Tahmoh Penikett understands the importance of fitness and exercise when it comes to his career as an actor! Best known for his roles as Karl (Helo) Agathon on the Sci Fi Channel’s television series “Battlestar Galactica”, Paul Ballard in Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”, and his most recent role as Jed Eubanks in the movie “Man of Steel”, Tahmoh values what exercise and training do for both his personal wellbeing and his career. TodaysFitnessTrainer.com had the pleasure of interviewing Tahmoh to find out exactly what fitness, exercise, and training really mean to him (personally) and his career as an actor.
Tahmoh Penikett – Acting, Exercise, and Hard Work
When and how did you get into acting?
TP: I’ve always been so impressed by good story tellers. My grandmother (on my mother’s side) was a great story teller. It’s an art often exemplified by people of a more sophisticated age. Actors are story tellers, as are directors, writers, and anyone involved in bringing a story to life to the audience.
I remember my father taking me to movies when I was a kid. My dad, having been an actor and playwright in University, has a high standard for film. He would discuss and ask me what I liked and didn’t. I was fascinated by the film medium from a young age and always knew that I wanted to be up there telling stories like those actors.
I was recruited by the teachers of a new music, art, and drama program that started in my last year of high school. After doing that program for a semester, I was determined to move to Vancouver to study acting and get into the business (which I did).
What types of roles do you look for and prefer as an actor?
TP: In choosing a role, it’s the story and character first, then (of course) the people involved that help me make the decision on whether a project is the right one.
I want to challenge myself as an actor and sometimes a certain role or scene can be quite intimidating. But that’s part of the reason we do this, to show the truth of a human moment, to be brave and go to the very place that the story needs us to. That’s what the audience connects to and is so moved by. This is why this medium is universal around the world. Everyone loves, and is often inspired by, a great TV or Movie experience. It’s the stories about the human spirit persevering that we can all relate to, regardless of race or culture.
I’ve recently been playing a lot of darker roles, which has been great (because I was playing quite noble and honorable characters for a significant part of my career). I’m really looking forward to doing some comedy in the near future.
In your experience, how important is fitness and exercise when it comes to your career as an actor?
TP: Fitness and exercise are so important to me and when I’m not consistent with it (which is rare), I feel off. Keeping my body healthy and eating right are crucial for my overall spirit and well being. I usually start my day with my training. It’s my gift to myself (first thing) and it sets a positive precedent for the rest of the day. It’s the best form of stress relief I know of.
A lot of the projects I’ve done have had a fair amount of action and fighting scenes in them. Being in shape, being in tune with my body and practicing my martial arts consistently, keeps me and the other actors (or stunt performers) I’m working with safe. A lot of the stunt scenes are significantly dangerous and people can get hurt. I’ve been injured a few times on set. Last year I had five of my teeth chipped from an accidental kick to the face.
It’s important that I look like I know what I’m doing, and I’m proud that I do. In addition, I want to showcase my humble abilities when I can.
Being a role model, and constantly in the public eye, looking your best is (presumably) pretty important. What do you do to look and feel your best?
TP: Consistent exercise for me is key, in addition to a healthy diet and meditation. Also, laughing and dancing as much as I can! I surround myself with friends and family who are (for the most part) optimists and love to laugh. The healing benefits of a good laugh are incredibly underrated.
In preparation for a role, what acting job required the most physical preparation and training? What was your training regime (how long, types of exercise, and the final results)?
TP: Probably Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”. I knew a couple of weeks before we started shooting that there was going to be a scene with me sparring another guy in Muay Thai. Even though this isn’t a lot of time, I’d (luckily) been training somewhat consistently beforehand.
I needed to tighten up my diet and incorporate some early morning HIIT (high-intensity interval training) training. I cut down on my gluten intake and made sure to get at least 5 to 6 meals a day, with the second and third meal being smaller-portioned snacks. After 7pm, I’d only have protein and/or greens. The high-intensity interval training would sometimes vary, but would always involve intervals of some sort (either sprinting or stairs). Sometimes I’d go for 15 minutes on the treadmill, doing 30 seconds at 100 percent maximum output. followed by 30 seconds at 50 percent maximum output. Or I’d sprint up stairs for shorter intervals, closer to 20 seconds up and 20 seconds down.
The results I can get (in terms of leaning up and the conditioning) from regular HIIT training is incredible and quick. It’s hard as hell to do, but feels so good to see and feel the results.
Regardless of whether you are preparing for a role, or on hiatus, what is your regular training regime? What types of exercise do you enjoy and why?
TP: I’ve been training in Muay Thai kickboxing for years now and, if my schedule allows it, I like to be doing it three to five times a week. I love the absolute focus and cleansed feeling I get from being pushed over my “perceived” limit. In martial arts, doing that with a group of people who’ve got the same focus and are all challenging each other helps you break through those limits.
I’ve always enjoyed weight training, too (not for size, but for strength and conditioning). A few years back I was training with some friends in Los Angeles, mostly Jujitsu and MMA fighters, and we did a lot of kettle bell and circuit training. I was in great shape, in a short time, after training with these guys. It usually involved a 5-exercise circuit, with no rest in-between exercises.
Example of one of our sessions:
- 5 reps of seated rope climbs, then 7 hanging ring dips
- 5 reps of 400 lb rubber band resistance sprints
- 5 reps on each arm of Dead Snatch with kettle bells
- 3 reps of 150 lb sand band carry
Then, we’d start the circuit all over again, for a total of four or five sets. We’d always end with hanging ring work for the abdominals and core and (sometimes) hand stand shoulder shrugs against the wall. In case you were wondering, I did puke the first time I trained with them (much to their delight)!
Have you ever been turned down for a job because you didn’t “look” the part?
TP: Of course. Too many times to mention. You’re often just “not the guy” for the role and that often has to do with your size, ethnicity, look, and/or age.
Some actors (i.e., Tom Hanks, Christian Bale, Renee Zellweger) undergo extreme changes in weight for specific roles in movies. What are your thoughts?
TP: I think it’s admirable and brave for them to commit at that level. It can be dangerous when it’s taken to extremes, but when it’s an important part of your character’s story and you commit, the audience is that much more invested in it.
What are three things you’ve learned, because of your exposure to fitness and exercise, that make you a better actor?
TP: (1) That when I’m healthy and happy spiritually, mentally and physically, I’m able to better use my instrument to the best of it’s abilities. (2) That moving my chin out of the way of an incoming boot, would have been more beneficial to my teeth, than not. (3) That regular meditation and visualization are very helpful when approaching my work as an actor.
If you could provide “one word of advice” to someone looking to become an actor, what would it be?
TP: One word?! Nope. But (seriously) I would say have fun! Work hard and have fun. It’s real easy to take yourself too seriously at times. Often the material and story you’re telling as an actor is serious, but even more reason to play and be light when you can.It’s a tough gig, and incredibly competitive, more so than it’s ever been. That said, if it’s your passion and you have to do it, then do it and follow your dreams! Work hard and work a lot. If that means doing as many plays, student films or scene study classes as you can, then do it.Fact is, the technology to produce media is cheap and accessible now and people are making movies on shoestring budgets all the time. If you have a good story, you can make a short or film for little money and potentially make it accessible to a huge audience with a little understanding of how social media works.
Tahmoh is currently featured in a recurring role on the CW’s “Supernatural” (the fallen angel, Ezekiel) and is busy preparing for the film, “Painkillers”, which begins shooting in January. For more information on Tahmoh Penikett and his career highlights, click here.