James Purefoy: "I Watched Patrick Swayze Operate on Himself"

English actor James Purefoy has an international fanbase of women, gets paid to have on-creen sword fights and knows how to build a killer treehouse, so we reckon that makes him a man worth listening to. The star of Momentum (as well as TV’s Rome and The Following) gives us his advice on how to avoid man boobs and explains where self-confidence comes from.


(Image credit: Unknown)

Tell us about your role in your new film Momentum…

I’m an assassin contracted by Morgan Freeman to retrieve a highly valuable hard drive that was accidentally stolen during a high tech bank robbery. It’s pretty cool.

As someone who’s built a career on swinging swords and shooting guns, you must have experienced a ton of exciting stuff, what’s the craziest thing that’s happened?

I shit myself on a horse once.

Hahaha… How come?

So the scene required me to ride this massive warhorse up a tiny little narrow path, turn it round at the top, then come back down. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, except there was a massive foaming river directly next to the path. Long story short, the enormous beast loses its footing during the turn and its back legs fall into the water. The horse apparently isn’t a fan of backflipping into a river, and it starts freaking out, making the kind of noises only a horse makes when it thinks it’s about to die. I realise I needed to get off asap to avoid being crushed to death so I tried jumping off the saddle. The only problem was this half-ton animal was now perpendicular to the river as it held on to the bank for dear life with its front legs, which left me lying completely parallel to the water. Just as I was about to fall off, it somehow regained its footing and managed to scramble back onto the bank. The poor stable girl who was hired to help control the horse literally threw up in fear and as I got off to see if she was all right, I realised a little bit of poo had come out of my arse. Yeah, horses can go pretty wrong.

Insane. How do you stay calm in that kind of situation?

You don’t! Evidently. Although one of the calmest things I’ve seen in the face of adversity was Patrick Swayze perform surgery on set… on himself.


Yeah, horses again. A while back he was riding round his ranch when the horse spooked and went careering into a tiny gap between two trees and breaking both of Patrick’s legs, which, unsurprisingly, gave him lifelong knee problems. Fast forward a few years and we’re shooting a film together [2004’s George And The Dragon] when his knee suddenly starts swelling up to the size of a football. He calls over a vet who gives him this massive syringe and just as I’m thinking, “Surely not…?” he proceeds to viciously thrust it straight through his leather trousers to suck out all the fluid. It looked like motor oil. Then he then got up and carried on filming. It was pretty impressive.

Assuming soiling yourself wasn’t one of them, what has been your proudest physical feat as an action star?

It was either this massive two-handed broadsword fight that we filmed in one take in Ironclad, or the rapier and dagger fight I did in Solomon Kane against a man on fire. Although I probably wouldn’t do that again, that was mental.

You clearly stay in good shape to take on these kinds of roles. What advice can you give about maintaining decent physical healthy?

There’s absolutely no excuse for having man-boobs. None whatsoever. Some of my film roles actually require that I avoid the gym so I can look slightly out of shape. Even so, I still feel good simply by doing everything in moderation, which is my advice to your readers. Don’t drink and smoke too much, don’t do too many drugs, and know when to pull the parachute cord on a night out. But equally, don’t smash it in the gym too much either, just go for that run occasionally and eat your greens. Moderation will keep you acceptably healthy and ticking over.

And for those who find it hard to make time?

Come on guys, it’s about planning and prioritising. How important is it to you to feel good? You have time for the other things in your life, so you can easily make time to feel healthy. Anyone who says they can’t do it is simply not putting it on top of their agenda.


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How many bags of shopping can you carry home in one trip? And would you go back for a second round even if the neighbours were watching?

Hahaha, I don’t give a fuck about the neighbours. I’m pretty grounded and generally don’t feel self-conscious. 

Where do you think that confidence comes from?

Age helps, doesn’t it? I don’t even know how old I am now, 49, 50, 51, something like that? [He’s 51 – Ed.] But I’ve definitely become more secure in my own shoes as I've got older. Raising kids has definately helped keep me level-headed. The amount of times I ask my son to not do something and he still repeats it – I’ve realised there’s no good me getting worked up or militantly commanding him, he has to experience mistakes in order to make better decisions in the future. I can get mad about it or I can stay calm and realise I was like that myself when I was younger. 

We heard you built him an amazing treehouse. What’s the secret?

It needs to be safe while looking and feeling as dangerous as possible. There’s a really fine line but that’s the difference between an amazing treehouse and an average one. I see treehouses these days on the internet and think, “That looks far too safe!’’ Obviously I’m not advocating you put your kids in danger though, but be clever about it. Disguise your floor to look like rocks or concrete when really it’s foam. It took me a year to build a good one, but it’s so satisfying when you get it right that I’m planning an additional house in the summer – with a “dangerous” bridge connecting them…

Momentum is in cinemas and on demand now, courtesy of Signature Entertainment

Sam Razvi wrote for Men’s Fitness UK (which predated and then shared a website with Coach) between 2011 and 2016.