Why it was so hard finding the real Andre the Giant

Why it was so hard finding the real Andre the Giant

“Andre the Giant” documentary director Jason Hehir talks with The Post’s Justin Terranova about the difficulties of tracking the larger-than-life figure, the details of his interview with Hulk Hogan and more. The documentary premieres April 10 on HBO.

Q: What was the biggest challenge of making this documentary?

A: We had to separate a lot of fact from fiction and there is certainly a lot of fiction out there about this guy. In the ethos of pro wrestling, there is embellishment and exaggeration of what makes up that world. With Andre, he’s probably the greatest example of that. Early on we had a decision to make and that was we were only going to feature first-person accounts, not hearsay. If someone said Andre drank 200 beers, the follow-up question would be, “Were you there?” A guy like Andre, the first line of his Wikipedia is false. It says he is from Grenoble, France, and that’s not true. Everything about the guy is mythologized and the few interviews that were still available of him, he’s still in character saying he’s from Grenoble and the Alps and was discovered as a lumberjack and his grandfather was 8 feet tall. None of that was true. It was the most fun part of it for me.

Q: You spoke to Andre’s brother and other family members in France. What was their reaction to you doing the documentary?

A: They were skeptical at first. According to them, they had seen a lot of people come in and try to exploit Andre’s story to somehow make money off his back. I think they could tell from our line of questioning that we were trying to tell the true story and that we had his and the family’s best interest at heart.

Jason Hehir at the “Andre the Giant” premiere.HBO

Q: How did the interview with Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan) work?

A: I usually prefer to spend some time with a major figure in a doc like that before we sit down just to build a little bit of trust. I met Terry in the lobby of the hotel, so we had all of about 38 seconds to get to know each other in the elevator on the way to the suite for the interview. But the interview lasted over three hours. At first he was kind of curt in his responses, but then he opened up and it became a great experience.

Q: What did you learn about the wrestling community’s feelings toward Andre?

A: Reverence for his commitment to the genre. Till the day he died he still wasn’t pulling back the curtain, or abandoning kayfabe. He was still insistent that this character was real to the very end. People admired his commitment to the process and culture of wrestling.

Q: How different was the interview with those who worked with him on “The Princess Bride?”

A: It was affirming. My instincts told me this was a guy who was misunderstood and more a gentle, friendly character than the 7-foot pro wrestler. When you’re interviewing people within the wrestling community you have to take everything with a huge grain of salt because embellishment and fabrication are such a part of culture. With (Rob) Reiner and (Billy) Crystal these are guys who got to know “the real Andre.” It was encouraging to know they had the same affection and affinity for him as the guys inside the wrestling world.


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