The way Frank Trigg tells it, mere mortals can’t help but get a little jealous: “You wake up in the middle of the night to go to the set, but on your way you hear the ocean waves gently hitting the shore in the background.”
The UFC Hall of Famer left mixed martial arts behind to take a calculated risk and become an in-demand actor and stunt performer for TV shows, including “Hawaii Five-O,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Lethal Weapon” and an upcoming feature film.
The move dictated that Trigg and new wife Jill Dexter Trigg pack up their Vegas home and split their time between those flower-scented breezes of the Big Island, where “Hawaii Five-O” is shot, and Sin City, where they visit regularly to see his children and friends.
Trigg also works as a referee, sports color commentator and TV host.
RJ: What is your typical Sunday in Hawaii?
Trigg: Jill and I get up later. We relax on the beach or go for a hike up Oahu, where, at the top, there are panoramic views of the ocean. We don’t have a TV at home, so we’ll go out for breakfast at a beach bar after our hike and watch a football game. Then it’s beach time.
Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Vegas?
I grew up in Rochester, New York, in this small town where I started wrestling in elementary school. I got a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, wrestled there, and tried out for the 2000 Olympic Games. I was a finalist but didn’t make the team. Afterward, I moved to Los Angeles, realized that I wanted to fight full time, and stayed in L.A. from 1999 to 2004. Then the (Ultimate Fighting Championship) UFC started to heat up and a lot of people moved to Vegas to be closer to it. I moved in 2004 because it was a better training situation .
Was it culture shock at first or a dream come true time?
When I first moved to Vegas, it was culture shock. For the first six months, I went nuts. Everything is open all the time. You start meeting people. You get into clubs for free. You go to restaurants for free. You go a little crazy. It was a lot of fun, but then as an athlete you have to get serious about your life and training. You shut it down early if you want to win.
What do you remember about the early days of the UFC in Vegas?
It was pretty awesome and growing so quickly. When you first started, you could call Dana White’s office and get him on the phone. I became one of the bigger names during a time when there wasn’t much knowledge about the sport.
What does a fighter do immediately after the fight?
It depends on the kind of fight you just had. You don’t get as sore if you’re training properly. But there are times when you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get stitches and then you need to take a week off to rest. I was lucky that my injuries were not that bad.
Why did you stop fighting?
It was financial for me. I knew I could act or do stunts and make more money than I could as a fighter.
How did you get the gig on “Hawaii Five-O?”
I had always done a bit of acting. I was in Hawaii meeting up with a buddy of mine who does stunts on the show. My friend knew more about my career than I could remember. All of a sudden, the stunt coordinator on “Hawaii Five-O” asked me to work that Friday. Pretty soon, I got this contract. I came in and fell down a flight of stairs. A nothing stunt. That started my new thing.
Please tell us you haven’t done a fire stunt.
I’ve been on fire. There’s a whole protocol and process to fire stunts. You get dressed and all of your clothes are dipped in gel. There is gel under your clothes. They even put a map on you of where you will burn. Then you do a countdown before they light you on fire.
Typically how long is your body engulfed in flames?
It’s about 10 to 12 seconds. When the fire stunt is over, they use a fire extinguisher to put you out.”
Ever hurled your body out a building?
Sure, the other day I did a 30-foot fall out a window.
Yesterday. I had a noose around my neck and I was hanging off a bridge. Honestly, it’s not that bad. You also have to be still because in that scene you’re dead. But in my scene, I was eventually lowered to the ground and had to react to the cops.
As a dead person, you reacted to the cops?
I survived. The point is, stunt people also have to be actors. I have great respect for stunt people because there’s no action without them. Think about it. “Fast and Furious” without the stunt people is just guys sitting around talking about cars.
Last summer you married Vegas master yoga teacher Jill Dexter. How did you two meet?
We were both at a fight and met in Vegas through mutual friends. We hung out that night and then went our separate ways. In Vegas, I used to go to Commonwealth every Sunday, and there she was again. That night, we started talking and exchanged numbers. Three weeks later, we had our first date. Finally, she said, “I’m going to hang out with you, exclusively.” I did the same thing. And we’ve been together ever since.
What is it like to split your time between Hawaii and Vegas?
I have two young kids who live in Vegas, so it’s really difficult because I miss them. I fly in a few times a month. But the move to Hawaii was right. I do want to retire in Hawaii. We’re trying to figure out the next step.
Can you get into that relaxed island vibe?
I’m hyperactive, which is why I love Vegas. I love hanging out with the kids there, training or going to L.A. I’m always spinning around with a million things to do. Once I got to Hawaii, I realized that I was really in the rat race. It’s pretty chill. I’ve even learned to lean back a bit and kind of slow down. That was an adjustment coming from a 24-hour town. In Vegas, if I’m hungry, I can go out and get a steak at 3 in the morning. In Hawaii, if I’m hungry at 3 in the morning, I’m making that steak.