate that style in the above video.
Sorbo proved very agile and learned quickly.
8. In 1993, Sorbo almost landed the role of Superman in the TV show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. That job was ultimately won by Dean Cain.
9. Michael Hurst, who played Iolaus, was one of the foremost Shakespearean actors and directors in New Zealand at the time that he got into the Hercules/Xena franchise. In one of the first movies, he played the Greek god Charon. He was simultaneously performing in and directing a production of Hamlet, leading to a grueling work schedule.
10. If that surprises you, given the comic character of Iolaus, keep in mind that Hurst specialized in playing Shakespeare’s fools. He played fools in King Lear, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Hurst attributes his success in the role of Iolaus to that background.
11. Hurst is a serious actor, but he's willing to poke fun at his profession. Here's his funny 2010 short film "Hamlet Goes Shopping." It shows the Danish prince going on a mayhem-filled shopping trip while reciting lines from the play. Content warning: NSFW language.
14. Sorbo suffered an aneurysm in 1997 and had to spend a long time recovering while the show was still in production. The writers responded with “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Hercules.” This episode was set on the set of Hercules itself and poked fun at the show’s producers. The plot revolved around an effort to find the missing actor Kevin Sorbo.
15. The next episode, “Porkules,” had Hercules magically transformed into a pig. Again, Sorbo’s immediate presence was not necessary.
16. Throughout the series, the directors slipped loony disclaimers into the closing credits, such as “No two-headed, fire-breathing, regurgitating Ghidra were harmed during the production of this motion picture.”
Weisbrot, Robert. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: The Official Companion. New York: Doubleday, 1998. Print.
---. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Google Books. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
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