The Movie Hercules Never Did

Kevin SorboYou’ll find a note on the Internet Movie Database that states that actor Kevin Sorbo, of televisual Hercules fame, was originally slated to star in the movie Black Dog, which shot in Atlanta and in Wilmington, North Carolina. It goes on to state that he had to pull out of the movie for medical reasons, which is correct. As one of the people who worked that show I can confirm that we were told that Kevin had an anyeurism in his shoulder, which was surprising because up until then I didn’t know that you could get them anywhere other than your brain. Looking back, I have to say that the man’s luck never ran truer than when he was forced to leave that ill-fated production. This is the story of the day that we met Hercules.

It was late in the afternoon at a Police gun range somewhere east of I-285, off of I-20. Joe Connolly and I were the 2nd Unit prop team and we’d been asked to meet the propmaster Ron Downing and his Assistant, Steve George, to help give the actors a show and tell with the weapons they’d be using in the film.

I’m not sure whose idea this was, Ron or Director Kevin Hooks, but the concept was that if the actors understood what the real weapons felt like when fired with live rounds then they might be better at handling the blank-firing guns on-camera to make them look more realistic. I got there a little early, with enough time to watch some of the policemen on the rifle range.

One of them had a rifle that (as it was explained to me) is used out West for hunting Bighorn Sheep. Every time the guy squeezed off a round the air seemed to explode and every car in the parking lot jumped 16 inches into the air. It felt as if a linebacker had just ran past and slapped you in the chest. It made me wonder many pieces of bighorn sheep would be left after they got hit by that kind of round.

Pretty soon our actors began showing up at the range.

Not only were we hosting the wildly popular television hero Kevin Sorbo, we also found ourselves greeting stadium-filling super rockstar Meatloaf and modern Country Legend Randy Travis. Mr. Sorbo and Mr. Meatloaf (“you can call me ‘Meat’…”) arrived in regular vehicles but Randy showed up in a tour bus.

The weapons class went cleanly with only a moderate amount of testosterone flowing around the covered shelter where we were gathered. The propguys were all business about the weapons, intent on making sure that the actors understood how dangerous the things could be even if only firing blanks.

In between turns with the guns the guys were swapping stories.

“Meat” talked about the times when he was touring Germany and would spend his off days in London, holed up in a hotel somewhere watching rugby matches. Interestingly, he wasn’t obesely fat as I’d imagined. He had a short, CEO-style haircut, was smoking a cigar and talking a lot about stock investments and golf. Oy with the golf. Completely not the Chris Farley meets Jack Black image I’d always had of him.

Kevin Sorbo was very self-effacing and listened carefully to the safety talk even though you just knew that he’d been through so many safety talks on his TV show he could probably write the entire book in his sleep.

Randy Travis is not a tall man like I’d always been led to believe. I was easily taller than him and couldn’t help staring at him for being so short. He was wearing a T-shirt and showing some really big guns (biceps). The fact that he was wearing white sneakers was especially mind-blowing. At one point he stepped away and went back to his bus, only to return to show us some period Western revolvers that he’d recently purchased. These things were real cowboy guns and when he gave the barrels a spin they whirled around like tumblers in a precision German lock.

As things wrapped up the actors drifted off and we helped Ron and Steve load up the stuff in the car and watched them drive away.

Joe and I began walking back toward our cars, across the now-closed rifle range with our guide, an older looking Dekalb policemen who helped run the place, in the lead. As we crossed in front of a a weird metal sculpture sticking out of the ground, one of us (not sure if it was me or Joe) asked what it was exactly.

What a bad idea that was.

“Oh, this? This is a target!!” cried the police dude, and in one fluid move he pulled out his firearm, loaded with live rounds, and began plinking away at the thing only ten feet away.

The “target” that Mr. Happy Trigger was shooting at was an angled piece of metal welded at a 45 degree angle (in relation to the ground) and attached to its base by a long, straight piece of angle iron, welded to an angled iron crosspiece to allow it to be freestanding. Any bullets that hit the 45 degree angled piece of metal would be deflected into the ground, with no chance of ever richocheting and hitting anyone important.

Alas, that concept hadn’t yet processed in our minds so Joe and I took turns trying to stand behind each other, like something from a Don Knotts / Tim Conway movie. As the “crazy old policeman” emptied shot after shot into the target we hopped and skipped like really big sissies (or really smart guys who were terrified at the irresponsible behavior of a guy who should know how to handle his firearm better than to show off to people who worked “in the movies”).

We left that place shaking our heads, thankful to be alive!

So, like, that’s the time that I met Kevin Sorbo.

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