Ang Lee, nominated for best picture and directing for "Life of Pi," arrives at the 85th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
By Landon Hall
SANTA ANA, Calif. — There are three seasons in the life of a movie star: the creative process, when movies are shot and stitched together; the celebrity’s actual life, which we get to peek into when they’re photographed going for coffee or making excuses to a judge.
And then there’s Red Carpet Season, which culminates Sunday with the 85th Academy Awards. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans who will watch, you’ll see your favorite stars saunter outside the Dolby Theater. The surprises, sobs and snubs come later, delivered with the golden statuettes, but the pregame is the part we really love: seeing those shimmering dresses and dashing tuxes, and how their occupants fill them up.
It takes a small army of fitness professionals to make the beautiful people look their best for this most unforgiving of seasons, when HD screens magnify every flaw and bit of flab.
“They’re getting paid to look good. It’s their job,” says trainer Simone De La Rue, who traveled to Los Angeles to do some last-minute work with Naomi Watts and Sandra Bullock. Watts is nominated for best actress for “The Impossible,” while Bullock won the Oscar in that category three years ago for “The Blind Side.”
“If a woman has one area she can’t hide on the red carpet, it’s her arms,” De La Rue said. “We’re working on arms. Everything else you can hide underneath a dress. If anything, we go super-crazy on the arms.” That means a lot of push-ups and planks, which is holding the body in a line parallel to the floor.
The Australian-born De La Rue is a classically trained dancer who has performed on Broadway and at the 2009 Oscar ceremony, during a musical number with host Hugh Jackman. She is friends with the choreographer of that ceremony, Rob Ashford. De La Rue has trained Anne Hathaway and Matt Damon. She leads cardio dance sessions at her New York studio, but she also incorporates yoga and Pilates, as well as resistance bands, aiming to produce long, limber muscles.
“I always say that I have exercise ADD, so I get bored very quickly,” she said. “So I mix it up every day. They’re the same way. We’re constantly changing the content, which is important, because it stimulates the mind. Also the muscles are very clever. They grasp things quickly, so then they get lazy.”
Many trainers will work with a celebrity on short notice, and they’ll go to their homes or to a movie set. Being adaptable comes in handy when a studio contacts a trainer and asks, “Can you transform this actor into a passable gladiator? Or this actress into a sexier blue-skinned mutant?”
When Jennifer Lawrence, who’s nominated for the best actress Oscar this year for “Silver Linings Playbook,” was about to film “X-Men: First Class” (2011) as the shape-shifting Mystique (aka Raven Darkholme), she was dispatched to the London studio of Dalton Wong.
“She was here for like four months,” Wong said. “For about 30 percent of the movie she’s in blue paint, naked, and part of my job was to make sure she looked like a superhero, but also a woman as well. A lot of it was education — what she should eat, and showing her some exercises to suit her body type.”
Not that she had much time for exercise.
“It took her four to six hours to have the makeup put on. She’d say, ‘Dalton I’ve got 15 minutes. What can you do? You can’t make me sweaty, because Hair and Makeup are going to kill you.’”
For her role in “The Hunger Games” last year, Lawrence received more specialized training elsewhere, since Wong doesn’t do bows and arrows, or martial arts. But when Red Carpet Season began for “Silver Linings Playbook,” she went to Wong again, four days before the BAFTA awards in London on Feb. 10. “On the physical side, I can’t do much,” Wong said. He mostly offered encouragement and urged her to stay hydrated, drink tea to relax (mint, chamomile and dandelion are his standbys), and find time to sleep.
“For someone like her, there is no offseason. They can’t say, ‘I’m gonna take Christmas off, then in January I’ll head to the gym.’ They always have to be on. So I try to make sure what they’re doing is sustainable.”
Wong, who’s from Victoria, B.C., moved to London 15 years ago and has been training at his studio in a converted house for five years. The regular clients who come there take part in a yearlong program, and most keep coming even after that. But his famous clients, including Amanda Seyfried for “Les Misérables” and “Warm Bodies” heartthrob Nicholas Hoult, might have only weeks or days to get as fit as possible for a role.
“I can’t give away all my lovely tricks,” Wong said. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, Dalton, we need this person to gain 10 pounds in four days.’ There’s no way I can do that. But there are certain exercises and stretches that can automatically make you look bigger and stronger.”
Kristin McGee is another trainer who has produced a series of DVDs, including a new one called “S3: Strong Sexy Svelte.” She grew up in Idaho and studied acting at NYU. She got interested in yoga and Pilates, and soon became an instructor. She met director Shawn Levy (who made the “Night at the Museum” movies). When Levy was filming the comedy “Date Night” (2010) with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, he asked McGee to do some work on Fey’s arms, since the actress was going to be spending most of the shoot in a strapless dress and needed to look fit.
“It was kind of a rush,” McGee said. “Her timing was so tight, it was really hard to find time. At 9 at night, I’d be going to her trailer, or go to the set. Part of what I did was just to get her that kind of energy boost and stamina before she filmed all night long.”
McGee also has worked with Steve Martin, whom Levy directed in “The Pink Panther” (2006). When she saw Martin last summer, he had lost 10 pounds, simply by reducing his wine consumption slightly. “If you’re looking to just slim down a little bit or look less bloated, that’s one of the easiest ways to get in shape,” she said.
McGee and Wong emphasize the importance of posture. “Carriage and presence and the way you stand can do a lot to make you look slimmer,” McGee said.
It’s easy for the rest of us, the masses who get our celebrity lowdown from TMZ and supermarket tabloids instead of power lunches, to dismiss the Hollywood fitness obsession. After all, celebrities have vast amounts of resources and time, as well as personnel who give them undivided attention. But we can take lessons from their work ethic and drive.
“You can have a trainer, a nutritionist and a massage therapist, but if you’re not willing to do it yourself, it’s not gonna happen,” Wong said. “Nothing can outdo hard work. … There are no quick fixes.
“You can’t buy your way to good health. Most people won’t make that commitment; they don’t want to fail. But as soon as you do, it happens. That’s how you make radical changes and positive changes in your life.”