Mark Smith is an actor with 41 credits to his name, including the likes of Batman Begins and Pirates Of The Caribbean, but you probably remember him better as Rhino from Gladiators.
Born in Acton, Smith started out as a bodybuilder before getting his big break on Gladiators during the shows Saturday night heyday on ITV back in 1995.
These days he’s busy conquering Hollywood though, thanks to a string of all-action appearances in the world of film and TV – he even got to play a rhino in Zootropolis.
“I was a rhino policeman,” Smith tells loaded, laughing, “to actually play a Rhino, something linked to a name I have had since 1988 was just crazy. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be playing a rhino in a huge Disney movie like that.”
Already signed on for the sequel, Smith’s recently went up against Antonio Banderas for the bodyguard-based thriller Security. To mark the film’s release on DVD, he sat down to discuss Gladiators, training, and Sylvester Stallone.
loaded: How did you land the Gladiators gig in the first place?
Mark: I used to do competitive bodybuilding as a teenager. I was good too. I won the Junior British Championships in 1989 and the London Men’s Heavyweights in 1992 and then joined Gladiators off the back of that in 1994.
Nigel Lythgoe called me in. I remember I had to do a fitness try-out as well as an interview. Next thing I knew; I was on Gladiators.
loaded: What do you reckon gave you the edge on some of the others trying out for the show?
Mark: Well, without blowing my own trumpet, I guess it was good timing as much as anything. They needed someone to replace Shadow [Jefferson King in the wake of allegations of steroid abuse] . I had already competed against him in the London Men’s Heavyweights and had beaten him.
I also came with a reputation – I’m actually the only Gladiator in the world who arrived with their own nickname already. Rhino was something that dated back to my body building days and they liked it so let me keep it. Something just gelled in the interview. I guess I just had the personality and the luck to go with the physique.
loaded: Was Shadow as intense in real like as he was on the show?
Mark: He was an intense guy on the show, yes and a great competitor too. I only just beat him in the London Heavyweights as a bodybuilder. It was very close. He was a big guy.
loaded: If you could ever have offered anyone trying to become a Gladiator a bit of advice, what would it have been?
Mark: When it comes to battle, always be battle ready. Try your best but be humble and approachable to everyone. As a Gladiator, I always thought it was important to make time for the fans. It was such a huge show at the time and sometimes you would see people on the programme almost forget about those who put them there.
loaded: What was the atmosphere like backstage? Did everyone get on with each other?
Mark: Now, I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but we really did all get on. There were no egos. I for one felt very fortunate to get Gladiators. It changed my life, coming from where I came from which was a single parent background. Everyone has their own story. We were all grateful. It changed my life.
loaded: Did you guys socialise away from the show?
Mark: Very much so. We used to stay at the Hyatt in Birmingham, while we filmed at the Nationa Indoor Arenas and we always used to socialise. We’d go out for meals, go to a few clubs, maybe have a few drinks but when it came to the shows themselves, everyone knew it was game-time.
loaded: Are we right in thinking your specialist game was the Suspension Bridge?
Mark: Yeah, the Suspension Bridge was my specialty. Powerball and all the power games were my specialty though. I actually hold the world record for the Gauntlet too having held someone for the entirety of the event, which is 30 seconds, and no one had done that before.
loaded: Do any memories stick out from your time on Gladiators?
Mark: In terms of lowlights, the pain I felt when I busted my leg on the Pyramid in my first year on the show has got to be up there [Rhino tore a ligament in his leg that kept him sidelined for 12 weeks]. In terms of highlights, my first trip with Gladiators to Australia in 1995 was up there. It was mind-blowing at the time.
loaded: Gladiators was huge – did you almost feel like pop stars given the way fans treated you?
Mark: Very much so. I remember going out to the supermarket after my first episode had aired and someone shouted: “hey that’s Rhino!” Next thing I knew, there was this huge queue of people wanting me to sign autographs because they had just seen me on TV. I loved it though. You have to remember we only had four TV channels back then and Saturday nights used to be a big deal with Gladiators and Blind Date on ITV. The show was huge.
loaded: Was it difficult to adjust when the show finished?
Mark: It was difficult. I had to build up my resume as an actor in the UK first, through work on shows like Trial and Retribution, which is written by Linda La Plante. I then did Robin Hood for the BBC and from there got the gig on Batman Begins for Christopher Nolan. I also did Eastenders and the Bill.
From there I headed out to the US and things have been going great from there. I’ve been on shows like NCIS and Criminal Minds too and a load of films. It’s been great.
loaded: Are we right in thinking you also appeared on the show Renford Rejects?
Mark: Yeah, that’s right. I played Leo the motivational trainer. It’s funny too because I am friends with some of the young guys that were on that show. My character was there to get them all into shape.
loaded: You appeared in the boxing movie Creed. What was that like?
Mark: Amazing. That was particularly special for me as I grew up as massive Sylvester Stallone fan. I love the Rocky films and, as a young kid, I was always the guy that would put my mate on a bike and pull him up a hill by a bit of rope. Whenever I was training I would listen to the Rocky soundtrack to pump me up.
When I met Stallone, he was so humble and so impressed – he couldn’t believe how big I was. It was great. I’m still like a kid in a sweet shop with a lot of these big stars. It was the same on Batman Begins with Christian Bale and Liam Neeson. I remember Liam even wanted to come and watch me box at Earl’s Court back then [Smith has done charity boxing in the past – and was pretty good at it].
loaded: How much did bodybuilding change your life?
Mark: Bodybuilding was the first thing in my life to teach me about consistency and hard work. Growing up, my grandfather used to give me a £1 and I would go and spend all of that on chocolate, which was 9p a bar back then. I had a sweet tooth!
Bodybuilding taught me about fitness and nutrition and rest. It taught me to commit to things both mentally and physically. You had to be consistent if you wanted to improve and when I started applying that to all areas of my life, it became hugely beneficial.
loaded: What advice could you offer to anyone looking to make it as a bodybuilder?
Mark: Train like an animal. You have to. I call it the rage. Obviously be nice to people and treat them with respect but the minute you touch the steel, you need to be willing to train like an iron warrior. That’s why people called me rhino – I was like a rhino.
I used to think about things that made me emotional too. I would take those kinds of emotions and channel them into the gym. From the age of 17 through to 24, that’s what I did. Then I joined Gladiators and I started doing other things like boxing and running and just ate cleaner.
Security is out now on DVD.