How Mike Colter constructed a powerful physique for Airplane

Mike Colter is an intimidating man to walk alongside. At 6ft 3in and built like a Mack truck, it doesn't take long to understand why Marvel and Netflix cast him to play steel-skinned Luke Cage. His physical stature coupled with a natural acting ability has made him an on-screen presence that cannot be ignored. So when the producers behind Plane were looking for someone to take on the muscular Gerard Butler, Colter was an easy choice.

In Plane, Colter plays Louis Gaspare, an enigmatic veteran who boards the titular plane as a prisoner charged with murder. The former French Foreign Legion fighter is armed with many secrets - and brawn. Men's Journal spoke to Colter about preparing for the role, shooting in the rainforests of Puerto Rico, and recovering from the grueling routine.

Men's Journal: How did you get involved with Gerard Butler?

Mike Colter: I was frustrated trying to accomplish another project when this one hit my inbox. They sent me the script and I immediately thought it might be interesting. I knew the director's work [Jean-François Richet] like Assault on Precinct 13. I then had a chance to meet Gerry who was incredibly cool to be here and I could see he was going to be a great producer. I was also excited when I heard we were shooting in Puerto Rico because I had never really spent time there. It seemed like a great location and crew.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Eventually we find out that your character is military - specifically the French Foreign Legion. How did you train for this?

Playing someone who used to be a French Foreign Legion means approaching situations like a soldier, even if the audience doesn't know why I'm doing what I'm doing. Right from the start, sitting in the back of the plane, he's like a wild animal looking for a way out - and he knows what to look for. I've been fortunate enough to acquire a fair amount of tactical knowledge from the many action projects I've done.

There are real guns that we use and gun safety is of the utmost importance. The guns can be set up with half or quarter loads, which refers to the actual amount of gunpowder used. There are many great technical advisors and ex-military people working on projects like this. I think we had four ex-military men for Plane [personnel] on the set. They have their own approaches. I have developed a way of working in these scenarios that is authentic but also my own.

Eventually, you and Butler's character become dependent on each other. Did you have a chance to network outside of the set?

Gerry and I stayed at the same resort in Puerto Rico, the St. Regis. It was funny because we would get up in the morning to work out or go to the jungle to film those intense scenes and everyone around us would be in vacation mode. I'm sure I got some weird looks from people coming back from poolside cocktails after a long day, but it was a great place for me and Gerry to have dinner a few times a week, to discuss the scenes and what we thought about the day's shots.

One of the ex-military members in the cast is Remi Adeleke, who plays a military contractor sent out as part of the rescue operation. How was working with him?

I was excited when Remi Adeleke came on board the project. His background as a Navy SEAL brought a lot to the production and he did a great job in his scenes. It's great to have someone who can operate the weapons and equipment quite naturally. Things like cocking and maneuvering weapons are second nature to him that we can all learn and learn from.

Mike Colter and Gerard Butler crouched with guns during a scene from the movie Plane.Courtesy of Lionsgate

You've done your share of physically intimidating roles, including Luke Cage on the popular Netflix series. Did you have to do something different at the gym?

I wanted to pack on some serious mass for this film, so I started increasing my strength training quite a bit. I did a lot of heavy deadlifts, squats, bench presses and made sure to lift weights in a way that not only made me look big but also made me feel powerful. I have collected many routines and exercises from trainers I have worked with and built my own program from everything I have done in the past to stay within striking distance of a superhero body. I'm not sure I'll get the call to do another role as Luke Cage, but if I ever do, I'll be ready.

Where did you do the most strength training?

I have a pretty decent setup at home with weights and kettlebells to use when preparing for these projects. The St. Regis where we stayed had a fantastic gym with everything from deadlift racks to bumper plates and kettlebells. I also take my TRX system with me when I travel. It's a great way to use your bodyweight to stay strong on the road. In addition to a physioball, this is a great way to challenge the muscles. Slap some breast flies on it and you'll feel demolished.

Her character rocks a sleeveless shirt in the jungle, so I'm guessing bulging biceps was a goal. How did you blast your arms from all angles?

I saw that in the script and in the wardrobe, so of course I wanted to make sure my arms looked like they were supposed to. I have a few circuits that are great for toning and definition in the arms and shoulders. My routine includes cable face pulls to engage the posterior delts and lots of pull-ups. Combining this with all the heavy exercise I was already doing helped increase Human Growth Hormone and ensured I could see the results.

Being a soldier through the jungle also requires a lot of stamina. How did you train your cardio?

I like to play basketball to stay healthy, but there weren't many opportunities to do so on set or at the hotel, so I had to brush up on my cardio in other ways. I've ridden the storm bike quite a bit in Puerto Rico—and that thing really tears you up. I went to the gym and stared at it because I knew I would conquer it sometime that day. Some days I started my session with this to warm up my body in the most brutal way. Another morning I would be done with it. Anyway, I staggered these attack wheel sessions. When I had time, I would go out to the beach and do sand sprints, which are easy on the joints. The beach itself adds to the workout as you need to focus on your stability on the uneven surface.

How has gaining weight for this role changed your eating habits?

Most of the year I do intermittent fasting and don't touch food until around noon or so. But while preparing for the film, I started eating in the morning because I wanted to keep the mass I had gained. I would have breakfast and then make a protein shake. Another protein shake followed after lunch on set. For dinner, I made sure it was a large, high-protein, two-entree appetizer and made sure I got plenty of carbs in it too to keep my energy up.

Early morning training followed by 12 hours of filming in the jungle sounds like punishment. how did you recover

The first thing I wanted to do every day after coming back from the jungle was go somewhere cool. It was usually around 100 degrees outside with crazy humidity, and I would be sweating. Luckily the resort had a cold bath and sauna so I used those almost every day. I kept my hotel room around 68 degrees just so I could get some rest. I don't think people focus on sleep as much as they should. That was the most important part of my day.

Have you also integrated contrast agent therapy into your daily recovery routine?

I have had an Enlighten sauna in my apartment in New York for a while. But after seeing the benefits of scuba diving during filming, I decided to get one. One of the actors in the film, Oliver Trevena, had one at home, so I asked his advice. I ended up getting a jump from Renu Therapy which was great. I had space on the roof terrace of my New York home and it goes great with the sauna. I also like the mental advantage - forcing myself to go in the freezing water when it's already only 10 degrees outside. During and after comes a great feeling that can be a bit addictive. w it's just a matter of finding the best combination and frequency, which I'm constantly experimenting with.

Plane from Lionsgate is in theaters now.

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