Photograph: Getty Images
A wounded war veteran-turned-gangster who wears a mask to hide his scars; a police detective with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder; a real-life serial bomber and fugitive. Actor Jack Huston is known for not so much playing idiosyncratic characters, but embodying them.
For his portrayal of David on Expats, the new limited drama series from creator Lulu Wang co-starring Nicole Kidman, this meant getting under the skin of a middle-aged, depressed man with an alcohol dependence and something to hide. It also meant gaining nearly 30 pounds.
Huston spoke with GQ about the mental health challenges that come with such a physical transformation, the power of using movement to bring a character to life, and how he unwinds after an intense project. (Spoiler: Not easily.)
For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
GQ: Over the course of your career, you’ve played many roles that have a very distinct physicality to them. How do you go about finding how that character looks and moves, and how does that influence the way you play the part?
Jack Huston: Physicality is hugely [important]. Usually, one does films where you either have to lose a lot of weight or get into some sort of amazing fitness regime where you get ripped. For Expats, [director] Lulu Wang—I worked with her on her first feature (The Farewell), so we’d known each other for almost 10 years before she called me about Expats—called and said, “This is an interesting one because I need you to put on close to 20 pounds.”
I went a little further and ended up putting on 27 pounds of weight. It sounds wonderful in theory, but putting on a lot of weight in a short space of time wreaks havoc on your body and mind. [We also filmed the show] coming out of the pandemic, where everybody had been off on their own without being able to see one another. So I think a lot of people were maybe drinking or eating too much—especially in our business, they didn’t have to be on camera. But I went the other way and got incredibly fit and health-conscious during the pandemic.
Tell me a little bit more about how you went about gaining weight and doing it in a way that felt safe.
It was a lot of carb-loading. I'm not someone who really likes sweets or too much sugar. I was in Hong Kong [where Expats takes place], which is one of the food capitals of the world. It's amazing; it's a plethora of everything delicious. So the eating part wasn't hard.
I think it has much more to do with still exercising, but it was more movement for your internal body and for your mind. You get these bouts of dopamine when you’re eating, but there's a big drop off [after] that can mess with your head—you can really suffer from depression and your body shutting down. So I had to be very conscious of being able to keep moving, walking—but nothing too strenuous, nothing that would cause me to lose weight.
How did you approach returning to a neutral place for you when the project wrapped?
I always say another role helps. It's interesting because [soon after] Expats, I took on the role of director, writer, and producer on a film. And then you are given an excuse not to be as health-conscious as you are when you’re in front of the camera.
But it is a funny balance. I don't think I've got it down to a perfect art. I think having a wonderful trainer, a wonderful nutritionist, someone who really checks your levels, checking your blood, and all the rest of it is important. Because one thing that did happen is I got pre-diabetic from Expats. I was right on the edge because I put on such weight so quickly; I went to the doctor, and they were like, “Listen, you’ve really got to cut out a lot of the carbs, a lot of the sugar in your diet.”
Let’s talk about exercise. You mentioned how it was so important for maintaining your mental health while you were filming Expats. Do you have a go-to workout?
When I'm home, I find just actual, straight exercise can be incredibly boring. If I’m in the gym, I have to be with a trainer or a workout partner. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t try to get in the water—as in, have a swim in the ocean, a swim in the swimming pool. Tennis is a big one for me as well. I like to play with other people. It’s exciting and fun, and it tricks you into thinking you’re not doing exercise, but you are actually really exerting yourself. Hikes are wonderful—it's a great place to go and think. But I have wonderful trainers who I've worked out with in the past, and for different projects, I will use a specific person that I know is good for that [particular goal].
Your feature directorial debut, Day of the Fight, debuted at the Venice Film Festival in 2023. What was it like stepping behind the camera?
I loved every second of it. I always say people might think it's a “boxing movie.” It's not. It's a film about a boxer. I wrote the movie for [actor] Michael Pitt, so he had about a year of training. Playing a boxer is a completely different workout regime than if you are an everyday stockbroker or if you are a father of two taking your kids to school every day and are rather schlubby. So it was very interesting watching Michael's transformation.
And it's very nice to be able to work with someone that you have such a rapport with and such a shorthand with because I think he understood as much as I did how important physicality was for this character. [Pitt plays] someone who’s spent eight years in prison, is an ex-boxer, is someone who’s suffered trauma, suffered abuse—all of this is baggage that you hold within your body. It shows in how you walk down the street, how you hold your head…And I think that's what's amazing about seeing as a director, witnessing just how important those transformations are, not just for the audience, but for the actor himself.
I assume it’s longer working hours as a director than as an actor?
Oh, I say that you are never not working. When I went to bed, it was the last thing I thought about, and then I dreamt about it, and then I woke up, and it was the first thing I thought about. So I'd say there wasn't a reprieve; it was 24/7. But it was the happiest time of my life.
You are so willing to work 10 times as hard when you're making something you love. And I always think it's got to come through, your love. If [you’re working] from love, you are just ready to fight every single day because it's fighting towards something beautiful and something that you believe in with your heart.
When you're so enmeshed in a project—or when you finish an intense job like that—how do you take care of yourself? Do you find you have outlets or wellness habits that you gravitate to?
A lot of time [my outlet is] my family—my children are everything. [And being a parent is] actually exercise to both the brain and the body. It's constant. Shooting a movie is half as difficult as raising a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old.
But watching films will forever be my greatest passion. Going to the gym, going on a hike. I really do love yoga and sport in general. I wish I had a brain that could meditate, but too much is going on. So I think staying active, staying inspired, staying interested, and staying excited would be the most important things.
Just now, I drove my daughter to school. I told her that I had a dream last night and it was a great idea for a new movie. And I told her the idea for the new movie, and she started giving me ideas. And the two of us were just going at it about this really wonderful new premise of a sort of sci-fi, serial killer movie. I was like, this is great! She's 10 years old, and she's a writing partner.
Originally Appeared on GQ