Q&A; WITH HULK HOGAN : Say What You Will, He Fills Out a Tutu

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fooling around with a well-known brand-name product is always risky business--but Hulk Hogan isn't worried.

Five-time world heavyweight champion of the World Wrestling Federation, the 40-year-old Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea) awaits Friday's opening of his third feature film--New Line Cinema's "Mr. Nanny," about a down-on-his-luck wrestler charged with taking care of a pair of motherless youngsters. For the first time, Hogan bills himself as "Terry 'Hulk' Hogan."

The same Terry "Hulk" Hogan goes into production in January on 20 hours of a syndicated series, "Thunder in Paradise," playing an ex-Navy SEAL named Hurricane Spencer . If the show's a hit, he's considering changing his billing to "Terry 'Hulk Hurricane' Hogan."

That was one of the topics Hogan, 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, discussed this week during an interview at a New York hotel.

Question: There are pictures of you in a tutu on "Mr. Nanny" posters plastered on buses all over New York. How does that make you feel?

Answer: I wasn't sure at first that that was the right marketing strategy, but I'm glad they went for it. The only downside is with the hard-core wrestling fans. I read all those wrestling magazines, because I'm still a big fan. And I think it insulted the heck out of those hard-core fans. Their reaction is "How could you do this?" Like: "You gave up wrestling for this?" They don't want to understand what I'm trying to do.

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Q: What's the difference between wearing a tutu and wearing wrestling tights?

A: A tutu crosses the line. You drop the last straw of your masculinity that you've been hanging on to. But I knew it would work. You've got the big, stereotypical guy with the tan body, the yellow tights--this sweaty bald-headed maniac--in a tutu. People's reactions were off the Richter scale.

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Q: Hulk Hogan is an established brand name. Why change your billing to Terry "Hulk" Hogan?

A: After the last 15 years of yelling and screaming as Hulk Hogan, I was getting stereotyped as a wrestler. People hear "Hulk Hogan" and think of wrestling. I figured changing it would throw people off track a little. It might make them think this isn't a wrestling movie. Which it isn't.

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Q: How did you choose this script?

A: Actually, I came up with the story. I was on the set for "Suburban Commando" and they came to me with all of these treatments. I had just seen "Home Alone" and I thought about reversing the scenario: You've got Hulk Hogan, ex-athlete, now supposedly the greatest bodyguard ever--and he's turned into a baby-sitter for these two mean kids.

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Q: What kinds of films do you want to make after this?

A: I'd like to be the John Wayne of the '90s. Not in terms of being the macho guy, but as a solid male leading character. Making an action-adventure comedy that kids can see with their families is a natural extension of what I did in wrestling.

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Q: Who's your competition for roles?

A: If "Mr. Nanny" does what I think it will, then maybe the big studios will take a chance on me. Then I don't know if my competition would be Arnold, or Bruce Willis, or whoever. But I'm ready to compete. I've been like a little dog sitting on the porch. Now I'd like a chance to run with the big dogs.

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Q: What's your best feature?

A: It would have to be something that comes out once you get to know me, a genuine quality I have when you get to know who Terry is.

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Q: No, I mean, when you look in the mirror and you're stripped down to your trunks, what do you see as your best feature?

A: You mean in terms of ego and physical prowess? My arms are my best feature.

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Q: What will it be like for the first young man who comes to your door to date your daughter? (Hogan and his wife, who live in Clearwater, Fla., have a daughter, 5, and a son, 3.)

A: I've thought about that. I think a good wrestling lesson in the front yard. Perhaps a body-slam to the concrete. No, really, all you can do is give your kids all the guidance you can and hope they'll make the right decision.

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Q: You've got a while before you need to worry.

A: I don't know. She's only 5 and she already has her ears pierced and likes to wear makeup. It drives me crazy.

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Q: Who's the wrestler with the weirdest gimmick you ever saw?

A: A guy who called himself the Missing Link. His head was shaved, except for this little squirrel tail on the back, which he'd grab like a handle when he'd head-butt you. And his head was painted green.

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Q: You were the center of allegations a couple of years back regarding drugs and steroid use. How did that affect you?

A: That was a tremendous hit my career took. You have to understand the situation: Prior to 1966, steroids were legal. Growing up in the '60s, '70s and '80s, there was a lot of peer pressure. Everybody was doing it. Me being at the top of my profession, they picked Hulk out and said, "You represent the whole world; you're a role model." But I got through it. A lot of people thought it was just Hulk doing it; now they realize the whole sports world in the '80s was doing it. I survived it and I'm going to be around for a while.

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Q: You used to be a wrestler who occasionally acted in movies. At this point, are you an actor who occasionally wrestles?

A: I don't know if that's fair, but it's close. I wrestled in Japan last week; the door is always open to the WWF if I want. My No. 1 priority now is my wife and kids; the hard days of 300 days a year on the road, with 500- and 600-mile car trips between towns, were all behind me before the kids came along. I'm so well-established now that I can afford myself the luxury of plugging myself back into the wrestling vehicle when I want to. I'm really pursuing the movie thing; between promoting this movie and an album I made, and then starting production on the TV show in January, I won't have time to wrestle again until next June. But wrestling gives me a solid base that I never want to lose. So am I an actor who wrestles or a wrestler who acts? Either way it works.

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Q: You were part of the movement that got wrestling reclassified as sports entertainment, rather than sports. And you've said that wrestling is like "the world's greatest improv." Doesn't that imply that the result is known before you start a match?

A: Look, we used to insult people's intelligence and say, "No, it's not fake so shut up or I'll beat you up." What I started doing was playing to the audience. And you always do more when the crowd reacts--just like Eric Clapton will play his guitar a little louder and harder when the audience is standing up cheering. We've got some of the greatest athletes in the world--and some of the greatest actors. Is it fake? Well, you can get hurt every night, so I don't think so.

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