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British actor Ed Skrein is brilliant at playing both heroes and villains, but there’s no question he’s better known for his baddies. Time and time again, he’s showcased an innate ability to captivate and unnerve with his performances, which is no doubt why he was called upon by Zack Snyder to play the ruthless Admiral Atticus Noble in the director’s epic Rebel Moon saga.

For Skrein, the role was an opportunity to showcase his acting chops and cut an intimidating figure. He started the extreme fitness transformation months before with long-time trainer Matt Lovell, nutritionist Erin Blevins, and muay Thai coach Yusuf Ali-Taleb. The result is a performance and physique as powerful as any special effect out there.

The ideal body type for a villain differs drastically, but for Rebel Moon, Skrein wanted to achieve a “tight, taut look, almost like a snake.” He whittled down his body fat percentage to 5 percent.

Note: There are downsides to having an extremely low body fat percentage. Anything under 5 percent can cause waning energy, risk for heart issues, and low testosterone. Skrein was only at 5 percent for shoot day, and normally walks around at 12 percent.  If you’re seeking the right body fat percentage to see abs, aim for 6 to 13 percent, the latter of which is much easier to maintain.

Men’s Journal talked to Skrein about how martial arts helped him mentally and physically for the role and nabbed a sample workout the actor used to burn fat and build muscle.

Rebel Moon—Part Two: The Scargiver is now streaming on Netflix.

Men’s Journal: You’ve worked with some great directors over the years, but Zack Snyder has made a unique mark. What was it like working with him?

Ed Skrein: Zack cares deeply about every element of his films. There’s a reason he casts the people he does, and he expects a lot from them. The physical element is just as important as everything else on set. From the beginning that was made clear, and I could tell he trusted me to bring the right result in front of the camera. The words Atticus Noble says and the way he says them is no more important than how his body looks in those moments.

Ed Skrein as Admiral Atticus Noble in 'Rebel Moon'<p>Courtesy Image</p>Ed Skrein as Admiral Atticus Noble in 'Rebel Moon'<p><button class=
Ed Skrein as Admiral Atticus Noble in ‘Rebel Moon’

Courtesy Image

What were you trying to achieve, aesthetically, for the character of Atticus Noble?

I wanted people to lean back in their chairs when I came on the screen. I wanted them to think, “This guy is scary and weird.” I didn’t want muscles for nothing. I wanted this tight, taut look, almost like a snake about to strike. There are all kinds of villains out there. Do you think a big, puffy guy is scary? Personally, I think when you see someone who’s really lean and sinewy, that’s scary. That’s a person who’s desperate but also dangerous. That’s why I wanted the vascularity that you see.

What made this snake-like transformation possible?

Before this role came to me, I’d been speaking with my London muay Thai coach Yusuf Ali-Taleb [about how] I wanted a project I could really train for. I’d done so much work on my fighting, switching positions, and striking. I’ve been training [in] muay Thai for almost a decade at this point, and I think martial arts training was really beneficial for the character. That’s how I wanted him to be able to strike, so we trained hard together for this.

I was also going to the gym with my trainer and friend Matt Lovell, who also handles my supplementation. We’ve been working together for a while, and I was excited to have a reason to really get some muscles. We leaned into the resistance work as well. We go to Muscleworks gym in London for our sessions, and I love the community there.

Related: The 60 Best Action Movies of All Time, Ranked

How did it compare with other training you’ve done in the past?

I’ve done marathons, triathlons, and swam the English Channel from England to France without a wetsuit. I still think this may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had to go back and call on the mental effort that was required during Channel crossing. I remember just having to go arm after arm, coming up for air, and being tossed around by the waves. Those moments of hell on Earth. Those experiences are how I have gotten the resilience I needed to get through training and filming this. At the same time, I’m not sure what my mental health would have been like without being able to go to the gym on set.

Zack Snyder is renowned for how he runs sets. What was it like working on Rebel Moon?

I think it’s clear to anyone who’s watched a Zack Snyder movie the scale of his productions is always massive. He creates something completely different. The best part was seeing the gym Zack built. The machines were incredible and there was so much space. I mean, it was the dream.

I knew for sure then that Zack was my kind of director. And I think he brought me in because he knew I was his kind of actor as well. There was a trainer on site called Alessandro, who was there to support some of the actors. I was already on my own training trajectory at that point, but it was awesome to get in there and train with some of the crew.

The most wonderful thing was the sense of community. I was happy to not be lonely. So many times it’s been a very solitary pursuit, training to the level that I do for these projects. That was not the case here, Zack was our leader on set and in the gym. I had met my match in that aspect. I was also in there with Alfonso Herrera, who plays Cassius; Stuart Martin, who plays Den; Sky Yang, who plays Aris; and Ray Fisher, who plays Darrian Bloodaxe. Bae Doona was in there as well.

Skrein's years of martial arts training came in handy for the film's action sequences.<p>Courtesy Image</p>Skrein's years of martial arts training came in handy for the film's action sequences.<p><button class=
Skrein’s years of martial arts training came in handy for the film’s action sequences.

Courtesy Image

How did you feel about the results?

It reminded me that I’m 41 years old. I beat myself up and I felt it. But there was also a part of me that was like, “Look, you young fuckers, this is how a man trains.” It took another level of discipline. If there are actors who are okay with doing the bare minimum, that’s fine. But I’m not trying to do that ever, I wanted to take it to the furthest level. I probably went a little too hard, to be honest. But that’s the way I like to do things. Especially with a character who is as extreme as Noble.

It sounds like you went to the edge. What was your mindset like to keep that up?

I have to admit there were times during this process where I had to ask myself, “What is your problem?” There was nobody asking me to push it to that level. There was really no reason I was so beat up by the end of the shoot [that] I couldn’t even sit at the dinner table. I was lying on the floor with my dinner plate next to me because I destroyed my back the day before. Hitting a few painkillers, then going back to do the job again the next day.

I have massive respect for bodybuilders and the fighters who train in my gym. But for most of them, they are prepping for their competition for a certain amount of weeks and they’re doing one well-timed water cut. I was doing this for seven months, and doing water cut after water cut for the scenes that needed it. This was a different kind of hell. I couldn’t show one body on camera, then not show the same thing in the next scene. I was using water and salt to get the exact look I needed. One day I’m doing seven pages of dialogue fully suited up in a military uniform, and a few days later I’m completely undressed, showing everything.

Do you think the mental part of training that hard affected how you played the character?

I looked unhinged on-screen, and I probably was a little unhinged from all of the overtraining I was doing. I don’t believe the performance would have been quite as good if I hadn’t taken it to that level, and when I see the book of photos that Zack Snyder shot, I had no idea my body could even look like that. In the end, it was worth it. And it’s made me enjoy training even more.

These days I’m still working out six days a week, and I have my nutrition locked in. In my garden, I have steel maces and kettlebells, which I was taught to use by my crew at Onnit. And now if I want to have an old fashioned, I’ll have an old fashioned. Maybe a glass of the whiskey Zack founded, which he gave to me after wrap…have a little excess to toast the times of minimalism. I’ll probably open that when the extended version of Rebel Moon comes out. Host a little party.

Ed Skrein used muay Thai and compound movements to torch body fat while building muscle.<p>Courtesy Image</p>Ed Skrein used muay Thai and compound movements to torch body fat while building muscle.<p><button class=
Ed Skrein used muay Thai and compound movements to torch body fat while building muscle.

Courtesy Image

Ed Skrein Rebel Moon Workout: The Routine That Got Him Shredded Down to 5% Body Fat

Directions

This is a sample chest, back, and core day Skrein did with trainer Matt Lovell in London before hitting the Rebel Moon set. This kind of programming was paired with long martial arts sessions with muay Thai coach Yusuf Ali-Taleb. Be explosive in the concentric phase of the lift (when you flex or lift weight up), then go slow and controlled on the eccentric phase (lowering).

Begin with a dynamic warmup, then move into the warmup sets, completing 2 rounds with a kettlebell. The workout comprises 10 exercises total, paired in supersets, meaning you’ll perform both exercises back-to-back with no rest in between. The supersets are done with a descending rep count, while adding 20 pounds of weight before beginning the next superset. Rest for 30 seconds between each superset.

Warmup

Directions: Perform 2 sets. Rest for 30 seconds between each set.

1. Goblet Squats x 10 Reps

Kettlebell goblet squat <p>James Michelfelder</p>Kettlebell goblet squat <p><button class=
Kettlebell goblet squat

James Michelfelder

How to Do It

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed out slightly, to start.

  2. Clean a kettlebell to your chest with both hands on the horns.

  3. Engage your core and hinge your hips to lower slowly into a squat, keeping your spine neutral.

  4. Pause at the bottom, then explode up to the starting position.

  5. That’s 1 rep.

2. Single-Leg Deadlift x 10 Reps Each Side

Single-leg kettlebell deadlift<p>Justin Steele</p>Single-leg kettlebell deadlift<p><button class=
Single-leg kettlebell deadlift

Justin Steele

How to Do It

  1. Stand with a kettlebell in your right hand, resting in front of your thigh, palm facing you, to start.

  2. Hinge at the waist as you bring your right leg straight back, maintaining a soft bend in your left leg as you slowly lower the weight toward the ground.

  3. Stop when the kettlebell reaches your shin and your torso is parallel to the ground.

  4. Push through your left leg and explosively extend through hips to stand.

  5. That’s 1 rep. In the second set of 10 reps, switch arms.

Related: 7 Ways to Get a Shredded Body in a Week

Ed Skrein Rebel Moon Workout

Directions

Perform 5 rounds of each superset below before moving to the next superset, increasing the weight by 10 pounds for each weighted exercise, before doing the next set. Rest 30 seconds between supersets.

1A. Dumbbell Bench Press x 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 Reps

Dumbbell bench press<p>Beth Bischoff</p>Dumbbell bench press<p><button class=
Dumbbell bench press

Beth Bischoff

How to Do It

  1. Sit on a flat bench holding two dumbbells on your thighs with a neutral grip, to start.

  2. Kick your knees up to hoist the bells over your chest as you lie down.

  3. Slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest, then explosively press them up driving your feet into the ground.

  4. That’s 1 rep.

1B. Chinups x 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 Reps

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How to Do It

  1. Stand below a pullup bar, to start.

  2. Grasp the bar with an underhand grip with hands shoulder-width apart (or wider).

  3. Engage your lats by pulling your shoulder blades down your back, then engage your biceps to pull your body up until your chin is over the bar, keeping your core engaged and eyes forward throughout.

  4. Pause at the top, then slowly lower down to a dead hang. That’s 1 rep.

2A. Incline Dumbbell Press x 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 Reps

<p>James Michelfelder</p><p><button class=

How to Do It

  1. Sit on an adjustable weight bench, set at a 45-degree angle, holding two dumbbells on your thighs with a neutral grip, to start.

  2. Kick your knees up to hoist the dumbbells into position and lie back against the bench.

  3. Inhale, then press the bells straight overhead until arms are fully extended, exhaling at the top.

  4. Pause briefly, then slowly lower to the start position. That’s 1 rep.

2B. Lat Pulldown x 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 Reps

<p>James Michelfelder</p><p><button class=

How to Do It

  1. Sit down at a lat pulldown machine with knees bent and feet firmly planted on the ground, to start.

  2. With an overhand grip, grab the handle with hands just wider than shoulder-width apart.

  3. Engage your core and pull your shoulder blades down your back, then slightly lean back as you explosively pull the bar down until it hits the top of your chest.

  4. Pause briefly, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then slowly let the weight return to the start position. That’s 1 rep.

3A. Dumbbell Pullover x 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 Reps

Dumbbell pullover<p>Justin Steele</p>Dumbbell pullover<p><button class=
Dumbbell pullover

Justin Steele

How to Do It

  1. Lie flat on a bench holding a dumbbell with arms straight over your chest, to start.

  2. Keeping your upper arms in the same position, slowly lower the weight until your elbows are bent 90 degrees. This targets the lats.

  3. Conversely, you can keep your arms straight and pull the dumbbell behind your head to hit the pecs and serrates anterior.

  4. Explosively pull your arms back to the start position, straightening your elbows. That’s 1 rep.

3B. Behind-the-Neck Chinup x 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 Reps

Behind-the-neck pullup<p>James Michelfelder</p>Behind-the-neck pullup<p><button class=
Behind-the-neck pullup

James Michelfelder

How to Do It

  1. Stand below a pullup bar, to start.

  2. Grasp the bar with an underhand grip with hands shoulder-width apart (or wider).

  3. Engage your lats by pulling your shoulder blades down your back, then engage your biceps to pull your body up.

  4. Instead of a traditional chinup, bring your head forward while keeping your neck straight, so the bar touches the back of your neck.

  5. Pause briefly at the top, then lower to the start position in a controlled manner. That’s 1 rep.

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