Today, Nickelodeon revealed that Kirk Fogg, the host of the classic '90s game show Legends of the Hidden Temple, will appear in the upcoming Legends of the Hidden Temple made-for-TV movie. It's a big announcement for nostalgia junkies and '80s babies. But the truth is, Kirk Fogg was a legend before Legends.
A California boy, he got bit by the acting bug his senior year of college at Cal State Fullerton, but wound up bartending at a TGI Fridays in Orange County, near Angel Stadium, after failing to catch a break in Los Angeles. His origin story—the winding path to Olmec's temple, on a sound stage in Orlando, Fla.—really begins there, at the house of Jack Daniel's Sirloins.
One night a Frenchman came into the TGI Fridays on Fogg's off night with a proposition. His friend called to explain: “This guy from France is in our restaurant and he’s looking for three bartenders to go to Paris. I’m gonna give you his name—give him a call.” And so Fogg did, earning him and two friends an audition to help this man open up an American style bar on the storied Champs-Elysees. "They were stealing TGI Fridays bartenders to teach the very traditional bartenders in France how to be like Tom Cruise in Cocktail," Fogg told me. "Bottle throwing. The guy who went with us on the trip actually trained Tom Cruise in that movie."
While in Paris, Fogg's desire to act returned while working a second gig at a cabaret theater called the Hollywood Savoy, where he sang show tunes and tended bar. Without TGI Fridays, the theatrics of Tom Cruise mixing rum specialties in Cocktail, the city of Paris, and show tunes, there would be no host of Legends of the Hidden Temple.
Now, Fogg is returning in the Legends of the Hidden Temple made-for-TV movie, airing this November on Nickelodeon. (He plays Kirk Fogg, of course). While shooting in Vancouver, Complex talked with the man himself about his wild ride to children's gaming glory, the New York theater scene, and Sam Shepard.
How did you get to Legends of the Hidden Temple, the show?
I was working on a fellowship with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Then, all of a sudden, I got this phone call to try out for this game show. They found me in a player’s directory. Do you even know what that is? You pay to put your picture in there and then casting people flip through. I used to pay like a hundred bucks every six months for it, never got anything. Then, finally, it paid off.
Do you remember your audition for Legends?
I think it was on Universal’s lot and they were really scrambling to get this show up on its feet. They hadn’t even done a pilot and Nickelodeon had just picked the show up. I’d never hosted a show before and they had me do play-by-play of the kids going through the obstacle course, in the Temple. And my brother and I used to do that all the time. We’d pretend to be announcers and do play-by-play football. Like, “HE TAKES IT TO THE 40, THE 35, THE 20, THE 10—OH MY GOD, HE’S GOT IT, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT: TOUCHDOWN.” We’d riff like that all the time and it was the only experience I had with hosting. But at the audition, I got up there and just did my old play-by-play: “THERE GOES JOHNNY INTO THE PIT OF DESPAIR—OH, WOW, IS HE GONNA GET OUT OF THAT?” It was the only reason why I got the show. And I think I looked okay.
What did you think when Nick approached you about the movie?
I thought, What? You’re doing what? Wait a minute—what? I hadn’t thought it could happen. Then, since I’m from the film world, I thought: What a great idea! I can see this! So I asked for the script, I read it, and thought, this is pretty good. It’s very clever how they’re tying it all together. It’s like Indiana Jones meets Jumanji meets Night at the Museum.
How big is your role?
Pretty good! It’s not a cameo. I’m part of the movie. But it’s funny, the first thing I thought when I was talking to my agent and I’m saying, “They don’t want me for this. I’m older. They want someone young, hip, cool.” But I read the script and realized, no, it needs the older Kirk. It’s perfect. The logic works out.
Which playwrights appealed to you then? Were you into Sam Shepard?
Sam Shepard! Oh my god. I did Cowboy Mouth in New York! [Ed. Note—Cowboy Mouth originally opened in 1971 at New York's American Place Theatre and starred Shepard and Patti Smith, who were romantically involved at the time. It’s about damaged love.] I have a Sam Shepard story. I’m living on 69th and Central Park West, I have no money. I’m so broke, I can’t afford to live in this apartment that I’m sharing with this girl who I worked with at the Museum Cafe. A friend of mine comes from Paris and I spent time with her at this really great apartment her dad had. She says, “Why don’t you just spend the night here?” I say, “Fine.” I come home the next day and my friend is sitting there waiting for me and says, “Where were you? Where were you?” I’m like, “I went out, I stayed with Giselle at her apartment. She goes, “Okay. Great. I was waiting for you to at any moment walk into our little single apartment because you would’ve walked into us sitting around with Sam Shepard watching movies.” He had met her somewhere and came back with her and her friend to the apartment to watch movies. But that was the night I missed.
Wow. And then you did Cowboy Mouth later?
We opened the first night in the basement of the Trocadero in the Village. No one shows up. It was very sad. The next day I’m getting ready to go do the play and I got hit by a bus crossing over 57th and Columbus. It was a traffic light problem and I was halfway across the street and a bus hits me, throws me across the street, and I broke my arm. These two doctors found me and I kept telling them that I needed to get home to do this play. They said, “No, no. You’re not going anywhere.” [Fogg does the doctors' voices in a vaguely Eastern European accent.] We had to close the play, but when we came back three months later it was sold out every night.