Triathlon Training Keeps ‘The Witcher’ Star Paul Bullion Screen Shredded
With his towering, lean frame, and his fiery red hair, Paul Bullion is soon to make for an imposing character as he portrays “Lambert,” the close friend to Henry Cavill’s “Geralt of Rivia,” in the much-anticipated Season 2 of Netflix’s “The Witcher.”
M&F sat down with Paul Bullion, who was born in London, to learn more about his experiences on the hit fantasy series, and soon found out that he owes his screen-worthy physique to a love of triathlon.
Bullion’s desire to become an actor was, in part, influenced by the movies that he watched in his youth. “For me it was the ‘Rocky’ films,” he says. “Making something of yourself just kind of resonated with me, being against the odds, I used to love those kinds of films, but then also as a child I was really into ‘The Goonies’ and mad adventure films like that.” If you like adventure, it doesn’t get any bigger than ‘The Witcher.
The show, which follows the trials and tribulations of a mutant monster-hunter for hire, was the third most in-demand original streaming series shortly after its debut, only trailing behind “Stranger Things” and “The Mandalorian.” Being part of such a huge franchise is a big leap for a boy who grew up in Milton Keynes in the northwest of London, but he’s never been shy of a challenge. From teaching himself to play the guitar to treading the boards on stage, this actor relishes the chance to push himself to his limits.
Paul Bullion loves a challenge
“I like to set myself challenges,” says Bullion, who entered his first Ironman on a rare hot day in Bolton, England, flanked by an entry-level road bike, in 2016. An Ironman triathlon requires the participants to undertake a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on the bike, and 26.2 miles of running. “Up to that point, I had only ever run a half marathon,” he continues. “But, as a teenager I was a competitive swimmer, so I knew the swim wouldn’t be too much of a problem, although [it was a long time since I had done it]. I’m quite powerful on the bike, so I thought I would just see what my body could take.”
The actor’s first foray into triathlon proved successful, garnering a respectable finish of 12.5 hours. “Outside of the acting world, I think it’s important to have those goals,” he says, “so that you’re not drawing all of your happiness or worth from one source.” The experience lit a fire in Bullion and he has entered many triathlons since.
If you can’t be the best, be YOUR best
“If I’m going to do something, I have to be good at it,” says the actor. “For me, I have to be my best, not, the best, but my best as there’s no point in going into anything 50 percent.” Paul Bullion, who was a 100m freestyle, relay, and backstroke swimmer, and had size 12.5 feet by the time he was in high school, had never raced the kinds of distance required by a triathlon.
Now at age 33, (and a size 13.5) he worked on restoring his confidence in the water. The actor says that having large feet helps with propulsion in the water and he soon worked his way up to swimming the 2.4 miles required by Ironman before turning to the bike to test his cycling fortitude. This also went well, but he says that his “ouch” moment came when he began to run, because the transition between low-impact exercises such as swimming and cycling were completely different from the high-impact effects of running long distance.
Learning from your mistakes
Reflecting on his training for that first foray into triathlon, the actor was able to spot flaws and make adaptations. “The mistakes that I made was in overdoing it sometimes,” says Bullion. “I would run myself into the ground. Since then, I’ve learned about what I call “garbage miles,” where there’s no point running for 90 minutes when you could actually have a solid session of 20-minute intervals, and really work on your heart rate. So, I became more efficient over the last few years.
The last Ironman I did was in 2018 and I was 50 minutes faster.” And, he gained that much improved result on the same entry level road bike too. Since then, Bullion has invested in a newer, more efficient, bike, and has also entered Olympic distance triathlons. He’s even placed first in his age group while competing in Olympic distance races. “It comes from adjusting my mindset,” says Bullion. “But also, just little tweaks in working smarter not harder.”
Compartmentalizing His Training
With his day job requiring that he stay fresh to perform, Bullion plans his competitions around filming projects so that he is not too stiff when it’s time to steal a scene. The star, who has also appeared as Billy Kitchen in “Peaky Blinders,” enlists the services of his personal trainer Leanne Marshall. They trained together five times each week in preparation for “The Witcher.” This period coincided with a national lockdown, so Bullion had to improvise by purchasing his own barbells and 100 kilos of weight. The actor trained in a small area outside of his house and also used resistance bands. Marshall would give Bullion his meal plan and the actor would follow it with precision. His workouts mainly consisted of low-weight, high-rep work, which was sensible since he was forced to train without a spotter.
“It’s amazing,” says Bullion. “The difference [to your physique that comes] from changing habits.” The actor also says that he stays accountable on his nutrition 80 percent of the time, allowing him to loosen up a little for 20 percent, so that he can still enjoy takeaways and social events with friends. He also finds that eating more in the mornings, such as porridge and fruit, makes him less likely to snack as the day progresses.
The result is a chiseled physique worthy of standing next to Superman himself, Cavil, and having heard that Disney could be making a live-action version of the movie “Hercules.” Bullion says that he would love to throw his hat into the ring for consideration. It’s a good call by an actor who is well-adept to take on any type of action scene. When you watch Bullion as Lambert in Season 2 of “The Witcher” (premiering Dec. 17 on Netflix), you may wonder where those swashbuckling sword-skills came from.
“When I found out that I got cast, a good friend of mine [and fight choreographer], Jonathan Holby took me down to Beckenham Park twice per week and we would do a bit of broadsword and just get the flow and feel of [the sword]. And that really helped me, so that when I went to work with (The Witcher) stunt team, they could see that I was competent.”
Now that’s not something you see often on your daily park run!