British actor Gregg Sulkin played professionally for soccer academies such as West Ham, Queens Park Rangers, and even Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club in his youth, but would later shoot to stardom off the pitch, and onto our screens, where he’s found fame with roles in Sixty Six, Marvel’s Runaways, and as the personal trainer and thirst trap Grant in Netflix’s Pretty Smart.
M&F sat down with London-born Sulkin, to find out how soccer and other social fitness activities have helped get the buff Brit in screen-ready shape for those crucial shirtless scenes. We also learned that the ambitious 29-year-old has his crosshairs set on playing a future incarnation of the iconic spy, James Bond.
Sulkin, who is actually a lifelong Arsenal fan, played soccer in the academies of some of England’s most prestigious clubs from the age of 8, but after suffering a knee injury at 13, playing at such an elite level was no longer tenable and his dreams of following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp were kicked into a sad reality. Little did the man from Westminster know that a career in Hollywood was around the corner.
“My mum saw a newspaper article, basically saying there was an open audition for a Jewish role in a movie with Helena Bonham Carter,” Sulkin says. “It was being made by Richard Curtis and the whole Working Title team. I never wanted to be an actor and I just sort of went to my first-ever audition. Four weeks later, and many callbacks later, I ended up booking the lead role and so, I guess it was one of those situations in which my injury in sports allowed me to have the opportunity to go and do the audition.”
He adds: “To be honest, I think that if I hadn’t been successful with that audition I would never have continued, because it wasn’t until I started acting in the industry that I really fell in love with it.” Incredibly, Sulkin was cast in Sixty Six, a movie based around England’s successful World Cup campaign in 1966, after beating out 5,000 other hopefuls.
Still, as the pain in his knee began to subside, Sulkin couldn’t resist returning to soccer whenever his busy acting schedule allowed, even making an appearance for Team GB in the 2009 Maccabiah Games (the Jewish Olympics). Sulkin’s off pitch career continued to blossom, scoring a role in The Wizards of Wavely Place alongside Selena Gomez. “It was meant to be one episode, and turned into four years on the show,” says the actor. “I thankfully kept working, and acting is 100 percent my career, but the fitness side of things has always been with me.”
Soccer is a social activity
For many, playing football is about more than squeezing in some great cardio. There’s the post-match dissection of each game’s highs and lows, and the camaraderie that goes along with sharing a love of sport with your friends, but make no mistake about it, soccer scorches fat. For example, a man weighing 180 pounds can burn around 900 calories during a 90-minute game. “I still play out here in LA every Thursday evening, to keep to my roots,” says the actor. “It’s sort of like my meditation.”
Playing sports with friends is a great way to stay accountable and motivated to exercise, especially if you get to play at Rod Stewart’s house. “He’s got a football pitch in his back garden,” shares Sulkin. “With a massive Celtic badge all over the pitch, there’s a nice little community there.”
While soccer, or football, as they call it in the U.K., is Sulkin’s first love when it comes to fitness, he acknowledges that it can be tough to get 22 people together, who’s schedules all fit, so when matches aren’t possible, he’s eager to maintain his physique in other ways, making sure to get a workout in almost every day.
Climbing the ladder of success
Sulkin is a fan of traditional bodyweight exercises such as pushups, pullups and situps. He tries to set aside 20 to 30 minutes per day for cardio, initially preferring the treadmill over the harshness of concrete, but has more recently gravitated to the full-body workout offered by the CLMBR. “I feel like it has very low impact on my knees and joints, which is huge,” says the athletic actor. “I do the CLMBR at least four times per week.”
As with the sociability of soccer, the CLMBR also provides Sulkin with a feeling of community as he enjoys following his favorite instructor led classes. “They walk you through the sessions with regards to form, because form is so important. The open design of the machine allows me to look out forward and maintain the correct body position too.”
Gregg Sulkin is ‘Pretty Smart’ about his prep for shirtless scenes
The tone is set for Sulkin’s portrayal of Grant in Netflix’s sitcom Pretty Smart right from his very first semi-naked appearance. The actor shares that he commits to getting into great shape several weeks out from those types of scenes, often doubling his workouts to twice-per-day if he feels it necessary, but when the shoot is complete, the star allows himself to relax the strict regime in order to bring balance to his lifestyle, although he’s always keen that he keeps fitness levels up. “Working out is one of those things where you can become addicted to it, but when you get out of the routine it’s really hard to get back into it, so I’m never out of the gym for too long.”
Sulkin admits to having a sweet tooth, but understands that sugar is one of the first things he restricts when his physique needs to look it’s best. “Every single person is different,” says Sulkin. “But, for me, rather than counting calories I just try to have some common sense.” The actor is a big believer in listening to his body and how it reacts to certain foods. He prefers to limit his red meat intake to a maximum of once per month, and feels that his body reacts well to fish and lean meats such as chicken. “I also like meatless foods,” says the actor, sharing that he’s moved towards a much more plant heavy diet in recent times. When
it comes to looking at his carb intake, Sulkin likes to make smart swaps, such as replacing rice with quinoa. “I feel like that makes my body feel a lot tighter, rather than sluggish.” Sulkin also says that he’s come to learn that what he puts into his body directly affects his mental health, so he tries to eat as many natural, whole foods as possible. “I really feel great when I’ve had carrots, or fresh cucumber, or spinach… those types of foods.”
Gregg Sulkin keeps spying his ultimate role
Throughout his career to date, Sulkin has undertaken roles requiring performances that include comedy, action, and horror, but there is one character that the Brit feels would be a major accomplishment if he could get the gig. “My goal is to be the first Jewish James Bond,” he says. “I grew up Jewish, it is an important part of who I am, and I think any person should always embrace their community and who they are. Plus, who wouldn’t want to play James Bond!?”