Where Are They Now?: Kurrgan
After leaving the pale blue canvases of WWE’s rings behind in 1999, the jovial giant once known as Kurrgan has found a new home in entertainment. But for Robert Maillet, the road from the squared circle to the silver screen was a long, arduous journey.
Growing up in New Brunswick, Canada, he was drawn to wrestling, watching it with his father. Spearheaded by Emile Dupree, Grand Prix Wrestling toured through the Maritimes every summer, bringing stars like “Macho Man” Randy Savage to Canada’s easternmost provinces.
“It was fun, I really got into it,” Maillet told WWEClassics.com.
The WWE’s worldwide expansion in the mid-1980s only cemented him as a hardcore fan. Being taller than most other children, Maillet knew he might have a future as a wrestler. At the age of 17, he sought out Dupree for advice on breaking into the business. The answer wasn’t quite what he wanted to hear.
“He thought I needed to hit the gym,” Maillet recalled. “He told me I was too skinny.”
Still eager to get in the ring, the 7-footer reached out to Stephen Petitpas, another Grand Prix mainstay who was playing hockey during the winter break. Petitpas took a liking to the towering teenager and kept him in mind for the next summer tour.
“Six months later, he called me and asked if I was still interested in becoming a wrestler,” Maillet said.
Several wrestlers had left the territory in the middle of the summer, creating a number of open spots in Grand Prix. Because of his imposing size, Maillet was quickly thrust into the main events of the tour, a giant taking on the local heroes. He had to pick up the basics of the ring very rapidly.
“I got a quick crash course in pro wrestling, lockups and headlocks and things like that,” he explained.
Though he admits being pushed into the spotlight from day one was very intimidating, he had plenty of positive influences around him.
“I listened to the veteran wrestlers that had tons of experience, like Leo Burke,” Maillet said. “I was never really alone.”
Plus, the rigorous schedule of Grand Prix ensured he had a good number of matches under his belt by summer’s end.
“You’re wrestling seven days a week for four months straight,” he told WWEClassics.com. “It’s a great way to learn.”
Maillet went on a brief tour of Mexico before getting the opportunity of a lifetime in 1991: a tryout with WWE, arranged by Burke. The giant was flown to Utica, N.Y., for what he thought would be a guaranteed spot in WWE. He admitted he was a little starstruck at first.
“Getting to the arena and meeting all the Superstars after watching them on TV is intimidating and pretty cool at the same time,” Maillet said.
Though he was excited to be in such illustrious company, the monstrous Canadian’s tryout didn’t go quite as he planned.
“I had just finished the season in the Maritimes, so I was a little burnt out and wasn’t ready for the match,” Maillet explained. “Basically, they said ‘Get experience and we’ll call you back.’ ”
The poor tryout soured the 7-footer on the business. With the territory back home slowing down, Maillet began working as a bouncer at local bars. After a few years out of the business, he was given a golden opportunity to get back in the game.
“I got a call from Leo Burke, who was in Calgary working with Bret Hart,” the former Kurrgan said. “They were training wrestlers at his home. Leo told Bret about me and [Hart] wanted to meet me.”
Maillet headed out to Alberta to work with the WWE Hall of Famer, spending four weeks training with Hart, shaking the ring rust off. Not too long after Hart’s camp ended in 1997, the Canadian giant was sent down to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., where he met his partners in what would become The Truth Commission. Now known as The Interrogator, Maillet spent several weeks with his partners, Recon and Sniper, in WWE’s studios, perfecting the ins and outs of their personas while learning to work as a unit in the ring.
To get the faction of South African mercenaries more seasoning outside of the WWE spotlights, officials sent The Truth Commission to Memphis, where Jerry Lawler’s USWA ran a schedule like the territories that dominated the early days of wrestling.
“It was fun, but it was pretty hectic,” Maillet said. “We’d do a show Friday night somewhere in Arkansas, come home around midnight and get up early [Saturday morning] for TV at the studio in Memphis. Then, we’d do a show at 1 p.m. at a flea market before going to Nashville for a 7 p.m. show. What a day!”
Though he was very thankful for the opportunity Lawler’s promotion gave him and his partners to shine, Maillet was anxious to get his chance on WWE’s main roster. What was supposed to be a one-month tour of Memphis quickly turned into four months in The River City. In fact, The Truth Commission almost didn’t make it to the big time. WWE officials seemingly decided to go in another direction, letting The Interrogator and his partners go their separate ways.
“[WWE] was still interested in The Truth Commission,” Maillet explained. “I had to cut my honeymoon short to fly out to Detroit.”
The Interrogator and his partners met up at Joe Louis Arena for Monday Night Raw, where they were given a tryout match prior to the live broadcast. The mercenaries impressed WWE officials and signed contracts two weeks later. For Maillet, it was a dream come true.
However, as 1997 came to a close, The Truth Commission was nearing its end. The Interrogator, under the spell of the maniacal Jackyl, was beginning to break out on his own. WWE officials bestowed the name Kurrgan on him, to give him an identity outside of his rank within the Commission.
“They found it in the ‘Highlander’ movies,” Maillet explained. “It sounded tough and menacing, so they gave it to me.”
Armed with a cranium-crushing clawhold dubbed The Paralyzer, Kurrgan steamrolled over anyone who stepped in his path, even his own Truth Commission teammates, Recon and Sniper.
While guiding Kurrgan’s career, The Jackyl also had a side project of his own, his Parade of Human Oddities. The faction of freakish monsters was having trouble making a mark in the WWE Universe, and wasn't helped much when The Jackyl suddenly departed. Without his manager, Kurrgan disappeared from WWE’s airwaves for a spell, too.
At the WrestleMania XIV after-party in Boston, Kurrgan did something that would help propel both he and The Oddities back into the spotlight.
“My wife loves to dance,” Maillet explained. “She asked me, so I had to dance. Soon, I realized I was one of the only guys on the dance floor. All of the other wrestlers are sitting around looking at me like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”
While his fellow Superstars may have thought it strange to see a 7-footer cutting a rug, someone else saw something big in the boogieing giant.
“Apparently, Mr. McMahon saw me dancing and couldn’t get it out of his mind,” Maillet said. “I think that’s where the new twist on The Oddities came from.”
It wasn’t much longer until Kurrgan and the other Oddities — Giant Silva, Golga and Luna Vachon — weren’t terrifying monsters, but fun-loving clowns. Kurrgan often led the charge, cabbage-patching across the squared circle with as much grace as a 7-footer can.
The WWE Universe quickly fell in love with the jovial giant and his titanic pals. With Insane Clown Posse rapping them to the ring, fans joined the WWE’s biggest dance party with little hesitation.
“[Insane Clown Posse] made great music for us, it was very catchy,” the former Kurrgan said of ICP. “People got really into it.”
The Oddities were beloved by WWE fans during one of WWE’s hottest periods. But as the Attitude Era began to wane, Kurrgan and his fellow Oddities were let go by WWE. The Canadian giant took his release fairly hard and began working on getting back into the company.
“I thought I was going to be there for a while,” he said. “It didn’t turn out that way, but I wanted to go back.”
He traveled the world, wrestling in several countries, hoping to catch WWE’s attention. Along with the passing of his father, the company’s decision not to re-sign him led the big man to hang up his boots.
“When you lose your passion to be a WWE Superstar, there’s no point in going back,” Maillet explained. “It’s a lot of work and sacrifice.”
Maillet’s time in the entertainment industry, however, was not over.
At the urging of a friend, the giant tried his hand at acting.
“I’d never really thought of it before, even though wrestlers had done it,” Kurrgan said of taking the leap onto stage and screen.”
The giant got some small roles at first, but soon found himself waiting for callbacks that never came. He found work as a machine operator, working with sheet metal in a factory that made ventilation units. Acting was seemingly behind him.
“Then, I got the call from Jacques Rougeau,” he said.
That call changed Maillet’s career path drastically. The producers of the movie “300” were filming in Montreal and needed a big man to play the titanic Uber Immortal. Thinking a wrestler would fit the role, they sought out the former Intercontinental Champion to see if he knew any giants. Rougeau recommended Maillet, who had worked with him on several local shows in Montreal. The producers flew the 7-footer out for an audition.
“We worked on how to move with wooden sticks and sword fights,” Maillet explained. “How to fall and take a punch, it came naturally to me from wrestling.”
The producers hired him on the spot. After going through six hours of makeup work, Maillet was ready to get to task. His time in WWE served him well on the set of a big Hollywood production.
His role also ended up being a perfect fit for him. Director Zack Snyder asked Maillet to “scream his head off” when cameras were rolling. The Canadian had the perfect inspiration.
“I thought I could do Kurrgan, so I went nuts,” he said. “They were all blown away.”
“300” went on to be a massive success. That led to Maillet’s casting in another huge film, “Sherlock Holmes,” starring Robert Downey, Jr. Unexpectedly, the 7-footer made headlines during the filming of the mystery when he accidentally decked Downey on set.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse the fight,” Maillet explained. “The choreography of it changed on set. I really had to aim [the punch] towards his face, I couldn’t fake it.
“He somehow forgot to block it and I hit him on the chin. I knew I hurt him, I felt it.”
Downey hit the ground and dragged himself away, causing the crew to think he was still in character. The “Iron Man” star would require stitches, leaving Maillet feeling bad about the whole thing.
“I didn’t want to be known for punching out movie stars,” he said.
Downey let the Canadian big man know everything was alright the next day, giving him a bottle of champagne with a card saying there were no hard feelings.
Tabloids picked up on the story, though, and soon Maillet was all over newspapers and the internet.
“My family got a kick out of it,” he joked. “I thought it was going to be a bad thing, but it turned out to be good.”
Maillet did a lot of press interviews prior to the movie’s release, thanks to the incident, and was even mentioned during an interview with Downey on “Late Show with David Letterman.”
The 7-footer has gone on to be featured in many films since then, acting alongside stars like Antonio Banderas and Henry Cavill. Maillet has had a particularly busy 2013, playing Russian Jaeger pilot Aleksis Kaidanovsky in Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim.”
For the Canadian, working with the visionary director was unbelievable.
“I felt like a kid on set wearing the huge suits and piloting the robots,” Maillet said.
“It’s flattering,” he said. “I’m blown away by all the fans painting the character and making up stories. Someone said we were the Boba Fett of ‘Pacific Rim.’ It’s really cool.”
Maillet was also part of the casts of two other highly anticipated summer films: “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” and “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” He’s showing no signs of slowing down, either.
He joined his friend and WWE Hall of Famer Edge on the set of Syfy’s “Haven.” He also impressed del Toro with his work on “Pacific Rim” so much that the director cast him as the main villain in the television pilot of “The Strain,” based on his vampire novels of the same name. The pilot is currently in development with FX and could be picked up as a full series.
But no matter what he does on the screen, Maillet takes his WWE experience with him wherever he goes.
“I realized my dream and was proud to be a Superstar,” he said. “I never won a title, but being hired by WWE and being a Superstar, to me, was like winning a championship.”