So here we are, seven years after the release of Hercules in New York. It looks like the, shall we say, "interesting" way that film turned out forced you to rethink your Hollywood career trajectory. Instead of rushing headlong into leading roles, it seems you dialed it back and looked for roles that were not only a good fit, but also provided the opportunity to work with some big name directors. Roles that required more than just your Mr. Universe credentials.
First, and maybe due to your experience being overdubbed in Hercules, _you took a very minor and speechless part in Robert Altman's classic neo-noir _The Long Goodbye. Sure, the uncredited role of "Hood in Augustine's Office" probably didn't turn any casting agent heads, but working with the hot, post-MASH, post-McCabe & Mrs. Miller Altman must have been its own reward. This was the 70s, after all, and directors were Hollywood's new stars. If nothing else, it had to have been a master class on the new way to make films.
After that, we come to Stay Hungry.
Working with Bob Rafelson must have been a similar no-brainer. And you even got a speaking role to boot--the first in your own voice. Best known for the classic Five Easy Pieces, Rafelson was another director with a knack for showcasing actors in his decidedly character-driven stories.
Indeed, Stay Hungry _operates almost as a _Five Easy Pieces in reverse. Where Jack Nicholson's Robert Dupea returns to his family's wealthy estate after abandoning it for the blue collar world, Stay Hungry's Jeff Bridges flees his business and societal obligations to become part of a new culture. Gym culture, to be precise. Your culture.
Of course this is where you slide so naturally into the picture, and why it plays like such a smart career move on your part. No longer saddled with the terrible, ridiculous dialogue required of a Greek demi-god, you're able to give a relaxed, and charismatic performance as Joe Santo -- the Austrian-born, aspiring Mr. Universe (you still were at the career stage where your accent had to be explained). Along with the impressive body-building, though, Santo is also versed in literature, plays a mean fiddle, and is referred to as the curling champion of Austria. If you weren't already aiming to be titled "Mr. Universe," you would have had to settle for "Superman."
If only the rest of Stay Hungry had the same easy charm you provide as Santo. While it does boast a number of acutely-observed scenes and performances--Bridge's and Sally Fields' relationship comes immediately to mind--the film suffers from a schizophrenia, as it can't decide whether it's a character study or an exploitation film about body-building. But really, any film that climaxes by intercutting between you, wearing only a speedo, running to the rescue, and another 15 similarly dressed bodybuilders storming the streets and then holding an impromptu pose-off, can't be all bad, can it?
Just more bad than I wanted it to be.