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Mike Colter was a working actor long before he shot to fame as muscled-up, superstrong Luke Cage in the MTVU (that’s the Marvel Television Universe, of course). His long run as Cage on the Marvel/Netflix collaboration began in 2015’s Jessica Jones, and ended in 2018 after two standalone seasons of Luke Cage and later in an Avengers-esque mashup, The Defenders.
Since 2019, Colter has held a lead role in the supernatural Paramount Plus drama, Evil.
On Jan. 13 he’ll hit the big screen alongside Gerard Butler in the action-thriller Plane. Though the role doesn’t’ call him to be a jacked as Cage, Colter stayed fit and still carries plenty of muscle on his 6’3″ frame to make the role of a former military man turned accused murderer convincing in this white-knuckle action flick.
However, while shooting in Puerto Rico, keeping weight on and staying hydrated wasn’t so easy.
“It was extremely hot,” says Colter. “You can’t mess around. Someone is either constantly bringing you water, or you are getting water because you’re sweating out a gallon of water a day, so you’ve got to put in two gallons, at least.”
Colter Balances Fitness with Acting
“You have to, pre-emptively, stay in shape because when these roles come up, it’s very difficult to just get out of bed and start doing action roles without being in reasonably good shape,” says Colter.
Colter, now 46, earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre at the University of South Carolina before heading to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time. “Well, when I got into acting, I was not looking for action roles,” he shares. “I was average build, 6’3’’, 205 pounds. I wasn’t a big guy, but I had a somewhat athletic build. So, when I started working, my goal as an actor was always to just be ready to play more everyman roles.”
Actors often need to find a balance with their size and shape. Too big and you’re typecast as the silent-enforcer or menacing bad guy. Colter was well aware of these potential setbacks. However, he had a plan in mind.
“As I got into the business, I realized that there is a niche for someone like me who is pretty, you know, capable, but can also play the bigger guys, and play an action role, because I wanted to diversify my resume. And, as luck would have it, when I started looking, to think about doing action films, I put on some weight, I started working out a little more, because I wanted to just change it up a bit. And, that’s kinda how I look at it. I try to stay within striking distance of being able to drop a little bit of weight, or put on a little weight, depending on what I’m gonna do.”
Mike Colter’s Go-To Exercises
“Squats and bench presses are really good, because [doing them] keeps the size, and gives the mass that you want,” says Colter. “They are a great foundation. I found myself doing deadlifts a lot when I was in Puerto Rico, because I needed to put on a little more size.
“With deadlifts, you get that result quicker. I don’t necessarily do deadlifts on a regular basis because no one loves deadlifts unless that’s just their thing. I’m not a deadlift kind of guy, but I incorporated that into my workout and a lot of cross training and CrossFit moves with dumbbells and kettlebells. I lifted pretty heavy [in prep for the movie].”
One of the cardio activities he leaned on while on set for Plane: sprints on the beach. “It’s low impact on your joints, but it does challenge you because the surface is so uneven,” he says.
Colter also shares that his favorite way to exercise is to use the assault bike for small bursts, leading to intense cardio sessions that still maintain muscle size.
Mike Colter’s Nutrition Philosophy
Colter admits that he’s, for the most part, a pescatarian. “I’ve been able to get along with a lot of plant-based protein,” he shares. “I’m a big believer in intermittent fasting. I try to have all my food in by eight or nine o’clock, and then give myself 16 hours until I eat again. It fluctuates because it depends on my schedule.
“When I was training for Plane, I found myself eating in the mornings because I needed to keep weight. I would get up and after my workout, have a protein shake, have a little breakfast and follow it up with another meal at lunch, and have another protein shake on the way from set in the evening, before I had dinner, and then I would stop eating, and repeat. Carbs are good, but it’s just about what kind of carbs. You’ve got to watch the sugars.”
Mike Colter’s Recovery Tools
“Doing cold plunge treatments, saunas, going to work, and then getting enough rest is really essential,” says Colter. He also prioritizes sleep, aiming for 7-8 hours per night as often as possible. “That’s the component that most people can’t really seem to get done, is gaining the proper amount of sleep. Because we all are really busy, sleep is paramount in terms of recovery and getting your gains. Cold plunges are a great mood booster. It’s intense, and once I’ve don’t it, I feel like I’ve started my day with such an achievement that I’ve forced myself to do, that when I get out of it, the day becomes a little more manageable.”
Mike Colter’s Advice to Achieve Success
“I’ve learned through the years that competition is something that you really do have to have, within yourself,” he says. “You can’t compare yourself, your journey, or career to anyone else … It’s really an individual fight, always with yourself. Because some people are just naturally gifted in certain ways, and some people have to work harder in other areas so as long as you kind of keep those horse blinders on and you are sort of just focused on yourself, it’s gonna yield the results you want.”