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This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
When Daisy Ridley was cast as the heroine in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she underwent a transformation from lifelong nonathlete to onscreen badass through a program of twice-daily workouts (“Basically, J.J. Abrams wanted me to look stronger,” she says. “There was a lot of emphasis on ‘getting guns.’ “). And when an ankle injury threatened to hobble Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, a regime of soft-tissue massage and joint-mobilization exercises literally kept him running and performing.
The Force, as it were, was with both actors — and the rest of the cast — in the form of Altus Sports Institute, a Santa Monica wellness center founded in 2010 by brothers Chris Vincent and Paul Vincent, who quietly have risen to cult popularity among pro athletes including David Beckham and such Hollywood insiders as Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and co-president Louis D’Esposito, publicist Ina Treciokas and Ray Donovan star Liev Schreiber. “You come here and you don’t get a trainer, you get the whole team,” says Paul, citing a roster of chiropractic, massage therapy and nutrition experts who work together on each Altus client. Adds Chris, a licensed chiropractor: “What makes us different is a collaborative approach. We can get an athlete back on the court faster than any other program because we combine training, acupuncture and nutrition. As athletes, we have that credibility. Our clients know that we really care because we know what that feels like.” Altus workouts are “the best I’ve ever had,” says Chauncey Billups, who played in the NBA for 17 seasons. “I just wish I did these kinds of things when I was a 21-year-old rookie.”
The Vincents‘ secret ingredient is their highly personalized and comprehensive program. “Having the physical, nutritional and rehabilitative aspects covered under one roof really helps when you have a busy schedule,” says Schreiber. “For me, there is something about the professionalism and teamlike atmosphere that feels familiar and productive.”
Bad Robot COO Tommy Harper has recruited the brothers for several Mission: Impossible, Star Trek and now Star Wars films, trusting them to prepare castmembers for grueling all-day action. “I don’t worry about that when I’m on set,” says Harper. “It’s just done — handled.” Another Altus asset, he notes (particularly key for the Star Wars cast), is “their confidentiality factor. I never have to worry about anyone in the training room talking.” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy lauds the brothers’ “exceptional results”; they trained the cast for stunts and overall fitness, “as well as identifying special training requirements for specific demands of the script,” she says. The Vincents helped Carrie Fisher drop 30 pounds for the shoot (though that didn’t protect her from social media body shaming that the actress parried with sharp tweets: “My body is my brain bag” and “Blow us”). And Altus not only got Ford back on his feet after an ankle break (with on-set rehab every two hours) but also put him through “gait training” that helped him walk without a sign of injury until he healed.
Growing up in Portugal with English parents (mom was an actress, dad a singer) who ran a guesthouse they’d refurbished from “an old, broken-down mansion and vineyard,” Chris recalls, the brothers say client service comes as naturally to them as fitness. Paul, 38, competed for years as an Ironman triathlete and adventure racer; Chris, 46, originally wanted to be a professional soccer player but signed on with the famous Portuguese athletic club, Benefica, as a track athlete and later won the national championship in the 400 meters. He ultimately earned a track scholarship to UCLA, where he washed cars on weekends for extra money. One of those cars belonged to former ABC Entertainment co-chair Stu Bloomberg, who became one of their first clients. “Paul and Chris changed my life physically,” says Bloomberg, 67. “I no longer have back issues. I’m in much better shape than most people my age, and it’s because of these guys.”
After chiropractic college, Chris volunteered at the UCLA track, offering his services to elite athletes using the facility — even after school officials chased him away. “I used to hide under the bleachers, sneak people under there and treat them,” he recalls. One day, when sprinter Maurice Greene, a former 100-meter world-record holder, fell to the track with a strained hamstring, Chris was there. Greene later brought Chris with him to the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Altus now manages about 200 clients in L.A. (fees range from $150 an hour for training to $100,000 a year for the unlimited-access executive plan). Treciokas recovered from a painful shoulder injury without surgery under the Vincents‘ guidance, and D’Esposito says they helped him heal shoulder and foot injuries from working out too hard on his own. “I’ve never had an experience like that where they incorporate everything: diet, exercise, chiropractor, massage,” he says. Altus also offers a type of perk Hollywood has come to expect: concierge services from London and other cities worldwide. “When I’m traveling is the hardest time to stay on track,” says Arianna Huffington. “Whether I’m going to be in Munich or Sydney, I can call Altus and they will have a trainer and, if I want, a massage therapist available when I land.” Altus-certified teams also can be on call for film shoots anywhere in the world. It’s more expensive than hiring a local fitness guru, says Harper, but always worth it. On set and off, the Vincents see a common drive among their acolytes. “There’s a dedication that makes them good at what they do,” says Chris. “Actors, musicians, executives — they have very similar personalities to superstar athletes.”
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