LOS ANGELES -- "Are you OK? Literally. Are you OK? You're looking kind of..."
These are not the words you ever expect, or really want, to hear coming from Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson. Especially when there's concern in his eyes as he inspects you.
He should have ended the inquiry with "nauseated" or "about to toss your cookies." But he was too polite to spell it out. Class act.
It's not every day that you agree to tackle the entire seven-meals-daily "Hercules diet" in one sitting. The regimen has gained rightful notoriety as providing the lean fuel needed to create the impressive body machine that is the Rock in Hercules, which opened Friday. This food tally alone, set before us in a private room at the Four Seasons hotel, is punishing.
It starts with a stupendous 10-ounce filet of steak along with four egg whites and oatmeal (Hercules breakfast No. 1) on the way to steak/fish/chicken portions tallying more than three pounds. They arrive with broccoli, asparagus, a protein shake and a mystery red drink that was jokingly added to represent "lion's blood." I recall picking at a baked potato. Things got a little hazy.
Truth is, even as an accomplished food consumer, I was no match for the Rock and what he is jokes is the "12 labours diet." Even Johnson was sort of blown away when he looked at the entire meal plan laid out in front of him.
"It's absurd. You walk in thinking, 'What in fresh turkey hell is going on?'" he says.
There were variations during the 22-week stretch that Johnson followed the diet, before and during filming last year in Budapest. His trainer would make small adjustments based on detailed body photos. But mostly it was massive food intake with no salad fork or plates needed.
"I preferred a bigger (plastic) container. I take a spoon, and, in a polished, poised way I shove it all in," he says.
On the set, Johnson would be on meal No. 3 before director Brett Ratner woke up in the morning. But eating the food was not a chore. The ingredients were top-quality, and Johnson needed the intake to fuel him during the arduous filming.
"The only tough one was the last meal of the day, No. 7," says Johnson. "I get back to the hotel room, I'm ready to go to sleep. But I have to down 10 egg whites."
I feel you, my Herculean brother. It doesn't help me during our meal that Johnson tells gross stories about bone-protruding wrestling injuries and the wonders of having his intestines pushed back inside during a hernia procedure.
"Do you get queasy at all?" he asks before the hernia story. "I just have to ask. Just in case."
Despite it all, I held down two steaks, one halibut, some chicken, oatmeal and some hefty portions of the vegetable sides from each plate. We slowed to a near stop when it was clear my frail ego would keep me eating to self-destruction.
"No cowboys here," says the action star sagely. "To puke anything doesn't mean we won."
But I did win. I was granted permission to let out a Team Hercules roar on the basis of food consumption alone. The Rock left with me words that I hope to never hear again:
"Good job, buddy. Now don't get sick."