Beyond Heroes and Villains

Investigating the nature of good guys and bad guys in fiction and real life

Interview with Kevin Sorbo on Making a World Fit for Kids

Hercules TV star discusses the value of education, heroism, and role models.

Kevin Sorbo starred in the #1 show on the planet – twice. After narrowly missing the chance to play Superman, coming in second place to Dean Cain to play the Man of Steel in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, he went on play Hercules for six seasons on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and then Captain Dylan Hunt for five seasons on Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. In his book True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life, he recounts how suffering strokes that left him partially blind during Hercules changed his point of his view and over time redefined how he measured success. Kevin discussed heroism and role models with me on several occasions. Portions of the first conversation appear here, and parts of a later discussion we had in front of a Wizard World audience appear in the videos embedded and linked below.

Langley: Who are your heroes?

Sorbo: Who are my heroes? My parents, Abe Lincoln, and Marilyn Monroe.

Langley: Marilyn Monroe? [laughs]

Sorbo: There you go.

Langley: Were they your heroes when you were growing up?

Sorbo: Well, Marilyn Monroe’s a joke. Sure, my parents were. They’re great people. Abe Lincoln was a great president.

Langley: And you’re a hero to many. The charity that you work with, World Fit for Kids, involves training teenagers to mentor children.

Sorbo: That’s a very small part of it. It’s a very multi-layered after-school program. We’re the number one after-school program in the state of California.

Trying to go nationwide with it right now. It’s preparation for going on to higher education, preparation for going to the real world. It’s a self-esteem building program. It’s physical fitness, fighting childhood obesity. It’s a number of different things, not just mentoring. Mentoring is certainly one aspect of it, where we train teens to become mentors to young children in their own communities because that builds respect and trust with people from their own community. We work with over twelve thousand kids. In a city that has a 55% drop out rate, we have a 95% graduation rate. We have a 60% higher GPA. We work with them on schoolwork they have problems with. We’re all over the board with it, a number of different things that kids do. We make them better adults.

Langley: Are you focusing on the adults as role models? Is it focused on the specific training or motivating them through examples?

Sorbo: It’s teenagers only. We train teens to be mentors to younger kids in their own communities. We don’t work with adults. We work with first graders and twelfth graders.

Langley: These teenagers, can anyone do it or is there a screening process?

Sorbo: No, anyone who wants to be part of it. They’re kids at the schools. We work with twelve different schools, middle schools, high schools and grade schools, and talk to the kids that are in the program already within the middle schools and high schools. I’ll ask, “Would you like to do this?” I tell them what the benefits are and tell them what they could do for the kids that are younger than them. The ones that volunteer and jump on board, they find out rather quickly it builds up their self-esteem as well because here these are kids always looking for respect, looking for people to look up to them. All of a sudden, they’ve got seven or eight-year-old kids listening to what they have to say and realize what they could have a profound influence on them.

Langley: Now you’ve played a number of fictional characters – Hercules, Kull, Captain Dylan Hunt on Andromeda. Do you see them as role models for youth? You tend to play fantastic characters, fantasy and science fiction, but then they’re very human. What do you see kids getting out of your characters as role models?

Sorbo: Just off Hercules alone, I received thousands of letters over the seven years I shot that series from schools and kids and foster homes. Obviously the writers did a wonderful job of creating a character that was heroic, was very thoughtful. Fighting was always the last option for him. Humor was always sort of the way Hercules operated. I think he was a wonderful role model just based off what people tell me on a day-to-day basis.

Langley: You’ve been inspired not just by people but by your own health crisis along the way. What kind of change did that have to do with what you were doing in regards to others?

Sorbo: I’ve always been pretty charitable. I think having my own health crisis more than anything made me far more motivated in my life. I wrote the book to hopefully inspire other people too. You know, I’ve realized one thing: Everybody has a story. To me, it was just a way to get people moving and to not let other people set their limitations. You can be whatever you want to be. It’s totally up to you. Just find something that makes you happy in your life. And just doing that alone, being productive, knowing yourself is good for everybody around you.

Langely: At New York Comic Con, I saw you interacting with your fans. While other celebrities were sitting behind tables, you were standing up in front of your table. You looked to me like somebody welcoming people into your home.

Sorbo: [laughs]

Langley: You did. What do you want fans to take away when they meet you?

Sorbo: A lot of times, people have been waiting for years to meet you or they were waiting in line. Especially on a Friday or Saturday at these events, there are such long lines. Give them two minutes. Go say hi. Ask them where they’re from. Ask them what they’re doing. I see some of these celebrities, some just sign, “next.” Come on, guys, give them two minutes of your life. What’s the big deal? You’re here. You might as well have some fun with it. I don’t go to these things begrudgingly. I don’t go to them because it’s a pain in the butt. To me, it’s a lot of fun. Have fun while you’re doing it. Why not do that? Give them something to say when they walk away. You don’t want people saying what a jerk are. You can have a bad day. We all have bad days, but you’re there. You might as well have fun with it.

Langley: At this point in your career, who are you a fan of? And what does it take for you to get excited and say, “Oh my gosh, that’s so-and-so”?

Sorbo: I’m a sports guy, so I can meet other actors and that’s fine. There’s certainly other actors that I’m a fan of. Tom Hanks comes to mind. I’ve gotten to meet him a few times through the years. We’ve had wonderful conversations. But outside the industry, I like watching sports. I’m a fan of athletics, a fan of moving around. I don’t watch a lot of NBA, but I watch playoffs because, to me, this when these guys try. This is when they put it all forth, and I appreciate that amazing gift of athleticism these guys have. I grew up in the sports world, you know? I’m one of four boys. We all played sports growing up, and played them beyond. Even when I had my series, I was still playing basketball and things like that, so I’m more a fan of that than getting googly eyed over other actors. I would probably be more impressed with meeting the queen of England or something. [Laughs]

Learn more about World Fit for Kids at http://worldfitforkids.org and feel free to share your favorite charities in the comments below. You don’t have to be a celebrity to spread the word about a worthwhile cause.

The videos embedded and linked below come from our Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con panel. I do not know the person who made the video. 

 

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0OnwSAHpwo

Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrymcJ9nmBE

Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5caDYSZtvKo

Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLSQfG7kWoQ

Part 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2nTrJadRHI

Part 7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeJHVZdt4gE

Part 8: [deleted as duplicate video]

Part 9: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54faaJKIMrU

 

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You can follow me on Twitter as @Superherologist or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BatmanBelfry. I'd love to hear from you!

Travis Langley, Ph.D. is the author of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.

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