“How did actor x become so buff, so quickly?” is a question I see very often. It leads some people to despair, when they compare the quick gains some actors apparently make to what they achieved in a similar time. But actors have no magic bodies – they live within the same boundaries we all do.
Crazy About Fitness
You may know Robert Pattinson as one of the stars in the vampire melodrama Twilight. He recently finished filming the second part of the saga, where he has some topless scenes. Of course he wanted to be as buff for them as he could, but had to find out it was impossible for him to keep up the heavy workout regime he subjected himself to. To be precise, he told Entertainment Weekly:
When I start [getting fit], I just go crazy about it. It’s like the only thing I can talk about to anyone. So I was like, ‘I’m going to keep this up the whole time, so for whatever movie I do afterwards I’m going to be so buff’. And then literally one day after my last shirt-off scene I started being all, ‘nom, nom, nom’. And I didn’t realise I had one more [shirt-off] scene, and you can see it one of them – I’m clearly [sucking in].
An experience not unfamiliar to many people and to be expected: You simply can’t force it.
“I Just Trained A Bit”
But what then about actors who say “for role x I had to get buff within y months” and in those months apparently gained an amount of muscle mass that leaves the average person shocked and awed?
An example: In the movie Primal Fear from 1996, Edward Norton was slim with little amount of muscle. Two years later, in American History X, he was ferociously muscular. When asked, Norton claimed that he worked out for three months and ate lots of protein to add about 30 lbs of mass. This was so unbelievable that apparently even Arnold Schwarzenegger, he himself not innocent in these matters, called Norton to ask if he had done a steroid cycle. Norton denied this.
There is no way to prove him right or wrong, but if Mr. Norton indeed accomplished this naturally, then he may well give up acting, because he would have discovered a method of gaining muscle so vastly superior to all others, that selling it would earn him more money than any acting could.
Paint And Lighting
Sometimes also light sources and strategically placed make up can make quite a difference. After the sandal movie 300, that depicted a highly fictional account of King Leonidas’ fight against the Persians, many men were flabbergasted at the sculpted physiques and well-defined abs the Spartans in the film displayed. It didn’t take various fitness centers and trainers long to sell “300 Workouts” that supposedly gave you the same physique in no time.
We can suspect that for most men this didn’t happen. The 300 actors did go through a resistance training regime, but what we saw of them on-screen was enhanced with make-up and dramatic lighting effects. Try taking a photo of yourself with a sole light source from an angle above you and then take another picture, with the light source in front of you. In all likeliness you will find that your muscles look bigger when the light comes from above. If you then use the light source from above you once more and add a bit of darker make-up to the areas where there is shade, the effect will be even more astonishing.
In other cases what appears as the body of a movie’s main actor isn’t actually him. Imagine this: The hero confronts the movie’s villain and in the final dialogue before the grand battle we only see close-ups of their faces. A cut to the hero’s body and we see his hands ripping off his shirt. From that point on we only either see his body from behind, a close-up of his naked body without his face or a close-up of only his face, where little of his body is seen.
The technique of body doubles is primarily used by actresses, who don’t want to do nude scenes, but actors aren’t unknown to employ or have it employed on them either. Consider this wanted ad for a male body double, for example. Similar ads explicitly state that in the final edit your head will be “replaced with another character”.
Is It All Fake?
The question then naturally is if all actors fake their physiques. No, they don’t; some indeed work out very hard to get a muscular body and they have the luxury of being able to hire nutritionists and personal trainers that set up a program tailored to their specific weaknesses and strengths. Yet even under these optimal conditions it is very unlikely that any are able to achieve in months what usually can only be done within years.
In summary we might say that you shouldn’t be discouraged by or compare yourself to feats that seem impossible; it’s quite possible they simply are. There is no magic formula they know and we don’t.
Picture courtesy of “ModernDope“.