Jessie Usher scored the leading role in STARZ’s new LeBron James-produced basketball comedy, Survivor’s Remorse, because he could play the big personality of a young NBA star. But at a scrawny 6’1”, 150 pounds when he landed the part, Usher didn’t exactly look like he could drive in the lane against the league’s best.
Usher plays Cam Calloway, a newly signed player for Atlanta’s NBA team, struggling to balance his old life surrounded by drugs and poverty with a new one surrounded by money and paparazzi. The show’s first episode, which airs October 4, never reaches a basketball court, but producers needed Usher to build a believable physique. They gave him six weeks to bulk 20 pounds, giving Cam Calloway an NBA superstar body to match his NBA superstar personality.
Men’s Fitness: When were you first told you had to gain 20 pounds for the role and what was your reaction?
Jessie Usher: They called me literally seven weeks before the first day we were supposed to film and they asked me, “Would you be willing to gain some weight for this role?” And I was like, “Heck yeah; I’m down to do whatever it takes.” Then they set me up with a pro trainer. His name is William Thompson and he’s a really good weight gain coach. So I linked up with him the next day, actually that next morning.
MF: Outside of the gym, what was your diet regimen like?
JU: I was breaking it down to seven meals a day. I would wake up and have a pretty good breakfast; it would be like three whole eggs, and toast, something hearty to hold some weight on. And then in between each meal I would either have a protein shake or a protein bar. The main requirement was 30 grams of protein per meal, seven times a day. I started off with that and once I got used to it—at first I would just sort of force-feed myself—two weeks into it, I guess my stomach expanded, and I just started to get hungry all the time. So it was time to pump it up to eight meals. At the end of it, I was eating eight meals a day. Honestly it was pretty insane.
MF: How much time did you spend in the gym?
JU: Well with my trainer I would work out in the mornings and we would only work out for an hour and a half. We would alternate between whatever muscle group we were working on, and also abs every single day and calves every day, too. I would do that, but then at night I would go back to the gym because I wanted to do more ab workouts.
MF: What was the most punishing workout you did?
JU: Leg day. I’m sure most people agree with me on that. But when you’re trying to bulk up, man, it was rough. We would alternate between seated calf raises, standing calf raises, then I would do leg press and leg extensions, and tons and tons of lunges. I was doing squat jumps, all kinds of stuff, and then of course about two weeks later we added in a weight vest.
MF: How’d you feel after that workout?
JU: In order to get up to this gym there’s like four flights of stairs and walking down the stairs I had Bambi legs. My knees would be shaking, I would get back in my car, start the car up and then as I’m ever so gently trying to back out of the parking space, both of my legs would suddenly just start shaking a little bit, and I was like man, this is really intense.
MF: What came out of the bulking process that you weren’t expecting?
JU: After I gained the 20 pounds, I wasn’t expecting my shoulders to bulk up the way they did. They got huge before anything. That was kind of strange. I’ve always had little stick legs, so then when muscles would change and I would see my calves growing out from the side – that to me was a little weird. I would stare at my legs for like ten minutes at a time.
MF: LeBron’s helping to produce this show. Did you have any interactions with him? Did you get to shoot around, get some one-on-one in?
JU: I wish, man. I would like to play him one-on-one, but there’s no hope for me. At the same time we were filming, LeBron was doing the NBA finals.
MF: You say you’re hopeless. Is Cam hopeless? Who wins that one-on-one game?
JU: Oh man, Cam all day. He’s younger, he’s faster. I mean LeBron’s a powerful dude. He’s an incredible basketball player, but my bet’s going on Cam.