Aaron Williamson on Training James Marsden for ‘The Best of Me’

by Arthur Vandelay on November 5, 2014

photo-2-webThis article originally ran in the 2014 November/December issue of Scene Magazine.

How did you connect with James Marsden on The Best of Me?
I was introduced to him through Denise Di Novi. I met Denise on The Lucky One when I worked with Zac Efron and we’ve kept in touch since. She knew James’ character had to look a certain way for this film so she connected us. James reached out to Zac Efron to get a reference check on me as well and Zac gave me a great endorsement. James ended up working on D-Train (also shot in New Orleans) so he actually started with me about a month before we filmed The Best of Me. That worked out really well because once he started filming The Best of Me, the filming schedule got a little nutty and they were working long hours.

Who is James Marsden’s character in the film and what kind of look was required?
James plays a character named Dawson, an oil rig worker. The character he played needed to have this rough, burly kind of look. Not someone who’s extremely in shape and ripped up but more of a tough guy. The blue collar worker. The guy who goes out, eats like a man and his weight lifting is manual labor. So we tried to focus the training on mimicking that look.

James is a relatively thin guy. He’s got a fast metabolism and it was all about trying to put some decent size on him. I checked out some online images of different oil rig workers and I’ve got a couple buddies who work on the rigs so I asked them what their days are like. They’ve got little gyms on site and they’ve got decent dining facilities where they can eat fairly healthy so I used those as guidelines.

What were some of the goals you set together to achieve that look?
Normally, the biggest part of a transformation is the nutrition aspect but in James’ case, because of his body type, his metabolism and the schedule we had, training was actually a lot more important than the nutrition. In very few instances do ever I say that. Nutrition was still a big factor though as we had to incorporate different foods around the times we trained and then took a couple of supplements that you can buy from GNC or Vitamin Shoppe that helped with endurance, recovery and performance.

photo-3-webWhat were some of the nutrition goals you set together?
When we started out, I really had to understand how his body worked in the gym and with nutrition. He can pretty much eat whatever he wants so with a guy who has a metabolism like him, we had to be sure to eat the right foods around the right times. We added some red meat in, added some carbohydrates around his training time and he drank some aminos while we trained. These are just a few things that helped him build muscle and get through the training sessions because the training was pretty tough. I had him drinking a lot of water too. Being on set and sweating all day can take its toll and dehydrate you pretty quickly. His schedule was pretty hectic so we tried to keep it as consistent as possible with the food. Catering helped us with his meals as much as possible.

What were some of the training goals that you set with James?
His schedule was really sporadic. He was filming D-Train, he was having meetings for The Best of Me and he had his press stuff going on for X-Men, which was really hush-hush. He’s also got a family back in L.A. so he was constantly leaving to go from one place to the next. I knew we were going to have to do some out-of-the-box type training, not your traditional weight training. So we used a lot of volume training, super sets and giant sets, things that to really shock the body, shock the muscle and force it to grow in a short amount of time.

We used a lot of different rep ranges on various exercises but all of that was obviously dependent upon his endurance & energy level on that day; I was always watching his form. I may say, “Do ten.” But he can only do five. So we may get five, I may push an extra one out of him but I don’t want his form to get too sloppy if he’s not getting the full benefit of the exercise. There are always variables that come into play with training. He might be stronger one day than he is the next based on whether he got all his meals in and had enough sleep. When he’s been up for fourteen hours and has only had two meals, the training’s going to be different because we can’t push as hard.

What were some of the training obstacles that you ran into with James on this film?
The only training obstacles were his schedule and the amount of days we were able to train. It was great when he was doing D-Train because we were probably the most consistent for those four weeks. But once The Best of Me started and the schedule got a little crazy, we would miss a couple days then train two times a day on the weekend to catch up. We’d train on some days at 6am and then again at 10pm to get everything in we could because he would be leaving for a couple days and then we’d fall behind a bit. But he was dedicated to it. Given the schedule he had and the pain that I was putting him through, he stuck with it pretty good. And, surprisingly, he actually liked it! I like it too, so we had that mutual respect for each other.

james-marsden-in-the-best-of-me-movie-2-webWhat impressed you the most about James?
He’s really down to earth. He’s one of the few guys in the industry who you can really relate to and just talk to and be real with. He’s dedicated to the characters he plays. He gives it everything he’s got. He’s a guy that I would love to work with again. When it comes to training, because it can be so physically demanding, there aren’t many people who I can say would give it a hundred percent every training session. And the ones who do, I’ve got so much respect for them. And he’s one of them.

What do you think of the final product that you put up on the big screen with James?
I loved it. And I’ve had a lot of messages from people who say he looks amazing. I think the producers liked the look. We didn’t overdo it. We didn’t under do it. I think we came in right where he needed to be so the character looked real. He didn’t look like he had been training for a year, eating eight meals a day on this crazy program. We had a limited amount of time and we pulled it off. When you look at his before and after photos of the training, it’s pretty impressive. He put himself through it, I put him through it, and when he takes his shirt off on screen, or he’s in a tank top, you can tell that hard work went into that.

He looks very different. Even considering roles like Cyclops in the X-Men movies, he looks even more like a superhero in this movie. He’s got big arms and big shoulders. He looks like somebody who works for a living.

What you just said is exactly what we wanted him to look like. That’s what we wanted people to think. We didn’t want them to say, “Oh, he must’ve trained or ate like Dwayne Johnson.” It wasn’t about trying to overshadow his character with a crazy physique. It was just making his character look like what he did for a living. We pulled it off. I’m extremely happy with it. And when we finished the film, we pigged out on some chocolate peanut butter pie!

For more health and fitness tips, read Health Scene online at health.sceneent.com and visit Aaron’s personal website at aaronwilliamson.net.


Fitness Myth Busted

“Women who lift weights will turn into beefcakes.”

For a woman to put on a massive amount of weight, to look bulky, you have to eat a lot of food. A female’s body doesn’t carry anywhere near the amount of testosterone a male does. The thought of putting a ton of weight on by training: there’s no logic to it. In many cases, women who are relatively thin who are scared to get big, their muscles are really atrophied. A woman who starts to lift weights might feel a little puffiness but that’s really because you tear your muscle down when you train and part of the process is recovery and repair. Muscle tearing can cause a little bit of swelling at the very beginning. I think that’s where people get scared. They feel bigger because they feel swollen and it’s really just the muscle trying to repair itself; there will always be some amount of pain that goes with training. But, lifting weights is going to make a woman tone and help lean their body out. I love this saying: weights won’t make you big but cupcakes will. I encourage women to incorporate cardio and weight training to get the best benefit. Most women who just do cardio have a really flat, stringy look and that’s typically not what they want. Because there’s so much controversial information out there, it sets people up for failure because they read so much of the wrong stuff that it becomes discouraging. In conclusion, women can try to mix things up. Do a cardio day and the next day a weight training day. Or during one training session, do half weights and half cardio. Add in yoga or pilates. In addition to clean eating, this will all help get the best overall shape and look!

photo-1-webDISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN IS INTENDED TO PROVIDE GENERAL INFORMATION AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE MEDICAL ADVICE. THE CONTENT IS NOT GUARANTEED TO BE CORRECT, COMPLETE OR UP-TO-DATE. THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED TO CREATE A CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU AND AARON WILLIAMSON, SCENE MAGAZINE, OR ANY ASSOCIATED COMPANIES, AND YOU SHOULD NOT ACT OR RELY ON ANY INFORMATION IN THIS PUBLICATION WITHOUT SEEKING THE ADVICE OF MEDICAL DOCTOR. IN READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE NOTE THAT THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR CONSULTING WITH AN EXPERIENCED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL AND RECEIVING COUNSEL BASED ON THE FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF A PARTICULAR TRANSACTION. MANY OF THE PRINCIPLES MENTIONED ARE SUBJECT TO EXCEPTIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS, WHICH MAY NOT BE NOTED. PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING ANY HEALTH AND EXERCISE PROGRAM.