Hollywood's Best-Built Villain

An Interview with Joseph Gatt

Game of Thrones. Thor. Banshee. Star Trek. Ray Donovan. True Detective. Stan Lee's Lucky Man. The 100. Those are just a few of the movies and TV shows where you've seen actor Joseph Gatt. Not into movies and TV? How about gaming? When the makers of God of War needed an athletic dude to wield the Blades of Chaos as Kratos, they called on Gatt to do the motion capture work.

This distinctive looking actor and former British Royal Marine is everywhere. Need a muscular bald guy to play a hit man, an albino convict, an alien, or any variation of a sword-swinging wildling? Gatt is your man. We caught up with him after his workout for a quick interview.


T Nation: From Arnold to Matt Damon, Hollywood has evolved considerably on what it considers an action star. Why do you think that is?

Joseph Gatt: The term "action star" has evolved and changed through the years according to trends and fashions of the times. Back in the day we had action stars like Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner. These guys were in great shape. Some of them were former athletes or circus performers. Probably in better shape, generally, than most actors of today.

Then came the 80's where excess was king, and the glory days of Arnold, Sly, Snipes, Lundgren, and Norris. Guys who were built, looked amazing and could really kick ass. Today's action stars are more about the face – the slimmer emo look. Lovers and fighters. The everyday guy. It gives the impression that anyone can be a hero and kick ass.

Saying that, there are successful actors out there waving the flag for the muscular physique and who generally live the healthy gym lifestyle. Tom Cruise, Joe Manganiello, Chris Hemsworth, Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans, Matt McConaughey, Statham and others. These are examples of guys who maintain their physiques and live generally athletic and healthy lifestyles, as opposed to just getting into shape for a role.

Technology has also moved forward leaps and bounds to the point where an actor doesn't need to do ANY of his own physical action to appear as an action actor. With modern CGI you can literally have a stunt guy do everything and use visual effects to put an actor's face seamlessly onto the stunt guy's body. Back in the day, the actors got dirty and sweaty. They had to. Stunt guys could be used for certain wide shots but they needed the actors in there for those close ups.

Kirk Douglas was really riding those chariots around that arena! Stallone was really in that ring taking real hits. Harrison Ford really was dragged for miles behind a truck! Today, a combo of CGI and a good costume can make anyone a superhero. In the end, whatever works for the movie or role is acceptable.

My personal preference is to have an actor who is physical doing the role. I prefer to see Dwayne Johnson kicking someone's ass on screen because it lends a level of believability – which is obviously ironic, because he mostly plays roles that aren't based in reality. As an actor I want to do as much of the physical stuff as I can. It helps create more believability and a connection with the role, and it's also seriously enjoyable.

But, on the other hand, Keanu Reeves, while not being in amazing shape or looking "swole," trains meticulously for his roles and studies and trains with fight coordinators and personal trainers so he can do much of his own action as possible himself. I admire that dedication tremendously. Any combination of all of the above can and does work, if done right.


T Nation: How did you get started in fitness?

Gatt: When I was young I was really skinny. I played sports from an early age. Track and field, soccer, rugby. I started off with great legs, but my upper body was still skinny. I was bullied and beaten constantly, at school, on the street, and at home. I also had alopecia, which is total body hair loss, that started when I was 14. All of this caused me to have zero self-confidence. I needed to find ways to build self-esteem and to protect myself.

I started lifting at age 17, which was when I also started studying theater. These two things helped me tremendously. The first gym I started working out at was the Jubilee Hall Gym in Covent Garden [in London, England]. Being the meticulous and OCD person that I am, I did tons of research before I touched a weight. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing, that I wasn't wasting time, that I'd be doing everything as efficiently and safely as possible. I probably knew more about lifting weights, before actually lifting weights, than most people who'd been lifting for years!

Life is all about making the best choices you can, according to the opportunities and circumstances you find yourself in at any given time. At that time, I was depressed, suicidal, bullied, lacking in self-esteem, etc. But thank God I'm a stubborn bastard. Fuck that shit. I was put here for a purpose, and it would've been selfish of me to give up. Every single hurdle that you go through makes you who you are today. That's the magic of being human.

T Nation: Most people are aware that some actors use steroids to prepare for roles. Do you approve?

Gatt: I don't condone the use of steroids. People need to understand that a lot of what actors do to themselves physically to get into "shape" and prepare for a role isn't necessarily healthy, and is sometimes actively unhealthy and damaging. But, for various reasons – money, awards, etc. – they'll do it. The trendy thing right now is to give awards to actors who "transform" themselves physically. The more extreme, the better.

This includes extreme weight loss, like Christian Bale for "The Machinist" or Matt McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club," as much as it does extreme weight gain, be it fat or muscles. Each actor has to make a choice about what they're prepared to do to for a role and how far they want to take it. Those choices will depend on many different variables.

Specifically regarding physique changes, actors that make these "miraculous" transformations are often being looked after by doctors prescribing them their medications and watching them 24/7, checking their health and making sure they stay as healthy as possible in the process and don't go too far (mostly).

When I really learned about steroids, how they worked etc., it was a real mental boost to me. It gave me piece of mind. I could totally relax about my body and my training. It didn't mean I was inadequate or doing something wrong if I didn't put on 20 pounds of muscle in a short amount of time. I didn't get as upset if I couldn't reduce my body fat to 3% for a shoot. I didn't cry if I would plateau with my bench press and couldn't get it to move for a few months. It just meant I wasn't doing steroids.

T Nation: Would you ever go on a cycle to prepare for a role?

Gatt: No. I'm fortunate that through my many years of learning, hard gym work and natural mesomorph genetics, that I can easily maintain my shape and size. Others have to work much harder to either get big, get small, get lean or whatever they're trying to achieve for themselves for that role.

How much bigger do I need to be anyway to play a role? I'm 6' 1" and weigh 222. Unless I'm supposed to be playing a professional bodybuilder, I don't think it's necessary to be any bigger. I'm very happy with my height/weight ratio right now.

My issue would probably be getting smaller for a role. For a long while I sat comfortably at about 205 pounds. Then for my role as "The Albino" in Banshee I wanted to put on a little size. I switched up my routine a little. Pushed heavier, fewer reps, less rest, shorter workouts, upped my food/protein intake a little and got up to 225 in about a month. Then after shooting I was happy to drop back down, but my body stayed and sat at that weight quite happily.

I've dropped down a tiny bit since then to about 220 pounds. A comfortable weight. To be any bigger felt too much for me. It impedes my power and bodyweight exercises too much, and I could feel the extra pressure on my joints. After working so hard to get muscle mass, it would be psychologically tough to do what I need to do to shrink that mass. But I probably would.


T Nation: Does physique change create a better performance? It certainly leads to believability.

Gatt: Well, believability is subjective. One person's believable is another's crap. What actors do is generally very unhealthy and we shouldn't use them as examples of healthy lifestyles. There are exceptions, but not many. But, again, there's a trend to reward or praise an actor who makes a physical transformation for a role. This is all the impetus an actor needs to walk into unhealthy territory and to change themselves for the acclaim. Whether or not it creates a better performance is subjective.

Changing your body is no different than putting on a costume, just a lot harder. The only time I think it can help and improve a performance is if the actor needs to be in a certain physical shape to perform some athletic or physical thing for that role. Like if they had to play an athlete or perhaps someone who was very good at martial arts or another type of fight skill.

Amazing recent examples of this include Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw and Tom Hardy in Warrior. It totally depends on each individual actor and that role, but it definitely seems to lend greater believability in the eyes of the viewer, and that's important. Any kind of major physical change an actor goes through for a role, whether it be to change his body in a healthy or unhealthy way, or to learn a difficult skill, or to do both, takes tremendous commitment and hard work. That is without doubt.

T Nation: Name any other person who's not Dwayne Johnson who's muscular and that has received an intelligent role (blockbuster movie) within the last two years.

Gatt: Firstly, "intelligent role" and "blockbuster movie" are not mutually exclusive. Secondly, Johnson is currently in his own league. He's basically a bodybuilder. The only other successful actors in Hollywood history who can compare to him would be Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno.

But generally, the answer is no one. Some have valiantly tried but have seen their performances be overlooked, ridiculed, or ignored, even though their acting skills have been pretty good. Vin Diesel in "Find Me Guilty" is an example that jumps to mind, but Schwarzenegger did receive great praise for his recent work in Maggie.

T Nation: People who are muscular are a part of society. Is it discriminatory that they don't get better roles?

Gatt: Absolutely. My physicality is what I'm judged upon. That along with my alopecia. But every actor suffers or gains based on their "look." Muscles are nothing compared to how women are judged for their age. If you're a female actor over a certain age, you're not allowed to be sexy anymore. Perish the thought you show up to an awards event showing cleavage. The misogyny is horrible and far worse than the body hate.

T Nation: Why do you think the "dumb bodybuilder" stereotype still exists in film and television?

Gatt: I think this is a stereotype that's existed in society in general ever since bodybuilding started. It derives from a kind of body hate or body shaming. People who for many reasons can't be in athletic/muscular shape need to give themselves reasons to be okay with that. The easiest way to do that is to hate on what they don't have. I've forgotten how many times people have tried to attack me and tried to shame me by calling me names like, "steroid head," "gym rat," "body obsessive," etc.

Everyone has a different opinion about what's beautiful. Skinny, fat, muscular, black, white, hairy, shaved, short, tall, male, female, etc. So why can't everyone accept this and allow people to look how they decide to be without judgment or malice? I made a choice to train very hard to look the way I do because it's what I want to do and suits my work and lifestyle. My external physique, though, doesn't affect my intelligence levels or how good of an actor I am.

Everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, has that same choice. Different factors will decide how easy or hard it'll be to follow through with those choices, but the choices are there. As an actor, when I'm not shooting, I have a lot of down time and can generally arrange my appointments around being able to get to the gym and eat correctly.

When I'm filming, things get harder, and that's when the commitment really pays off, carrying me through 16-18 hour days with very little sleep for months. When Dwayne Johnson is filming, he'll hit the gym every morning at 4 AM to get his workout in, and then be on set for a minimum 12-hour day, everyday, for 6 months. That's commitment.

But that's what he brings to a show as Dwayne Johnson. But I understand there are people who might want to look better, be fitter, etc., but can't because their lives don't allow them to give it the commitment necessary. That's fine. We all do what we can. But don't hate on people who do have good physiques. If you see someone with a great, or even moderately good physique, then you know they work very hard. Respect that in the same way you'd expect people to respect your choices.

The business we work in is representative of the world we live in, where everyone is judged visually. It can be your race, ethnicity, physicality, etc. In Hollywood, a pretty face is worth a million hours in the gym. Without a doubt. But there has never been a study indicating that people who live fit and healthy lifestyles are dumb. Truth be told, some of the most intelligent and successful people I know are obsessive about their bodies and healthy lifestyle.


T Nation: How many roles have you been turned down for because of your size?

Gatt: I've lost count. But my physique and overall look has helped me tremendously to book many other roles.

T Nation: Why doesn't Hollywood cast athletic muscular types as everyday characters?

Gatt: Hollywood casts according to society's accepted stereotypes. These stereotypes relate to gender, race, physique, and many other things. And the box you live in will depend on what's an acceptable look for you (or an acceptable role.) As an example, societal stereotyping denotes that African-American guys have better bodies than white guys. I've been told, "You have the body of a black guy!" So, for acting, it's cool and almost necessary for an African-American actor to be in good, muscular shape, and to even have a shaved head.

In fact, most leading black actors in current shows share this combo. But a white guy who is muscular with a shaved head is the Nazi or prisoner or bodyguard, but never the romantic lead. Fit women have it 100 times worse. That includes the body shaming and the typecasting. My partner is in amazing shape. She's pretty much in fitness/bikini competition shape year round, but she doesn't touch weights. She does cardio, teaches and practices yoga, and does various aerial arts.

She's also gorgeous. But, the two don't go together. In Hollywood terms, she's classed as a bodybuilder! Even though she has been practicing yoga for over 15 years, she's been openly told, "Oh no, you don't look like a yogi. People who do yoga don't have muscles," and they'll cast the anorexic who can't do a lick of yoga.

According to society (and Hollywood), a sexy woman has to be painfully thin with absolutely no muscle definition at all. A good example is Gal Gadot. These are also the women who are being cast in "action" roles. Makes no sense. This isn't Hollywood's fault. Hollywood is only giving society what it already accepts. But Hollywood has the power to change society's views and stereotypes. It has in the past and it will again.

Yul Brynner was allowed to be sexy once. I see my personal job in life, as an alopecian and as someone who lives a healthy lifestyle with a muscular physique, as making my look more acceptable and mainstream. I intend on doing this in my industry as well, and it's happening slowly. But I will make bald and muscular sexy again.

T Nation: What is the most physical role you've ever done?

Gatt: "Strike Back" was difficult. That fight on that mountain in Slovenia was horrendously cold and difficult. The rain was coming sideways because it was so windy. Our hands were in tactical gloves and they were so cold and wet they felt like ice blocks.

Also, I did a sci-fi movie where me and some other actors were playing cyborgs. We had to do intricate fight scenes that were also very physical. We had to toss each other across the room and such. We were so out of breath, but cyborgs don't get out of breath! I said we're going to have to ADR [automated dialogue replacement] the shit out of this! Movie magic. Ha!

I wouldn't change a thing, though. I relish those physical challenges. I learned to ride a horse to play a role. The production company said they'd have a double do all the riding for me, and I told them, "Absolutely no way!" They did provide a fantastic double. Poor bastard had to endure hours of make-up to make him hairless like myself, but he ended up doing only one shot on the horse and I did all the rest. I loved it!

T Nation: Has alopecia hindered you in the industry?

Gatt: Yes. It's hindered me in real life and in the industry. Massively! Here's the crazy thing with alopecia. It only affects one thing on the human body. Your hair. It does not affect health in any other way. The problem with this is that, in nature, human and animal, hair is denoted as a mark of health. Lots of thick hair means you're healthy (no matter what might be going on inside), whereas no hair means illness. And people blindly accept this untrue correlation.

This, compounded by the fact that the hairless look is synonymous with chemo treatment. I still have situations where people approach me and ask if I have cancer, and when they do I want to laugh and say, "How many people do you know who are on chemo who have bodies like mine?"

I'm working really hard to change people's views and to educate them regarding health and fitness, and to improve alopecia awareness. I'm working with a few alopecia organizations to try to help do this. None of these things are bad. They're just different choices and conditions that I have to live with.

Special thanks to Joshua Matthew Brown and Mercy Malick.