The next issue of Scene Magazine will feature a new column. Health Scene will offer professional health and fitness advice from Aaron Williamson. You may not know his name yet, but you’ve seen his work. As a professional fitness advisor in the film industry, Aaron has helped craft the physical transformations of Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Zac Efron in The Lucky One, That Awkward Moment and Neighbors and Josh Brolin in Oldboy. He’s also worked with fitness legends Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
A former United States Marine from Daytona Beach, Florida, Aaron now lives in New Orleans, where he works in the film industry. His journey hasn’t been easy. No story of inspiration ever is.
“I had a little bit of a rough childhood,” says Aaron. “I had no direction.” After high school, one option was the military. “Two weeks after I graduated, I was on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. I was eighteen.”
“I traveled the whole world and found myself in some really cool places. And I found myself in some really not-so-great places,” says Aaron. “Fitness was huge. No matter where I was – Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan – everyone always knew me for one thing and that was fitness. For me, it was a sanity thing. In the most difficult times, the gym was literally all I had. It was my sanctuary. I was able to turn to it when I didn’t have anyone.”
During his service, Aaron worked in Washington, D.C. at the Marine Barracks and the Pentagon, traveling with and providing security for General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Throughout his public and private service, whether in Washington or Iraq, he found a way to stay fit.
“You have to be very creative. At the State Department or one of the embassies, the accommodations are a lot better,” Aaron says. “But if you go out to combat outposts or forward operating bases, you might be using sandbags or water jugs to get your training in.”
Finding a gym, or making one, wasn’t the only challenge. “Nutrition was pretty tough out there,” Aaron says. “I found myself buying a lot of what I needed from places in the States and just having it shipped over to me. People would send me care packages, a lot of protein bars, protein powders, all of my vitamins. When it came to eating in the chow halls, some of them serve good food and sometimes not so good. No one that I know looks forward to eating an MRE, but you’re not over there for a fitness competition, so there’s a reality check in just being out there.”
“Over there becomes a new reality. I knew that I needed to get out,” Aaron says. After years of service around the world, he wanted to return to the States. “I got offered a position with the Component Command for the Marine Corps, which was based in New Orleans. It was a leap of faith coming here because I didn’t know anyone. I’d never been here.”
After relocating to the Crescent City in June of 2009, Aaron found that funding cuts had eliminated his position. “It left me in a pretty bad place. But I went back to the mindset I had throughout my entire Marine Corps career: when I didn’t have anywhere to turn, I always had the gym. I started working out trying to keep myself sane and in shape. And then, one day at the gym, I ended up meeting an actor who showed me a glimpse of the film industry.”
The actor was Zac Efron. The High School Musical star was in New Orleans to film The Lucky One, in which he plays a Marine home from Iraq. “We met through the trainer he had at the time, Logan Hood,” Aaron says. “Logan’s a former Navy Seal who trained the cast for 300.” More recently, Hood has worked on The Expendables 2 and the reboot of RoboCop.
“From the production’s standpoint, there was a need to get Zac into the character of being a Marine. Zac and I connected, we hit it off and he told production about me,” Aaron says. “I met with production and I became part of the crew as his military advisor. I helped Zac become a Marine for that film. Walk like a Marine. Talk like a Marine. I shared what it’s like to be over in Iraq. Towards the end of the film, we jumped into the training a little bit and to this day, Zac and I keep in touch. I help him through all his movies with his training and his fitness consulting and nutrition.”
Aaron had a great story, but he wondered if his skillset could become a career. “After Zac, I really wasn’t sure what to expect,” he recalls. “Two weeks later, I met with a director named Anthony Hemingway, a supervising producer for Treme. He liked the physique I held and wanted to try and obtain that.”
Throughout the winter and spring, Aaron trained Hemingway. When Treme wrapped, the Red Tails director had some advice for him. “He recommended I should come out to California because I could make this a career,” Aaron says. And Hemingway wasn’t the first to suggest a move to the West Coast. “But there was something that kept me here.”
“Two weeks after he left, I got contacted by the production of GI Joe: Retaliation,” Aaron says. “Sylvester Stallone called me. Josh Duhamel called me. And Zac came back in town for The Paperboy. That’s when I realized, ‘Wow, this is something bigger than I thought.’”
Aaron would soon work with Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, men known the world over for their physiques. He also worked with Jamie Foxx on Django Unchained, and achieved the almost unbelievable transformation of Josh Brolin for Oldboy. “We fluctuated Brolin’s body weight roughly sixty pounds over the course of a couple weeks. It had never been done before in film.”
“Dwayne Johnson’s probably the greatest guy I’ve worked with so far,” Aaron says. “I was his training partner. A lot of people talk about him being my client and he wasn’t my client. I trained the rest of the cast for GI Joe, but Dwayne knows his body. He knows how to train. We have the same mentality when it comes to our appreciation for fitness and the gym. It’s more of sanctuary and a place of solitude. You go in there, put your headphones on and tune the world out.”
Aaron Williamson has become one of the foremost fitness experts in the film industry, training clients who are filming in New Orleans and advising clients throughout the world. You can now follow his journey in each issue of Scene Magazine.
For more of Aaron Williamson’s inspiring story, and the same health and wellness tips that actors bet their careers on, go to health.sceneent.com and aaronwilliamson.net.
photos by Jason Kruppa
style by Hailee McCumsey
blue shirt/orange pants courtesy of Rubensteins