Millions of guys have hit the weights with the goal of carving a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. But Brett Azar actually got to be prime Arnold: In the last two Terminator movies, when scenes have shown the “original” T-800, the Governator’s head has been superimposed on Azar’s sculpted body.
“All my scenes with him, I was naked. My wardrobe on Terminator: Genisys was a sock, and it didn’t hide anything,” Azar says. That’s because Azar’s body played “Arnold” when he first arrived on Earth—nude, and ready to steal a biker’s clothes. “It was the most embarrassing professional thing I’ve done. But the joke now is that when Arnold sees me, he says, ‘I don’t recognize you. You’re wearing too much clothing!’”
Thankfully Azar, 34, is getting recognized more often today, thanks to roles with his clothes on—and his own face on his body. Azar plays the role of the Iron Sheik on NBC’s Young Rock. He’s also working on a film with Megan Fox in his native Rhode Island, and has his eyes on a role in the biggest cinematic universe of our times: Marvel. When rumors swirled about Dave Bautista leaving his role as Drax, Azar jokingly suggested he become the next Guardian of the Galaxy–and the idea went viral.
Accompanied by his pet pig, Munch, Azar spoke with us about training to be Arnold and the Sheik, what he eats to stay shredded, and his advice for young guys who want to chase their biggest dreams.
When you got the role as Arnold’s 1984 body for Terminator: Genisys, were there specific parts of your physique you felt you needed to develop to fit the role?
Everything! When I got that that role, I started training harder than I’ve ever trained in my life. But I had the benefit of knowing that they wanted me to represent Arnold in Terminator [the original]. And in that phase, Arnold was bulking, so he wasn’t shredded by any means. So I started force-feeding just to get as big as I possibly could in the amount of time they gave me.
And I really just did basic Arnold workouts—you know, like the Arnold blueprints. I knew my chest was gonna be highlighted, so my focus was on chest. I was benching, benching, benching.
I remember after we were done filming, and I was able to talk about what I was doing, a fan called me out. Like, “You’re not the Terminator. You’re not Arnold unless you can bench 500 pounds!” So I went and worked for it, and I got 515 pounds for a rep.
When you said you used classic Arnold-style workouts, you’re talking super-high volume, right? Supersets? Let’s get specific.
I met [IFBB pro and Olympia competitor] Juan Morel right when I got the job. And I was like, “l need to get in the best shape of my life.” And he says, “Come train with me.” He kicked my ass in a way that I’ve never felt before. I’m forever grateful to him because I have continued doing those workouts.
What I found worked best for me is a style of training where it’s an old-school schedule: Chest day, back day, leg day, shoulder day, arm day.
You pick an exercise to just crush, and you blow it out for eight to ten sets—heavy as hell. Even if it’s a three-rep set or six or seven reps, you get that exercise in where you just crush your muscle. And then the rest of the workout, the other three or four exercises is like the pump—the the 12 to 15 reps, full stretch. And that’s what I found works best for me. I get that strength exercise set, and the rest is the bodybuilding pump. And that that has been my go-to since Terminator.
And it worked! It must have been a dream come true to see that physique on screen.
Yes. Because Arnold actually means a lot more to me than just a bodybuilding hero.
When I was two, my birth father murdered my little sister and got taken away to prison for life. My mother and my little brother and I were left with nothing during the court battle during his trial. His family raided our house, took everything.
So we moved back to my grandparents’ house with nothing to start over, and I grew up without a father figure. My grandfather was around, but he was a traveling salesman, so he was only home on the weekends. He had a collection of Arnold movies that I would watch from three years old and up. When I was in kindergarten, I was drawing the Predator and they were gonna send me home because I was drawing guns! But I grew up idolizing Arnold in a father figure way. I was like, this is what i want to be when I grow up. I want to be the hero. I want to have the body. I want to be a role model.
Even my friends would call me “Hollywood” in high school because I had this idea that I was going to be just like Arnold. So to manifest that all into becoming Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Genisys meant more than I can even fathom.
It meant more than just a role in my career. It had so much meaning behind it because of the shit that my family went through, with my past and where my mind was. So for that to happen…the guy is is my hero, and will always be my hero.
Just know what you want, and realize it’ll happen if you really want it and if you can visualize it—then it’ll happen. So focus on what you want versus what couldhappen. If you’re set on it, the universe will make it happen eventually.
That’s really powerful. And it seems like you really try to speak things into existence: When someone suggested that a new Drax might be needed for future installments of Guardians of the Galaxy, you put yourself out there.
Ha! That was just a funny situation. I think it was Screenrant that did an article where they said Bautista might not want to do Drax again, and I just wrote a comment on Twitter that was like, “I’m ready.” And the author of that article saw it and he was like, wait a minute, that’s the guy from Young Rock. They wrote another article saying, “Actor from Young Rock wants to be Drax” and it just blew up for like a good week. It kind of went viral.
I was like, well yeah, of course I love that, and I would never turn that down. It’d be epic! I love Bautista. I love and am am a fan of all the “muscle actors.” When they do well, it means I have more of a chance. So I support all of them with everything they do. I’m a huge fan of Bautista. I would never want to step on anyone’s toes or anything, but if he wants to walk away I would gladly step in those shoes. I’d be humbled, very humbled, brother.
For Young Rock, you’re looking really lean as the Iron Sheik—maybe even leaner than I remember the Sheik being! How did you train to get that look?
When we flew out to Australia [where the show was shot due to COVID], they did a two-week quarantine. They lock you in a hotel room, and so you’re talking to the walls for two weeks. But because it was quarantined, you get limited food. I was able to order groceries: I ate really clean for those two weeks.
And it was NBC, so I got special treatment: They put a 300-pound weight set in my room, just the bar with 300 pounds.
I’m surprised I didn’t get fined for breaking the hotel furniture, because I took two chairs and I used that as the bench. I put the bar down on the bench, and I’d bench off the floor. Then shrugs, deadlifts. Overhead press I had to do kneeling, or else I was going to put the weights through the roof. I walked out of there looking the best I’ve ever looked.
When I came out of quarantine, I was 15 pounds lighter and shredded, with like the wings going up through the stomach and everything. The other [actors] were like, “Dude what the…?” And so right then, it became, “We’re going to the gym with you.” We’d all train together. It was awesome.
And you had to train for the wrestling, too, right?
Day one after we got out of quarantine, they brought us to the warehouse that where they had a whole ring setup. And [AEW wrestler and former WWE star] Chavo Guerrero was waiting for us! He was our wrestling coach and mentor. All the actors who played wrestlers did their own stunts.
Meeting Chavo was really funny because I’m a huge fan of wrestling from a young age, and I was like, “Wait, you’re the Chavo …I hate you!” [Ed: Guererro was a villain in WWE]. He’s like, “Good! Thank you! I did my job.” The guy is amazing. He’s a great, great guy.
So we learned the basics, and then progressed from there. The first thing we did was just run and bounce off the ropes. And when you hit those ropes wrong, you’re walking around with a bruise across your back for a week. It’s the the simplest things that you wouldn’t expect.
Chavo was very responsible in that the first thing we learned was how to fall correctly so that we didn’t break our necks or anything. And the first step in doing that is to do a somersault, so you get used to just rolling out of a bad situation if you get stuck falling on your head. And we all lined up and we were all doing our somersaults. And I did my somersault, stood up … and I blacked out and fell down.
He’s like, “Do it again.” So I did a somersault, stood up…blacked out, fell down. When’s the last time you did a somersault? Like third grade? So then all the guys were joking, big bad Sheik can bench 500 pounds, but he can’t do a somersault without passing out. It took a few days to get used to it, but yeah, just a somersault caught me off guard.
You’re looking so shredded that even your costars are jealous: What do you eat to get that lean?
I eat low-carb, high-protein and moderate fat all day, and then at night, I’ll have whatever carbs I’m craving and go to bed happy.
Right now, it’s been cinnamon raisin bread with butter and jelly. I’ll toast usually about four slices, and i’ll slap some butter and a little bit of grape jelly on there, and that’s my fix.
Sunday is cheat day. So when I was training for Terminator: Genisys [with Juan Morel], he was on that kind of program, so I was like, I’ll do that, too. I was clean, clean, clean, and then I’d have my epic cheat day. I’d sit down and have one meal, I’ll eat until I have to go to the bathroom, and then I go to bed. Pizzas, pastas, cookies, chips …usually by the time I got to ice cream, I was running to the bathroom, and then I was done.
The epic cheat meal is part of my program still. I’ll have like the like a little bit of carbs most days at bedtime, but then one night—like on leg day or the day that I really hit it really hard—I’ll just blow out a meal and pass out in a food coma.
I feel less guilty doing it on a day that I know I crushed. I’d feel guilty if I did nothing all day. You have to earn it, in my point of view, you have to earn that meal. So you have to crush it, and then you can go have your spoils.
You were on Worst Cooks in America (season 15). What’s a bodybuilder-friendly meal you make now that has skills you learned on that show?
I’ll take a head of iceberg lettuce. I’ll take a tomato and I’ll slice that up just like Chef Anne teaches me—I chop it up correctly, I don’t cut my finger off! Then a an entire onion, I’ll chop up as well the same way. I’ll throw that into the bowl and then I’ll add my meat, whether it’s some rare steak or my ICON meals. A little ketchup, a little garlic, a little mayonnaise, a little mustard … and it’s like a big Whopper in a bowl. That’s what I call it. It’s my Whopper. That’s my salad.
What’s your training like now?
It’s an hour and a half to two hours of weights every day, with the same program—it’s that one exercise I’ll stick on and stay with for like half an hour. I go about 10 sets, super heavy.
And then the rest is a moderate pump, 8 to 15 reps of three or four more exercises.
Then post-workout, immediately I’ll always do 45 minutes to an hour of cardio, either on the stepper or the spin bike. With the bike, I’ll crank the resistance so it’s almost like a leg day in itself. You’re just grinding for that entire 45 minutes.
I don’t track heart rate. I gauge by how much I’m sweating, and how much I can talk. I use the old-school rule from when I went to school for kinesiology. That old-school rule is if you can talk, but not sing, you’re in the fat-burning zone. If I can’t talk, I slow down. If I can sing, I speed up.
And how is that training different now than when you were in your twenties?
I’m not doing it in a dumb way anymore where I’m trying to impress anybody, or putting too much weight that I know my body can’t handle.
I know it’s hard to keep ego out of it. You want to bench heavy. But if you’re not getting the full range of motion, you’re not pushing it. A lot of exercises, you see guys go too heavy, and they start compensating, using other muscle groups just to do the lift. Stay focused to that one muscle. When I was younger, I was strong as hell, but I didn’t have the shape to the muscle that I wanted.
Now that I’m more focused on the range of motion, the actual stretch, the actual squeeze, I’ve noticed a huge difference of the the shape of the muscle, the hardness of the muscle. Strength will always be there, because you’re doing it. But for the look, for the appearance, it’s crucial to me to get that full stretch, full squeeze.
The other thing is simplifying things: I used to think you had to jump around and do six, seven different exercises for a workout. Now I’m happy with two. Chest day, I’ll do dumbbell bench and cable fly, and I’m good. I’ll do that for an hour and a half. Maybe the next week you choose a different two or three exercises, but I don’t jump around thinking, “Oh, I didn’t do that. I need to do that.” No, I’m good. My muscle’s toast.
I don’t like it when people are stuck on this, “I have to do three or four sets. I have to do eight to 10 reps, and then I move on.” I’m just getting warmed up after three sets. Stay with that exercise until you’re sick of it. Then move on.
This article was originally published on menshealth.com.