GETTING IN SHAPE FOR A ROLE IN A MOVIE - THE UGLY TRUTH
The photo is not retouched - I actually look like that. At least I did right then, at that moment yesterday, 5 or 10 minutes after I finished working out, posing carefully for the camera. Today is a different story. By Christmas, the story will change again.
As most of you know, I have been working on a passion project for almost 2 years now called Rebirth. I've wanted to make this film for 30 years, no exaggeration, and we've been shooting pieces of the project here and there since last June, and now it is within spitting distance of being finished.
In the film, which I wrote and directed, I also play an aging vigilante who is 10 years past his prime, but still needs to look like a bad ass. While I've always been active and liked to exercise, I had packed on some weight and was less active than I would like to have been, spending hours and hours in front of the computer, mostly editing and writing. A bad ass vigilante I was not.
I knew better than to jump right into heavy weightlifting, so in February of 2015 I began strength training, trying to get some of my flexibility and endurance back. By July of 2015 I was feeling pretty good, so I began to really hit it hard and watch what I ate, mostly cutting back on the sugar and trying not to eat anything to excess.
The first month or two was boring and unrewarding. Then one day I walked into the bathroom without a shirt and saw myself clearly for the first time in a long time - and the muscles were starting to really show up. So with that boost of confidence - and tangible results - I kept going.
My first appearance on camera came in October of 2015, and even though I wasn't quite ready to be the "bad ass vigilante" yet, I felt good enough to wear a suit and some old-age make up for some of the less active scenes. So far, so good. Then came December of that year, and I had to start shooting a massive scene where I actually had to be in my fighting gear and be in top form on camera.
I was still heavier than I wanted to be, hadn't racked up near enough crunches, and was far too tired trying to juggle paying gigs with a non-paying passion project that would never make me any money.
We got through the shoot, and honestly, the footage came out fine, mostly because I was a bit of a phantom in those scenes, zipping through, appearing on the edge of frame, fleeting, out of focus. It worked, but I was not happy. I had more featured scenes to shoot the following spring and summer, and I couldn't blow it - I had to be in better shape.
To make a long story short, we finished shooting, and I did get in better shape, but still not the shape I wanted to be in. The photo looks good, but add a costume to that, unflattering angles, and a momentary lapse of forgetting to suck in your stomach, and it all goes to hell. That is usually the kind of image that sets internet tongues to wagging, and I get it - we want our idols to be perfect, trim, fit, bad ass. We don't like to see them in between gigs, weight spilling over their belts, faces swollen, a cigarette or donut in hand.
As I finish up editing, I am satisfied with the results. I look like an aging vigilante, tough but not perfect, no longer at the top physically but mentally convinced that I am. In the world of the film, I would wake up after a night of fighting bad guys and feel the pain, realize what my limitations are, then lie to myself and self-medicate to keep going. In reality, I went through the same thing as a filmmaker, finding that my shoulders have arthritis, straining muscles I rarely use, and making my stomach so sore that some nights I had a hard time sleeping. I began running again, only to find a few weeks later that my knees couldn't handle it. I spent the last few days of shooting nursing two trick knees, worried that they would keep me from finishing the project. More than one night I headed to bed in so much pain that I took enough Tylenol to get me through a full night's sleep. More than one morning I couldn't sit up, and had to roll sideways out of bed.
A few weeks ago Matt Damon was making the rounds on the television talk shows, promoting his latest Jason Bourne film. He talked several times about how hard it was to get into Bourne-shape, as he was now 45 years old. I feel you, Matt. When I started training for this part I was 50, and as I write this, I am now 52. The character I play is supposed to be 55, and I can't even IMAGINE what it would have been like to try and do this 3 years from NOW.
I also laugh at a story about Jessica Biel, the incredibly fit Hollywood actress, who tells a story about snapping one night and getting 24 donuts and sitting in her car with her girlfriends, just stuffing her face until she was in total bliss. I feel you, Jessica, I feel you!!
Again, let me stress that I was not doing any of this under the guidance of a trainer, nor did I have a chef or nutritionist working for me. This was me using years of my own experience and it worked for me. But I know several actors who work far harder on a regular basis, and their results are far more impressive. In Rebirth, look for a bad guy played by St. Louis' own Bill Finkbiner. Now THAT guy has some muscle on him, and works at it like a professional. Caitlin Corry, the star of my film Shadowland, is a fitness competitor, and looks like the living image of Wonder Woman. She works far harder than I ever have, and is comfortably nestled into her West County home, mother to 3 children. She works far harder than I, everyday.
So be fit, get out and be active, take pride in your health and your appearance, but I am here to tell you that your idols do not look like you think they do. It's all smoke and mirrors, cheats and lies, and when they aren't on camera, they sometimes eat donuts and smoke.
In other words, they're real.