Jeremy Jackson auditioned for the lead role in the “Conan the Barbarian” remake, which opened Friday. But the part went instead to hulking “Game of Thrones” actor Jason Momoa.
“They told me I was neither big enough nor buff enough,” Mr. Jackson said.
He wasn’t about to let that happen again.
“I was thinking of becoming an action star,” said the 30-year-old actor best known for playing David Hasselhoff’s teenage son on the television show “Baywatch.” “I saw maximizing my hormonal levels as something that would facilitate my business.”
Mr. Jackson’s capital investment in his physical equipment came to include the abuse of testosterone, human growth hormone, insulin (he is not diabetic) — even a drug normally reserved for pre-slaughter cattle. His bulk-building melange of illegal steroids was enough to add 40 pounds to his 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound frame — and ultimately landed him on the series “Celebrity Rehab.”
Performance-enhancing drugs: They’re not just for jocks anymore.
When it comes to hormonal maximization in Hollywood, Mr. Jackson has plenty of company.
Suzanne Somers and Nick Nolte publicly extol the virtues of growth hormone. Charlie Sheen claims he took steroids while filming “Major League.” Former “Saved by the Bell” star Dustin Diamond alleged that co-star Mark-Paul Gosselaar juiced. “Rocky” and “Rambo” star Sylvester Stallone, still pumped-up at 60-something, was arrested on charges of testosterone and growth hormone possession during a customs inspection in Australia. A 2008 steroid-trafficking investigation in Albany, N.Y., linked shipments of juice to musicians 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean, Timbaland and Mary J. Blige, as well as — no, really — actor-cum-director Tyler Perry.
“I think [steroid] use is very common in Hollywood,” Mr. Jackson said. “Very. Everybody who wants to be an actor, everybody who wants to be fit, there’s a lot of stuff going around.”
Art imitating life?
In the recent summer blockbuster “Captain America: The First Avenger,” scrawny Army reject Steve Rogers transforms into a pectorally gifted supersoldier via the injection of a top-secret serum.
In “Thor,” an early-summer hit, a doctor is asked about the title character’s bulging muscles. “Steroids,” the doctor replies. “He’s a bit of a fitness freak.”
The irony is as thick as a superhero’s biceps. Actor Chris Hemsworth — last seen playing a tall, relatively lean character in the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot — gained a reported 20 pounds of muscle for his lead role in “Thor.” Actor Chris Evans did the same for “Captain America,” while Mr. Momoa added 30 pounds for “Conan.”
Like other thin-to-thick thespians before them — think Edward Norton in “American History X” or Hugh Jackman as the “X-Men’s” Wolverine — all three actors attributed their striking physical transformations to diet and exercise.
Then again, so did athletes such as Marion Jones, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez — that is, until they subsequently were found to be gobbling more than just protein shakes and skinless chicken breasts.
“It’s more than just sports,” said Victor Conte, former head of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), who supplied Jones and other athletes with steroids. “Rappers are doing this. They’re all ripping their shirts off with six-pack [abdominal muscles]. In mainstream movies and action hero type stuff, it’s rampant.
“I’ll see photos of these guys. You can tell in a heartbeat if they’re using. Guys just don’t all of a sudden put on 25 pounds of muscle in two months for a movie role. And it’s not going to happen just from growth hormone. You’re using testosterone or some derivative of an anabolic steroid.”
Did they or didn’t they? Only the actors’ doctors — and perhaps their publicists — know for sure. Yet Conte isn’t alone in his skepticism.
Two years ago, Manhattan-based celebrity dermatologist Patricia Wexler said she knew of dermatologists and actresses who used growth hormone to slim abdominal fat and increase muscle tone. In 2008, Beverly Hills anti-aging doctor Andre Berger told CNN that he was getting calls from rappers and 30-something Hollywood actors about growth hormone and steroids.
Before a federal investigation and criminal conviction ended Conte’s role in the biggest sports doping scandal of the past decade, he was supplying athletes with a pair of undetectable designer steroids, the “clear” and the “cream.” The “cream” came from a Texas-based anti-aging doctor named Christian Renna, whom Conte met through former National Football League player Bill Romanowski.
According to a 2004 report in the San Jose Mercury News, Dr. Renna developed hormone-replacement treatments for “professional athletes, movie directors and movie stars” and worked with director Oliver Stone and actors Mickey Rourke and Chuck Norris, as well as Mr. Nolte.
From 1989 to 1997, Mr. Renna worked as the production physician on six Stone films and even appeared in bit parts in “Nixon” and “JFK.”
“What I knew was that [Renna] had another office in California, and that he had half the A-list in Hollywood using either testosterone or growth hormone,” Conte said. “Stallone, Oliver Stone, Chuck Norris, Mickey Rourke. I heard some other big names — not confirmed — that were using.”
Bigger is better
Steroids and Hollywood have a long, intertwined history, dating back to the performance-enhanced Venice Beach bodybuilding culture of the 1970s and 1980s. As admitted juicer Arnold Schwarzenegger went from starring in the muscle documentary “Pumping Iron” to becoming the world’s top box office draw, a new entertainment formula was established: More cartoonish beef, more profit.
Pro wrestling (meso)morphed into an anabolic funhouse, dominated by the likes of Hulk Hogan, who later testified in court that he used steroids. The palooka-looking Stallone of “Rocky” became the ripped, baby-oil-slathered, his-abs-have-abs Stallone of “Rocky IV.” When Los Angeles-based doctor Walter Jekot pleaded guilty to steroid distribution charges in 1993, his athlete and celebrity client list reportedly included — guess who? — “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff, Mr. Jackson’s on-screen father figure.
“When I hit puberty, I started getting a little pudgy, getting a little belly,” recalled Mr. Jackson, saying he caught flak for the flab from “Baywatch” producers. “It’s not the show’s whole fault that I [used steroids], but there was definitely a seed planted there.”
Mr. Jackson’s drug use began with a trip to the new ground zero of Hollywood juicing: one of Southern California’s many anti-aging clinics. There, the actor began a course of hormone-replacement therapy designed to bring his testosterone and growth hormone levels in line with those of a 21-year-old man from the 1950s.
As Mr. Jackson began supplementing his therapy with hard-core steroid use — multiple doctors, multiple prescriptions, blood work, black-market drugs, punishing workouts, obsessive focus — his body bulged. His forehead seemed to thicken. Veins were popping from his neck and face. “Baywatch’s” lithe and little Hobie Buchannon was long gone, replaced by a jacked actor reveling in the newfound attention he was receiving. Fitness magazines asked him to pose for photo shoots. Celebrity news website TMZ.com declared him “suddenly relevant.”
“Star Magazine had a picture of me coming out of the water at the beach, saying ‘Jeremy Jackson, best beach body,’ ” he said. “TMZ picked that up. That’s one step closer for me getting in a movie. That could be hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars. I don’t know who wouldn’t think about taking another cycle [of steroids] when that happens.”
Why do actors juice?
For the same reason athletes do. The stuff works.
In Hollywood, fit is forever in. A muscular body can be the difference between a callback and a fruitless audition, particularly with the recent proliferation of comic book projects demanding fantasy-style bulk.
A casting call this year for an upcoming “Wonder Woman” television series reportedly sought “super-buff, worked-out, bodybuilder-type guys to play soldiers that appear to be on steroids.” Wink-wink.
Harvard University psychiatrist Emily Fox-Kales, who wrote a book on body image in Hollywood, said the prototypical leading man physique has come a long way from the era of Clark Gable and Cary Grant.
“The old actors were seldom displaying the kind of muscularity you started to see with Stallone and Schwarzenegger,” said Ms. Fox-Kales, author of “Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders.” “The movie star body has become more pumped up, this uber-masculine idea. Since the 1980s, men have been looking for a body ideal that reconfirms the social power they feel they’ve lost.
“This recession has hit hard. Women are going to college and graduate schools at much higher rates than men are. There’s a lack of manufacturing jobs. We’re in a ‘mancession.’ What you always see in Hollywood is the ideal people are yearning for — in both the movies that are produced, and the bodies on the screen.”
Similar yearning puts equivalent pressure on female entertainers, who can never be young enough or thin enough. In her autobiography, actress Dixie Carter — who died last year at age 70 of complications from cancer — admitted to using growth hormone in an effort to look younger.
Likewise, during Roger Clemens’ congressional testimony about his suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs, the former big league pitcher claimed his wife was injecting growth hormone in order to tone up before posing in a New York Yankees-themed bikini for the “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue.
“If you’re a model, you won’t be very viable if you don’t conform to the standard 5-10, 110-pound body,” Ms. Fox-Kales said. “Athletes and entertainers are the same. They feel their body is their ticket. They have to endure whatever they do to their bodies in order to make it.”
The entertainment industry, Ms. Fox-Kales said, trades in the impossible: a steady stream of unattainable, superheroic physiques, augmented by steroids and plastic surgery, backlit and made up and digitized to perfection. On campus, she now sees otherwise healthy male students struggling with the masculine equivalent of anorexia, a body image disorder nicknamed “bigorexia,” in which sufferers see the proverbial 98-pound weakling in the mirror, no matter how large and muscular they are.
Mr. Jackson insists that he is now off the juice. He also is hawking his own line of nutritional supplements and may soon headline a Chippendale’s exotic male dancing show in Las Vegas.
Still, he worries about other actors.
“In the Hollywood community, you’re by and large dealing with insecure egomaniacs, people pleasers, who get off on acceptance,” Mr. Jackson said. “We need that. We need adulation. Maybe if I take growth hormone, I’ll do great, people will like me and I’ll like myself.
“Maybe it’s steroids. Maybe it’s BoTox facials, excessive surgery, detox, raw food, colonics, hocus-pocus magic crystal wand-waving. It’s all the same thing, a lot of people just scratching and clawing for the fix. And really, the fix is inside. Even as a society in general, we’re looking for that.”