Not even actors look like movie stars when they start working with trainer Simon Waterson. He tells Etan Smallman why he’s 007’s secret weapon
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Simon Waterson first set eyes on Daniel Craig just days after he had been announced as the new James Bond in 2005. “You must be the trainer,” said the actor, with a half-eaten bacon sandwich in one hand and a roll-up cigarette in the other.
Five blockbusters later, Craig has become a hardened athlete who drinks plant-based post-workout performance shakes stuffed with hemp milk, goji berries and handfuls of spinach. Adopting a “training buddy” approach, Waterson did every single exercise he demanded of Craig, who has declared: “Without Simon’s help and guidance, I wouldn’t have made it through 15 years of playing James Bond.”
It is not just 007. Waterson is licensed to beef up everyone from Marvel’s Captain America to Star Wars’ stormtroopers. Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Pratt and Luke Evans are among the galaxy of Hollywood stars who pay gushing tribute in his new book, Intelligent Fitness.
Often actors keep their regimes a jealously guarded secret. But when Waterson asked his former clients for permission to include them, he had the opposite problem. “They were all chomping at the bit to be in it! If I kind of said to one of them that they weren’t going to be, they wanted to know why.”
The manual, intended to help you “train like a star”, details his gruelling 3.30am sessions in the Sahara desert with Jake Gyllenhaal and virtual workouts with Bryce Dallas Howard. Blake Lively enjoyed squats with her baby strapped to her chest. Léa Seydoux’s sessions were “a lot of fun, dancing, music, jumping around”, while Jack Black’s were short and sweet – he insisted he just wanted to play frisbee. Sam Worthington’s brief to Waterson had similar brevity: “Just the arms, mate, they’re the only things on show.”
Waterson, a 47-year-old former Royal Navy commando originally from Hull, has a few guiding principles: “Be kind to yourself, for one. Make sure you set goals that are achievable. Allow yourself more time to recover than you think you need.
“You always want to look like yourself. You want 100 per cent of your genetic capability, not trying to have someone else’s, because that doesn’t work. The biggest thing I always say is: aesthetic is just the byproduct of good performance.”
But he accepts that the image of a buff, gym-honed leading man has been the dominant one in recent years, writing: “It’s no longer just a case of actors turning up and performing” – they’re now also expected “to portray the right look”.
One doesn’t have to go as far back as a lean Sean Connery for comparison. Just look at Pierce Brosnan, the first Bond Waterson trained, in the 90s, who was fit but far from the bulging Adonis that Craig became. Does he worry about the expectations ordinary men now put on themselves to have a physique that is virtually unattainable without the resources of a film star?
“It is really hard. Where we’ve come with Marvel is that we’ve morphed comic-book characters into humans. You’ve got to manage your own expectations because these actors have dedicated their lives to portraying that character.
“If you’re doing your normal job, you haven’t got the time. It’s like any pro sport. If you’re Marvel, you’re playing in the Premier League.”
Writing the book has allowed Waterson to reflect on the starstudded experiences he has had over more than 20 years in the film industry, which had become “a bit normalised for me”.
Top of the pile is “probably watching Daniel with the blue trunks coming out of the water in the Bahamas [in 2006’s Casino Royale]. That’s a proud moment. I think he set the bar then for other characters. We didn’t realise that it was absolutely going to go ballistic. Only with hindsight can you appreciate how iconic that scene is.”
Though his book is coming out in time for peak fitness season, he has little time for the cycle of gluttony followed by idealistic “New Year, New You” gym subscriptions.
“Oh, I hate it! I think you should never make fitness resolutions. It is setting yourself up for failure. If you’ve been a bit overindulgent over the holiday period then it’s a natural thing to go, well I’m just going to be more conscious of my wellbeing and my nutrition and fitness programme.
“Start a bit of a journey, but don’t set your goals too high. Make sure you can achieve something incrementally each month.”
He recommends embracing your inner child. “It’s about reigniting the simple joy and euphoria that you used to feel when you were young. Like riding your bike, throwing a rugby ball around, going for a swim or doing a mini-triathlon with a friend.” However, while you should “train like a child, you ought to recover like a granddad – carefully, methodically and often slowly.” Also try becoming a “performance sleeper”, with what Waterson calls an “athlete’s nap”, a 20-minute doze in the middle of the day.
Finally, it may be helpful to hear that Waterson believes even the most venerated celebrities have similar body image anxieties to us mere mortals.
“But as you start to achieve, that soon disappears,” he insists. “And that’s what you’ve got to remember: everyone else embarking on a fitness plan has got the same reservations as you.”