Fighting Sugar Villains: A Conversation with Mark ‘Rhino’ Smith
The modern mammal metropolis of Zootropolis is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when optimistic Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery.
English actor and bodybuilder Mark ‘Rhino’ Smith has been gracing UK screens since the nineties. More recently however he’s been gracing international screens in blockbusting films and TV shows. Mark speaks with Jayne Thorpe about having lots in common with LL Cool J, having a dust up with Kevin Costner and getting The Avengers to fight evil Sugar Villains.
My goodness Mark! You’ve been busy since you last chatted to the The Fan Carpet. Run me through the list of your upcoming projects.
Yep, I have been very lucky with work lately. I just wrapped on a new remake of DAY OF THE DEAD, a Zombie flick with a twist, and a really fun role for me. Alphonse is my character. I’m also filming a new movie called CATEGORY 5, directed by Rob Cohen [The Fast and The Furious] which stars Toby Kebell, Maggie Grace. It’s a heist movie set in a hurricane storm. I play the role of Deputy Baldwin.
So we’ve got a lot to talk about then. Let’s start with Apple’s first TV show then, the dark drama “Vital Signs”. Apparently the plot is semi autobiographical for Dr Dre and he’s also producing and acting in it. I hear you acted alongside him.
Acting alongside Dr Dre in VITAL SIGNS was a lot of fun. He is a true professional and a legend in the game! It’s really exciting to be part of this major project for Apple.
Can you tell us anything about the storyline or is it still hush hush?
With regards to the storyline, yep its pretty much hush hush. I don’t want to get in trouble with APPLE and DRE!
Sticking with hip hop legends, I seem to remember reading that LL Cool J was a childhood hero of yours. What was it like working alongside him in NCIS LA?
Working with LL Cool J was surreal. His music made such an impact way back when! I used to body pop as a kid and we had a dance crew called COSMIC ROCKERS. Ring the bells… haha! Myself and LL have a few things in common too – same age, same surname. We also both have three children and our wives are both called Simone! Both LL and Dre were both so humble and friendly and very cool. #Legends in the game, bless them both.
Let’s look at Security now which stars Antonio Banderas and Ben Kingsley. What can you tell us about that film?
SECURITY is about a security guard who protects a woman from being targeted by a gang for participating as a trial witness. My role is to try and take him out – not for lunch – but literally take him out of the game so to speak.
And then you also have a zombie film coming out, Day of The Dead. What can you tell us about that film and the character you play?
DAY OF THE DEAD was so much fun to shoot. It was a great cast and crew. It’s basically about a group of survivalists who seek shelter in a world overrun with Zombies. My role ALPHONSE, is a solid, calm, strong, caring soldier who sole mission is too protect by any means necessary.
I heard you have to beef up again for that role. Your pictures are looking great! When something like that is required for a role to what extent do you fall back on what you already know about bodybuilding as if my maths is right you’ve been bodybuilding for over 30 years now?
Yes I did change my training slightly as ALPHONSE was very physically fit and quick. I ran 3 – 6 miles every day. I only Sunday off! I boxed and did a lot pull ups, press ups, bodyweight control and of course ate clean. Nutrition is the most important part. Yes your right about 30 years of weight training. Just keep that between us…. haha!
Let’s talk about your background for a moment. Most UK audiences know you as Rhino from the TV show Gladiators, which is actually 25 years old in 2017. Whilst we all know that Gladiators spawned thousands of Saturday night pillow fights, it also actually inspired people to consider their fitness. What were some of the most inspiring fan stories you heard over the years?
Yes, in the UK my background and break into TV was via Gladiators. I grew up with just my Grandad and a bit with my Mum. It was hard, but that and training made me the person I am today. Never give up. It honestly was such a buzz when I got to meet the fans, seeing the excitement in the kids faces when I signed autographs, took photographs and spoke to them. I signed well over 100,000 autographs personally. I got to travel all over the UK.
I did Ireland 18 times, Scotland 9 times, then Wales and all over London. I opened shops, businesses, turned on the Christmas lights and starred in several pantos around the country as well as at the London Palladium. I also got to travel to Australia and South Africa and go up against their Gladiators for TV. It changed my life and I will be forever grateful to the show and Nigel Lythgoe and Kenny Warwick who are still dear friends.
I know you’re also big on nutrition and I read that it’s perfectly normal for you to shun sugar, fried foods and sweets whilst training. Gladiators obviously inspired a lot of people to think fitness could be fun. What do you think would have to be in a film to make people think good eating could be fun?
Ha! Yes I take nutrition serious, but I think that could be a new blockbuster if we did an animation flick. We’d have to have big super heroes, say the AVENGERS. The baddies would be evil and all made of sugar and they would be making the whole world full of sugar. People would explode like balloons when they went over a certain percentage.
Then Robert Downey Jr. and the Hulk and The EXPENDABLES would weigh in as back up. They would have to seek out where the Sugar Villains were hiding and find their prison and wage war… could be quite cool #Boom
And arguably a bit sticky! If the Avengers got a few wasps on their side I reckon the Sugar Villians would start running.
Staying with your past, I also read you used to be a bboy. Do you still dance and if so, would you consider reprising your skills for a role?
Yes I grew up on hip hop, big time. Defo would consider reprising my skill for a role. HELL YEAH!! haha!!
Now that’s a movie I would love to see! So what inspires you to take a role? Is it intuition or a considered plan?
What inspires me to take a role is firstly based on the story of the character, his journey, mission, backstory, then how I relate to him, connection etc. When that excites me, I am all in.
You’ve had some amazing success with your choices and it sound like the seeds for that started in your roots. What’s been your favourite role thus far?
Yes I am so so grateful for the breaks I have had in life. As a kid I had two paper rounds at £5 each one. I worked in the day and at night for 6 days a week. If it’s one thing I learnt from my Grandad it is you have to get up early and go to work and it cost nothing to be nice to people, but it goes very far.
Gladiators has to get a mention again in regards to favourite roles as that was my break. What really got me the acting bug though was working on BATMAN BEGINS, then Robin Hood. The LAST SHIP a Michael Bay production, NCIS LA, CRIMINAL MINDS, also were great, but of late defo being the voice of the RHINO in ZOOTROPOLIS of Officer McHorn. Who would of thought it! Its a huge billion dollar movie for WALT DISNEY, and to see the RHINO toy with my kids in the supermarket was very cool. It’s the second time I have had a toy made of me. DAY OF THE DEAD, SECURITY and CRIMINAL also need mentions. I have a cool fight with Kevin Costner in CRIMINAL. Great guy by the way.
And speaking of Zootropolis and choosing the right roles, they actually gave you a character with the same name as your nickname! How did that come about?
Yes to play the role of the RHINO in ZOOTROPOLIS/ZOOTOPIA. It was amazing. Rhino has been my nickname for 28 years. It came about as I laid down the voice for chief Bogo played by Idris Elba. One day the producers Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore met me at the desk and said, ‘Hi Rhino we have a surprise for you. We want you to read for the the Rhino.’ Without trying to show my excitement and nerves I said that would be great. I knew I had to kill it in the booth and have fun. Such a great team, WALT DISNEY.
ZOOTROPOLIS IS OUT NOW