If you’ve been watching Peacemaker, the new Suicide Squad spinoff series on HBO Max, you’ve seen John Cena flip, fall, fistfight, and even jump from balcony to balcony to escape the police as his character pursues peace “at any cost.”
When you see Cena do those balcony jumps, it’s not always the former WWE champ, of course—it’s his stunt double, credited in some news reports as “unknown stuntman.”
Turns out, he also goes by the name Spencer Thomas—and Thomas has been Cena’s double for nine films, countless commercials, and now Peacemaker. The one-time junior college fullback has gone from throwing himself down the stairs in student films for a few hundred bucks to jumping off double-decker buses in London for Fast 9. It all started because Cena got Spencer to speak up about his goals.
“At first, I felt that stuntmen are behind the scenes, and actors don’t want to know you or don’t care to know you. I was wrong, at least about John,” Thomas says. “He was actually genuinely interested in me and what I was doing and the sacrifices I was making to make the movies. So it definitely taught me to kind of be a little more outspoken.”
“It kind of taught me, don’t be shy about what you want. Go after what you want, attack it, and make it yours.”
Attacking that dream takes more than just being outspoken, though—it takes tons of training to try to match the massive physique of a WWE legend, and balls just as big to do the jumps and falls it takes to make a show like Peacemaker an action hit. We caught up with Spencer after a day of shooting in Colombia to talk about training, eating to be like Cena, and his tips for smashing your own goals.
(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
You’ve been Cena’s stunt double for seven years now. How has your training changed to help match his physique?
The man is straight mass and power. I think he does triceps, like super-heavy skull crushers, for hours on end probably every day. He also sticks to the old-school powerlifting mentality: Every time I see him in the gym, he’s doing heavy squats, deadlifts, and row machines.
The main focus from my workouts to match Cena is mainly in the triceps and the forearms, and I don’t even think I’m quite there yet after 7 years. It’s something I focus on three times per week. I also had to correct my posture: John always has this great posture where he’s very upright with his head held high and his shoulders rolled back. He loves the rowing machine, so his shoulders are naturally rotated backward due to his back workouts. My shoulders are naturally rolled forwards due to all the chest workouts I do.
Now I’ve almost completely quit doing chest workouts, and started to focus much more on my back to try and correct my posture. You’ll rarely catch me on a bench press unless I’m trying to show off.
Do you do anything to try to pump up your arms before going on set to show off that triceps work and match John?
So before before I go to set just kind of getting ready in my trailer, I’ll usually do 50 diamond push ups, really hit the triceps. And then I’ll find any kind of table or anything and get that rear press for triceps, get it real pumped up. And then I also carry around bands with me so I can either hook them to the door and do some some tricep extensions.
Whatever I’ve got to do to get that pump on to look massive. Because I’ve noticed there have been times when I don’t do it and I watch playback, and I’m like, “Well, my arms look like shit. I don’t look like John in this one at all.” So it’s almost mandatory for me before I go on set.
It’s funny because you watch all these guys on TV, and they all look jacked, but they’re doing some kind of warmup before they go on camera. It’s hard to walk around with a pump all the time—to look like that all the time. But John Cena and The Rock are very rare forms of people that can look like that 24/7. For most of us, it’s kind of just one of those things that you do beforehand, before that photo.
For forearms, I was never really concerned about forearm size until I started to work with Cena, and I thought, “Oh shit, I’m going to have to pump that up a little bit.” It’s funny because a lot of it is genetics and people are like, “Oh, there’s no way you can get there.” But I mean, I’ve been working at this for the past five to six years, trying to put size on my forearms, and I’m seeing results. It’s just taking forever.
I’ll do curls with a reverse grip. Sometimes I’ll let my wrist go [in other lifts] so it’s just weird ways of holding things or moving objects—I’ve noticed really gives you that really good pop. And then even just single-finger workouts, sit and touch your pinky to your thumb, your ring finger, your middle, your index. And you know, you’re hitting all these little muscles within the forearms. I’ve never really been super concerned about my forearm size and then I seeing Cena and I’m like, Oh shit, I’m going to pump up a little bit, you know, these bad boys.
Stunt work involves lots of explosive leg stuff—jumping, sprinting, etc. What’s leg day like for you?
As for legs, I stick to my football workouts: Squats, deadlifts, power cleans, jerks, and any type of explosive work I can find. I like to stay large but also light on my feet.
With each exercise, I’ll do kind of a pyramid set. I’ll do eight, six, four, and then two reps. And as you go down in reps, you go up in weight. And so by your second or your last rep of the “two,” you almost want to be failing. It’s brutal and it’s torture.
But yeah, it’s usually, you know, squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, weighted lunges, leg press, and things like that. So I just kind of stick to the basics.
What’s the scariest stunt you’ve had to use that explosive power for?
In Peacemaker, there’s a couple scenarios where there’s balcony jumping. He’s getting away from the cops and he does it twice, actually, for some reason. We’re doing these balcony jumps, and it’s one of those things where [the balconies] are legitimately probably 15 feet apart and you’ve really got to send it. You have to push yourself all the way to get from one balcony to the next. It’s like if I had to leave this hotel and I had to jump from story to story, how would I do this? It can be a mindf*ck because you’re 35, 40 feet up in the air. And if you miss, you know, I’m still I’m on a wire. But if they don’t catch me in time, I hit the railing below or whatever. You can’t hesitate. You can’t you can’t second guess yourself before takeoff, because if you do, you’re going to fuck up. And on the final balcony jump that I had to do, [director] James [Gunn] is like, “Well, what if you clipped your foot on the edge and you messed up?”
This is what I’ve been trying to avoid the whole time! And for the last stunt, he wants that. So I went for it. We did it twice in rehearsal. When I did it [for the scene], I went straight [into the railing] with my sternum and the whole crew … you could hear everybody was silent. I knocked the wind out of myself. I catch the railing because I was going to fall off, pull myself up over, and then I’m just laying there on the ground, groveling like I knocked the wind out of myself.
How do you recover from punishment like that?
It’s really just RICE, you know, ice and rest, elevate. I did have a situation on Transformers: Bumblebee where I sprained my ankle, I tore three ligaments in my ankle. I got bitch-slapped by Bumblebee across the screen and landed weird on the third take of rehearsal. And we ended up going six more times. And you know, I knew something was wrong.
But this was my first big feature being John’s double. So I just kind of sucked it up and hobbled over afterwards. I tied my boot as tight as I could, and I was like, let’s go again. So we went six more times.
My ankle that night was just massive, but I had to be on set the next day. So I’m like, do I go to the hospital tonight and, you know, take care of this? If they put me in a boot, they’ll probably replace me. Or do I just tough it out? So I decided to just tough it out and try and survive those three weeks. And luckily, it was just riding around as a passenger in a Humvee for the next three weeks.
How has yours—and John’s—physique changed as you’ve moved along from F9 to Peacemaker?
For Fast9, I bulked up big time, knowing I would be in the presence of Vin Diesel, his longtime stunt double Troy Robinson, and the Nightmare Martyn Ford. I had to bring my ‘A’ game. I feel like I’m always chasing John Cena to catch up to his massive arms, and I didn’t want to look small next to these living legends. I went all out in the gym, and it paid off.
After F9, John started to drop weight. He told me at the end of filming “leaner is better.” I dreaded hearing those words. I love gaining weight, and I hate cutting. But the big man said this is what we are going to do—so that was that.
We went straight from filming Fast 9 in London to work with James Gunn on The Suicide Squad in Atlanta. I found a local gym there and switched up my diet and just crushed cardio and high-intensity workouts with almost zero rest to drop weight and lean up.
It worked like a charm. We both dropped about 10 pounds to look good in the Peacemaker suit and give ourselves more of that superhero look rather than just being big, bulky monsters. John is always around 4% body fat ,and I usually sit around 10%. We rarely have scenes in our underwear or with our shirts off, but when we do, I try and just cut out all carbs for 2 weeks so I can look as lean as possible.
The past two years, I feel like John and I have kind of been slimming down and bringing in that more athletic build. And I think he believes that it looks better on camera when you’re leaner. So that’s what we’ve been doing. And I feel like it shows in my face and my waist.
What’s the cardio and diet you do to get that quick lean-out?
I love Muay Thai for my cardio. Just moving around and striking the bag with punches and kick combos will have you dead after three 5-minute rounds. It’s great cardio and a full-body workout if you keep your feet moving. Then I like to lift as heavy as my body will let me that day, mainly focusing on arms and back 3 days a week and full-body workouts 2 days a week.
The truth is, abs are made in the kitchen. As cliché as that sounds, it’s true: Getting abs is 80% diet. I eat 6 lean meals a day when I’m cutting.
I wake up and have five eggs and coffee or lemon water. Two hours later, I drink a protein shake. Two hours later, I have my first meal of 10 ounces of chicken, a cup of brown rice, and a cup of veggies. Two hours later, I have another protein source—chicken, tuna, lamb … if it breathes, I eat it—along with a cup of brown rice and veggies. And then two hours later I have my last shake. For dinner, I usually end with a steak and quinoa and veggies.
I also try to drink a gallon of water a day, which helps burn body fat, digest food, and keeps you hydrated of course.
When that’s over, I bet you’re ready for a cheat meal. What’s your go-to cheat?
I love ice cold beer! My ideal cheat meal is a 22-ounce beer and two giant 4×4 In-n-Out burgers or a 42-piece sushi boat.
It’s something I can’t explain: When you get that ice-cold mug and take that first sip, it’s pure bliss. I literally cut everything out the rest of the week—desserts, sweets, pizza, soda, simple carbs—just to enjoy my beers and burgers once a week on a lazy football Sunday afternoon. Usually with my brothers over Skype when I’m away.
What have you learned from John in your years as his stunt double?
At first, I never bugged John Cena on set. I felt at the time that stuntmen are behind the scenes, and actors don’t want to know you or don’t care to know you.
I was wrong, at least about John. On the set of Transformers: Bumblebee, my stunt team and I were all standing there one day on set getting ready for a big ratchet sequence with explosions and all that fun stuff. John looked over at me and said, “Hey man, what’s up? We’ve been working together for a while now. How come you never say hi?” Honestly, I was kind of stunned.
John said, “What’s your goal? What are you trying to do with your career?”
He was actually genuinely interested in me and what I was doing and the sacrifices I was making to make the movies. So it definitely taught me to kind of be a little more outspoken. And he said something to me that day, “fortune favors the bold. You know, you’ve got to ask hard questions.” So it kind of taught me, don’t be shy about what you want. Go after what you want, attack it and make it yours. So that was that was a huge learning experience for me.
John Cena and I are now on our ninth film together. We have done tons of commercials and traveled the world as a team, I couldn’t ask for a better mentor or career.
You seem to be a person who grabs a goal, then smashes it. What’s your advice for guys who want to reach their ultimate fitness goals?
Number 1, it’s all about mental preparation. If you tell yourself every day that you will do your absolute personal best and you strive to be better every day, you’re already halfway there.
There is that voice inside your head, and it can be very powerful. Your thoughts turn into reality. So if you tell yourself every day that you will accomplish what you set out to do, and create a checklist of what actions it takes to get to that point, you cannot fail.
On the flip side of that if you are constantly talking to yourself negatively and telling yourself you can’t do it, well then, you probably never will.
Number two: Create a game plan. Don’t go in blind and just try to wing it. Write down your goals, and what steps it takes to get to that point. Put the things that are in your control at the top and the things that are out of your control at the bottom. Just go after it every day, chip away at it little by little.
Number three: Be a good person and treat others with love and respect. I didn’t get to where I am now because I was an asshole or an egomaniac. I have my bad days like everyone else ,but if you show up to work with a big ass smile on your face and a good attitude, people are going to notice. And they are going to want to work with you and refer you to a new project, ideas, and other like-minded individuals.
Number four: Stay consistent. If you are always yo-yo-ing back and forth and changing your mind on what you want, or you are trying to do too many things at once, you will never accomplish your goal. Laser focus is key. Find that one thing in life and attack it relentlessly.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work at something, it’s just not meant to be. That what football was for me, I didn’t go to the NFL like I planned. That door closed, and so I had to find a new door to walk through and for me, that was stunts. And I kicked that door in and put all of my time, money and efforts into my new goal. And it paid off, big-time.
Last: You are who you surround yourself with. If you are constantly around winners and people who are successful, you too will become successful. But again, that goes both ways. “Trim the fat,” as my dad would say.
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