Putting yourself in harm’s way so pretty people don’t get hurt requires a very particular set of skills. Anyone can leap off something tall, do something inadvisable while riding a horse or crash a motorbike. Only a few, however, have the wherewithal to do it over and over again, while remaining almost entirely anonymous to the movie-going public. It demands a basic disregard for personal safety, an aversion to the limelight and, perhaps most importantly, the perfect diet.
As anyone with ambitions of breaking into the industry quickly finds out, discipline extends way beyond what happens on set. To embody one of the world’s top movie stars means making sacrifices that you might never have considered. In moderate cases, this may mean cutting your hair to look a bit like Brad Pitt. In more extreme situations, however, it could mean changing everything about your lifestyle - from what time you wake up to the food you eat. When transformations are this dramatic, things can get pretty insane very quickly.
Take hunky Brit and professional Asgardian imitator Bobby Holland Hanton. Over the course of his career, Hanton has worked alongside the likes of Daniel Craig, Channing Tatum, Chris Pine and Chris Evans, letting some of the world’s sexiest action stars put their feet up while he falls through glass windows, gets hit in the face and is generally pummelled. Despite his tales from the likes of James Bond and Jupiter Ascending, it is his work with Australian heartthrob Chris Hemsworth that puts stunt life into perspective.
Hanton has worked alongside Hemsworth since 2011, helping him fight witches in Snow White and the Huntsman, whales in The Heart of the Sea and whatever Thanos can throw at him in The Avengers. According to Hanton, looking good while overcoming these obstacles is simple for Hemsworth, who can apparently “look at weights and he grows.” But, as envious men everywhere will attest, turning your body into something that looks like it was chiselled by Michaelangelo is no mean feat when you haven’t got these natural advantages. To get into character, therefore, Hanton needs to adopt a much more radical approach. Namely, his regime for a Hemsworth role involves eating an astonishing 35 meals a day.
In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2016, Hanton relayed how his preparations for Avengers: Age of Ultron involved eating small meals every hour or two, with a focus on “high protein, good fats, good carbs”. This largely involved surviving on the likes of “grilled chicken or turkey with spinach and natural nuts, and boiled eggs.” To make matters worse, Hemsworth is notable for his lean muscle mass, meaning that Hanton would have to train twice every day and was only able to drink “water and green tea”. Eventually, Hanton revealed how he would permit himself a one two-hour junk food binge every week just to “keep himself sane”.
Incredibly, Hanton’s turkey, egg and gym routine isn’t even the most unorthodox double diet out there. In 2014, award-winning stuntman Marlow Warrington-Mattei, who was working alongside Luke Evans in the gothic action flick Dracula Untold at the time, revealed how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s double had exposed him to the world of intermittent fasting. In an interview with Coach Mag, Warrington-Mattei explained how this advice had led him to eat only between 1pm and 9pm, gorging himself on meals that consisted mostly of Nando’s and Wagamama’s chicken on a set in Budapest.
It isn’t just male stunt doubles that have to follow strict regimes. Annelie Whitfield, former double for stars such as Cate Blanchett and Cameron Diaz, is also an advocate of intermittent fasting, suggesting that it can boost the body’s metabolism by between “3.6% to 14%”. In addition to a limited window of eating, Whitfield also claims that consuming coconut oil is an effective way to reduce hunger pangs, due to its high concentration of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). As she put it in an interview with “Body and Soul”, “MCTs can help you stay focused, think clearly and stave off hunger pangs without interfering with fasting benefits because they are rapidly absorbed and converted into ketone acids which can fuel your brain and body cells without spiking glucose or insulin.” This is ideal if you need to both get in shape and stay sharp enough to perform dangerous feats.
There is, however, a dark side to these intense regimes. For women working in the industry in particular, the dangers are more subtle than being run over by an ill-timed tank or accidentally breaking an arm. As part of her interview with Body and Soul, Whitfield admitted that some of her previous attempts to prepare for a role by eating almost nothing but tuna had left her “tired and (unable to) focus on set,” adding, “I was lucky I didn’t fall off a building.” In an interview with The Guardian, famous female stunt artist Tammie Baird revealed how “crash dieting” in order to embody an actress who may be significantly smaller than the double is a serious problem, potentially limiting their ability to perform and placing them in accidental peril. Baird stated that “It breaks my heart whenever I hear someone’s starving themselves, whether to double an actress or just because a bully wants them to be thinner,” highlighting how such a rigid approach to food and nutrition in the industry can be a double-edged sword.
Literally transforming yourself into somebody else is obviously a challenge. If it was easy to look like Thor, the whole world would be tall, toned and beloved by Natalie Portman. But, if these stories from inside the industry prove anything, it’s that the sacrifices you need to make to become a movie icon are not to be taken lightly. Rolling around for a living might sound relatively straightforward, but as their diet food proves, the reality is anything but.