Trainer Turned Actor Matt McGorry on Changing Careers
This former Men’s Fitness writer and bodybuilder is now starring in the hit TV show Orange is the New Black. Here’s how he made a successful career change.
Matt McGorry is a triple threat. He’s a bodybuilding champ, a fitness writer, and also…a very talented actor. Random, right? You may have noticed his absence from Men’s Fitness over the last few years. That’s because he’s taken on a new role, that of Officer John Bennett in Orange is the New Black, Netflix's new hit TV series. Fitness to acting might seem like a big jump, but the former personal trainer made it look easy—and we had to learn how. Whether or not you’re interested in fitness or acting, follow Matt’s advice on changing careers if you’re ready to make a leap yourself.
Men’s Fitness: Before Orange is the New Black, you were working as a personal trainer, bodybuilder, and Men’s Fitness writer. How did you get your start in the fitness industry?
Matt McGorry: It was actually pretty ironic. I wasn’t athletic as a kid and I was self-conscious about my body, but then in eighth grade I won a school contest, and the prize was a bunch of personal training sessions. The trainer became like an older brother to me. I think the reason I related to him is because he wasn’t your typical hardcore trainer who only cared about getting huge. He was more interested in smart, corrective exercises and healthy fitness. I didn’t like it at first but then I got into it when I started to see results and began to understand that the more work I put into it, the more I got out of it.
In college I got up to 220 pounds. (I weigh 185 now.) I got into powerlifting, and then I pared back my size and focused on strength. And beating my numbers became addictive. I think the part of me that felt emotionally vulnerable made me want to get big, because your hard work is instantly noticed all the time.
So, training helped you build up confidence?
It wasn’t my physique that gave me confidence as much as it was reaching the goals that I set for myself. The whole reason I did a bodybuilding show was to see how far I could push my own discipline. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I made the switch to acting, I was able to break that down into small, measurable goals like I did with bodybuilding. It went from “How do I deadlift 576 pounds?” to “How do I get these five lines on a TV show?” and then I would try to figure out how to progress to the next thing. All the fitness training served me in that way.
Tell me a bit more about the transition from training to acting.
After ranking in the top 50 nationally in three weight classes, I took a good look at things and realized I couldn’t pursue acting on top of this, and I was always interested in acting. But training consumed my life: I was cooking all my own meals, carrying my Tupperware everywhere with me. It takes a lot of discipline and creates a solitary lifestyle—at least it did for me. It wasn’t a lifestyle I could continue, so I stopped.
I didn’t even ease off of it. I didn’t do a bench press, squat, or deadlift for a couple years after that. And I basically haven’t cooked since. I am a very black and white person like that. Because I was so attached to my numbers from powerlifting, it was easier to take a big step away, so that as I was getting weaker I didn’t have to judge myself based on these same standards.