Preview: Lou Ferrigno at the Arnold Sports Festival

Andy Downing

Sports are littered with great rivalries. Ohio State versus Michigan. Magic versus Bird. Ferrigno versus Schwarzenegger.

OK, so maybe the latter doesn't have quite the same cachet as some of the all-time great showdowns, but when Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger squared off in the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron,” the pair helped introduce body building competitions to a wider, mainstream audience. Now, four decades later, the two will reunite at the Arnold Sports Festival when Ferrigno is inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, March 4, alongside Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker and Olympic speed-skating medalist Apolo Ohno.

Reached by phone in late February, Ferrigno, best known for portraying the Hulk on the TV series “The Incredible Hulk,” discussed his rivalry with Schwarzenegger, his conflicted relationship with his father and why he backs President Donald Trump “100 percent.”

On “Pumping Iron” and his relationship with Schwarzenegger

What stands out the most from the film was the competition. I was like the boy next door and he was the arrogant body builder. That's what made the movie so popular. … We knew they were making a documentary and we were hoping it'd be embraced by the public so we kind of played [the rivalry] up on camera. It put [body building] in the mainstream because the movie had heart and soul. After “Pumping Iron,” I moved to California and I'd run into Arnold from time to time.

On the appeal of body building

Dealing with a hearing issue, kids would make fun of me. I started working out because I didn't want to be bullied anymore. We use body building as a tool to escape the pain and rejection and to be a champion. As a kid, I used to read a lot of comic books like the Hulk and Superman because I was obsessed with power. … I was a real-life Walter Mitty; I fantasized about being a superhero. [The drive to succeed] came from inside of me because I had a very abusive father. He always felt I wouldn't amount to anything. So for me to succeed I had to maximize my personal power. I love competing with myself. It's my passion.

On becoming the Hulk

One day I received a phone call to audition for the Hulk, and I was ecstatic because I said to myself, “I can't believe they're going to create a live-action TV Hulk!” I went down for the screen test and got the part because it came natural for me. He looks like a hideous creature, but when I made the Hulk famous I showed that sensitivity.

On the current, CGI-version of the Hulk

Well, on the screen today, [CGI] is what they want to see. Of course, I do the voice of the Hulk in “The Avengers,” so I'm still connected with that. You can't compare CGI to a human Hulk. Whenever I do an autograph signing, fans will come up and say we love hearing your voice, but we love the original series better. They know who the Hulk is. I joke that the CGI can't sign autographs, but I can.

On his relationship with his father

It was a love and hate [relationship]. I was rejected when I was born because I was not the perfect son. You can't change your parents, but what I've done is taken the best from him. Thankfully body building was there to save my life. If I didn't have body building … I could have become involved in drugs. Instead I moved on to more positive living.

On President Trump

I spent time with Donald on “Celebrity Apprentice.” Donald is a loose cannon and a good family man. I like Donald because he respects you if you're a hard worker. I know people have misconceptions about him, but I support him 100 percent, and I really believe in my heart that he wants to keep our country safe.

Arnold Sports Festival

Thursday-Sunday, March 2-5