Nearly 11 months after a crew from HBO visited Ellerbe for a documentary on one of professional wrestling’s biggest legends, “Andre the Giant” premiered in Tinseltown last Thursday.
Jackie McAuley made the trip from Richmond County to Hollywood to attend the screening at Pacific’s Cinerama Theatre, joining Hulk Hogan on the red carpet — which she said was actually gold.
McAuley and her late ex-husband Frenchy Bernard — a former wrestler, manager and referee —lived with Andre and worked on his Ellerbe ranch from the early ’80s until his death in 1993.
The last time she had seen Hogan was at Andre’s memorial service at the ranch. Before she could ask the Hulkster if he remembered who she was, McAuley said he recognized her and gave her a hug.
The documentary — a JMH Films production in association with Ringer Films and presented by HBO Sports and WWE — “explores Andre’s upbringing in France, his celebrated career in WWE and forays in the entertainment world,” according to a press release.
Born André René Roussimoff in 1946 in Molien, France, the future wrestler began to show signs of gigantism as a teenager.
At more than 7 feet, he began training in Paris when he was 17 and was soon travelling the world. When he made his debut in Japan, he caught the eye of wrestling promoter Vince McMahon Sr., who would later bill him as Andre the Giant.
Wrestling’s popularity increased in the ‘80s, as did Andre’s. One of his most notable matches was against Hogan at WrestleMania III.
He also ventured into the film and television world, including playing Bigfoot in a two-part episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” making an uncredited appearance in “Conan the Destroyer,” and portraying, of course, a giant in a Honeycomb cereal commercial. However, perhaps his most memorable role was that of Fezzik in the 1987 Rob Reiner film “The Princess Bride.”
Emmy award-winning director Jason Hehir brought together a crew he’s worked with in the past — Thom Stukas, director of photography, Jon Roche, second unit director of photography, and Bob Bryan on audio — to help him tell Andre’s story from those who knew him best.
“They didn’t touch a lot on matches,” McAuley said. Instead, she added, the film focuses more on his personal life, with the bulk of the interviews being with Hogan and Tim White, a referee who became Andre’s travelling partner and spent a lot of time with him as his health began to deteriorate.
McAuley was interviewed last May at Millstone 4-H Camp, and the crew also shot B-roll footage in downtown Ellerbe and at Andre’s former home and ranch.
“It was weird to see my face 18 feet long,” she said of seeing her clips on the big screen.
The filmmakers also interviewed members of his family, including his daughter Robin Christensen; wrestlers Jerry Lawler and Ric Flair; and “Princess Bride” co-stars Cary Elwes and Billy Crystal.
Chris Owens, who helped provide historical background and photos for both the film and the exhibit at the Rankin Museum of American Heritage, was given a producer credit, according to McAuley.
While at the screening, McAuley was interviewed by a media outlet and asked about her most amusing memory of Andre.
“I couldn’t think of a thing … not a single thing,” she said.
Eventually, she wound up recounting a story about Andre being told by law enforcement that he couldn’t ride his three-wheeler on a state road.
“Andre the Giant” will premier at 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 on HBO, and will be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO, and parntered streaming services.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 or [email protected]