BWW Interviews: Kevin Sorbo Discusses “True Strength”

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There's no doubt about who is speaking on the other end of the telephone connection.  The voice is deep, rich and mellifluous.  It's the envy of any classically trained actor, yet there's incredible humor and intelligence in it.  It can only belong to actor Kevin Sorbo.

"I got it from my father.  He taught for thirty five years and had a very deep voice.  Dad would walk around the house singing all the time and maybe some of that rubbed off.  My brothers have deep voices, too."  That may very well be true, but his brothers didn't rocket to fame with a syndicated television series called HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, which he followed up with another hit series entitled GENE RODDENBERRY'S ANDROMEDA.  He's a pleasure to talk to.

Sorbo is promoting his memoir that was published in October, 2011.  Titled True Strength:  My Journey From Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life.  Yes, the actor who played mythical Hercules for seven seasons nearly lost his life as a result of three strokes resulting from an aneurysm in his shoulder that had been radiating blood clots throughout his body for months. There was enormous pain involved and a horrendous sound in his head. He had been left partially blind and incapacitated for several months.  At the time he was thirty eight years old.

True Strength is a compelling book.  Well-written, it grabs the reader from its introductory pages and becomes something that is virtually impossible to put down  The writing flows beautifully and there's a smoothness to it that ranks Sorbo with some of America's finest authors.  He surely has a flair for the written word.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the memoir is Sorbo's decision to let other people write chapters throughout the book.  In literary terms, these might be considered  "interchapters" not unlike the way John Steinbeck interrupts the narrative in his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath with vignettes about life in and around America's Dust Bowl. Memoirs are usually written from a personal point of view and as a result become rather one-sided. That's not the case with Sorbo's book: the reader gets a 360 degree view of what the actor and those around him during his near-death experience.

"I'd asked my wife to write the first one because she was with me while I was going through this whole ordeal.  She had a different perspective on what I was experiencing. Although I felt what I was going through, my wife, Sam, saw what was happening.  When she wrote her first chapter, I decided to ask Michael Hurst, my sidekick from HERCULES to contribute to the book, and another HERCULES cast member, Bruce Campbell to do the same."  Their contributions to the memoir serve up enormously touching observations about how the experience physically deteriorated Sorbo.  HERCULES main producer Eric Gruendemann and Sorbo's mother, Ardis, also provide chapters that are filled with remarkable observations. What emerges is a rather complete story of how a young man from Minnesota embarked on a successful career in modeling and acting only to face the very real aspect of mortality. It's a tale about what UCLA's Rob Huizenga, MD has said, "True Strength shows that a hero's true final scene isn't a miraculous cure concocted in a screenwriter's mind; it's a painful, protracted journey from despair to acceptance of an illness that knows no rules."

Sorbo's narrative is incredibly detailed and the actor explains that writing it presented some genuine challenges.  "I'm an early riser.  I like to get up to get watch the sun rise, so I'd do my writing at that time.  There were days when I'd struggle and get only a single page written.  At other times ideas and recollections would come easily and I'd wind up with ten pages or more completed." Throughout the process, he had the fullest support of his wife, who he met when she made a guest appearance on HERCULES.   The actor credits his wife with being a vital part of his recovery process.  "She was my rock" he says.  "She kept me positive and helped me navigate the rough waters.  I was lucky to have met her, but now I see God had a plan from the beginning."

Although his recovery was far from complete, Sorbo returned to HERCULES and the creative team kept his involvement to a minimum.  For the first time in the show's history, stunt doubles were used for the action scenes that the title character was involved in.  There was even a segment where Hercules was transformed into a pig , enabling Sorbo to do only the dubbing of the pig's voice and not make any on-camera appearances.  Eventually he did recover and finished his contractual commitment to the series.    

HERCULES was followed immediately by GENE RODDENBURY'S ANDROMEDA.  A series he became involved in at the suggestion of Roddenbury's widow.  Both of these

Series made Kevin Sorbo a familiar face to a worldwide audience. The actor has also resumed his film career and has six movies "in the can". Did his television and movie popularity ever present a problem to him? "No, I can't say it did.  Oh, people would come up to me on the street and tell me how much they enjoyed the shows or they'd ask for a photo or autograph.  I was only too happy to cooperate. Remember, they were watching my shows every week and I was in their living rooms, so they felt that they knew me.  It was all okay with me." 

When prodded a bit, Sorbo does admit that there were several women and one man who presented problems to him.  "One woman wrote to me every week went from friendly to threatening. 

Two other women actually moved to New Zealand, where HERCULES was filmed. I did a People magazine interview and they posted pictures of my house and gym where I worked out.  One of these women came to the gym every day to stalk me.  The other woman walked around the neighborhood asking the friendly Kiwi's where I lived and came a-knocking on my door at two o'clock in the morning. It wasn't very comfortable for me to find her popping up at my house."  Other than that, Sorbo couldn't recall anything terribly out-of-the-ordinary with his fans.  He received tons of fan mail and anyone who requested a headshot got one.  "I signed them in my trailer while I was getting ready for the day's shooting schedule."

The current obsession with celebrity in our present culture is something that concerns Sorbo.  "I mean shows like JERSEY SHORE….Really? People enjoy watching guys watching kids drinking and getting laid all the time? That's entertainment? And there are so many reality shows you can pick on that have made celebrities out people who are just losers.  It's pathetic.  The only plus out of those shows is that it's forced cable to pick up the slack and come up with many quality original programmed TV shows.  Thank you cable!"

True Strength contains many photographs.  Some are humorous, some are definitely "Hollywood"  but many of them are quite touching.  The photos of Sorbo and his three children indicate that he is a man who not only loves his children; he considers them to be extremely vital parts of his life.  An old maxim is presented to him for his reaction:  "A child will fill a hole in your heart you never knew you had."  There is a brief silence before he responds, "That's beautiful.  It's really beautiful…and it's true.  My daughter is in kindergarten right now and I drive her to school whenever I'm home.  I watch her walk into the building and I can see what kind of teenager she will become.  It really gives me pause.  People don't know what they're missing when they don't have kids."  He then adds, with a laugh, "My sister never wanted to have any kids because she remembered what she put my parents through!"  Octavia, Shane and Braeden are truly the apples of their father's eye. That's not the case with her brother, though, because Kevin Sorbo serves as a spokesman for A World Fit For Kids; a non-profit monitoring program in Los Angeles.  He has been on the board for 15 years and the program is the top ranked after-school program in the state of California.  Sorbo also hosts an annual celebrity golf tournament in Las Vegas which raises money for the foundation.

Something that Kevin Sorbo really does enjoy (aside from a good golf game) is the sitcom.  He's done many guest shots on them and he's had a great time on each one.  "Oh, there's that rush of performing in front of a small audience and hearing their immediate laughter and applause that is exhilarating."  Among the shows he's appeared in have been Dharma and Greg, Two and a Half Men, and Cybill.  He also starred in his own sitcom when ANDOMEDA wrapped for ABC.  Though it tested number one for new shows on the network, it was never picked up.

Considering how much Sorbo enjoys the feedback of a live audience, has he ever thought of doing live theater?  "It's funny that you should bring that up," he says.  "I'm getting the urge to do something again in that area.  I've done some stage work out here and lately I've been feeling I'd like to try something like that again.  The producers of Chicago had called me a while back to do the role that Richard Gere played in the film, but I was still recovering from the strokes and didn't feel up to something like that."  With his imposing physical stature and physique; to say nothing of that marvelous speaking voice of his, one would think that Kevin Sorbo might be more aptly suited to some of Shakespeare's characters and Macbeth might be an easy fit. "You know, it's funny that you should mention that.  In my book I go into great detail about how it was a class trip to a performance of The Merchant of Venice that really got me interested in acting.  I didn't understand what they were saying up there but I knew it was something I wanted to do."  

It would be a genuine pleasure to attend a performance of The Merchant of Venice and hearing this remarkable actor's rich voice wrap itself around the poetry of the Bard's most memorable language.  His sense of humor would be put to very good use as Petruchio in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW or one of Shakespeare's comedies.  It would be well worth the wait for such a performance to take place.  Until then, it would be strongly advised that theatergoers pick up a copy of his True Strength and read about how he survived a situation that brought him closer to death than anyone might have imagined.  His story ranks up there with any of memorable characters that Shakespeare ever thought of creating

For more information about Kevin Sorbo, visit his website at www.kevinsorbo.net

 


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Joe Panarello is one of those people who have most certainly been born with theater in their blood. As an actor, Joe has played such varied roles as Harry Roat in Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark, Jimmy Smith in No, No Nanette and Lazer Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof a vehicle he's performed in several times and designed the sets for on one occasion. He's also directed productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and Henrich Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Joe is a respected author and although his latest work, The Authoritative History of Corduroy won't be published until this summer, it is already being translated into several different languages by a group of polyglot nuns in Tormento, Italy.. The proceeds from their labors will go to the restoration of the nearby Cathedral of Gorgonzola.