The Real-Life Diet of The Rock’s Longtime Stunt Double, Tanoai Reed
Image by Daniel Smith
From The Scorpion King to Hobbes & Shaw, Reed has performed athletic feats as a proxy for his friend and collaborator, Dwayne Johnson. Here's how he keeps his body in tip-top, Rock-ish shape.
Real-Life Diet is a series in which GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and everyone in-between about their diets and exercise routines: what's worked, what hasn't, and where they're still improving. Keep in mind, what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
It is not at all surprising that Tanoai Reed would think highly of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Most people who’ve spent even a brief period of time with Johnson have come to a similar conclusion, and Reed has a far lengthier connection—he’s worked as Johnson’s study/body double for almost 20 years, dating back to Scorpion King, and he’s sacrificed many a bone and ligament along the way. But this is not a one-sided friendship: The two regularly exchange donut and pizza recommendations (the sign of a genuine bond), and last year, Johnson gifted Reed with a new truck, which is a pretty nice thing to do.
“People ask me, ‘Is he as kind as he seems?’” Reed says. “Everything he does is from the heart, and I couldn’t have asked for a better boss and partner. It’s rare that an actor appreciates or even acknowledges their stunt double. It’s all about their ego, but with Dwayne, he doesn’t really have one.”
Reed, 45, resides in Hawaii, where he maintains a five-days-a-week workout routine that mirrors Johnson’s. When Johnson scores a new role, Reed adjusts his training regime and diet accordingly, with special attention paid to how many shirtless scenes will be involved, and how many explosions he needs to be prepared to run away from. Most recently, Reed assumed stunt double duties for Hobbs & Shaw, the Fast & Furious quasi-spinoff out August 2 starring Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, and Vanessa Kirby.
In an interview with GQ, Reed breaks down the often-dangerous lifestyle of a stuntman—including the painful injury he sustained during the Hobbs & Shaw shoot—as well as his checks-and-balances diet.
GQ: I know it’s not the most pleasant way to start an interview, but can you give me the rundown of your stunt double-induced injuries? I’ve gathered there have been quite a few.
Tanoai Reed: Let’s see… In 2003, I broke my shin. I’ve broken my ankle, I’ve sprained stuff, and I fractured my rib on Hobbs & Shaw recently. That one was tough because I couldn’t run or train for a bit. I could hardly laugh. I had to really watch what I ate and put on a little bit of weight since I couldn’t do cardio. On Jungle Cruise, I tore my MCL, and I couldn’t run for two months. I couldn’t do any jumping. That set me back too. I’ve also broken my wrist, and I tore my arm open in Fast and the Furious 7 when it went through a big piece of glass while I was doing a fight with Jason Statham’s stunt double. I had to have emergency surgery for that one because there was shrapnel in my arm. I’ve definitely beaten myself up over the years.
That last one seems especially concerning.
Yeah, that one was pretty scary. The ER doctor opened up the bandage and blood was squirting out. He said he couldn’t fix it, so they had to call a specialist in to do surgery. He told me beforehand, “I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise anything.” I asked what the worst-case scenario was, and he said, “I have to reattach all the blood vessels, tendons, ligaments. Worst-case scenario is we have to amputate your arm.” It was like a shark bite, basically. I was in a full cast from my elbow to my fingertips for three months. But it’s all good now, other than a huge scar.
I’m glad to hear that. What sort of stunts were you involved with in Hobbs & Shaw?
A lot of fight stuff and crashing into things. I was hanging on the back of a hot rod truck getting thrown around a bunch.
Do you find that sort of thing to be exhilarating?
Yeah, it’s fun! I’ve been doing it for 25 years and I still have these moments where I pinch myself and think, I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this. It’s exhilarating for sure.
With the number of injuries you’ve sustained, do you have any specific physical therapy or rehab tips for people recovering from major injuries?
After surgery, I have a tendency to go, go, go and rush. I tore my shoulder off doing a stunt in Constantine with Keanu Reeves, and I got the surgery and thought I was ready to go. I wasn’t at all and ended up reinjuring it. Definitely take your time—don’t rush it. I just finished up a full year of work, so I recently took almost a month off of any weights to let everything heal. I did a lot of yoga with my wife, a lot of stretching, but no weights. I needed all my joints and tendons to get right, and now I’m starting back into it again.
How long have yoga and stretching been part of your routine?
I should be doing it more, honestly. I do stretch a lot, but my wife loves yoga, so we’ll do it in the morning just to get our day going every once in a while. In my career, stretching is so important, because you’ve got to look the part, but also move. I’m 260 pounds and I need to be able to run and jump and lift while staying agile. I jump rope, I do a lot of agility drills to keep my feet quick and light, and I incorporate all of that into my training.
What does your training regimen look like right now?
I do five days a week. I’m on the same training program as DJ [Dwayne Johnson]. He sends me the workout that he does. He changes it up every couple of months—we basically do one body part a day. It varies role to role what our training style will be like, as well as our diet, depending on the look of the character. Like, when we did Hercules, we had our shirt off a bunch, and needed our abs to be in ripped shape.
At what point do you find out that Dwayne said yes to a movie role so you can start training accordingly?
He’ll let me know ahead of time. When we were going to do Hercules, I had four or five months to get ready for that, which was perfect. Hobbs & Shaw wasn’t too bad because Hobbs is pretty much the same size for all the Fast and the Furious movies. It all depends on the time period too. Jungle Cruise was a period piece and he had these baggy pirate shirts and pants. No one was seeing a lot of the physique so I was able to cheat with my diet a little bit. But then there are movies where you’re in tight spandex shirts and everything shows, so you’ve got to dial in.
I was checking out your Instagram and saw a clip where you were using an ab roller, and ended the video with some jump rope, but what was the thing you were pushing in between?
Oh, that thing is called The Tank. It has magnets in it that actually push against you. The harder you push, it’s pushing back at you. It’s amazing. Just pushing it up and down the driveway once in between every set is grueling. I think it’s 300 or 400 pounds of resistance with every step. But that’s just a warm-up routine we do before our weights to get the blood flowing and get some ab work in.
Sorry, that’s just to get the blood flowing?
Yeah, what you saw there wasn’t the real workout. We did about four rounds of that, about two minutes each, to get warmed up.
Well then how long does the real workout routine last?
An hour is about average. Hour-and-a-half at the most if there’s cardio involved. I don’t see the point of staying in the gym for two, three, four hours. You’re not going to get more results from staying in the gym. You’ve got to work out the muscles, then rest and recuperate. That’s when you make your gains, is the rest time.
What’s your day-to-day diet look like?
It depends on the movie and where in the world we are. Dwayne is very, very on point with his diet. He has a cook make all his meals, everything is weighed out to the ounce, all his macros are counted for, and every two hours, whatever he’s doing, he’ll stop and eat his food. He does his workouts in the morning and then comes to work. For me, I’m usually coming in earlier to start the day. It’s harder for me to get in the gym sometimes because of the longer hours. I also started with intermittent fasting. I found that helps me a lot when I don't have access to 6-8 meals of good, clean food. So I do 16 hours fasting, and then eat in an eight-hour window. It’s kept me lean—kept my calories down, kept me in shape. In the morning when I wake up, I’ll have either a black coffee and water. Ultimately, I’ll work out on an empty stomach before my first meal. That first meal won’t be until like one p.m., after my noon workout.
For Hobbs & Shaw, what sort of things were you eating?
We were in London, so it was a bit challenging, because the food in London is not that good [laughs]. I went with what the caterer brought, and I would adjust my intermittent fasting depending on when the caterer was set to arrive. But I tried to eat clean. Usually, my first meal is my biggest meal carb-wise. Maybe chicken breast and veggies. I try to eat twice as many veggies as carbs. I use a checks-and-balances system. If I have a hamburger, I’m going to make sure the next two or three meals are really, really clean. I used to do a cheat day, but I found that when I did that, I’d gorge all day long.
What’s your all-time favorite not-so-healthy meal?
Pizza and donuts, man. I love donuts. Dwayne and I share a love for donuts. He’ll actually get donuts from certain places and send them to me, or bring a box to set from somewhere else. Pizza too. We’ll always share our newfound pizza and donut spots with each other.
When you sustain a serious injury, what happens to the movie shoot?
I try to push through it, but I have a backup double that came on in 2014 with Hercules. I was literally working 24 hours straight—I was the only stunt double for the first 14 or 15 years of DJ’s career. Most actors have two or three doubles. Some guys specialize in one thing or another, so you might have a driver double, a fight double, or a parkour double. I was the only one until that shoot, and I said, “I need a break. I need some help.” They found somebody, and we trained him. When I tore my arm open for Fast 7, that was his first movie where he stepped in for me. We had two more days of filming, and he was able to finish those days. It’s been great having him along, because he’s able to take a lot of the load off me. If I get injured, I’ll have him come in and do it and share the love.
What’s the one thing about being a stunt double that most people don’t know or understand?
Everybody always asks me about fear: “Oh you’re not scared of anything?” Not true at all. Fear is what keeps us alive. People think we’re daredevils, but daredevils hype up one big stunt and do it one time. Stunt men and women have to do it over and over and over again. You have to prepare to psychologically get into that zone, get back up, and do it again.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.