Center Stage to Silver Screen: Bodybuilders in Media
Bodybuilding is a fascinating sport and profession. It not only requires some of the most extreme efforts to sculpt the perfect bulk or figure, but it necessitates a certain ability to entertain. At competitions, bodybuilders are given a time to shine and show off their immaculate physiques while putting on a show for the audience. If you take time to consider, performance is a key aspect of bodybuilding competition. It shows too, as many popular bodybuilders have made the trek from the gym to the silver screen on the shoulders of their own personal talent (having a ripped body helps, too). Today, we’re going to highlight the careers of bodybuilders who have pushed their careers into television, film, and other forms of media.
David Prowse did a fine job representing British bodybuilders in his day. For three straight years, Prowse won the British heavyweight weightlifting championship (from 1962-64). He competed in numerous events during his career, including the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. When it comes to Hollywood, Prowse trained the late Christopher Reeve for the 1978 Superman film. As far as acting goes, Prowse portrayed the bodyguard of F. Alexander in the notorious A Clockwork Orange film, which began to open doors for him. Soon after, Prowse landed the role of Darth Vader in George Lucas’ epic Star Wars trilogy. That’s right, David Prowse is the man behind the mask.
In a more modern twist on the bodybuilders in media world, Kai Greene made recent headlines by playing a role in the Netflix original series Stranger Things (season two) as the wonderfully named Funshine. Fans of the show responded well to his appearances, and he worked to critical acclaim. As a bodybuilder, Greene has taken home multiple championships from the Arnold Classic and the New York Pro while placing second on numerous occasions in the chronicled Mr. Olympia competition. While Greene declined to participate in Olympia 2017, his future in acting appears bright (he’s already notched two solid roles in separate publications). Additionally, Greene is a talented artist who creates self-portraits in order to maintain his physique and plan/reach his goals.
With the 2017 Ferrigno Legacy come and gone, the great Lou Ferrigno and his accomplishments are fresh in our minds. Ferrigno’s story is inspiring, as his hard work and effort as a bodybuilder in competitions (particularly the Olympia competitions against fellow bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his appearance in the documentary, Pumping Iron. Perhaps one of the best known actors, Ferrigno played the role of the Incredible Hulk for the long running self-titled television show (and subsequent films). Ferrigno has appeared in numerous big budget films, including the likes of I Love You, Man, the voice of the Hulk in The Avengers, and the always enjoyable Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! You know you’ve made it, then, right?
Still, Ferrigno continues to perform as an actor while busy with his work in the Ferrigno Legacy. A few of Ferrigno’s upcoming films include the likes of Instant Death (where Ferrigno plays the lead role) and Ring Ring, and upcoming horror film. For me, the best part of watching Ferrigno perform is his Andy Kaufman-like ability to play a serious role while never being quite too serious about himself.
Known as the “Beast from the East,” Bolo Yeung represents all that Chinese martial arts and bodybuilding can be. In the east, there are few who can rival the pure strength and athleticism of Bolo Yeung. In his younger years, he caught the attention of the Shaw brothers in Hong Kong, the biggest film production company in the area. There, he played the villain in various films due to his body type in films like The Deadly Duo. After leaving the Shaw Brothers in 1978 and meeting Bruce Lee while filming a commercial together, Yeung eventually acted in the well received Bloodsport against Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yeung has continued to appear in films through the 2010’s, leaving his legacy on the big screen.
The Germany born Ralf Moeller spent nearly twenty years in the bodybuilding industry. After he finished in the top twenty for the 1988 Mr. Olympia competition, Moeller launched his acting career, starring in an episode of a German TV show before starring in feature length films. Moeller can be found in films and shows like Universal Soldier, Gladiator, and Conan the Adventurer (as Conan the Barbarian). Let’s not forget my personal favorite role of Ralf Moeller as Hammacher in the classic comedy Beerfest. As I mentioned with Lou Ferrigno, I think we often forget how funny bodybuilders can be and why many of them are able to transition into a career in acting.
Franco Columbu has lived a pretty spectacular life as a bodybuilder. He won the Mr. Olympia competition in 1981 (in the under 200lb competition) and also appeared in the Pumping Iron documentary. Spending about 15 years in the bodybuilding scene, Columbu created quite a name for himself. While his acting career isn’t as illustrious as others on this list, Columbu does have roles in huge films like The Terminator (where he played alongside his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Conan the Barbarian. While he doesn’t appear in too many films or shows, Columbu still shows up from time-to-time in the cinema.
No bodybuilder to actor list would be complete without Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only is he one of the world’s most renowned bodybuilder, Schwarzenegger owns seven Mr. Olympia championship titles among a litany of 1st place winnings at other competitions (such as the Mr. Universe and Mr. Europe). Also part of the Pumping Iron documentary, you could say that Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned in the most notable acting career of any bodybuilder. With a film credit listing too long to recount, Schwarzenegger has starred in an inordinate number of films as the lead role. Schwarzenegger is known for his part as Conan the Barbarian and the Terminator while starring in movies like Total Recall, The Predator, Commando, The Running Man, and more. As a fun note, Schwarzenegger also sat as Governor of California for the GOP for a number of years. That’s the power of bodybuilding.
There are quite a few more bodybuilders who deserve attention for their successful transition into acting. Who do you believe should get more attention?