The Lion King’s Nicholas Afoa on Rugby vs Dancing


Rugby or dancing, which is tougher?

A lot has changed in my regime since I first started. Before, I could only go with what I knew – just lifting heavy weights and focusing on muscle mass. But while I might have looked the part, functionally it didn’t really work well for me. I quickly learnt that I needed to incorporate a lot more stretching, especially because I wasn’t flexible. So I started with things like yoga, and made sure I had enough rest and hydration. Then I incorporated a lot of high intensity training, because essentially that’s what I’ve been doing in the Simba role.

What’s your most impressive personal best?

I’m about 14st 9 now, but I was up to about 18st 2, and that was quite big – even for most rugby players – so I’m really proud of the transformation that I underwent in terms of getting this role. I had to lose about 2st in around six months. At one point, I got a call-back and they said, “We want to see you again, but you need to lose about 11lb.” I only had a few weeks to do this, so I got up every morning at five, before my eight-to-four job, and I did HIIT sessions. But I’d do them twice – one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and sometimes even a boot camp at night as well. I just dedicated myself to that until I got down to my goal weight. So I’d say in the space of a week I’d have sometimes done up to 10 one-hour boot camp classes. I wouldn’t say it was that healthy, but in terms of determination and what I got out of it, it was amazing.

Have you ever pulled a muscle in less-than-heroic circumstances?

I’m always pulling muscles and injuring myself. Sometimes even when I’m warming up I’ll feel a little twinge – especially as I’ve got older and my body can’t do the things it used to. I’ll try to do stuff I could do before, but the legs won’t go there and I’m like, “Oh, OK.” Once on stage, I tore my hamstring – a grade two tear – and I decided to stay on and hobble around the stage. I probably made it worse, I should have just come off…

Do you use any fitness apps?

I used to have a Fitbit, and I used it to find out how many calories I burned on stage. My heart rate would go through the roof, then quickly drop down, then back up again – I was quite surprised at how quickly it would come up.

Do you have a fitness idol?

Not in terms of an individual, but when I started the role, I really admired what the dancers have to put their bodies through. I’d only acted a little bit and never danced before, and the first week they taught me choreography, I felt like I’d done a rugby training camp for a week – I couldn’t get out of bed the next day, and no one even tackled me! I took their craft as a goal to aspire to.

What is the best way to spice up a boring jog?

I recently bought – the best invention since sliced bread – some Bluetooth earphones. They’re amazing. I can just run and put my music on without wires getting in the way. I also like running where there’s scenery, I can’t just run around a track…

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What’s the best workout soundtrack?

I listen to a lot of music from New Zealand; I’m all the way here in London so music is a good way I can reconnect with home. I play a lot of music of my culture and it takes me back there, so while my body is dying, my mind can be somewhere else: my happy place.

Do you ever lose control calorie-wise after a heavy gym session?

I’ve honestly got a seriously bad sweet tooth, and I find it really hard to stop. I just go, “You know what? I burned all these calories, so now I can have some ice cream, I can have extra mayo on my burger.” It’s the whole block of chocolate too, I’ve got to eat it all. I blame my parents – “You can’t leave the table until you’ve finished your plate.” It’s all their fault.

Nicholas Afoa is currently starring as Simba in The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, London