Updated: Apr 12
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Intro: All right, welcome to the successful screenwriter podcast, where we are dedicated to anything and everything screenwriting. Here, we interview successful screenwriters and filmmakers to discover just what it takes to make it in the industry.
Geoffrey: Welcome to the podcast, we have on a very special guest, the legend himself, Kevin Sorbo. Kevin, thank you for joining us.
Kevin: It’s a pleasure to be here, thanks for having me!
Geoffrey: I wanted to reach out to an established actor, like yourself, to really find out what draws talent into a script. What grabs you in particular? I was wondering if I could pick your brain for a little bit about that.
Kevin: It’s a good question but it’s kind of a hard question to answer because it’s a preference for any actor based on the scripts they get. I get a lot of scripts and I give each script twenty pages. My likes shift and change, as well, I tend to like movies that have a good message in them. I’ve done over 60 movies and there’s probably a dozen I wish I didn’t do, but you don’t go in thinking this movie is going to suck. It could’ve been the acting, writing, editing, or directing, there’s a number of things that ultimately can make a movie bad. It’s hard to say, I certainly like the Sci-fi world, I like the fantasy world, I like movies that have a good positive message. Something with a good moral base, it doesn’t have to be a faith-based movie, it’s just something with a message. There’s so much stuff coming out of Hollywood right now through cable and through networks that, to me, just put out so much hate and anger. And we have enough of that going on right now with our real lives. I want to escape all this hate and anger we’re living right now, and I want to get to a place where people say there is some hope out there.
Geoffrey: I think you’re right. I think the film industry is going to go there. We were kind of obsessed with the world-destroying stuff until the world started to get destroyed. I think now we’re going to start leaning into more positive outlook films that make you feel good: comedies and romantic stuff, etc.
Kevin: Look at World War II for instance, while all that was going on, Hollywood was doing a lot of song and dance films that more of a positive and hopeful message.
Geoffrey: You’re definitely going to see a shift. You’ve done a lot of stuff like that,
Andromeda had some great writing on it and Hercules, of course, is a classic. It’s good to see that that type of writing grabs you. Are you looking at characters per se when you’re reading a script? Or are you looking for a character that has a bit more wit or clever dialogue, or just really layered that has depth to them?
Kevin: I like the comedic level. On Hercules and Andromeda, I adlibbed a lot. There were a lot of things where, the writers for Hercules were in Los Angeles and we were in New Zealand, so they’re 9,000 miles away. I kept an open dialogue with them all the time, because I would always stay two scripts ahead of what we were filming so I could call and ask questions about it. If thinks didn’t make sense to me, I always asked for clarification, “It’s not changing what you’re saying, but what if I said it this way instead?” I get everybody’s touchy about stuff and I don’t want to step on people’s toes, but when we adlibbed on Hercules, a lot of times it was in places where it could certainly be edited out. There’s a line I did that got 20 million hits where I yell that I’m disappointed and a lot of people think the writers had written me to say another line with parenthesis around it to say it in a disappointing way. Here’s what happened, the character was a sovereign who was an alter ego of Hercules from a bilateral universe, and I end up in Hercules’s world with a goatee and a mustache. I say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t my world.” And for whatever reason, Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda popped into my head and I yelled, “DISAPPOINTED!” They kept it in there and it’s become a massive meme, which is hilarious.
Geoffrey: That’s fantastic!
Kevin: I’ve met people at comic-con that have it on their iPhones, like when their wife or girlfriend calls, as their ringtone.
Geoffrey: That’s great! To break into pop culture like that is just absolutely amazing. And to know you actually adlibbed that and weren’t just reading the parenthetical, I had no idea. It’s great to get tidbits like this.
Kevin: Every comic con I go to with Q&As and hundreds of fans, that question is always asked. I love the story, so I don’t get tired of answering it.
Geoffrey: Obviously, you’re a pop culture icon. Plus, on top of that, you’re breaking into the meme world. That’s like two for one, who can say that? With the dialogue, do you find working with writers difficult? Do they not want you to change and adlib, or are they pretty good with it?
Kevin: They’re pretty good with it. I could tell the writers on Hercules and Andromeda all started saying, “I bet Sorbo will say this.” They would throw things in. There’s a couple things in Andromeda where every act out, if it’s not comedic, it’s something like 400 ships have just come in front of my ship. I just started saying two things, “It’s never easy,” or, “great.” And then they started putting those in the tag outs before they’d go to commercial. If the writer is on set during rehearsal and we’re blocking a scene, we’ll say, “wouldn’t it be cool if we said something like this? Because we’ve got this prop there.” These things would be worked in. It got to a point where, as long as it didn’t change the idea, they were fine with it. One guy who was really picky about his writing was Steven Canal. I did a guest-spot on The Commish before he died from skin cancer, and I was supposed to do his next series. I was really bummed out, it was called The Other Woman, and it was another detective where I lived on a boat in the marina and the boat was called “The Other Woman.” It had a great twist to it, and I was so depressed. I had wonderful meetings with him, he was a guy that did Baretta and Rockford Files before he died. I did a guest-spot on The Commish, and I had flipped the words in one sentence and the continuity just went, “wait, he said it this way. Call Steven and see if it’s okay.” I assumed it was the same thing, but they said we better call him. Why call him in LA? We’re shooting in Vancouver, why don’t we just run it and do it again? I didn’t change it on purpose. I offered to say it the way it was written. They shut down the set for half an hour trying to reach him. I thought that was the stupidest thing. Then they come back and say Steven wants me to say it the way it was written. Well, I could’ve saved them thirty minutes.
Geoffrey: You could’ve just done another take.
Kevin: When I direct, I go quick. I walk up to first time directors that you have to work 14-hour days, and I’ll whisper in their ear, “Clint Eastwood does Academy Award-winning movies and he shoots 8-hour days, just so you know.”
Geoffrey: Were you pulling 14-hour days when you were on shows like that?
Kevin: On Hercules, it was 12-14 hours every day for me, then another half hour lifting weights. A very typical day door-to-door for me was anywhere from 16-18 hours a day.
Geoffrey: When it comes down to things like that, you probably don’t want a ton of dialogue that you have to memorize, do you?
Kevin: If it writes well for my brain, if it flows well, then I can memorize it pretty easily. On Andromeda, Alexa got all the tough dialogue. We have some great outtakes of her…she’d be like ‘F this’ and it’s hilarious. If I flub, I don’t want to cut, I’ll say go back and then I can get right back into it. Editing will take care of that because a lot of times you cut and then the DP comes in and must relight the whole bit. For me, you lose that spontaneity and energy a bit. Every time I screw up a line, I’ll say, “I’ve got it! Just back up to first position!” For me, it just keeps the energy going much better than cutting and everyone goes to craft services and eats more crap.
Geoffrey: For free, that’s the best part. If I have an actor and I’m working on a script, I try to write toward their voice. And it sounds like the approach you take because you’re going to put your voice in it, no matter what. Have you worked with a writer that has tried to work toward your voice to make your job easier?
Kevin: Certainly! I’ve got two scripts that just came to me where [the writers] said, “When I wrote this, I wrote this with you in mind.” I probably get 20 of those a year. I can’t do everything, I’ve got my own production company, Sorbo Family Films. I’ve probably read over 500 scripts through the years and whittled down to 25 that I want to do. I just my most recent one, Miracle in East Texas, which I directed, as well. It’s a true story set in 1930. I make movies in the $3-4 million range, which is [the equivalent of] catering on Pirates of the Caribbean. People think that’s a lot of money, but it’s so hard to raise even that kind of money. Yet those movies in that budget range have a heck of a lot better chance of getting their money back for the investors. As opposed to films with a $15-20 million budget, where they have a proper P&A budget to it, but they have to make $50-60 million at the box office to break even.
Geoffrey: I think you’re going to see a lot more of these $3-4 million movies come out and hopefully keep the quality up. What attracted you to that script then?
Kevin: It had a great story and a great writer. Dan Gordon is an Academy-nominated writer for The Hurricane, which he wrote for Denzel Washington. He wrote Wyatt Earp for Kevin Costner, and 60 episodes of Highway to Heaven with Michael Landon, he was the showrunner. He rewrote the script that my wife wrote called Let There Be Light, which was in theaters a couple of years ago. We shot that for $2.3 million and theatrically it made $7.5 million [at the box office] with very little P&A money on it. Sony wanted to come in and get it on 2,000 screens and my only investor, who’s new to the business, he said, “What does that mean to me?” It means they’re last money in and first money out, so he said no because he didn’t understand. If we would’ve allowed me to do that, he gets it now a year and a half later, but if he had just taken the call and let them talk to him, then we could’ve gotten 2,000 screens. That little $2.3 million movie would’ve made $25-30 million.
Kevin: I have no doubt in my mind. We got a great deal from Amazon and film still did well, but it’s a great story. We had 10 film festivals with Miracle in East Texas, it was going to open in theaters this summer, but then COVID killed everything for everybody. It won everything from Best Romantic Comedy, Best Faith-Based Film, Best Judged Film, and Audience Favorite. It was a Green Book or Blind Side type of movie where everybody would just enjoy the movie. I love that it was a true story, set in 1930 about two conmen who would woo widows out of their money with fake oil wells in Texas. They actually strike oil in Killgore, Texas and end up going to jail because everywhere they went to con these widows, they would sell 500% of the shares even though it was just a big con game. Louis Gossett Jr. is in it, he’s amazing. John Ratzenberger plays a conman with me. Tyler Mane plays a lead role and he’s Sabertooth in the X-Men, WWF as well. We shot in Calgary, which is the same location they filmed Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood, Lonesome Dove, and The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio. It was just a great location, it was awesome.
Geoffrey: So you’re looking at scripts more than just as an actor would, because you’re also coming at it from a director’s and a producer’s perspective, as well.
Kevin: I’m doing more of that now. I started directing back on Hercules, actually.
Geoffrey: Oh really?!
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve been DJ now for 25 years and I’ve been SAG for 35 years. I loved the series, I miss New Zealand, which was fantastic, it was a great chapter of my life. I worked with wonderful people. Peter Jackson ended up taking most of my crew for Lord of the Rings.
Geoffrey: Is that right?
Kevin: Oh yeah. John Mahaffey went to direct a lot Second Unit stuff, like on Aquaman, Spiderman, and James Bond. Peter MacHaffrey was ranked as the Top Two Steadicam Operator in the world. Milo Dixon, our wardrobe, won an Academy Award for Lord of the Rings. We had a great talent pool down there.
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Geoffrey: Sounds like it was a big launching pad for a lot of big careers.
Kevin: Oh no question. They had all that talent before we came down. And we had two spin-off shows. We spun off my series Xena in season 3, and Young Hercules in season 5. A lot of people don’t remember who played that role because it only lasted two seasons. Do you know who that was?
Geoffrey: No, you got me.