A wounded war veteran-turned-gangster who wears a mask to hide his scars; a police detective with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder; a real-life serial bomber and fugitive. Actor Jack Huston is known for not so much playing idiosyncratic characters, but embodying them.

For his portrayal of David on Expats, the new limited drama series from creator Lulu Wang co-starring Nicole Kidman, this meant getting under the skin of a middle-aged, depressed man with an alcohol dependence and something to hide. It also meant gaining nearly 30 pounds.

Huston spoke with GQ about the mental health challenges that come with such a physical transformation, the power of using movement to bring a character to life, and how he unwinds after an intense project. (Spoiler: Not easily.)

For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.

GQ: Over the course of your career, you’ve played many roles that have a very distinct physicality to them. How do you go about finding how that character looks and moves, and how does that influence the way you play the part?

Jack Huston: Physicality is hugely [important]. Usually, one does films where you either have to lose a lot of weight or get into some sort of amazing fitness regime where you get ripped. For Expats, [director] Lulu Wang—I worked with her on her first feature (The Farewell), so we’d known each other for almost 10 years before she called me about Expats—called and said, “This is an interesting one because I need you to put on close to 20 pounds.”

I went a little further and ended up putting on 27 pounds of weight. It sounds wonderful in theory, but putting on a lot of weight in a short space of time wreaks havoc on your body and mind. [We also filmed the show] coming out of the pandemic, where everybody had been off on their own without being able to see one another. So I think a lot of people were maybe drinking or eating too much—especially in our business, they didn’t have to be on camera. But I went the other way and got incredibly fit and health-conscious during the pandemic.

Tell me a little bit more about how you went about gaining weight and doing it in a way that felt safe.

It was a lot of carb-loading. I’m not someone who really likes sweets or too much sugar. I was in Hong Kong [where Expats takes place], which is one of the food capitals of the world. It’s amazing; it’s a plethora of everything delicious. So the eating part wasn’t hard.

I think it has much more to do with still exercising, but it was more movement for your internal body and for your mind. You get these bouts of dopamine when you’re eating, but there’s a big drop off [after] that can mess with your head—you can really suffer from depression and your body shutting down. So I had to be very conscious of being able to keep moving, walking—but nothing too strenuous, nothing that would cause me to lose weight.

How did you approach returning to a neutral place for you when the project wrapped?

I always say another role helps. It’s interesting because [soon after] Expats, I took on the role of director, writer, and producer on a film. And then you are given an excuse not to be as health-conscious as you are when you’re in front of the camera.

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