It’s been two years since my first interview as a video games journalist. Two years since my best interview, too, incidentally, because my first interview consisted entirely of Hulk Hogan.
HOT AS BALLS
I’ll set the scene – it’s ComicCon 2012, and it’s my first press trip too, so I’m giddy from the excitement of getting a free trip to San Diego and free tickets to ComicCon in exchange for farting out a double-page spread in a magazine six months down the line. That’s a thing I can handle.
I’m also giddy from the heat, because it is hot as balls in San Diego, and every nerd at the convention centre can feel it. The place is a sweatbox. The sun bakes the streets outside, dries you out.
I am too nervous and the PR and the other journo – there’s only one other – are old hands, years of experience under their belts, and I’m bumbling around like kid in a toyshop.
I’m also also giddy from the pre-lunch beers we have in a hotel lobby bar, because it’s that kind of trip. I order a Blue Moon, because I heard someone talk about how good they were on the internet this one time, and I watch as the bartender shoves a slice of orange in the glass then slides the cloudy mess over to me.
Like everything else, it goes on the company credit card. What a magical time to be alive, I think, grimacing through the beer that I didn’t really want but drank to fit in. I can’t remember if I was still hungover or just jetlagged, but I chewed that beer down and ascended the lift to the seventh floor, where the Hulkster was holding court.
We wait outside the meeting room, speaking in hushed voices, because some guys from a website are filming him and running well over their time. Later on, we’re talking to Sasha Grey – the pornstar, that one – because she’s involved in the project, too. We’re negotiating times and places, and we’re being continually pushed back, inch-by-inch, awaiting information from Sasha’s agent, getting less and less useful amounts of time as we go.
I grin benignly through the whole thing. I have no real idea what’s going on. I accidentally shave five minutes off our interview slot – our shared interview slot, now – with her thanks to a misplaced comment. Well done me.
Hulk’s voice booms through from behind the closed door. He calls everyone “Brother,” all the time, no matter who they are. I imagine if Hulk Hogan ever fed a duck, he would call it “Brother.” He could call a table “Brother” and that would not, for him, seem strange.
We wait. I’ve smoked four cigarettes already today, which is three more than I’ve normally smoked before lunch, and I’m gasping for a fifth suddenly. The guys inside finish, a full ten minutes over their slot, and we’re ushered in.
BIG, OLD MAN
Hulk is a big man. Hulk is an old man, now. He has leathery skin hanging heavy over a massive frame, hands like baseball gloves, that trademark moustache still emblazoned across his lip now turned to silver. Without it, what would he look like? Would we even recognise him? His bandanna does little to hide the fact that there’s very little Hulk Hair left on the top of the Hulk Head. He moves slowly, surely. He moves like a truck reverses. He says he had eight surgeries in a row six months previously, so he has to be careful.
If you are a man of a certain age, then there was a time when Hulk was, if not your hero, a figure worthy of tremendous respect. He was the biggest, the strongest, the coolest, the funniest, the most colourful wrestler on TV. He was marketed to you as a brand – power, competence, virility, slick tanned muscles gleaming under a torn yellow vest. When you meet Hulk, that can’t be erased. It’s like meeting Bucky O’Hare would feel – unreal, nostalgic, somehow bone-deep exciting.
The other journo goes first, and he’s… good. I’ve never seen someone do an interview before. (My training consisted of one afternoon in my magazine’s office where I wrote two stories after being told the sort of places that I might find stories, then got nodded at and told to go home and do it again, five times a day.)
He knows about wrestling. He keeps asking insightful questions about wrestling; Hulk shifts gear, relaxes, starts to spin stories. Hulk is good at spinning stories. He tells us about the time that he lifted Andre the Giant clean over his head and permanently ruined some muscle in his back – there’s a dent there, now, a gap in his body, like Andre was so big, so heavy, that you couldn’t expect to try and lift him without it leaving some mark on you forever.
I look down at my questions. I didn’t know how you were supposed to prepare questions. I just wrote down a list of ten things to ask, roughly connecting them to the game that Hulk was promoting. (It was Saint’s Row the Third, by the way.) “Do you play games?” “Have you ever driven a car a little bit too fast?” “Have you ever had to evade the police?” In retrospect, kind of a serious question to bring out on your first go.
The other journo finishes, and it’s my time to shine. I sit down, shake Hulk’s ridiculously oversized hand, and say – “So, Hulk.” (You start interviews by saying “So,” and then the person’s name. This is a Thing I have Seen.) “Sell your character to me. Sell Angel de la Muerte.”
BOOM. “Angel will lead us into the future where nobody’s gone before – he could be stronger than Hulk Hogan, bigger than Andre the Giant and with more of a presence than Vince McMahon. Wrestling will never be the same again with Saint’s Row 3 and Angelmania, brother.” he says, and I realise now that asking a wrestler to hype something up is very much drawing on his core talents.
He carries on, clearly showing little to no understanding of the game he’s just recorded a voiceover for. He refers to himself in the third person again. He grins, when he finishes, as though to say – “Will that do? Is that enough?” – as much at me as the brand representative in the corner fiddling with their smartphone.
But my stomach flips a little every time he calls me “Brother.” What a thing.
Hulk has lead a colourful life, I discover, in the ten-minute interview slot. He used to race speedboats, before he lost his speedboat in his divorce. His son and him used to run Team Hogan, a racing team, and he learned how to do precision parking stunts. He missed out on the contract for the George Foreman Grill by ten minutes thanks to an over-zealous workout. He was the number one wrestler in Japan AND the USA simultaneously. He started his wrestling career by assaulting a wrestler in a car park whilst wearing his mother’s jewellery and make-up. (He was in a band.)
Looking at it now, it’s clear that not all of this adds up. Hulk has woven a glamour around himself, though his persona, and who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t, as far as he’s concerned? His boasts are so heartfelt that they might as well be true, for all it matters. Throw enough Hulk at the media, and something’s gonna stick.
But this close, the glamour started to crumble away. Do you know Hulk is a birther? In that, back in 2012, he didn’t believe that President Obama was from America? “It doesn’t add up,” he said. That doesn’t match with my hero, Hulk. Hulk shouldn’t be interested in the legitimacy of a clearly legitimate President being tied to a birth certificate that, at the time, had been released to the public.
Sometimes, Hulk will play wrestling video games and take control of himself, and play against himself. “I can’t lose,” he says, and laughs, and I don’t think he’s telling the truth even slightly because if he is, if you think about it for even a second, that’s a tremendously sad thing to be doing.
“THEY CAN STOP AGEING NOW”
But the real kicker comes on the last question. “Every man wants to be part of a heist,” I say, stating a universal truth. “What role would you take, on your imaginary heist?” I figure he’ll say something like, I dunno, “Muscle, brother.” Or “The Brains, brother!” and we can all have a laugh at that.
No. Hulk says something else. Hulk says something entirely unsolicited. I’m going to reproduce it in full below. (Emphasis mine.)
“I would like to be thief that steals the actual formula from this laboratory in Reno Nevada that has figured out how to stop human cells from ageing, and they cannot put it on the market for another ten or fifteen years.
If it happens – they’ve got these things called telomeres which the DNA is like the end of a shoelace the plastic on the end of a shoelace, telomere is when they shorten the DNA strands kinda like go apart and that’s why people die – the cells die – and they’ve got something called Telomes that now keeps the cap on the end of the DNA strands so cells don’t age.
But there’s more than that to ageing, they can stop ageing now, they just cannot release that little bit of information which, I would love to have, I would love to live so long my kids come along and they’re like “when are you gonna die?”
I would love to have that because it would change so many things about our environment because we’d adapt to our environment and people wouldn’t overpopulate so we wouldn’t have to worry about the world having too many people and the quality of life, so, yeah, I would like to have that formula.”
I nod, smile a bit, that same confused grin from before but for different reasons. “Plus,” I say, “If you never aged, you could play yourself in the inevitable film adaptation of the heist!”
“Oh, brother! Yeah!” he roars, and high-fives me, and suddenly I’m seven years old again and Hulk Fucking Hogan just high-fived me and called me Brother and that’s it, I don’t care about his political beliefs. He’s Hulk Fucking Hogan. He is a force of elemental sureness. If he’s doing something and you disagree with it, I thought in that moment, odds are you’re wrong for thinking so.
We finish, and there’s time to take a few pictures. (The pictures were lost, sadly.) As far as first interviews go, it wasn’t bad. The other journo borrowed a DLSR camera from a neighbouring magazine in his office, and we set it up to take pictures. The Hulk instructs us on how to perform a wrestling hold, how to grimace, where to look for the greatest effect. I am inches – centimetres – from this towering man, this brick shithouse of a creature, and I say to him, almost secretly:
“Can you lift me?”
“Say again, brother?”
“Can you lift me, for the photo?”
“Naw, brother. I can’t risk my back.”
That’s right, Hulk, your back – and the glamour, so hastily reapplied, falls off once more; and we thank him and walk out of the room, into the crack-dry heat of San Diego, and into the echoing noisedrunk mess of ComicCon proper, and fill in time until the Sasha Grey interview which went off almost entirely without incident.
The heartbreak isn’t that Hulk Hogan is a fraud, a crackpot; the heartbreak is that he’s a man. Just a man, with the echoes of Hulkamania wrapped around him like a threadbare coat.