Phil Health on Starring in Generation Iron

FLEX: What was your first exposure to Pumping Iron and what was your impression of the movie?

PHIL HEATH: I believe it was the first couple of months of being a bodybuilder, and I can definitely say it was very entertaining. Of course, I knew Arnold was going to win, but it was how he did it that impressed me.

How specifically?

The way he toyed with everyone showed how supremely confident he was. And you could see that the other guys were definitely chasing him. You could even sense a little envy or jealousy because of all the things that Joe (Weider) was bringing to his table, as far as appearances and all the notoriety, which is to be expected given that he was a five-time Mr. Olympia at the time and rightfully deserving of all the spoils. But more than all of that, it was the balance he showed in his life. He had more balance than anyone else in the movie. He was doing his thing at Muscle Beach and Gold’s, eating, doing photo shoots, chasing chicks, living the lifestyle, and all that stuff.

Then you had Lou Ferrigno training in the dungeon with his dad. That was all he was concerned with, almost to the point of being narcissistic. I didn’t relate to that. I didn’t think to myself, “That’s how I want to be.” No disrespect to Lou, but I wanted to be like Arnold. I wanted to be the guy that people are painting pictures about; the guy having fun and enjoying everything that came with being the absolute best. Everywhere he went people were falling at his feet. I mean, I’m sure he had his haters, as everyone does, but he was respected.

I can relate to that, especially now because I’m dealing with it myself. I have a lot of fans, but I also have a lot of competitors and people who don’t like who I am and what I’m about. But at the end of the night, he stomped on these guys and he did it with a smile on his face. You couldn’t say that he wasn’t good and didn’t deserve it because he was obviously very focused, but not with this crazy do-or-die attitude like there’s nothing else in the world. You see him training his ass of and the next minute he’s telling jokes.

That’s how I am. I can turn it on and be as hardcore as the next guy but I can also make people laugh and have fun with it. You don’t see a lot of bodybuilders smile or tell jokes. They’re all super-serious. But how are you going to interest people if all you are is a big dude who just grunts, lifts weights, and scowls all the time?

How did you become involved with Generation Iron?

Robin Chang (of AMI) told me there was a potential re-telling of Pumping Iron, a movie that would pick up where the original left off, and I thought, “Gosh, if that really does come to fruition I’d love to be a part of it.” It would be an honor. Then when I actually talked to the Vladar Company guys, they gave me an idea of what their vision was. You have to realize that bodybuilders get of ers for movies or TV, but then we’re not treated with respect. It’s usually done as a mockery or to make us look stupid. They didn’t come of like that at all. They were for real. And it was their attitude and enthusiasm for the sport that sealed the deal.


Were there any concerns that this might affect your ability to defend the Mr. Olympia?

Initially it raised some questions, but more so for Hany [Rambod, Heath’s trainer/ nutritionist] than it did for me.I actually saw it as an opportunity. Because I knew I was going to be a part of history, I was going to lif heavier and be more intense. I fi gured it was going to help me mentally, physically, and emotionally to turn it up a notch. Getting ready, you know the other guys are talking trash and they were kind enough to share some of that with me, so I realized that I needed to remind them how good I really am, I needed to remind the world. I viewed it as an awesome opportunity to have my Olympia win on film.

One of the things I noticed about our sport compared to others is that we’re so afraid to fall on our faces that we don’t take chances and come right out and say that we expect to win. If you look at the Super Bowl, both teams have champagne in their locker rooms, hats and shirts with “Super Bowl Champs” printed on them because they expect to win, even though only one of those teams will go home with the trophy. But an athlete doesn’t go into a contest not believing that he can win. At least I don’t. I expected to win. I had every intention of winning. That’s why I worked so hard for it. I wanted to be in the history books again. You have to step up in those moments and have the confidence to show the world that you believe in yourself. It was a chance to put my legacy on film.

And what about the film crew? You’ve done a lot of training videos but what was it like being on a real movie set for the first time?

It was a trip at first. I had an 11-man posse and an RV parked outside my house. The neighbors thought I was doing a reality-TV show. That’s when it hit me that this was real and it made me very excited for the whole thing. But I was pretty comfortable in front of all the cameras. One of the things that sticks out, and I hope they show it, was that I was making Vlad laugh so much that he’d have to re-shoot and tell me to say the same things.

One night, we were at the gym shooting a workout, and the next thing you know, there’s a big-ass bus, and out come all these Japanese people. And it was just like the scene where Arnold is in the prison posing, but this time it’s at the gym and I’m training. I was surrounded. People clicking away and every time I finished a set they would applaud. It was crazy!


You said before that having the cameras there helped you. Can you explain that?

Anytime you have cameras in front of you, it’s a reminder to not screw around. It’s extra motivation. You think about how you want to be remembered on fi lm because thousands of people are going to be watching it and it’s forever. Let’s face it, shooting free throws in your backyard is different from doing it in a high-pressure situation in front of 20,000 people. But I have experience with that from my basketball days, and others who aren’t used to performing in front of a crowd might not shine in that moment.

I mean, bodybuilders by definition are introverted. They don’t want the attention, but on the other hand they do want it because they’re working so hard to build their physiques and they want to be recognized for it. It’s funny because you see guys trying to copy my swagger onstage, trying to pump up the crowd and all, but the reaction isn’t the same because you can tell they’re not comfortable doing it. It’s like when a rapper tries to raise the roof and the crowd doesn’t respond. Then you get another guy who just says a couple of lyrics, and the crowd stands up, and the place is jumping.

It’s just like acting. You can read the script, but if you want to nail it like an Oscar-winning actor, you have to own it. Charisma comes from within. You can’t fake it. That comes from being in tune with who you are and what you’re trying to represent. For me, I just love people and it comes out in the way I do things. And I realize that being in my position, all eyes are on me. There’s always someone watching, so you give it your best shot. I know guys are taking notes on my workouts at the gym or snapping photos when my back is turned, and they don’t think I notice. But hey, there’s a picture of me training fi ve minutes later online. As a bodybuilder, that’s what I signed up for. We’re judged onstage and everywhere we go. You have to be a strongminded person to handle that. People can think they are, but until they walk in those shoes, they’re not battle-tested.

You saw the trailer for the first time last year during the contest. What did you think of it or were you too focused on the show to really have an opinion?

I thought, “Holy shit! This is crazy.” I said to myself, “I gotta win this contest tonight.” And the best part is that moving forward into this year’s O, all the guys who talked trash in Generation Iron are going to have to watch that movie, and watch me win. [Laughs]

What do you want people to think about bodybuilding and bodybuilders after watching this movie?

I want them to get an honest look at the sport. If I could ask each person to write down their top 10 impressions of bodybuilding as they walk into the theater and then another list of 10 things after watching the movie, I’d hope that their stereotypes would be gone and that those 10 new things would be positive. Each and every one of us puts a ton of effort into this.

The movie will show what we go through and that we’re professional athletes with a great perspective on the world of health and fi tness. We do it every day, not with fads or gimmicks, but with fundamental diets and training programs that actually help us lose fat while gaining muscle. It would be great for the general public to realize that they can do it, too. You don’t have to be Mr. Olympia or a professional bodybuilder to excel at this sport and use it to improve your current situation.

And for those guys who do want to be Mr. Olympia one day, they can say, “Look, Mom, I don’t have to be a basketball player, I can be a bodybuilder like Phil Heath.”

Let’s be honest, most kids want to play pro sports for fame and money. And this movie is making me look like the biggest baller there is, which I’m not, but bodybuilding has given me a very comfortable lifestyle. Parents can see that here is an educated family man who works hard and is a decent role model. Mr. Olympia can be a role model who can motivate you to do better things. I want them to learn something new.

The next time they see a bodybuilder, especially a pro who makes his living in this sport, maybe instead of sneering or making backhanded compliments, they can look at that person and say, “I admire your work, that takes a lot of dedication.”