This is one of those “too good to be true” yarns—the kind that evolve into Superman, Batman or IRON MAN mythology. Okay, how about at least a buffer, tougher version of Wally Cleaver?
It’s a tale about a lad with a military background—West Point, Army Ranger, commander of troops—who went on to take the fitness-modeling field by storm and is now marshaling his forces in Hollywood.
As the model for Dr. Manhattan’s sculpted bod in the hit flick “Watchmen,” Greg Plitt was lookin’ large in theaters earlier in the year. This summer the 6’1”, 195-pound muscle magnet will be seen on the big screen in a big way: as Hybrid in the latest installment of one of Tinseltown’s most successful action franchises, “Terminator Salvation.”
A multiple role model, if you will. So what does Greg Plitt order at Starbucks in beautiful downtown Burbank, California, home of the “Tonight Show,” Disney Studios and Warner Bros., prior to sitting down for our 11:15 a.m. interview in early April? Coffee and two sausage-and-egg sandwiches.
You got it. America’s number-one fitness model chowing down and proud of it. “I only eat once a day,” says the 30-year-old Plitt, making no excuses for his diet protocol, “and whatever I want. I eat pizza, burgers…yesterday I had three footlong sandwiches at Subway.”
Sounds a bit like my culinary routine, but this cat is anything but routine.
High school All-American wrestler. Straight-A student. Earned a free ride to West Point. Army Ranger and captain. Leaped out of planes more than a thousand times. The “Bowflex” guy. The face and body for “Angel Men” and “Ice Men.” A model for Under Armour apparel—a mold of his body appears in all of the company’s stores—and for Gold’s Gym and a member of the Met-Rx team.
Plitt has appeared on television as Henderson on “Days of Our Lives” and as himself on HGTV’s “Designed to Sell” and Bravo’s “Workout.” I could go on, but you get my drift. There’s so much more underneath the cover of this month’s cover model. Let the filming begin.
LT: You’re a So Cal guy now but are originally from the East Coast?
GP: Correct. I was born and raised in Baltimore. I was very involved in sports from an early age. My grandfather was pro in two sports—hockey and baseball—and my dad was drafted by the Mets, so it was almost like I had a ball and a stick in my hand at birth. I was playing competitive hockey when I was three.
LT: And I understand that a choice your dad gave you regarding hitting the books or hitting the floor with pushups got you into working out as a tyke.
GP: [Laughs] Yes. One summer I was supposed to read so many books to advance from the second to third grade. My dad would come home from work, see me playing ball and ask how the extra reading sessions were going. I told him I was too busy to look at books; I was playing sports all day. That didn’t go over so well.
He gave me a choice: I could either read for 30 minutes a day or do 100 laps in the pool, 300 situps and 300 pushups. I took the workouts. After two weeks he upped the ante, adding 100 laps, situps and pushups. Eventually we were able to agree on more reading and a bit less workout, but what I learned when I eventually got back to the playing field was that I was quicker, faster and stronger than the other kids. From an early age I saw what the benefits of working out were, and I incorporated that throughout my life.
LT: What weight division did you compete in when you wrestled in high school?
GP: I earned All-American honors in both the 171- and 189-pound categories. I was state champion and finished second in the nation as a senior. The only points scored against me were in the championship match, where I lost 3-1.
LT: Your sister, Virginia, now an EMT surgeon, went to Annapolis, close to home, but when you chose a college, you passed on the United States Naval Academy and went to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
GP: Yes, they have 30,000 candidates each year and take only a thousand. It was a $250,000 education, paid for by the government. I got offers from both the Naval Academy and West Point, but everybody thought I was just going to go to Annapolis because Virginia was there, and it was close to home.
That really bothered me. I do admit, though, I did have a big fear of leaving home, being away from my family. They are my temple, my foundation. In the end, I felt that being on my own, not close to home, and having to fend for myself if I hit rock bottom would build the intestinal fortitude that would make me a better person in the long run.
I wrestled at West Point for a year, but the first year is so intense, my grades were dropping—we did seven hours of training a day. As a plebe I had to do the upper classmen’s laundry and shine the floors, memorize the front page and the sports page of The New York Times, clean the toilets—stuff like that—along with my own duties. It would have taken about 54 hours in a day to do all of that and wrestle as well, and there are only 24 hours. It was pretty overwhelming, but you find out that you may fail as an individual, but as a team you will succeed. The expression at West Point is, you need to “cooperate to graduate.”
LT: How much bigger are you now than you were in high school?
GP: Only about five pounds heavier—195; I can still use the belt my mother made me for high school graduation.
LT: You had a five-year obligation to the Army when you finished West Point in May of 2000.
GP: Yes, you graduate as a second lieutenant. My service was in Fort Bragg, Fort Benning.… I did a stint in Afghanistan, and we went into Korea, then Washington, D.C. I broke the Army physical fitness test at every post I was at—168 pushups, 142 situps in two minutes.
LT: You were an Army Ranger?
GP: Accurate—it’s the equivalent of a Navy Seal. Here I was, 22 years old in Korea, in charge of 45 guys. I was the second-youngest person but was the platoon leader. It was considered a hostile area; we were on the DMZ, which separates North and South Korea. Shots were fired every day across the lines. You’re dealing with soldiers who are away from their families. Some of them came from the streets, were given a choice between jail and the Army.
You become their role model; I ended up being a marriage counselor, a financial adviser. Slowly the attitude is gone and is replaced with pride. It was like a positive cancer, spreading through the company. Being a part of something so much bigger than yourself, that collective group, was so empowering. It was the greatest time in my life.
LT: At the conclusion of your five years you could have stayed in the service or moved on. You chose the latter.
GP: There were other boxes in my life I wanted to open. Way back during my days at West Point I was dating this woman named Dana from New York. She was an actress, and when I would come into the city to see her, she would have me read with her if she had an audition coming up.
As soon as we started, I saw Dana transform into this other person; it really piqued my interest. Sometimes we never went out; we just stayed in her apartment and went through lines. A seed was planted in me; a love for acting. But Uncle Sam had me by the short hairs for five years, so I couldn’t pursue it at that point.
LT: Ironically, the industry ended up pursuing you rather than the other way around.
GP: After coming back from Korea and being stationed in D.C., my final stop, I was with some buddies catching up on old times in the lobby of a crappy Marriott hotel, which was close to a club we were going to, when this guy comes up to me and asks if I’m there for the convention. I find out there’s a big acting/modeling agency convention going on. He gives me his card; I do some research on him, find out he’s legit.
I went to New York for a test shoot—and I landed a Muscle & Fitness cover! They were looking for a military-type person for the particular theme of that issue. Everything just fell in line; I got lucky. The best thing about it was I talked a lot about my troops in the article, and they got a big kick out of seeing that.
When I was working out at West Point, we’d be reading the magazines, like IRON MAN and Muscle & Fitness, looking at the pictures for motivation. Three years later things took a complete 180-degree turn. Now I was on the cover, and it felt so good.
That got everything started; soon I was doing cover shoots in New York, Los Angeles and Miami on weekends. I made sure I was always in great shape; I’d hit the gym at lunch and when I got off work. I’d fly back to D.C. on Sunday night and, bam, get ready to start my whole work week again. It was really a tough last year and a half.
LT: When your obligation was up, it was on to New York.
GP: It was time to work on my acting and modeling career full time. I moved to Battery Park, in a really nice area in Manhattan, downtown in the Financial District.
LT: Where else would the body of the future Dr. Manhattan reside?
GP: [Laughs] Of course! I needed to see what was out there.
LT: Let’s back up a bit. You learned to be quite a craftsman at an early age, thanks to your dad, once again. You ended up making a lot of cash from real estate ventures while in the service.
GP: That is true. In 38 years of marriage my parents have lived in 15 different homes; they would continually buy and flip houses. My dad taught me everything. I was a free laborer for him. While I was in the service, I carried that on. I would buy a house, fix it up and sell it. And when I talk about fixing, I would do everything—gut them, do the floors, the plumbing, all the electrical. I had a blast and made a lot of money.
LT: How long were you in the Big Apple before things started happening?
GP: A week! A friend called and told me Robert De Niro was casting a movie and that I should call my agent and try to get them to see me. I told him I didn’t have an agent. I asked him for the address and went down there. I made up an agency number, using my cell phone number. I sat there for an hour, then got a reading, and the next thing I knew I got booked for a scene with De Niro and Matt Damon in “The Good Shepherd.”
I got a cover with a major magazine after my first test shoot as a model and ended up with some lines in a major movie the first time I went for it. You can imagine how stoked that got me. No more doubt—that really sparked the fire in me to become an actor.
LT: You eventually felt Los Angeles could offer you more than New York, so you packed up your bags and headed west. You have no problems with risk taking, I see.
GP: When I would come out to L.A. for a shoot, I would shop around—agencies, places to live. I knew I would move there someday but wasn’t sure exactly when. I had a dream one night when I was still in New York about doing a major film or photo shoot. I woke up about 5 a.m. and said, “I’m in the wrong frickin’ city; I have to get out of here.”
I worked out at the gym in the building for an hour, came back up, took pictures of the place I was leasing, put them on Craig’s list at about seven o’clock and got a call around 8:30 from somebody interested in looking at the place. He came over at 11, loved the place and asked when he could move in. I told him that, along with the room, he would have to take the bed, the desk, this and that…. He said he’d take it all.
I told him he could move in at six that same night. I took a cab to Brooklyn, rented a U-Haul with my pit bull, Quest, who I rescued a couple of months earlier [last year Plitt added Gunnar to the family]. I drove to Maryland, where I had all my stuff in storage. I called a girl I’d met in L.A., flew her to Maryland, and she made the cross-country trip with Quest and me. That was March 2006.
My first place out here was Marilyn Monroe’s old apartment in Hollywood—Harper and Sunset—and people who were looking at the star map would come up and look into the window. What did they see? This pit bull, barking his ass off; shortly after that I got evicted because I wasn’t supposed to have pets. Same story with the next place, so I ended up buying a house.
LT: Why did you pick Burbank?
GP: Because of all the studios here. I was working on “Designed to Sell” at that time and had a month to find it. I was a carpenter on the show. The premise is that we had a $2,000 budget—we go into a house, fix it up and sell it.
The people producing the show knew all kinds of Realtors, obviously. I told them I needed a house. They put me in touch with a company. We checked out four or five houses that I really liked; I put an offer down on one of them four hours after I met my agent. They accepted it, we did a six-day escrow, and I moved in six days from the time I started looking.
LT: Don’t tell me—you’ve remodeled the place all by yourself.
GP: Of course—I call it sawdust therapy. The house is in the equestrian area, between Warner Bros., Disney and NBC. I can’t go anywhere without passing the studios.
One day I won’t have to pass them, I’ll just pull into them. [Laughs]
LT: The television show “Extra” named you one of “America’s Most Eligible Bachelors.” Men’s Fitness included you in its list of the “25 Fittest Americans,” a register that also included David Beckham, Lance Armstrong, Tom Brady and Will Smith. You speak so highly of your dad, mom and sister, calling them your foundation—do you plan to marry and have a family?
GP: I can’t wait for the day to be a father, and I want a whole squad of kids. But right now I’m career-driven, and acting is such a selfish lifestyle. In a few years, when I can make a family the main priority in my life, I hope to be half the role model my father has been for me.
LT: I know you’ve done some independent films. “Watchmen” is your first major movie since “The Good Shepherd.” How did Warner Bros. use your body for the superhero?
GP: I went to the studio over a three-day period about a year and a half ago; it was pretty intense. They took thousands of pictures. They had me do all kinds of different poses, from different angles. They used a program called CGI. I had to hold my breath during part of it. Basically, they created a mold of my body on the computer so they could do whatever they wanted to with it. They could make me run, make me jump, have me do back flips, whatever.
They had Billy [Crudup] wearing a white suit with all of these little lasers. They matched the lasers, and how he moved, and had the forms of my body on top of his body, with his head. It was amazing.
LT: Tell me about “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment of the movie first made famous by you-know-who 25 years ago.
GP: We filmed that in August and September last year; I play Hybrid and appear toward the end of the movie—the only guy in a suit. I’m involved in a very pivotal scene at the end, but I can’t tell you what happens. You’ll have to go see it to find out. [Laughs]
LT: Where did the action take place?
GP: In Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was there for about a month. I did have lines to speak, but you never know what’s going to show up on the final edit.
LT: As a mega-popular model and acting hopeful, you can never be out of shape, sausage-and-egg sandwiches or not. What’s your typical training regimen?
GP: I work out every day—usually at LA Fitness in Universal City. I hit the gym every morning at 5:30—that’s the best time to start my day, and it clears my mind. No jobs will get in the way at that time, so I can train consistently. Also, the people who are at the gym that early are serious about their workouts. They’re go-getters, making sure they get their training in before they go to work. I like to be associated with that positive energy. I always train with a partner: I feed off of his motivation and vice versa.
I do a five-day split: First day is chest, second day is back, day three is arms, day four is shoulders and legs on day five.
LT: How many exercises do you do per bodypart, and what ‘s your rep range?
GP: I do four sets per exercise, between 10 and 20 reps. I’m not looking for size; I’m looking to stay lean and shredded. I don’t fluctuate more than five pounds all year in my bodyweight. I want to be ready on a moment’s notice for an acting or modeling call, to be able to wear a size 42 suit, “normal” clothes, etc.
LT: How much time do you put in at the gym?
GP: I’m in there about an hour and a half; I do cardio separately at night. I run 15 to 20 miles a week, spaced over four days. I run outside, around 11 or 12 at night. It’s the calm of the night; hardly anybody is around. I’m getting that extra edge while everyone is in bed.
LT: But you’re not getting much sleep. Doesn’t that affect you?
GP: When you’re enjoying life, you don’t need that much sleep. You’re excited.… You only need sleep when you’re tired.
LT: You run around the hills in Burbank?
GP: I run around the studios. Running helps reduce my stress; I can think out things more clearly during that time.
LT: So you train one bodypart a day, four sets per exercise. How many different exercises?
GP: I usually do eight exercises; about 32 sets per bodypart. Arm day goes extra long, but sometimes I cut back on triceps. I always check my pride at the door; I never go in there looking to lift a certain weight. I lift to find that burn. Proper form is extremely important. I always finish with 10 minutes of ab work, hitting my abs from a variety of angles.
LT: Are there times when you’re a tad drained, when you may cut back on the high numbers of exercises?
GP: Sure. Every time I go to the gym, I change it up; one day I do flat, incline and decline benches for chest, and then I switch to dumbbells on the same moves next time I hit that bodypart. It’s a slight change, but it forces your body to keep guessing. When the body adapts, that’s when growth occurs.
Workouts get very monotonous if you don’t mix things up. That helps keep the interest levels up.
LT: I already have seen a bit of your eating routine. Care to elaborate?
LT: What happened to those “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” or “You need to eat small meals all through the day” mantras?
GP: You know, maybe if I did that it would be better for me. But with my lifestyle, always on the go, I don’t have the time.
LT: You mean actual food, right? I’m sure you take in meal replacements.
GP: Yes, I’m sponsored by Met-Rx; I really like their products. Being a sponsored athlete, I have a plethora of them on hand. I drink their RTD-51 protein shakes. I use the Amped RTD for energy before every single workout. I also use their glutamine and NO2 pills, their fat burners and stuff.
LT: So after leg day on Friday you start the same split all over again on Saturday?
LT: You never take a day off?
GP: Well, I did take one last Sunday. I drove an hour and a half up in the mountains, where it was 80 degrees. I put a backpack on my shoulders and hiked four hours up the mountain until there was snow on the ground. Then I put a wet suit and a harness on, and I rappelled 200 feet down, over eight different waterfalls. When I got to the bottom, I had a two-hour hike back. It ended up being an 10-hour day.
LT: That’s your version of a day off? No wonder the last thing you need to worry about is the type of grub you shovel down.
GP: When you’re in great shape, you go through life in fifth gear, not in fourth. When others are walking through life, you’re running through it! I love living a healthy lifestyle; I love to be active. To me, the things I do outside the gym are just fun. I don’t consider them to be a workout, per se.
I have had days off, but I’ve never planned them. They happen on their own accord—usually things I can’t control—about once a week. Basically, though, I have a blissful lifestyle. I don’t consider what I do as a “job.” I don’t work out just to try and look good; I do it for the journey and for the confidence it gives me.
LT: Any advice for those wanting to find their own blissful lifestyle?
GP: Use a Saturday night at a bar as the celebration of a goal achieved, not as a lifestyle. Get off the chat rooms, the Facebook, the video games, and get outside and make yourself a better person, physically and mentally. If the young kids today would spend one-tenth of the time working out as they do texting each other, we’d have a lot healthier country.
LT: I’m talking to you on April 8, 2009. If I want to interview you again on April 8, 2011, where will you be?
GP: Hard to get hold of, I hope, and with people having to get hold of my publicist a month in advance to set things up. [Laughs] Seriously, you’ll find me with a smile on my face. I will always be hungry, no matter what success I may have had, always pushing to get to the next level.
LT: I’m hungry, too, after this long interview. How about another round of sausage-and-egg sandwiches—on me?
GP: Let’s do it!
Editor’s note: To contact Greg Plitt for appearances or advice on how to have your body image selected for the “Watchmen” sequel, log on to www.GregPlitt.com. IM