A mere six-pack doesn't cut it in Hollywood anymore. Today's male stars need 5 percent body fat, massive pecs, and the much-coveted inguinal crease – regardless of what it takes to get there.
You simply don't get your name on a movie poster these days unless you've got a superhero's physique – primed for high-def close-ups and global market appeal.
That's overstated: Comic actors don't have to be ripped. More interestingly, the late Paul Walker was popular with the global downmarket fans of The Fast and Furious franchise while looking like more like an old-fashioned sportsman than a modern professional athlete.
Getting there takes effort, vigilance, and the dedication of the elite athlete: high-intensity training, strict diets, supplements, and hormone replacement. If that fails, there are always drugs.
Or maybe the drugs are part of the plan from the beginning. Especially if the actor changes body shape from role to role rather than spending 5 or 10 years building a body in the gym. An action movie star body can look silly in regular clothes -- e.g., when I ran into Jake Gyllenhaal at the yogurt shop when he was all pumped up for The Prince of Persia, he looked ridiculous in normal suburban guy wear.
Today's actors spend more time in the gym than they do rehearsing, more time with their trainers than with their directors.
Acting skill – even paired with leading-man looks and undeniable charisma – is not enough to get you cast in a big-budget spy thriller or a Marvel Comics franchise. "A decade or so ago, Stallone and Van Damme and Schwarzenegger were the action stars," says Deborah Snyder, who produces husband Zack Snyder's films: 300, Man of Steel, the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie. "Now we expect actors who aren't action stars to transform themselves. And we expect them to be big and powerful and commanding."
There is an easier way to go from flabby wimp to sinewy screen predator. Sometimes a superhero's journey begins with the needle prick of a syringe full of human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone, or steroids.
"In Hollywood, the drug of choice is the drug that makes you look good," says Strike Back's Winchester. "It's like the drug scene at a boarding school – it's all available." When actors ask about steroids, trainer Steve Zim tells them about the hair loss and zits, and "that usually ends the conversation in one second."
So, your favorite actor isn't on steroids.
Steroids also produce rounder, water-retaining muscles instead of the lean, mean bodies currently in vogue. Testosterone and HGH are far more common, particularly for older actors, since lower levels of testosterone can make it impossible to retain muscle mass. "Over 40? I encourage getting tested," says trainer Bobby Strom, "but there are some trainers who just go right to the testosterone, like they're putting you on a multivitamin."
Zim has seen the benefits of hormone therapy firsthand. "These people who look younger and fitter – a lot of them are using growth hormone and testosterone; the size comes from the testosterone, the virility and the youth come from the growth hormone."
On set, actors swap tricks of the fitness trade – and the phone numbers of trainers and doctors who will prescribe testosterone or HGH, no questions asked.
In the credits for X-Men: Days of Future Past is the name of "Mr. Jackman's Trainer," so if you need to score some heavy-duty stuff, well, there you go.
There are dozens of hormone-replacement clinics in and around Hollywood, and their business is booming. But there are significant risks: Hormone therapy accelerates all cell growth, whether healthy or malignant, and can encourage existing cancers, especially prostate cancers, to metastasize at terrifying rates.
Testosterone supplements can lower sperm counts. For many, the risk is worth it.
So who on a movie set would be most likely to take a risk on something unproven that could cause bodily harm? The stuntmen, of course. Several actors we spoke to say the stunt guys introduced them to performance-enhancing drugs. It makes some sense: If you're asked to body-double for Ryan Gosling without the benefit of his trainer and his personal chef, you'll be tempted to take a shortcut, too. And if you're jumping off buildings, battling ninjas, or swinging a battle-ax at ogres all day (or, worse, playing the ogre who gets bashed in 20 consecutive takes), you'll see an upside to HGH's accelerated recovery time.
Stuntmen often work for day rates, so every day they can't work is a day they don't get paid. "The stunt guys are partying hard, in their thirties or forties looking 20, 25," says one action star. "They're taking massive hits and bouncing back up again. I asked, 'What are you guys doing?' " According to the actor, a stuntman told him, "Steroids to get a build, insulin injections to get the cut, then HGH." Stuntmen talk about drugs as a calculated risk that's worth the advantage, so long as they get regular colonoscopies and screenings for prostate cancer. It's easy to see how an actor – especially one who relies on his brawn or his ability to throw a convincing punch – might seek that same edge.
I finally saw the first half-hour of Michael Bay's sardonic Pain and Gain with Mark Wahlberg, the Rock, and Anthony Mackie as three Miami personal trainers. Wahlberg voice-overs:
I have no sympathy for people who squander their gifts. It's sickening. It's worse than sickening. It's unpatriotic. ... If you're willing to do the work, you can have anything. That's what makes the U.S. of A great. When it started, America was just a handful of scrawny colonies. Now, it's the most buff, pumped-up country on the planet. That's pretty rad.
I have a theory that 1970s-style jogging makes people liberal and 1980s-style weightlifting makes them conservative.