The Hulk is back in action

Marvel Comics’ Incredible Hulk looms over attendees at the Comic-Con 2008 convention in San Diego.

The Hulk has been one of the busiest Marvel characters, having had a cartoon series in the ’60s, the TV show in the ’70s, which spawned five made-for-TV movies, cartoon series in the ’80s and ’90s, numerous guest appearances and cameos, and two standalone films (which didn’t fare so well with fans).

And he’s not slowing down. The Hulk returns in “The Avengers” (in theaters tonight). Also, a live-action TV series is in development (by Guillermo del Toro) and a new Disney cartoon series is in production.

Lou Ferrigno is most closely associated with the popular live-action TV series, bringing the character of the Hulk to life in all his green glory. Though the series was shot in the ’70s, Ferrigno remains an integral part of the Hulk and his storied career.

Ferrigno, a retired body builder who has a Mr. America title and two consecutive Mr. Universe titles to his name, won the roll of the Hulk after the documentary “Pumping Iron” brought his 6-5, 285-pound frame to the attention of TV producer Kenneth Johnson.

Ferrigno went on to star in films such as “Sinbad of the Seven Seas” and “Hercules,” with numerous TV appearances, including a reoccurring roll on “The King of Queens.”

But he continued to return to the roll of the Hulk, and always will, if Ferrigno has his way. He has had a hand in the TV appearances since the live-action series ended and made the jump to the big screen with roles in 2003’s “Hulk” and 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.”

And to top it all off, Ferrigno is supplying the voice of the Hulk in “The Avengers.”

One has the right to be green with envy as I got the chance to chat over the phone last week with the one and only Incredible Hulk, who will be in town for the opening of “The Avengers.”

Q: I read that the Hulk was one of your childhood heroes. Did you read Marvel comics growing up? What was your favorite?

A: Yes, I did. I read “The Hulk” comic and “Superman.” The Hulk was my favorite because I related to him a lot because I’ve had a lot of anger in my life.

Q: The Hulk has become such an iconic character. He’s had more movies and TV shows than any of the other Avengers. Why do you think that is?

A: A lot of what happened to the Hulk, people can relate to the character and his anger and frustration, that’s why he’s a more popular, iconic character, I think.

Q: The Hulk has been a part of your life since 1977. Did you ever think it would go on this long?

A: You know, that’s a good question. I wasn’t so sure because I knew when it became a series, we were all very excited, and it’s now been almost 40 years. I think (my involvement) has a lot to do with the fact that it’s a persona and keeping in character ... and people want more of the Hulk, that’s what kept it going.

Q: Do you ever resent the fact that you’re primarily recalled for playing one character, the Hulk?

A: Never. Because a lot of actors that played characters on a TV series are forgotten. I don’t mind being associated with the Hulk because I’ve done over 40 films and it’s my favorite character and I’m very proud.

Q: How long did the Hulk makeup take? Was the makeup uncomfortable?

A: The makeup of the Hulk took like 3 or 3-and-a-half hours and it’s very uncomfortable because I had to wear the makeup 12 to 14 hours a day and they had to retouch me. ... The contacts, the hair, in and out in hot and cold all day long.

It was just the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the beauty of it was that the makeup would complete it and I would come into character.

Q: Why is the Hulk your favorite character to play?

A: The Hulk was my favorite character to play because of the fact that I identify with the Hulk. I was the Hulk my whole life. And I like that he portrayed a lot of sensitivity, that’s a lot of who I am.

Q: What’s been your coolest fan moment?

A: One time a guy came to me and he had a costume on and was making these weird sounds, and I kept asking him who he was and he wouldn’t tell me. ... I found out the next day that it was Michael Jackson.

Q: What did you think of “The Avengers”?

A: I haven’t seen it yet, but my kids went to see it at the premiere. They said it was the best Marvel movie they’ve ever seen and the Hulk was the best part of the movie. You know I did the voice and everything. I think it’s going to be a smash.

Q: What do you think of the Hulk’s return to the big screen?

A: I think it’s great because I think the Hulk was great. And my voice is in it, so I love the film because I know how the Hulk thinks and feels, and I think people connect with that. I think it will have an effect on a lot of people.

Q: There have been mixed reactions to the other two Hulk movies. What did you think of them?

A: The first one I didn’t care for because you couldn’t identify with the Hulk or the comic book series. The last one, it was better because it was more like the original TV series concept.

Q: What do you think of them using CGI rather than painting someone up as they did with you?

A: I’d rather they use me using CGI and motion capture because you can’t compete with a human Hulk, the CGI’s kind of tough.

Q: Any fun stories about Stan Lee?

A: I first met Stan back in 1978. They told me he was coming down to the set, and I got excited because I got to meet the guy who created the Hulk. Well, when I met him in person, I was taken aback by the way he talked. I thought he was putting on a show. He kept making fun of me and telling me I needed to put on more weight, he was teasing me. We really hit it off.