He was the star of one of the most popular syndicated series of all time ("Hercules") and followed it up with another long-running show ("Andromeda"), but Kevin Sorbo isn’t the kind of guy who’s ready to just sit back and spend the rest of his life on the sci-fi fantasy circuit. (And we know, because we asked him if he was considering it.) Sorbo recently wrapped up a seven-episode stint on "The O.C." – an appearance completely coincidental to the show’s cancellation, we swear – and he’s currently busy promoting his role as the lead in the straight-to-video semi-sequel to "Walking Tall." Bullz-Eye talked to Sorbo about his often-unheralded comedic roles, the chances of him reprising either of his two most famous television roles, and exactly what the hell went wrong with "Kull the Conqueror." (Don’t remember it? Read on, and you might understand why…)
Bullz-Eye: Hi, may I speak to Kevin?
Kevin Sorbo: This is he.
BE: Hey, this is Will Harris.
KS: Hello, Will Harris. How are you?
BE: Not bad. Glad to be able to talk to you for a few minutes.
KS: Not a problem. Where are you calling from?
BE: Chesapeake, Virginia.
KS: Oh, there you go!
BE: It’s right next door to Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
BE: Well, I checked out, um, "Walking Tall 2," I guess you’d call it…
KS: (Chuckles) I think they’re calling it "Walking Tall: The Payback." They’ve given it an official title now.
BE: I know it’s less of a sequel than a continuation of the concept of a guy who, uh, walks tall.
BE: You’re very good in the film…
KS: Well, thanks very much!
BE: …though I do have to say that I think your performance transcends the material at times, but… (Laughs) …was it the high profile of the franchise that caught your eye, or…?
KS: Yeah, I think it was a couple of things. I mean, number one, I certainly was a fan of the original "Walking Tall." I remember watching it when I was a kid, with my dad, and seeing the TV series with Bo Svenson, and I just always thought it was a pretty cool idea. So Sony came to me, and…y’know, I just kind of jumped on it for one of those reasons, but another reason, obviously, was to do something a little more contemporary. They seem to always stick me 3,000 years in the past or 5,000 years in the future, so it was kind of nice to do something that dealt with today. And I think that all of us have this little wish that we could be a hero like that, so I wanted to play it.
BE: Was it hard to walk tall in the Rock’s shoes, or did you not really think of it that way, since it isn’t really a sequel?
KS: You know, I didn’t feel that way at all. You know, I think he’d have a hard time walking in my shoes! (Laughs)
BE: Well, there you go! So you’ve been on "The O.C." recently…
KS: I was. I just finished seven episodes; we wrapped my seventh episode, and the series wrapped on Friday of last week.
BE: I hear you were playing a bad guy.
KS: Welllllll, kind of a bad guy. You know, it’s funny: it started out that way, and they never really brought any sort of end to it. They kind of softened him up a little bit, that he was trying to get back into his son’s life…which is fine, but there were certainly a lot of things that happened off-screen that would’ve been nice to put on-screen… (Laughs) …that would’ve answered fans’ questions about why Ryan’s dad disappeared, and why he ended up in prison, and all of these things. But I think they were just wrapping up the show, and they didn’t do a whole lot with it after that.
BE: How did you get hooked up with the role in the first place?
KS: They just gave a call to my agent and said, look, we have this part in here, and we’d like to speak to Kevin about it. So I went down there – the studio’s right down on Manhattan Beach – and met with all of the executive producers and the writers, and they just kind of told me what they wanted to do. Originally, it was just supposed to be two episodes, and it looked like fun; those episodes were driven by what was going on with my character, and being reintroduced into the life of my son, who hasn’t seen me in a decade, and how it sort of rippled through the families there. And then just added two more shows, and added two more shows, and added me to the finale…so they just kept me busy for a couple of months!
BE: You started popping up on sitcoms after "Hercules" ended; in fact, you had a recurring role on "Dharma and Greg" for a few episodes…
BE: …and then you turned up on "Two and a Half Men" last year. I take it you enjoy doing comedy.
KS: I do. You know, I actually did one of my first…I had a very small part in a "Cheers" episode years ago. And on "Hercules," in season three, back in 1995, Chuck Lorre asked me to do this part on "Cybill," with Cybill Shepherd, which was one of his first sitcoms, and so I did that one. And then I did a "Just Shoot Me," and…I’ve always loved the format, and I love the fact that you’re getting in front of a live audience. I realize that most of the comedies they seem to be doing now are single-camera ones, sort of like in the mold of "M*A*S*H," and they’re not doing as many of the other, but Chuck Lorre’s still a fan of them, obviously. He did it with "Dharma & Greg," and now "Two and a Half Men." And I did Belushi’s show, "According to Jim," and ABC liked the stuff that I did. They gave me my own pilot a year and a half ago, and even though we tested incredibly well – in fact, we were their number-one tested comedy – they didn’t pick us up. So there you go. I’ll never understand the logic behind these guys. To this day – it was a year and a half ago that I did it; it would’ve been for the fall of 2005 – I’m still shocked that they didn’t pick it up, because it’s a funny show! It’s from the writer and creator of "Coach" and "Newhart," Barry Kemp, and he did such a fantastic job. The audience loved it, and I know that, when they tested it, it did really well, and they fly me to New York for up-fronts…and then, at the last minute, they said, "Yeah, we’re not gonna do another one." So I look at the shows that they picked up, that lasted one, two, or three episodes, and I go, "Okay." I guess ABC felt there would be no interest in a sports-related sitcom, dealing with the football world or the NFL.
BE: What was it called?
KS: It was called "Bobby Cannon," and I played Bobby. I played a 42-year-old quarterback for the Chicago Bears who’s done it all and is still playing the game, but the pilot episode deals with ESPN and the Drafting Day, and the Bears draft the next Peyton Manning…and I realize my days are numbered. The whole place goes quiet, and they say, "God, they’re replacing him?" (Pauses) "Well, he is getting pretty old, you know…" The reality of it sets in, and we looked at the comedy part of that.
BE: I know YouTube is notorious for having unaired pilots show up, so I’ll have to do a search for it.
KS: Oh, really?
BE: Oh, yeah. Many a pilot for a show that never actually made it to air has turned up on there.
KS: Maybe I’ll get that out there somehow. I would have no idea how to do that, but I’ll find someone who can do it.
BE: It’s pretty cool. I’ve done searches for the word "pilot" and a star’s name and found many cool things.
KS: Wow, that’s interesting. Cool!
BE: Have you ever thought about doing just a straight-up comedy film? I mean, clearly, you’ve got a sense of timing, and I wouldn’t think that a romantic comedy would be a major stretch, seeing as the chicks dig you and all.
KS: (Laughs) You know, I would love to. I’m in a place now…I just fired a manager, and I’m about ready to fire my agent… (Laughs) …but I think, you know, that when you’re with some of these people for so long, they just get complacent and lazy. I’m having problems with my agent right now that way, so you know what? I’ve got a new manager that’s so fired up to have me, they’re sending me scripts all the time. As a matter of fact, I’m reading for two pilots this afternoon for NBC; one’s a drama, one’s an over-the-top comedy, and the comedy is just hilarious. I play sort of a Steve Irwin character…even brought up a couple of notches!… (Chuckles) …and it’s funny. And love this kind of stuff! I would love to do a romantic comedy…and I think one of the reasons that I wanted to do the "Walking Talls" was that, even though they’re straight to DVD, there was small talk at one time about picking them up for a theatrical release of some kind. But…God, I want to get into that world as well! I mean, I love television, and let’s face it, there are so many movie actors that do TV now. I think the writing’s getting better, and there are less movies being made; the combination of those two things have sort of forced these two mediums to become one. But, y’know, romantic comedy…you hit it right on the head, it’s definitely what I want to do. Tom Werner, of Carsey-Werner, he wants to do some kind of a "Moonlighting"-type series with me, so we’ll see.
BE: Actually, when you were talking about doing films, I wanted to ask: when you were doing "Kull the Conqueror" back in 1997, were you thinking, "This is it, this is my big break, I’m out of TV"?
KS: Um, you know…not really. I mean, "Hercules" was only four years into its run, and I could see with the ("Kull") script that they… (Hesitates) Had they kept the original script, yeah, I would’ve thought that. I’d booked another movie right after that that I had to pull out of. I mean, I had a near-death incident that happened back about a year after that movie that really slowed down a lot of other things for me – it took about two years to recover, and they sort of worked around my schedule on "Hercules," just to sort of let me get healthy again – so that sort of hurt me. But I think…I think "Kull" is a very good TV movie. I think it’s a very good one, and I think that, had they kept the original script, it would’ve done really well. I really do. Because Universal was afraid of alienating the "Hercules" people, but I said, basically, to heck with them. I mean, if they like me, they’re going to come, anyway, so keep it the R-bordering-on-an-X that the original script is. And they ended up making it a PG. And, believe me, I fought it. And (producer) Rafaella De Laurentis fought it as well. We were in the same boat there, and we both said, leave this the way it is. Leave it in the steps of "Conan," where the censors are going to go, "With the violence and the sex, it’s gotta be an X," and then edit it down to an R. But don’t take away what the character is and soften him up! But it was a battle we lost. And then they opened it on the same weekend that Princess Di was killed, which is also a weekend that notoriously isn’t good for movies, anyway: the last weekend for summer, Labor Day. That’s not a good weekend to open movies…and Rafaella and I both lost that battle as well. To me, it felt like a Thanksgiving or Christmas or cold-weather movie. But, y’know, live and learn. My ego wasn’t that big that I said, "This is it." I just thought this was going to be a good start to help that along…but you don’t always get to choose your winners.
BE: I understand you work with the organization A World Fit For Kids.
BE: How did you get involved with them?
"Would I do (a 'Hercules' movie)? Sure, I’d do it. I know I'm still young enough to get myself back in shape. I'm still in good shape now, but I'm about 20 pounds lighter; I can't lift as heavy anymore!"KS: I just put out the feelers that I was looking for a foundation that worked with kids, that worked with kids who were physically healthy but not living in healthy environments. There were so many people coming after me with organizations fighting cancer, pediatric AIDS, all this stuff, and they’re obviously wonderful organizations, but everybody was going that road, and I said, y’know, there are other kids out there that need direction as well, and need help, a mentor, a helping hand, and or a community that’s not so screwed up all the time. So that’s basically what this program does. We just had a quarterly meeting last night, actually, and we’re getting better and better all the time, which is good, in terms of our funding. We’ve got a golf tournament coming up this next weekend in Vegas. With the NBA All-Star Weekend in Vegas, we’ve got a lot of NBA athletes, NFL’ers, and actors, and we’ve raised a big chunk of money for them as well. So it’s coming along great, and it’s been very satisfying for me to see these kids that would’ve probably ended up in gangs or dead or dropped out of high school or whatever, that they’ve gone on to finish school, get into college, and get jobs.
BE: And you also found yourself in the pages of the book American Daddy: A Father’s Heart Revealed, a collection of photos of and essays by various proud fathers.
KS: (Laughs) Oh, yeah! It was actually a guy I met through the church I go to, and he just came up and said, "Would you like to do this?" And I was more than happy to do it. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m a very proud papa!
BE: So am I. I know where you’re coming from.
KS: There you go. How many you got?
BE: Just one.
KS: How old?
BE: Eighteen months.
KS: Oh, congratulations! That’s cool, isn’t it?
BE: Yeah. She was in-vitro, so we fought long and hard to get her…
KS: Good for you.
BE: …and I think they slipped good-baby genes into the Petri dish, because she’s the poster child for why you want to have kids.
KS: Yep. Good for you; that’s awesome. It’s just…you just melt when you get home, and she’s already running around now, but just wait another year when they start gabbing like crazy.
BE: Oh, she’s doing quite a lot of babbling already!
KS: Exactly. My little girl, she’s 15 months, and I’ve got a two-and-a-half year old and a five year old…so it’s pretty cool.
BE: I’m sure you’re asked this in every interview, but do you ever think about revisiting "Hercules" or "Andromeda"? I understand most actors preferring to look forward rather than back, but…
KS: Well, you know what? To be quite honest with you, I was actually shocked they never came forward to do a "Hercules & "Xena" feature film, considering how popular "Hercules" was, and it had a spin-off like "Xena," which was equally popular. Hell, in 1996, we passed "Baywatch" as the most watched show in the world in 174 countries, so a feature film is sort of a no-brainer! I’ve given up on it now, but I thought certainly within the first…you know, we finished shooting in December of ’99, and I figured that, in 2001 or 2002, they’d come to me and say, "C’mon, let’s do a feature now, it’s time to do one." And they never did! Would they do it? I don’t know. Would I do it? Sure, I’d do it. I can get myself…I know I’m still young enough to get myself back in shape. I’m still in good shape now, but I’m about 20 pounds lighter, and I can’t lift as heavy anymore! But, yeah…and "Andromeda" as well. We should’ve had a seven-year run out of that show, but, y’know, problems within the studio, and they fired everybody that I used to work with, and they’ve still got lawsuits flying left and right. I don’t know the whole story; all I know is that it’s on the sales block, and that it’s a studio that’s dying, I believe. That’s the only reason we didn’t do the seven-year run. But, y’know, we’ll see what happens. I’d love to do either one of them. I’d have a blast doing it!
BE: And I know you’ve got to go, but I’ve got one more question: have you ever been tempted to just spend the rest of your life just traveling the sci-fi/fantasy convention circuit?
KS: (Bursts into laughter)
BE: I figure it’s gotta be less stressful than acting, and it’s just constant adulation!
KS: You know, that wouldn’t be a bad way to go. I’ve got one coming up in Orlando in about a week and a half, two weeks from now, so… (Laughs) But, y’know, I still do one or two a year, maybe three a year.
BE: Yeah, I saw some of them on your calendar on your website.
KS: Well, yeah, and there’s some you just don’t have time to…some that have invited me for years that I’ve always had to say "no" to. But I have a good time doing them. It’s fun. And on top of it, I make sure they set up a golf date for me. That’s the important part for me! (Laughs) But, yeah, get it out there about "Walking Tall." Tell them to buy this thing. It’s a fun movie!
BE: I’ll do it.
KS: All right!
BE: Okay, well, it’s been great talking to you, Kevin.
KS: You, too, Will. Thanks a lot!