Nearly three decades since his iconic role, Jason Scott Lee is again in top shape.Read article
What was your training like for I, Frankenstein?
Hardcore. I did six months of Kali stick fighting training—it’s the Filipino art of using two-and-a-half foot rattan sticks to destroy an opponent. I worked with this gentleman named Ron Belicky in Southern Cali who’s an expert in that and other things—knife fighting and all that. I trained every single day for two or three hours a day and then I would go straight from Kali stick fight training to my trainer here.
I train on the beach, doing sand sprints, doing all sorts of Parkour, strength training. When I went over to Australia to shoot, I had a trainer who was a Cirque Du Soleil acrobat and my first words to him were, “Try to kill me.” And so each day after Kali stick fighting and rehearsal, he would try to kill me. And we would do all sorts of strength training, and I got in really good shape through that.
Did you keep that up on set?
Yeah. Wherever we were, on location or the studio, my assistant would set up a tent for me with my weights. They were nice enough to give me a dip-pull-up machine. I would jump rope, I would do pull-ups and triceps, I would have my weights and bands on set with me at all times. And then all the abs and core and stuff.
Any specific abs training?
It was one after another after another until you’re exhausted. For example, if I were to do a burpee into a push-up, I would roll over and do abs and then push-ups and roll over. I would be doing a plank for two minutes, roll over, do the dish for a minute.
And then doing it with weights, and doing pull-ups and a freezing in the middle of a movement. You freeze halfway through a pull-up, and go into a leg raise and keep sets of those.
Did you do any tough training for other roles?
I just did a movie call the Expatriate where I did all MMA training. My trainer and I would go every day to the park in Malibu and we would wrestle. We would do that kind of stuff to the point that they kicked us out of the park because two men, every single morning, were scaring the kids and the dogs. And then I started doing my beachside training. Even today, if I don’t do Parkour at my house, I go to Santa Monica on third street and I run down to the beach and I run to the jungle gym by the pier and I do an hour of suspension on the parallel bars, on the rings, I do all that and then I do sand sprints all the way home. That’s another incredible workout.
That’s your daily routine?
Yeah. Every single day, I’m either cycling or doing some sort of Parkour.
What’s your mentality?
All my trainers, they drill into me all the time, mental strength, mental strength, and then when I read something like Muscle & Fitness or other magazines I’m always concentrating on how do you go beyond. If you’re a mountain climber or a river rafter, how do you go beyond what you think is physically possible for yourself? When I did Battle Los Angeles, I was with Marines for six months. How do they keep on going? How do they pick themselves up? I think that’s extremely interesting.
Did you do any crazy stunts in I, Frankenstein?
When you see it, Kali stick fighting is crazy. I mean you’re hitting people with sticks at high speed with total force. I was knocked out—guy hit me in the back of the neck and knocked me out. I think I hit guys in the face all the time, your fingers were always broken.
How would you recover from a day like that?
You can’t. You’re always aching. The best thing to do is stretch and roll and make sure you’re in good shape so your body can take the hits. On Battle Los Angeles, I jumped off a rock and broke my arm on a take, in the middle of the take, and didn’t miss a minute of work—didn’t even put a cast on it. And finished the last three weeks with a broken arm.
What was your goal for Aaron’s physique?
We didn’t want to build bulky muscle, but to keep him lean and fit. We did that by high repetitions and very little rest between sets—just kept moving and alternate cardio with strength and endurance movements. I’ve trained him for two specific movies; another was Battle Los Angeles.
But then when we went to do I, Frankenstein, I realized the character required a little more muscularity and a little bit more size, so it was geared toward highlighting the muscles.
He got a little bit larger for this movie. I would say he was maybe five-to-seven pounds heavier and he looked a lot fuller. When we did the marine one, we went pretty lean and mean—very restrictive. For Frankenstein, we tried to keep his size up more, backed down a little bit on the cardio, but kept his strength up.
What kind of regimen did you design for Aaron?
We kept switching the workouts around. We’d meet with him four days a week and we did a lot of calisthenics movements, light dumbbells, push-ups, chin-ups, dips, all kinds of things like that, nonstop, along with fitness balls and some other functional exercises. Then on other days I would take him down to the beach, and he would do wind-sprints, dips, chin-ups and a lot of sand work. And then on alternate days we’d go down to the old muscle beach in Santa Monica and use all the apparatus—the ropes, the rings, the dip bars and all that.
We tried to incorporate a lot of different styles. We did a lot of boxing and he likes to work with jump ropes. In a nutshell, his workout is very intense, he’s in great shape, year-round—very disciplined—and he works nonstop with very little rest.
What was he eating?
I told him to stay away from all processed carbohydrates. So anything in a bag, in a can, in a box, anything that’s been adulterated by man—stay away. I’m a big proponent of carbohydrates, but in a natural form, meaning fruits and vegetables, yams, good complex carbohydrates, whole grains, brown rice, and that’s what Aaron would eat.
As far as protein, your standard lean protein: Egg whites, very lean chicken, some fish every day, and then he was good about his fats as well. He ate a lot of avocado, olives, natural peanut butter. The key is that he stayed away from any type of processed food.
What was he doing on top of your regimen?
He was stick fighting in the afternoon, I believe. He was going four days a week with me, and then I know he was with the stick fighting guy at least three or four days as well. In his “off” days, for his cardio work, he biked. He’d do something pretty much every day, but I told him as far as the biking, don’t get too crazy with it. Conserve the energy, don’t burn it, but he feels better knowing he’s not slacking. Very disciplined.
What was it like working with him?
He’s just a consummate professional. He really strives to be the best. As far as fitness, he really is in the upper 90th percentile, easily, especially for his age bracket. It was almost a challenge to me sometimes to challenge him. Pushing the envelope seeing how many soft-sand sprints can this guy do without resting. It’s a testament to his conditioning and his desire to excel. I think he’s one of those guys that has a really good mental belief that it’s all in the mind and if you push the body, you can get wherever you want to go. It’s a pleasure to work with him.