First you get the muscles, then you get the movie roles. These actors began their careers as professional bodybuilders, winning titles and championships. However, you can only lift weights competitively for so long. If you’re lucky and have good on-screen charisma, hopefully you can find a career pretending to lift weights for the camera. Here are nine bodybuilders who transitioned from regular physique to professionally buff to Hollywood actor:
On the contrary – we love him when he’s angry. Ferrigno is best known for his role as The Hulk in the 1970s TV drama The Incredible Hulk. Unlike today’s Hulk, Ferrigno’s muscles weren’t CGI. He began lifting weights at 13, and just four years after graduating high school he won the titles Mr. America and Mr. Universe. Ferrigno was followed in the documentary Pumping Iron, which helped him SMASH into Hollywood, including roles in I Love You, Man and The King of Queens.
Ferrigno was actually inspired to pursue bodybuilding and acting by Steve Reeves. After winning a Mr. America competition in 1947, Reeves tried to study acting under the famous Stella Adler, but was eventually refunded his tuition. (In acting, this is considered the exact opposite of winning an Academy Award.) Still, Reeves flexed his way through 17 films like Hercules Unchained and Goliath and the Barbarians. Perhaps more remarkable than his filmography are the roles he turned down: Clint Eastwood’s part in A Fistful of Dollars and the role of James Bond in Dr. No.
You’ll notice that a lot of these guys were “Misters.” The Italian bodybuilder Franco Columbu won the title Mr. Olympia in 1976 and placed 5th in the first ever World’s Strongest Man competition, but he had an unfortunate accident in the refrigerator race. His leg was shown getting horribly disfigured on national television. Doctors told Columbu he’d never walk again. Like something out of a movie, he managed to fully recover and win Mr. Olympia again in 1981. He began a movie career around this time, appearing in films like Conan the Barbarian, Big Top Pee-Wee, and the future T-800 in The Terminator.
Another one of Steve Reeve’s disciples was Mickey Hargitay, a championship speed skater turned professional bodybuilder, inspired by Reeves on a magazine cover. Hargitay won the title Mr. Universe in 1955, and then he won the heart of Hollywood sex symbol Janye Mansfield. (*Cat Growling Noises!*) This kicked-off Hargitay’s movie career, where he appeared with Mansfield in The Loves of Hercules, Promises! Promises!, and L’Amore Primitivo. (Success in Hollywood isn’t about who you know, it’s about who you dance with at the Playboy Mansion in the late 50s.) Their daughter, Mariska Hargitay, plays Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU.
Peter and David Paul
They were called “The Barbarians.” You don’t get that nickname unless you look tough, and body building brothers Peter and David Paul are two ripped dudes. Despite winning a Golden Raspberry Award for “Worst New Stars” in 1987 (maybe this is actually the opposite of winning an Oscar?), The Barbarians have managed to work pretty regularly in Hollywood over the years. The trailer for Double Trouble (above) looks barbarically hilarious.
Moller may never have been a “Mister,” but he was a Conan, which is equally important. Starting as a bodybuilder when he was 17, he became a German champion in 1984. Less than a decade later, he retired from pumping iron to punch faces in action films for over two decades, like Universal Soldier, Batman & Robin, Gladiator, The Scorpion King, and the lead in the syndicated TV series Conan: The Adventurer. Moller is friends with Arnold “Conan” Schwarzenegger, who we have not forgotten about. He’s coming up, but first you have to fight your way past…
Yeung is no doubt the envy of other bodybuilders. Not only did he become Mr. Hong Kong, but Yeung defended the title for ten years. His filmography is longer and more consistent than almost every other bodybuilder on the list, and includes Enter the Dragon (with his friend Bruce Lee), Bloodsport, and countless martial arts films. Okay, to paraphrase Chong Li, “Arnold, you are next!”
Ice to meet you, Arnold. Schwarzenegger is the most famous bodybuilder in the world. He started lifting weights competitively when he was 17, and won the title Mr. Universe just three years later. He became Mr. Olympia seven times. (Your awards, give them to him, now!) He switched to acting, starring in the 1970 film Hercules in New York as Hercules… in New York! Thus began a long, legendary career in beloved films like Raw Deal, Sabotage, and The 6th Day. Just kidding, Arnold. Please don’t hit us.