Rob Brown

The star of The Express talks football, training, and portraying the legendary Ernie Davis

Rob Brown put his body through an intensive training regimen to get fit enough for his role as college football great Ernie Davis in The Express, a film about the first African-American player to win the Heisman trophy. To achieve the look of an All-American halfback, Brown had to train like one. "I showed up at camp at like 190 pounds," he says, "and I walked out of there at 215 pounds." Here's how he made his transition:

MF: When you first heard the story of Ernie Davis, how did it affect you? How did it shape the way you portrayed him on the screen?
Brown: Well, I just wanted to portray the man with as much respect as I could. His family was watching. Being that he was such a legend, I wanted to respect his legacy.

Did you train to perform like a football player, or just to look like one?
I really wanted to be in football shape, because I felt like that would help me look the part. We worked on lateral movement and explosion — jump squat, things like that. It was no joke. It was legit football training.

Did you ever play football in real life?
I played at Poly Prep, a private school in Brooklyn, during my senior year of high school. I have to say, we were ranked No. 10 in USA Today. In college I played at Amherst.

What was actual football training like?
All power lifts. When you get into the pyramids where you're throwing up two or one reps, it kills. In high school we did a lot of pyramids. We alternated days, upper lower. One guy had this program where we lifted three days a week instead of four and we did complete upper body — that was torture. In college we got into more power lifts. That's when we started to really clean and do things of that nature, and box squats.

What were you like physically coming into the film?
Well, before I did The Express, I did Stop Loss, so I was in Texas and Morocco, basically just eating and lifting weights. We were all meatheads. I was probably Ernie's height and weight, probably not as cut as he was, but fairly strong. I was benching 350 pounds. I was a monster. The workouts weren't that difficult, but the diet was. I lost about 30 pounds.

How was the diet different from what you were used to eating?
All clean food: No read meat, no dairy, no sugar. And when I say no sugar that means no fruit beyond the morning. No fruit juice, just water. Breakfast was egg whites with whole wheat toast and oatmeal, lunch might be teriyaki chicken and brown rice as a treat. Dinner was just fish and salad with water. No carbs.

Specifically, what were the workouts like?
I usually split it up by body parts. If I was running that day, we would try to rest my legs and I'd do an upper-body workout. I would train twice a day so I woke up and got on the treadmill for an uphill walk. Then I'd get ready for the very first workout of the day, then do abs afterward. Then I'd eat and go home for a while. After seeing my acting coach, I'd usually drive back to the gym and have another workout. This happened basically every day. In terms of the weight training, it was just different muscle groups, and you try to go above 10 reps for four or five sets and you're out of there.

It sounds as though you did a lot of running as part of your overall workout.
I absolutely hate running. I could run routes all day, I could play ball all day, but if I'm just running, I hate it.

Who do you root for in the NFL?
Forget about it, I'm a Giants fan. I was at the Super Bowl.

What was that experience like?
It was the Baldwins to my left and LL Cool J to my right. We were just talking trash to the Pats fans. I doubt they knew who I was, but I knew who they were. But it was all about the team's victory. Until I get married and have kids, that is the single greatest event that I've attended.

Want more Men's Fitness?

Sign Up for our newsletters now.