Scott Foley is no stranger to having to be fit for a role. For four seasons of The Unit he was required to be Special Forces strong for his role as Sergeant First Class Bob Brown. These days, he’s staying in shape for a slightly different reason.
“I never though that I was going to become the guy that takes his shirt off in love scenes,” says Foley, laughing. His character of Captain Jake Ballard on Scandal has him once again playing a military man, but also a romantic interest to Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope on the hit ABC drama.
Getting the role of Ballard meant switching up his usual routine with long-time trainer Gunnar Peterson, putting a heavy focus on leaning out. “The times have changed for leading male actors like Scott,” says Peterson. “It has become part of that job to stay a certain level of fit, on the chance that that shirtless scene or role is going to come up in a few weeks.”
Men’s Journal sat down with Foley to discuss training with Peterson, staying shirtless-scene ready for the final season of Scandal, and the annual trip to Vermont where he lets himself off the hook.
How did you first start working with Gunnar?
That is actually a pretty crazy story. I was part of a tennis group that used to play together on a regular basis. Gunnar had a tennis court that we would go play at, which was right near his home gym. There he was training people like Pete Sampras, Monica Seles, and Matthew Perry. He would bring them out to play with tennis with us, and I was impressed by what he was doing, so I started doing sessions myself. That was 20 years ago.
How important is being in shape to your job?
It is funny, awhile back I was looking through an article and they depicted the ideal leading man physiques throughout the years. It has changed so much. It wasn’t too long ago you weren’t required to have an eight-pack to get that role. For what I am doing right now, it is pretty important.
One of your earlier roles was on The Unit. How did you prepare for that?
Gunnar got a hold of a Special Forces training guide and we just started hammering into that. I had to bulk up quite a bit.
How was getting ready for Scandal different?
Scandal is a little different because I had to lean out instead of bulking up. Living in the Shondaland world, it’s the guys who take the shirts off. It is the reverse of what is expected, and that is a good thing. I will say there is a little pressure that comes when I read through a script and see the words: “Jake takes his shirt off.” I know that I am going to have to put a little more work in that week.
Do you train on set while you’re shooting? Is it hard, especially when you are occasionally directing episodes yourself?
I have a set of resistance bands that I keep in my trailer. I will do planks during lunch. I will do whatever I can to get something in. I get there at 6 a.m. and sometimes I don’t leave until midnight. When you are that tired and hungry, you are so tempted to go for that pizza. So you have to stay mindful of having other kinds of foods. The finisher is throwing some Epsom salts in a bath and taking a soak.
How does staying fit for a show differ from getting fit for a movie?
I would say it is much more challenging, because we are shooting for so many months out of the year, versus doing a movie over a few weeks. I have to always be pretty close to the line, so that I can reel it back in depending on what scenes I am shooting that week. Because the show can’t shoot unless I am feeling well, it’s important that I don’t get injured. One of the great things about working with Gunnar is that he keeps me in shape, but also makes sure that I don’t get hurt.
What are the kinds of moves that you are doing with Gunnar?
Getting into Gunnar’s gym, it is usually about multi-joint movements with big weight. We will dig into squat presses and sled pushes. Sometimes I will step and walk laterally on a treadmill while holding weighted balls and making circular motions. Everything is about engaging everything.
How do you train at home?
I have weights in a home gym, a treadmill, and a Peloton machine. So there are plenty of ways for me to get something in when the kids are otherwise occupied. Sometimes I will work out with my wife.
How much is nutrition a part of it?
Food is everything. The closer you get to your goal, the more important it becomes, too. I try to avoid the craft services on set as much as possible. I have a shake company, Daily Harvest, that I will order from, and throw a little protein powder in there. I stay really hydrated.
Do you ever have slumps?
I love my job, but I will say sometimes I wish I had just decided to be a character actor and gotten super fat. The older I get, the better that sounds.
Do you ever let yourself have a day off?
My family goes away to a camp in Vermont, north of Burlington, and that is a week where I will put on about five pounds. That is something that I know have to make it back up. Home-cooked buffet style food. I want to eat three waffles, but one will do enough damage. There is a casserole night. I mean, who even serves casserole anymore? I have to eat it.