The Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego is all-American. The hotel shares its name with an over-priced casual eatery and boasts thousand-dollar-a-night suites designed by the Black Eyed Peas. In many ways this gaudy corporate brand epitomises the now errant American dream.
Perched gingerly on the corner of a square purple carpet in the lobby and surrounded by cameras, I extend my dictaphone towards the biggest professional wrestler of all time, Hulk Hogan, the man who defined the booming ‘80s era of the World Wrestling Federation.
Hulk is a contemporary renaissance man. He has his own album, Hulk Hogan & The Wrestling Boot Band, his own restaurant chain, Pastamania, and his own Saturday morning cartoon, Hulk Hogan's Rock'n'Wrestling.
If this were not surreal enough, I am talking to Hulk Hogan because he is a voice actor in THQ & Volition's upcoming title Saints Row: The Third, the soon-to-be latest instalment in the darkly humorous sandbox game centred upon the eponymous gang in the fictional city of Steelport.
Mr. Hogan plays Angel, a former wrestler now working with the Saints and seeking vengeance on The Luchadores, themselves a masked gang inspired by the look of Mexican Lucha Libre wrestlers. The back-drop is the San Diego Comic Con, the biggest gathering of pop culture in the United States, drawing an annual attendance of at least 126,000.
Comic Con is a deceptive name for the show at this point in time, as it is a testing ground and marketing channel for fans of all obsessive media, whether it be Japanese animation, science fiction, fantasy, steam-punk, costuming, film, television or games.
Traditionally announcements like this occur during the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an event that takes place scarcely a month prior to San Diego Comic Con. However, new venues such as this are increasingly being seen as both an avenue to reach a wider audience and as a chance for publishers to stand out from the clutter at E3.
When the Hulk arrives, he’s in his signature garb of a shirt with the arm exposure, sunglasses and bandana over his hairline, flexing impressively hard for a man of his age.
The first thing you realise when you meet the near 60-year-old Hogan – real name Terry Bollea – is that he is of cartoonish proportions. His hands are the size of my head. His arms – charmingly referred to as "pythons" – appear to be the thickness of a small Heineken keg. And when other huge individuals do not surround him, you are duly reminded that you are short.
As we begin our interview, Hogan is set upon by the young female cast of a risque US cable television show Femme Fatales. With a grin the size of his own comically giant arms, Hulk remarks that if the cast of ladies around him combined their ages, they still wouldn't be as old as him. He briefly remarked to the ladies dressed in the revealing leather style of the Saints as to how he had planned on wearing the exact same outfit and that perhaps they should switch.
After a laughing apology for the interruption, I let Hulk know that I am reporting for an upstanding publication from New Zealand. If his eyes weren't concealed by wrap-around Oakleys, I can only imagine they lit up as he exclaimed, "The Bushwhackers, brother! The Sheepherders!" He's referring to New Zealand's biggest overseas wrestling success story, a tag-team of New Zealand farm boys who licked their opponents' heads.
From this point on, I like to believe that I am Hulk's buddy – and I am entirely OK with that.
Referencing his extensive acting career, including such cinematic fare as 3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain and Mr. Nanny, as well as Rocky III, Hulk states that for him, voice acting is the same as acting. When it came to Saints Row: The Third, Hulk says he was initially underestimated and over-directed, but after a while the producers gave him the freedom to put his own spin on things.
As to what these things are, he said the specifics of his character and his role are still under wraps. Despite the fact that wrestling is not the most realistic style of fighting, I don't routinely disagree with 300-pound men, so I let that one slide.
On the topic of the luchadore he plays, Hulk has in fact played a masked wrestler before. In a hokey storyline during one of his numerous comebacks to pro wrestling, Hulk was "fired" but continued to wrestle disguised as Mr. America. Sure, you could still see his distinctive Fanta-coloured body. He still did his trademark shirt tearing-off and his familiar shock of silky blonde hair protruded from the back, but gosh darns it, he was anonymous.
Hulk states his favorite luchadore is Mil Mascaras, a cross-over media star himself and el abuelo of Mexican wrestling. Arguably one of the men who brought the sport of wrestling to North America and subsequently the world. "He started it all, man."
Hulk’s connection to New Zealand goes deeper than hanging out with some Kiwi wrestlers in the ‘80s. In 2009, his trademark moustache was the stache-spiration for New Zealand's Mo-vember, the male health awareness campaign wherein Kiwi men grow a moustache for a month. Hulk stated that at one point in his life, he had a gun against his head and wishes to do more. "I want to come back sometime, man. It's beautiful down there. But no work this time, just want to enjoy it."
Then his mood turns. "But where's your moustache, brother?"
I reply, "It's not November yet, I can grow one pretty quick."
And with a sarcastic smile and a high-five that rendered my hand incapacitated for a number of minutes (you wouldn't leave The Hulkster hanging, would you?) he says, "Yeah, I bet you could."
As our short encounter wraps up, Hulk answers a final question about his toughest opponent. Holding that same smile and without missing a beat, he says, "My wife, in court."