‘It can be very sur­real’

Lo­cal busi­ness owner lands role in East­wood film

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - *breaking News At Thestarpho­enix.com/entertainm­ent - By Cam Fuller

Clint East­wood had nice things to say about Grant Roberts’ au­di­tion, but did that mean he got the part? Roberts wasn’t sure. The Hol­ly­wood trainer, who spent his teen years in Saskatoon, whipped Hi­lary Swank into shape for the East­wood film Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby and was re­warded with a walk-on part. Now, he was adding a few plates to his ca­reer bar­bell by go­ing for a role in In­vic­tus. The true story about South African’s 1995 World Cup rugby team stars Mor­gan Free­man and Matt Da­mon. It opens to­day.

“You re­ally get only one shot at it and you sit back and wait to see what hap­pens,’’ Roberts said re­cently of the au­di­tion.

Then East­wood phoned with a big com­pli­ment: “I saw your au­di­tion. You were great.’’ And that was about it.

“That’s the way he is. He’s not overly ver­bose at the best of times.”

Roberts waited a cou­ple more weeks, as­sumed he missed the part and got on with his life as a trainer, owner of sev­eral fit­ness clubs and globe-trot­ting fit­ness ad­vo­cate. Then Warner Bros. called and said his plane ticket was ready for his trip to South Africa — the next day. Roberts was en route to Chicago at the time. It was one of those “didn’t any­one tell you?’’ con­ver­sa­tions. The day af­ter Chicago, Roberts and his one carry-on bag were headed over­seas for 2 ⁄ months.

“The op­por­tu­nity to tell the world what re­ally hap­pened is a pretty spec­tac­u­lar op­por­tu­nity,’’ he says.

In­vic­tus is the story of Nel­son Man­dela unit­ing his coun­try with a run at the World Cup. Da­mon plays team cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar. Roberts, who was seen but not heard as a cor­ner­man in Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby, plays flanker Ruben Kruger. Roberts met the real Pien­aar dur­ing film­ing but, sadly, Kruger is suf­fer­ing from a brain tu­mour. “It was an hon­our to por­tray him.” Roberts, who owns Mecca Fit­ness and Pro Fit Ath­letic Club & Spa in Saskatoon and still has a res­i­dence in the city, lit­er­ally hit the ground run­ning in South Africa. He was on the field as soon as he landed, play­ing full-tilt rugby at noon in 40-de­gree heat. Un­like foot­ball, there are no breaks.

“They’re not the same sport. The whole time we were play­ing rugby I was like, ‘When is the ref­eree go­ing to blow the whis­tle?’

“You’ve got to de­velop your con­di­tion­ing pretty quickly or you’re just go­ing to be left a heap on the ground. That was the most chal­leng­ing part, the con­di­tion­ing, be­ing able to keep up the pace of the ex­plo­sive na­ture of rugby.”

To look more like a player, Roberts trimmed down to 250 pounds from 300. It was the ex­act op­po­site of what he had Swank do­ing in Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby, gain­ing about 20 pounds of mus­cle in six weeks. And it wasn’t nearly as stren­u­ous.

“It was the eas­i­est thing I’ve ever done. I ba­si­cally stopped train­ing. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Off-set, Roberts got to hang out with Da­mon. He met his fam­ily and ran lines with him af­ter din­ner. Those were the ‘pinch-me’ mo­ments.

“I re­mem­ber catch­ing my­self think­ing, ‘I am sit­ting here in South Africa try­ing to talk with an ac­cent with Ja­son Bourne.’ It can be very sur­real.”

Roberts, a for­mer Cana­dian body­build­ing cham­pion, is a per­sonal trainer for sev­eral stars, none of whom he’ll name. And he’s heav­ily in­volved in fit­ness is­sues as the pres­i­dent and CEO of Healthy and Fit Com­mu­ni­ties and as the founder of Healthy Stu­dent Bodies. He launched Healthy Stu­dent Bodies at City Park Col­le­giate in Saskatoon three years ago, pay­ing for tread­mills and ex­er­cise bikes in the class­room, prov­ing that fit­ness im­proves other as­pects of life, from aca­demic achieve­ment to be­hav­iour. A sim­i­lar pro­gram called Move­ment Mat­ters op­er­ates there now.

“The trans­for­ma­tion in the kids in this pro­gram is be­yond words,’’ says Roberts. He plans on tak­ing both causes global. The stakes are huge, he says.

“This is the first gen­er­a­tion, at least in North Amer­ica, where kids will have a shorter life ex­pectancy than their own par­ents based solely on poor life­style habits and not ex­er­cis­ing and poor nutri­tion.”

Roberts also has a book com­ing out ti­tled Uni­fied Life­style, the Revo­lu­tion. It’s about get­ting or­di­nary peo­ple to adopt the men­tal­ity of ath­letes be­cause things such as strength, en­durance and flex­i­bil­ity are just as valu­able in everyday life as they are in sports.

As it hap­pens, the power of sport to change the world is the theme of In­vic­tus.

“I think this movie will un­ques­tion­ably be in the run­ning for an Os­car, and ev­ery­body who watches it will walk away feel­ing a sense of pur­pose.”

—Photo Sup­plied

Grant Roberts is a for­mer Cana­dian body­build­ing cham­pion and a per­sonal trainer for sev­eral stars

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