Elliot Sudal went viral last summer. This year, things are different.
Elliot Sudal caught a few sharks from the shoreline this morning. Got them on the line, reeled them in, pulled them onto the sand, affixed a tag to their backs. Then, after a quick measurement and a quicker picture, back into the Nantucket waters they went. He's at 49 sharks this year. So far.
Last summer, a video of Sudal, 27, wrestling a shark went viral, getting picked by Good Morning America and pulling in over 3 million hits on YouTube. He flashed across computer screens, the bro in the Chubbies and the shark-tooth necklace—made from the tooth of a 25-footer strung with the first line he ever caught a shark on—with an apparent death wish. Angry emailers told him they hoped "a shark drags you underwater and takes a photo of you." Another asked asked, "How loud was your Nickelback playing in your pickup truck?"
Virality brought on other changes. For one, Sudal got tapped by NOAA to put his talent to use. Now, he collects data from the sharks he catches, tagging them for research purposes. And this summer he got $1,500 shark bite insurance so the Snapchatting beach hoards can't sue him should anything horrible happen, god forbid.
Sudal can't do this forever. When he stops, he'll be immortalized as the Saltwater Cowboy, the Shark Wrestler, and, if things go the way he wants, an author with a TV show. But for now, it's as good—and as ballsy, and as extreme—a gig as any. We talked to him about his work.
ESQ: What's your day job?
Sudal: This is it. I take people shark fishing. The last couple years I've driven a tuna boat for a family—the guy's a hedge-fund dude, so the tuna boat is like his toy. This year, I was like, well, I'll just lead charters from the beach. I gotta put in all these tags anyway, and I can make money to do it, and it gives me an opportunity to talk to people about everything we're doing with these tags.
Why do people object to it?
I have to bring a shark out of the water for 45 seconds to a minute to get the hook out, put the tag in, get a measurement, take a blood sample, and get it back in. And I do move them by their tail two or three feet, and some people think it's the most brutal, horrible thing in the world. But in reality, when we are tagging sharks, it's way safer than in a boat. When I get the hook out, it's on soft, wet sand. The shark is still getting waves washing over it. I can promote the tagging aspect and certain things like the style of circle hook, for example—they're much safer, they don't gut hook the shark ever.
Can you walk me through a catch?
I have gigantic, 15-foot rods with huge reels and about a 100-pound cast line on them. So I'll cast out these lines with a big chunk of blue fish or whatever on a circle hook for bait, and I'll stick them in the sand. I'll line up three rods. And when the shark hits one, you'll just see a 15-foot rod just straight and narrow—they're ripping off the line. Totally exciting.
It usually takes anywhere from five to 20 minutes to get the shark to the beach. At that point, I jump into the water, grab her, and sort of gently move her backwards, remove the hook, do what I need to do, and then I let her go.
What's the purpose of the tag?
This program that I'm working now, the NOAA Apex Predators tagging program, it's the largest shark tagging project in the world. It's been going on for 55 years and primarily tracks sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. You put a tag in their back, which essentially gives the shark a serial number. If it's been captured or whatever, found again, you can see where the shark's traveled from. In the last 55 years, they've tagged 300,000 sharks. You can compare things like how water quality or water temperature affect why certain species are migrating up to Nantucket or Maine, or wherever they're going.
The key is to detect the places where they're reproducing. The sharks I'm catching here are 98 percent female. So we're trying to prove Nantucket Sound is indeed a place where they're having their pups, and if we can prove this, we could get some of the commercial fishing pushed out of here. Because there are certain draggers that come through this area, and when they do, they just net up everything on the bottom, so I'm sure they kill thousands and thousands of sharks each year.
I mean, this is the most extreme form of beach fishing you can possibly get. Catching a 300-pound-plus animal, just from a recreational, sport fishing aspect, is as good as it gets. But adding the tagging is pretty cool because it adds a conservation element, and it is valuable data. The other day, we got a shark that was tagged 13 years ago, and grew 63 centimeters in 13 years. It's a piece of the puzzle figuring out how we're impacting shark populations around the country.
Seems pretty dangerous. Have you had any close calls?
Yeah. This is dumb, but I was cutting up a piece of blue fish, and it sliced underneath my nail, and I've just been in and out of the hospital for the last few days with fish poisoning. It's kind of funny because I've caught hundreds of sharks, and all the sudden, a dead blue fish sent me to the hospital. I've not been bit.
If you were to get bitten, would that change your mind about doing this?
Probably. I mean, no one would feel sorry for me. I have a shark-bite kit in my car: hydrogen peroxide, gauze. That would hold me over until I got to the hospital. It would be bad, especially from a tiger shark, which can bite a sea turtle in half. That's like two inches of bone. Do you know hard it is to bite a pistachio? Imagine a sea turtle shell. We have a ton of great whites around Cape Cod and the islands right now. I see all these seals that have just been chomped in half by great whites washing up. I measured a 22-inch bite mark the other day. The great white is the most powerful bite in the animal planet. I would probably be not doing this as much if I got bit.
They feel like sandpaper, first of all. I think a lot of people think they'd be slimy, but they feel literally like sandpaper, and when they rub against you, it's like your skin is sanded off. The big ones especially are really lazy when you get them up on the beach. The smaller ones, the five- and 10-footers, will really go crazy. If you're going to get bit by a shark, it's probably going to be by a four- or five-footer because they're so fast. They can reach around their tail. An eight- to 10-foot shark, 500 pounds, just kinda can't move that fast. Their brains are the size of a pea; there's not much going on. They don't feel pain. They have a goofy look on their face most of the time. They don't seem like these horrible killers that people tend to think.
I read that because of climate change, the warming oceans are pushing sharks further north every year, and scientists have expected that 2016 is going to be a pretty big year for shark attacks.
It's actually a record low for shark attacks so far this year. The average is 75 to 100 a year worldwide. This year, it's at 20 or 30 so far, according to the article that I read.
The changing ocean temperatures: is that something you can monitor through these tags?
I've caught sharks in water temperatures from 57 degrees all the way to 85 degrees. They are very sensitive, but moreso to pollution. This species of shark originally reproduced in the Long Island Sound hundreds of years ago. As the water quality got so bad from all the pollution, they migrated to the Chesapeake Bay, where they reproduce now. I guess that's been getting worse down there, so researchers think they might be coming up and reproducing in Cape Cod and around the islands in Nantucket Sound. The sharks I'm catching are huge—I've had at least 12 sharks that have broken the state record. And sharks live 40 to 50 years. It'd be really cool to prove they are reproducing here.
So, what's next?
We filmed a really crazy show pilot and have some funding behind it. My girlfriend's involved; she represents Maine in the USA pageant. I travel around the country trying to make it doing what I love. It's not exactly easy to make a ton of money catching sharks, but you get sponsors, you take people out. We've been talking to some networks, hoping to go fulltime. That's the dream, for now.
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By David Granger
Let's get a couple things out of the way.
No, I did not meet Amal. You go to hang with George Clooney these days and that's the first question anyone asks.
Second, George made me a Nespresso. That fact seems to amuse people. It wasn't a big deal—he didn't call it Nespresso—he just asked if I wanted a coffee and then went over to his Nespresso machine and made us each a cup. I'd been hoping for tequila, but then again, it was only about 2:30.
Third, and this takes a little getting used to: He looks and acts just like George Clooney. He's exactly what you'd expect. It's a little stunning.
He strolls up to the photo shoot about 15 minutes early and he looks perfect. Perfect suit, shirt, and tie—looks like someone dressed him but, given that no one else is in evidence, you have to assume that he managed it himself. He's about five-eleven. He goes about 160, 165. Nice-looking guy. Maybe a little product in the hair—photo-ready. (Bill Murray, in contrast arrived at his shoot wearing cargo shorts and a Cubbies T-shirt under a fishing vest, and sporting an Xavier baseball cap with the Nike logo blacked out.)
The only thing that's a little off with Clooney is the slight limp, which gets more pronounced as the photo shoot goes on.
The previous evening, turns out, there'd been a rousing pickleball game on his tennis/basketball court. I can't say for sure, but there may have been drinking. Couple hours in, he bent over to pick up the Wiffle ball and—bang!—down goes Clooney, a disc slipped, immobile.
On the morning of the shoot, at 7:00 a.m., he was in the hospital getting an epidural in his spine so he could withstand the rigors of the day. No biggie. He said he'd hang with us; he hung with us.
David Granger: This will be the ninth time you've been on the cover of Esquire.
George Clooney: This year?
DG: Uh, no. Your first time was after your fifth year on ER—1999.
GC: That was a hell of a cover.
DG: It was such an important thing for us. I'd been there less than two years, and we'd floundered. And then Sam Jones took that picture and we thought: That looks like an Esquire cover.
GC: It's the best cover I've ever taken.
DG: Over the last few days, I read all the stories we've run about you. It was an amazing experience.
GC: I bet.
DG: [Whispers] I didn't remember any of them.
GC: I bet.
DG: I think over the time that you've been on our cover and the time I've been editing this magazine, it's only gotten more complicated to be a man, in part because of the growing influence of women, which we all welcome, and in part because of sexual politics. I think over all this time, you have at least appeared to navigate being a man pretty easily.
GC: I had some pretty good examples in my life. My father's very smart and has a great sense of humor. And some people just feel comfortable in their skin. I have good friends who are like that. And my father is like that and my uncle is like that.
DG: Probably didn't hurt that you were in your thirties when you got famous.
GC: Noah Wyle was 23 when ER got picked up, and by our fifth or sixth show we had 40 million people watching. And I remember Noah asking me, "Is that good?" And I said, "It will never happen again in your lifetime." I was lucky enough to have the perspective to understand when things are good.
DG: It's hard to imagine now, but for a big chunk of your life, you were scrambling like any other American.
GC: Scrambling, yeah, but I made a living for a good portion of that time. In a way you get too much credit. But it's scrambling. The show is gonna get canceled and then you're gonna have to find another gig. People always think you manage your career. You don't manage your career when you're trying to get a job. You're just trying to get a job. And you know this as well as anybody, that it's much later in your career that you can go, Oh, here's what I want to do. Early on, it's just: Get work. Just survive.
DG: Do you remember what it was like to just survive?
GC: I'm directing a movie [Suburbicon], so I was just looking at actors on tape—actors I've worked with and auditioned with, and they're so good, and the minute I see them, I'm thinking,We did a play on Melrose Avenue in 1984. It's a real community.
DG: What's the difference between you and that guy you were acting with in '84?
GC: It's a combination of about 500 different things, but the one thing that you have to have is luck. I've done 13 TV pilots and seven series. I've done series that were considered very good and series that were considered very bad. None of them stuck. And all of a sudden we got a show on Thursday night at ten o'clock. That time slot was the cradle of love—and we had a groundbreaking TV show. Go back to 1994 and look at the first year of ER. It's some great television.
DG: You came to fame right at the beginning of the modern age of fame, when—
GC: When all the fun was gone. Used to be you could be as famous as you wanted. You show up at premieres and everybody cheers and you sign autographs, and then you go off and you drive out to a restaurant and go to dinner and you'd be left alone. Every once in a while some paparazzi would sneak around, but now everybody's got a phone. If all this stuff existed when I was 25, it'd be me getting carried out of some bar by my feet. Cuz I did it all. I had all the fun that you should have. And it would have been multiplied by 10 times had I been famous and rich. I'm just lucky that the advent of camera phones happened when I was 43 years old or something.
DG: Fame is, at this moment, a kind of a double-edged sword. You're one of the most famous men in the world on one end of the spectrum. And Donald Trump is on the opposite end of the spectrum. But it's not just because he's race-baiting that he's doing well. It's because he's famous that people are buying into this stuff.
GC: And he's been famous for 35 years.
DG: You know Hillary Clinton well. Is there a moment you've had with her that crystallizes who she is?
GC: I was a big supporter of Barack Obama in 2008. When I came back from Darfur when she was secretary of state, I would have thought she would have been a little ticked off to meet with me. And she wasn't.
DG: What is it like meeting with a secretary of state?
GC: When I walked out of that room, I was very, very, very glad that she was secretary of state and that she was an informed, responsible, smart person. I don't think she's nearly as good a campaigner as she would be a leader.
DG: Is Obama funny?
GC: Deeply funny. He gets the joke. He's called me a couple of times after I've gotten in an argument with somebody about him. And he's like, "What are you doing fighting with that guy?" That kind of stuff has been very funny.
DG: Have you ever played basketball with him?
GC: We played here in L.A. I did a fundraiser here with him, and he said, "What are you doing tomorrow morning?" I go, "What time?" He goes, "5:30. You wanna play some hoops?" And I go, "Yeah." And he goes, "All right, we'll set it up. You got any of your friends want to play?"
DG: Do they want to play?!
GC: So I started writing my friends, going, "You wanna play basketball with the president of the United States?" Now I have this picture of my buddy elbowing the President. It was really fun. He's a good basketball player.
DG: I'm surprised he even has time to play at 5:30 in the morning.
GC: The truth of the matter is, in my lifetime certainly there's never been a president who's been up against so much obstructionism. There just hasn't been. Period. I don't give a shit what anybody says. Yet he's managed to do an awful lot of things, and he's had to do it with a sense of humor that I wouldn't have kept. At some point, I would've said, "You know what, boys? Why don't we step outside?"
DG: You seem to manage conflict with aplomb. You take stances, you get angry sometimes, and yet I can't remember a time when you've been tarred by your fame.
GC: What you learn is you gotta pick your fights, and the fights you pick have to be about someone besides yourself. You go, "Don't say that my wife should be executed." The Daily Mail sort of pulled one of those, which was inaccurate on every level. Those are the fights you gotta pick.
DG: I was in Milan in January and everybody I met was like, What is going on with the United States?
GC: A Danish reporter asked me, "What's going on with Donald Trump?" And I said, "Well, what's going on with you? You guys just passed a new law says that you're going to take the belongings off of every refugee that comes in to pay for them coming in, which sounds an awful lot like 1938, '39 in Germany." But how am I to defend us when the only voice that's coming out from across the sea is banning Muslims? That's the problem with what's going on. It's not that it's gonna happen; it's that we're broadcasting this to the rest of the world.
Here's the thing about Trump—I was just in Amsterdam, and I'm up onstage, and they go, "What's going on with Trump?" And I said: "Look, we're not going to do these things. We're not going to deport Muslims. We're not going to build a wall." But the problem is all these other countries hear these things, and all of a sudden you see in France that [Jean-Marie] Le Pen is going, "Bravo." You get all of these nutcases on the far-right fringe saying, "Well, if America thinks that…" That is the real problem with Trump—his ideas bleed into the rest of the world. That he says, I'm gonna find every terrorist, and I'm gonna find their family, and I'm gonna execute them…. I'm not gonna let him walk away from that. I'm gonna execute a family?! That's a war crime of the highest level that no one would do. When you say that, that tells all the other people, Okay, well, if they're saying that, then why don't we?
DG: Are you hopeful about the future?
GC: I actually think it looked a lot bleaker in 2008, when the economy tanked. I really thought we were in real trouble.
DG: We were.
GC: This country is a big carrier ship that has to slowly turn all the time to right itself, and it takes longer than we want it to. But if you look at us over the history of time, we really fucked up. We fucked up with the Indians; we fucked up with slavery. We were terrible to women. We fuck up and we fuck up and we fuck up, and we get better. We're not great yet; we haven't fixed it all yet. We didn't figure it out in 1776. We didn't have a Constitution until 1787. It takes a while to figure things out. But what happened in 2008 was: Just when you thought you couldn't figure it out, that the world was gonna go straight to hell, we elected the first African-American ever, who, when he speaks, he makes us feel proud, and makes the rest of the world calm down about the United States.
DG: Probably helped that CNN and Politico weren't covering the emergence of America as an independent nation.
GC: This is the thing that makes me crazy. What's going on in Syria doesn't get airplay. A little boy drowns and washes up on a shore, and [in response] everything was moving in the right direction until Cologne or San Bernardino, and everything changes. We don't have any coverage of what is truly one of the great catastrophes in our lifetime. Six million refugees, it's just a number. But six million. But what if six million of those little boys washed up on the shore?
DG: It's not a rating until that happens.
GC: It's not a rating.
DG: Trump's a rating….
GC: Last night's debate will be known as the I-have-the-biggest-dick debate. When you could have been saying, Let's talk about what we really are going to do about refugees.
What you learn is you gotta pick your fights, and the fights you pick have to be about someone besides yourself.
DG: Looking at the recent films you've been involved in, I get the impression that you basically only work with people you like to work with.
GC: That's pretty true. You try to push out every once in a while, but if I can work with the Coens, if I could work with Soderbergh. If I could work with Alexander Payne. That's where I am in my career right now.
DG: You're retiring from acting, allegedly.
GC: Somebody said, "What are you doing in 10 years?" And I said, "Well, I don't think anybody really wants to see anybody age." But humor doesn't make it in print. The reality is what I was talking about was the kind of parts that I was doing I'm not going to be doing anymore. Paul Newman did it best. He was a movie star, he was a leading man, and then he was like, Now I'm a character actor.
DG: And they were memorable roles.
GC: They just weren't as often and they weren't as much. I'm much more interested in doing films where the role makes sense for me. I'm not gonna be carrying movies the way I did before. There are actors you'll see that try to hold on to this leading-man status long past the due date.
DG: It starts to look ridiculous.
GC: And you get a softer lens, but it doesn't work anymore.
DG: I'm also talking to Bill Murray for this issue.
GC: He's a nut.
DG: Everybody thinks they know him. Is there anything people get wrong about him?
GC: He's oddly emotional. He's incredibly warm and emotional. He gave a toast at our wedding that was so elegant and beautiful and warm and he's such a loving individual. And he's adaptable to anyplace he goes. Everybody's life is a puzzle that's missing this one piece, and he fits in each time.
DG: I wonder if he gets back to you faster than he gets back to me.
GC: Bill comes to see us in Italy every summer. I text him [to see when he wants to come], and then I won't hear from him for three months. Then I'll be in Italy, and he'll call me and say, "I'm here." And I go, "Where?" And he goes, "At the front gate." And I open it, and he comes in.
Another story: We were recording Fantastic Mr. Fox at the house. Wes Anderson and all the guys came there to do it. Bill was coming the next morning. And we all woke up to the news that Owen Wilson tried to hurt himself. And Wes and everyone said, "We have to go back." But Bill was supposed to be in Venice in ten days. And he's like, "Well, what should I do?" I'd only known him from a few parties, but I said, "Well, you can stay here." And he did. And we would just sit and we'd watch television together, or we'd go into the gym and work out. But you could do it and not even talk for hours. I'd come outside and he'd be lying in the grass looking up, and I'd come out and I'd lie in the grass and look up, and we'd just sit there and look up at the stars for two hours. He really is that guy. He's incredibly warm, and he really fits into everyone's life when he shows up.
DG: That's beautiful.
GC: I feel that he gets a good amount of joy out of how much people love him. I think he really likes that.
DG: My image of him will always be at one of his Christmas parties. There will be 400 people there. Emma Stone, Chris Rock, David Letterman. But then he'll turn to you and say, "Would you please talk to that woman over there? She runs the emergency room on Martha's Vineyard. She's a really nice lady. She needs somebody to talk to."
GC: There's this gentleness about him. He's just such a funny, sweet man. Obviously talented, but in many ways he's just a normal guy.
DG: I was asking my staff what I should ask you, what they were curious about. And there was one really simple question that Tyler Cabot thought I should ask. And the question is: "What do you want?"
GC: That's a good question. So I made money. I was broke, but I made my money. I've never been happier in a relationship by any stretch of the imagination. At 52 I found the love of my life and I'm really happy. I enjoy the work that I've been lucky enough to do and I wanna keep doing it. I want to remain creative and be able to stay creative as long as they'll let me. So I wanna do that. But as I've gotten older and as I've gotten more secure in my life, there are a lot of other things that I care about more, which is: the people who don't have the luck that I have. There's a lot of people out there who could use some luck. There's a lot of people in this country, but there's an awful lot of people in this world that could use some luck. And sometimes luck is just shedding the spotlight on the fact that their lives are hell.
DG: A couple years ago I was in the doctor's office for tests and the technician says to me, "So, are you still in the workforce?" And it just bugged the hell out of me.
GC: There isn't this 65-year-old retirement age, you know? We can be working on the things that matter to us, and that we're interested in, until somebody pulls the plug. That's a great place to be. I have a tequila company, right? It's off-the-charts successful. That's going to end up being the most successful thing I've ever been attached to financially.
GC: By far.
DG: And you've done pretty well.
GC: I mean by leaps and bounds. That's one of those things where you go, "Well, how much money do you need?" And then you go, "Well, then, what can we do to make this actually do some good around the world?" That's my interest now: Where can you focus your energy, not just in writing and directing and producing and acting but in actually changing people's lives?
DG: And you have a lot of time to do that.
GC: I'm 54 years old. I'm in good shape and good health for the most part.
DG: Are there any physical compromises you've been forced to make?
GC: I played basketball three times a week up until about a year and a half ago. But each injury takes longer to heal. As we're talking, I've just come from having injections in my back for a slipped disc this morning. So I'm not feeling peak, but I can still hang with the young guys in most sports.
There isn't this 65-year-old retirement age, you know? We can be working on the things that matter to us, and that we're interested in, until somebody pulls the plug.
DG: It is an odd experience sitting here and talking to you—you have a way of making me and probably everybody else feel like we've known you forever. It seems comfortable. It's fuckin' weird.
GC: I didn't grow up afraid of conversation or afraid of people who actually write for a living. I find an actual conversation is not hard to have.
DG: As I've been preparing to leave Esquire, people keep asking me, "So, what's your legacy?" And I've always thought there's no such thing as legacy. Three months after I'm gone, people will have forgotten I was there. Do you think about what lives on beyond you?
GC: I had this conversation with my dad not long ago about legacy. He said, "No one will really remember all the things that I did—the work that I've done." And we were talking and I said, "I look at some of the films that I was able to do—the ones that mattered. Good Night, and Good Luck; Michael Clayton; Out of Sight; Up in the Air; The Descendants. I look back and think I've got seven or eight films that will stand the test of time." And I said, "That's my legacy, I suppose." And he said, "Name me the top ten movie stars in 1930."
He said, "You get 80 years." And he's absolutely right. So if your legacy's gonna count for anything, it actually has to count for the next generation's lives. My family—we were Irish immigrants. And we were shit all over because we were Irish. And people said, "Oh, they're gonna be terrible and a disaster for the country." And Amal had to flee Beirut during the civil war and she ran to England. We have to do better. We have to stop this incredible fear that some guy who wants to kill us is going to go through the year-and-a-half or two-year process of immigration to be a terrorist, you know? I don't understand that. It doesn't make sense to me that people think that way. Your legacy is about immigrants and refugees. Amal and I are working on things now that matter to us on a whole other level, in a whole other world. If there's a legacy for me, it's yet to be written.
DG: I appreciate you taking the time and doing this.
GC: Well, I'll say it on the tape because I want it said: You're gonna be missed. You really are. Your voice and the magazine as it was through your voice has been exceptional. That is a legacy. They might not remember any of our names. But what they will remember is an era when there were great stories told, and there were great questions asked that a lot of places don't ask and don't do. So you'll land somewhere that you like, and all that stuff. But you do have a real legacy here, and you should be proud of that.
DG: I'll make sure to print that.
GC: I'm a big fan of loyalty. All this O.J. stuff is coming up right now because of the show [The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story]. When I look at loyalty, I look at Al Cowlings. And I think, I hope I'm that friend. Right? I hope I'm the kind of friend you can come up to and say, "Listen, they're saying I killed my wife. I didn't kill my wife. They're trying to railroad me. Just get in the car and drive." I like loyalty.
The Dossier: George Clooney
Date of birth: May 6, 1961
Which makes him: 54
Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky
Which proved useful when: He sent the O Brother, Where Art Thou? script home to his uncle Jack, along with a tape recorder to capture his accent. Though he later learned that: Uncle Jack, a strict Baptist, had omitted all the damns and hells.
Other relatives of note: Aunt Rosemary Clooney, cabaret singer and actress; father Nick Clooney, talk-show host and news anchor.
First onscreen appearance: The Nick Clooney Show, at age 5.
Childhood aspiration: Baseball player
Not an unrealistic goal, considering: That he tried out for the Cincinnati Reds when he was 17.
But ended up: Studying broadcast journalism at Northern Kentucky University.
After dropping out of which he: Moved to California with money saved from cutting tobacco.
First film: Return to Horror High
As: Oliver, a wannabe actor.
Who: Dies in the first 15 minutes.
But not before a female character sneers: "Gonna be a star, Oliver?"
And he responds: "Gonna try."
To which she says: "Yeah, right."
To which we say: Yeah. Right.
Spouse: Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin), human-rights lawyer.
Of whom he has said: "Oftentimes, I feel like an idiot talking to my own wife."
Upcoming projects: Money Monster, a thriller costarring Julia Roberts; Suburbicon, a dark comedy written by the Coen brothers about a suburban home invasion gone wrong.
Shown to him in: The late 1990s
And resurrected when: "I called up the boys and said, 'Any interest?' And they're like, 'Let's go.'"
This article originally appears in the May 2016 issue of Esquire Magazine.
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From hustling knockoffs on the streets of London to becoming Hollywood's preeminent action hero, the man has always known how to sell what he wants the world to buy.
Jason Statham, the last action star, is telling a story about his first career. Once, he was a driver. "There was a guy years ago who used to come down to Crystal Palace, where I used to train. His name was Mad Harry, and he couldn't fucking dive to save his life. Every day at the same time, just before they'd close the pool to the public so we could train, Mad Harry would climb up to the top of the board, thirty-three feet, ten meters high, and he would do this almighty belly flop. Every day. Boom! We would look at each other and go, 'Fucking someone should teach that man how to dive.' "
"I feel like I've had four careers. A career of a fucking street trader, the career of a sportsman, and now I've got a career of something different. Three, actually. I've had three careers."
The terrazzo on which Statham sits is a garden of high-end rattan furnishings. His house spreads the broad way along a downward pitch in the Hollywood Hills. It's wider rather than deeper, so that every room feels long from left to right and shallow from front to back. He is folded into a chair, shrinking downward, feet bare. He is not a big man—he is fit, light on those bare feet, and younger looking than his forty-seven years—and he doesn't stop talking. Not ever. Not really. Not once. He swears the way you wish everybody could, the way some people hope to use exclamation points, as an imprint of enthusiasm. And when Statham looks at an audience of one, really looks at you, it feels like you may be in a little trouble. Somehow he always looks pissed off, wrung out, put upon. World-weary. Black, black eyes. Sharp brow. Twitch of exasperation. He regards things sideways, incredulous at the very prospect of them, constantly asking: Who's this, then? Eyes screw in tighter, brows rise more with each sentence. A squint. It seems to amuse him that he intimidates. He doesn't scowl or use a tagline or fall into an eyebrow routine. He is himself. Tough guy. Drives hard. Even when talking about Mad Harry, the fuckup diver.
"I just don't think he knew what he was doing. Obviously. You have to take the right trajectory. You have to gauge the rotation. It's a lot of physics to put into play. You find a way that you're not gonna go over and do yourself a disservice. You figure it out a little bit. Because if you're landing on your nuts, as a bloke, believe me, it's no fun."
Statham talks like a man who knows things, who understands the physics at play. Drawn from instincts developed as a high-level athlete (twelve years spent on the British national diving team), lessons learned working the stony streets of London, axioms earned while living on thick and rubber-banded cold rolls of cash, everything Statham says stinks of truth. Not the truth. Not core truths, necessarily. A truth. Shit his father taught him. The college of You Gotta Get By. Inarguable, really. Everything declares: He wasn't made in the Hollywood Hills. He came from elsewhere, and it doesn't bother him all that much to remind people of that. It's a real past.
All this makes it easy to become a kind of hostage to his storytelling, like someone stuffed in the trunk while he drives, like some mook in a Jason Statham movie. As such, it would feature only a single word as its title: Snatch, Crank, Collateral, London, War, Redemption. Two words max. The Transporter. Action movies, car movies, chase movies, capers. Though just now the movie that's opening is Spy, Paul Feig's new comedy with Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law, in which Statham plays an absurdly funny comic construct of his own character type.
"Jason makes every movie better," Feig says of his decision to cast the Transporter in a Melissa McCarthy vehicle. "I hate comedy that's trying to be funny. Jason doesn't have to try. He gets it. In every movie, people pick up on his good-natured ways. And I've known that he was funny ever since that first Crank movie. Crank is ridiculous. He's so good in it."
Statham shrugs this off. "I've always been apprehensive about trying to do a fucking comedy, because they're either brilliant or they're fucking terrible. At least in making an action film, there's always going to be someone who wants to see a car chase. Even if a lot of the people don't like it, there will be a lot of people that do. But bad comedy is just garbage. But this works, and I give a lot of the credit—or all of the fucking credit—to Paul and the writing."
Be clear: Statham wasn't looking for a break from his action-movie set. He'd just finished Furious 7 (opened in April, huge hit) and the chance to do Spy came his way. He took it, happily, because the guy needs to work. He makes movies one after another. He has his credos. "It's that peasant mentality," he explains. "Make hay while the sun shines. When you're kicking around and you ain't got no money, that don't feel too good. So when there's finally money coming in, it's hard to say, 'I'm too good for that.' It's finding a balance, really, and it's a difficult thing to manage." Then he answers a question he wasn't asked. "But have I taken on too many jobs? Probably. Look, you never intend for anything to go badly. There's so many fucking moving parts." Movies are like race cars, he says. A lot of different components. "You've got the chassis—that might be the director. The director of photography, he would be the wheels. From movie to movie, the components move around. The combinations change. Sometimes you've got a Ferrari and all the components are top-of-the-range. Sometimes you've got a fucking Fiat Panda that doesn't have, you know, certain elements."
It's a cloudy analogy. He drinks some water, sets his chin.
"When it comes to movies, I'm always trying to find the Ferrari," he says. "When you go to work with Scorsese or Chris Nolan or someone of that caliber, then I don't think you have to worry about what car you're gonna be racing in. You're in the race rather than fucking turning up on a donkey."
This time he is asked: Have you ever sat there at a premiere, watching the finished product, and said, "Oh, no . . ."?
Statham goes a little wide-eyed. "Yeah, I think I've said that more often than not. Yeah." He laughs like a hound.
"I really enjoyed working with Guy Ritchie. One, it gave me a career, and two, they're probably a couple of the best films I've ever done. I thought The Bank Job was a really quality movie. Even working with Luc Besson and doing The Transporter, one and two—pretty good. The Crank movie—I thought that was decent." Here he takes a little breath, then lets himself off the hook. "And the rest is shite."
A big laugh follows before he retreats. "No, no: I take that back. I mean, you do a lot of films. You're always aiming for something and trying to push yourself to do something good. A movie, it's like a very complicated timepiece. There's a lot of wheels in a watch. And some of those wheels, if they don't turn right, then, you know, the watch ain't gonna tell the time."
So now a movie is a wristwatch rather than a car. A watch that sometimes doesn't work. This brings us to his second career.
Once, Jason Statham sold cheap watches. Among other pieces of crap. "I was a 'fly pitcher' is what they call it," he says. He used the streets of London to make a living, starting when he was around fourteen, after his father, whom everyone called Nogger, gave him entry into the hustle. "As a boy, I was 'Nogger's Son.' So I could sit and watch them, masters at work, and everyone had good funny names: Peckhead Pete, Mickey Drippin, Colin the Dog. I'd sit down outside of Harrods and I'd pitch the jewelry. I'd do five chains, I'd do twenty-four-inch rope, the matching eighteen, a bracelet, a figaro chain, a matching bracelet, and either a pendant or a choice of a gent's or a lady's ring. And that would be the whole set. We'd display it in boxes and we'd wrap it up in tissue paper. We'd place it in their palms: 'Here you are, madam!' " He used the proceeds to fund his diving career, including an appearance at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. (He placed tenth out of eleven competitors in the high dive. His back three-and-a-half somersault with tuck, among other tricks is on YouTube.) "All the other divers were broke. I was the only one who had money. Plenty of money, loads of dough. Two, three grand in a weekend. Me and my mate Fish Fibbens, when we had enough money, we'd buy cars and we'd race the fuck out of each other, all through London. It was really dangerous; we're lucky we didn't get fucking killed or kill somebody." Surely this must have been a kind of training, some small hint of what was to come in The Transporter or a Fast & Furious movie. "I can't really say that that helps you for driving in film, but you know we had that reckless attitude. We had a bit of a You don't care, you're just having a bit of fun. You're just getting behind the wheel and you're game for it. Cars I've always loved. I fucking love cars."
He's sanguine about the vaguely criminal edge of this second career, running the gamut between caveat emptor and the lesser of two evils like any good con man. With a little urging, he'll describe the various pitches and players as a kind of interrelated performance art. Mock Auctions. Five-Pound Nailers. The Ram Shops. Money on Top. Pitch Pulling. Top Man. The Run Out. Punters. Statham learned them all and ran the cons for years. "How do you make money?" he replies to another question that wasn't asked. " 'Cause people are fucking greedy. Human nature says that you want a bargain, whether you want the goods or not. You think that something is a steal, you'll buy it. Ten pounds is not a fortune. And what I'm selling is costume jewelry, basically, that you can buy in Barneys or any of these other fucking trumped-up shops that have rates that are like extortionist. They've got to turn the lights on, they've got carpets and chandeliers. They've got all that to pay for, so they can't sell that chain for what I can sell it for. I'm getting it from the same fucking sources, but I'm selling it with a bit of street theater and having a bit of fun with it, making a living. People ain't getting ripped up. No one's saying it's gold."
This last point is important to Statham, and there's another credo of his, applicable to the selling of potentially shoddy goods as well as the making of potentially schlocky B-movies: "We never used to say it was gold. We never used to say it was gold-plated. We never used to say what it was. They're going, 'Is it stolen? Is it gold?' And to this we used to say things like 'You've heard of Cartier, madam?' And everyone has to answer 'Yes,' because who hasn't heard of Cartier? We got them going by making them say: Yes. Yes. Yes. Now, if you're an idiot and you think it's gold, that's your problem, not mine."
After missing his third Olympic team in 1992, with his third consecutive third-place finish at the Olympic trials (the team took only two divers per event), Statham gave up diving just as the street trade began winding down. "It all just faded away," he says. "There was no more money." He had a vague idea of becoming a stuntman. He started a kind of piecemeal training—a little judo, some boxing, jujitsu. "I didn't have a clue. I wasn't training for nothing particular," he says. "I wanted to break into the stunt business since I wasn't afraid of much. And I knew some people."
One of them was an aspiring director named Guy Ritchie, whom he'd met through a modeling gig and who was casting his first feature, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, about a pack of lowlifes and criminals. "Guy came at me 'cause he was interested in what I used to do on the fucking street. He'd written a character that was the same as me. And he said, 'I love it. Give me some of the patter.' At the time, I had loads of it. Loads of it. And he was fascinated with that, and he just wanted someone who was authentic. He said, 'I'm gonna get someone from fucking drama school to do this? How can they learn what you've learned?' It's such an esoteric fucking subject, no one knows about it unless you're in it. You can't read it in textbooks." Ritchie cast Statham, then in his early thirties, in one of the lead roles, despite his not having a stitch of acting experience.
"I got £5,000 for doing Lock, Stock. And then, for Guy's next movie, Snatch, I got like 15,000," he said. "I would have done them for free just for the opportunity to do something different. I feel like I've had four careers. A career of a fucking street trader, the career of a sportsman, and now I've got a career of something different. Three, actually. I've had three careers."
Today, seventeen years since his movie debut, Jason Statham is an actor. More specifically, he is an action hero, the most singular of his generation, who relied on careers number one and two to ease the transition into career number three. "One of the great things about diving was that we would just do whatever we wanted to do. We used to go down to the gymnastic center and we'd do tumbling into a pit. We'd get a trampoline out and fuck about on that. I learned all these aerial skills that served me great and brought me all kinds of comfort in doing action films. While all these other actors are in drama school learning how to cry, I'm learning how to do aerial acrobatics." As for what Statham called the "street theater" of career number two, well—pitching was performance.
"I've always fucking loved movies," Statham says, and to understand Statham for what he is, a pure action hero, look at the universe of films he describes as his roots and at the men he selects as his icons. "My mom and dad used to show me films—Cool Hand Luke, The Great Escape, all the Burt Lancaster movies. Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson. Even musicals. My mom made sure I saw plenty of Gene Kelly." His strength from the start: physically adept men. Men under siege. Jumping motorcycles, side kicking, leaping, dancing, running, counterpunching, all of these men capable of imprinting on the audience with a single look. A look of fearful wonder in Snatch. A look of businesslike outrage in The Transporter. A look of wild panic in Crank. A look of sour consternation in the latest Fast & Furious.
Statham's notable role in Spy aside, he has no aspirations outside the action genre. "I've never had a fucking acting lesson; no one's telling me how to act," he says. "Would it be better for Daniel Day-Lewis to play Lincoln than me?" He laughs at the prospect. "I think so." And as he drifts off that next laugh, he adds: "But no one's asked me to play Lincoln, and I'm not too worried about not getting the offer."
Not that he minds trained actors. Not really. "It doesn't annoy me, but it can be a little pretentious. So people warming up their vocal chords before a take, going 'Meh, meh, meh'?" He tilts his nogger, raises an eyebrow, gives his patented leer, the one that tells a roomful of matineegoers that he knows what's what, you know what's what, and he's in it with you. An action hero. "Sometimes I want to remind them, at the end of the day, they're just pretending to be somebody else. I'm used to selling fucking jewelry on the street. There's no pretense there."
There is a kind of freedom in working the peasant way, the Statham way. His father, with five careers and counting (house painter, coal miner, fly pitcher, wholesaler, and now a song-and-dance man in the Canary Islands), is still a source of pride for Statham. "He's been good at everything he ever did," he says. "And when he wasn't, he fucking moved on." For Statham, there is no fourth career. No sense that he should be doing anything but this. No next act. If Spy is a surprise to some—a pivot or a repositioning of his brand—it's only because some people are tempted to regard him only as a guy who likes to look good driving fast cars, a vain and humorless lot if there ever was one.
Statham knows his history and is comfortable with the life it has provided. There's home in the Hollywood Hills. There's life with his girlfriend, model and actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. There's fun, which Statham describes in the most British way possible: "We get drunk and float around the swimming pool." But mostly there's work, and for the last action hero, there is only the work of an action hero. He never stops selling, no matter what the product turns out to be. Sometimes, maybe most times, it's a Panda. Every now and then, a Ferrari. All the same to him. All the better for fans, who trust him to never ham-hand the responsibility of the action star. It's a firm compact, and it is one he never saw coming.
The Statham Type: A Select Filmography
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998): BACON, hustler / SNATCH (2000): TURKISH, fight promoter, hustler / TURN IT UP (2000): MR. B, drug dealer / THE TRANSPORTER (2002): FRANK, driver / THE ITALIAN JOB (2003): HANDSOME ROB, thief / CELLULAR (2004): ETHAN, kidnapper / TRANSPORTER 2 (2005): See The Transporter / CRANK (2006): CHEV, hitman / DEATH RACE (2008): JENSEN, race-car driver, reluctant killer / TRANSPORTER 3 (2008): See The Transporter / CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009): See Crank / THE EXPENDABLES (2010): LEE, mercenary / THE MECHANIC (2011): ARTHUR, hitman / GNOMEO & JULIET (2011): TYBALT, a lawn gnome who cheats to win a lawnmower race. Animated. / KILLER ELITE (2011): DANNY, mercenary / THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012): See The Expendables / PARKER (2013): PARKER, thief / THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014): See The Expendables / FURIOUS 7 (2015): DECKARD, assassin. / SPY (2015): RICK, bad spy
-From Esquire June/July 2015
Most of the time, Conor McGregor wins fights with his fists. He has won once with elbow strikes, and he has won once by submission. But the other fifteen times he has professionally beaten another man bloody—most recently Dennis Siver, whom he picked apart in Boston in January—it has been with his hands. His coach, an Irish mixed martial artist named John Kavanagh, has studied the physics of human combat and collision for decades, and even he can't explain why the five-foot-nine McGregor can hit as hard as he does. The hardest hitters usually have long arms, which McGregor does, and they usually have big fists, which McGregor does, but there's something else in him, some mysterious and extraordinary combination of desire and angle and speed, that makes his punches land like bombs.
McGregor, who is also extremely Irish, has an upright stance when he fights, a style that is both entrancing to watch and almost comically traditionalist. "He looks exactly like the Notre Dame logo," says Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, referring to the university's ornery bare-knuckled leprechaun. Watching McGregor fight brings to mind ancient words like fisticuffs or donnybrook. He makes the delivery of knockouts look like some time-honored craft that occupies the space between art and science, like barrel making or leatherwork. A former plumber, he makes fighting seem like a trade.
When ordinary men land a punch, it lands with a blow, a seismic shock, like a hammer's thud. Most punches blemish. When McGregor lands a punch, his fists behave more like chisels, like awls. His punches cut. They don't bruise the skin; they break it. By the second round of their fight, Dennis Siver didn't look as though he'd been battered so much as he'd been glassed. His face was full of tiny holes.
"IF YOU PUT ME FACE-TO-FACE WITH FLOYD MAYWEATHER I WOULD KILL HIM IN LESS THAN 30 SECONDS."
Whatever reason McGregor's punches are different, they have made him his sport's newest darling, the culmination of a two-year rise from obscurity to headliner to crossover star. He will fight Brazilian champion Jose Aldo for the UFC's featherweight belt in July, and White believes it will be his organization's biggest fight of the year, "a global event," in large part because of McGregor's ability to seem more giant than he is.
But the twenty-six-year-old McGregor doesn't want to be regarded as peerless in only a single facet of his occupation—as just a puncher. "I don't look at a man who's expert in one area as a specialist," he says. "I look at him as a rookie in ten other areas. If you can box, what happens if I grab hold of your legs? If you put me face-to-face with Floyd Mayweather—pound-for-pound boxing's best—if I fought Floyd, I would kill him in less than thirty seconds. It would take me less than thirty seconds to wrap around him like a boa constrictor and strangle him."
McGregor sees the human body the way he sees fights, the way he sees this New York bar in which he's sheltering from the cold, the way he sees existence: Each is a collection of openings and avenues, roadblocks and hurdles. He always sits, as he is sitting now, with his back to a corner; he has scouted the exits; he has several routes of possibility mapped out in his cartographer's brain, every available advance and retreat. "I have a self-defense mind," he says. "I've had it all my life."
The way even the most successful still covet, McGregor dreams of possessing the ultimate trapdoor, of mastering the decisive submission that would finish any opponent: the rear naked choke. He has never managed to apply it during a UFC fight. He talks about it the way any of us talks about an object of desire that eludes us.
"It's the most dominant submission," he says almost wistfully. It isn't an arm or a knee bar or an ankle lock, each of which leaves its victim the opportunity to survive, however slight. And it isn't a punch that can be slipped or countered. The rear naked choke is almost a metaphor for the consequences of our most calamitous mistakes. "You can do nothing to me, but I can do whatever the fuck I want to you," McGregor says. "I have complete control."
He's not sure he's making himself plain enough. He wants you to understand the feeling of true hopelessness, the sensation of every last door closing to you. He wants you to hate that feeling, which will make you appreciate more deeply the moments you are free. His longtime girlfriend, Dee Devlin, sitting beside him in the bar, does her best to explain his intentions. "He wants you to be better than you are," she says.
So under the bright lights of a photo studio, he strips down to his underwear and jumps on you from behind. You feel his weight lean into you, 170 pounds walking around—he can cut more than 20 pounds in the week before weigh-ins—his pectorals fitting into the tops of your shoulders like puzzle pieces. His broad chest is painted with a giant tattoo of a gorilla eating a human heart. It's not some cartoonish representation of a human heart, either, but an illustration ripped out of a medical textbook, with ventricles and veins. It is a drawing of your heart, and now you can feel his, beating through the ink and into your back.
McGregor's legs hook around your waist, anchored in place by his huge ass. "Glutes are a motherfucker," he says. "Glutes are power." The sole of his left foot presses against the point of your hip; the heel of his right foot digs into your groin. Almost by instinct, your hands find that leg and try to remove it, but legs beat arms almost every time, the way arms beat necks. His right arm wraps around your throat, his thickly veined forearm locked under your chin. His left arm crosses over his right wrist and tucks behind your head. And then he begins to pull back his right arm while he pushes forward with his left.
It doesn't hurt. That's the wrong word. You're uncomfortable. McGregor knows the feeling. The last time he lost a fight, the sixth bout of his career, back in 2010, it was in thirty-eight seconds, and it was to a choke. He was so averse to the sensation, he tapped out before he lost consciousness, one of the great regrets of his life. "That ate me alive," he says. "After that, I said I was going to fight to the death. You're going to have to kill me."
The rear naked choke is oblivious to such resolutions. Your body, like nearly everything you do with it, has imperfections that can seem like evolutionary carelessness. There are the few square inches of your liver that lie exposed, wide open under your ribs, a four-lane expressway to your central nervous system. There are the underengineered flying buttresses of your knees, waiting to snap. And there is your carotid artery, conveying massive volumes of your blood to your brain, close enough to the surface of your neck that you can see and feel it coursing, as though a salmon might run up it. Because that artery means life, it also means death. There is no way for you to strengthen it, to shield it, to mitigate the effects of pressure put upon it. Now McGregor squeezes, in two directions at the same time—again pulling with his right, pushing with his left—his arms like the blades of dull scissors. Your eyes are drawn down, leading the way for the rest of you, to the tattoos on his left wrist: a mustachioed gentleman in a top hat, and one of McGregor's principal mantras: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. He doesn't have to squeeze very hard, and he doesn't have to squeeze very long.
One second, two seconds, three seconds . . .
"Once the blood cuts from the brain, it's over," McGregor whispers.
It is. You are.
McGregor has lived his entire life in pursuit of the opposite sensation: limitlessness. For as long as he can remember, he has been obsessed with movement and its endless opportunities. He has studied animals for their advantages—gorillas, lions, crocodiles—and in Kavanagh's Dublin gym, he tries to find their secrets in himself. Kavanagh has given him a key to the place, because McGregor will get the urge, as irresistible as a choke, to move at all hours of the day and night, slithering and monkey-stalking across the mats. Devlin routinely wakes up to find her man shadowboxing in front of the mirror at four in the morning. He doesn't lift weights or put in carefully apportioned session work like most fighters. "Machines don't use machines," he says, "and I am a machine." He doesn't recognize most of the modern walls we have built around ourselves. "Ritual is another word for fear, manifested in a different way." He doesn't believe in time, or at least he won't submit to it; he recognizes that clocks exist, but he sees no reason to obey their demands. He eats when he wants, he sleeps when he wants, but mostly he moves when he wants. For McGregor, death would be stillness—if he believed in death.
"Even in death, they say your vision, you can see everything," he says. "It's almost like you're evolving to the next stage. It's like a different plane of existence, just another form of movement, now we're moving through the fucking universe or I don't know what the fuck. Think of what's out there."
In some ways, it's hard to bear McGregor's company, and not just because he might decide to choke you out at any moment. He is so confident and self-possessed, so in command of his body and seemingly of his fate, he fills you with doubt about yours. Most of our social interactions are based on the premise that we've all agreed to follow certain rules. McGregor has not agreed to those rules, he will not, which is unnerving because it makes his behavior unpredictable—you find yourself saying,"You can't do that" or "You must do this," and he does and doesn't do it—but also because he makes you wonder why you've agreed to those rules yourself. He walks down the middle of streets; he eats the way storms consume coastlines. He is exhausting as a lunch partner, just as he is inside the octagon. In both instances, he is an igniter of brutal self-examination, the most unflattering mirror.
"You tell someone the truth about themselves and they crumble," he says.
"It's life," Devlin says of her boyfriend's ability to create fissures. Their relationship predates his career as a professional fighter by two weeks. His loves are intertwined. "It's our life," she says. "It's not like it's on and then it's off. It's just the way he is."
He has been fighting in some capacity since he was a child, born a challenging presence. "I seem to have a face—I seem to attract attention somehow," he says. "For some reason, people want to try to come at me. They want to hit me. I just wanted people to leave me alone, basically. I didn't get into this to be somebody. I got into it to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations."
He began by kickboxing and then boxing. Then he discovered jujitsu and its system of levers, how to beat a man even when you're trapped on your back just by applying a little pressure where pressure isn't normally applied. "It fascinated me," he says. "It fascinated me then, and it fascinates me now."
Then he sat in the stands at UFC 93 in Dublin in 2009. "That's when I could reach out and touch it," he says. He was still an apprentice plumber then, one foot in each world. To hear him tell it, he went back to a damp building site and looked at the masters, men old and shivering before their time, and he made the choice, as though it were a choice, that he would no longer abide. He put down his tools, because machines don't use machines, and walked away. He saw in fighting a nearly perfect freedom, a way to translate his love of boundless physical expression—in a sport where so long as you don't stick your fingers into eyes or open cuts, you're pretty much good to go—into that rarest of lives, he and Dee, soaring together, never to be caged again. "No matter what was going on in my life, good or bad, I always knew—we knew—that we would end up here," he says. "It was inevitable in my head."
He uses inevitable more than most people. For McGregor, his certainty about his rise, and its continuing, isn't bravado. He is doing you the favor of letting you glimpse a future that only he has seen. It's almost as though he can't help it, as though his jaw is just one more pressure-release valve through which he can vent his bottomless reserves of spiritual anarchy. Ask him about his reputation for trash talk and this is what he says, uninterrupted, it seems, even by breaths:
"Trash talk? Smack talk? This is an American term that makes me laugh. I simply speak the truth. I'm an Irish man. We don't give a fuck about feelings. We'll tell you the truth. People ask me a question about somebody, I tell them the truth. I don't have anything bad to say about Jose Aldo. It's pretty plain and simple. His time is up. It's done. There's somebody ruthless coming to get him. There's somebody cold coming to get him. I can look at him dead in the eye and say, It's done. You're over now. You're a champion that nobody gave a fuck about. Nobody cared about him before I came along. Nobody cared about the division before I came along. He's a decision machine. He can barely finish his dinner, never mind his opponent. And he's fought bums. He's fought little small bantamweights and he still can't put them away. Now he's coming in against a monster of a featherweight who hits like a truck. It's over for him. I don't need to say jackshit else. July is a wrap. It's inevitable."
Only two years ago, Dana White went to Dublin to accept an award from Trinity College. It seemed as though everywhere he went, every bar, every street corner, he heard Conor McGregor's name. White has been told about a thousand secret talents over the years; he has assessed an army of local heroes. You will never know their names. But White heard McGregor's name enough that it made him wonder. He flew back to Las Vegas and asked his matchmakers about this Irish kid. They told him McGregor had fought a little, nothing especially noteworthy—fourteen fights, mostly against unknowns, mostly knockout wins, a couple of submission losses. Still curious, White brought his unlikely prospect out to the desert. He remembers driving up the Strip in his Ferrari and McGregor's energy competing with the engine and the lights. White signed him to a five-fight deal without ever seeing him fight.
"He's a penny stock that couldn't have worked out better," White says. "He's one in a million. He has that thing that you can't teach people, whatever it is that makes people gravitate toward you. He has that more than any fighter I've ever met. He makes you believe everything he believes."
Maybe it is a choice whether we abide. Maybe we don't have to be there at nine o'clock sharp. Maybe we don't die.
Conor McGregor has been damaged. It was during his first fight in America, in Boston in August 2013. In the second round against Max Holloway, McGregor emerged from a scramble on the ground with an unfamiliar feeling: He couldn't find his feet. Because he really believes what he believes, he still went on to win the fight, but he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. It's a devastating injury for any athlete, but for someone like McGregor, it was especially cruel. He was built flawed like the rest of us after all.
He was told to sit still. He didn't listen. "People will study my recovery," he says. He found new ways to work out, shedding the last of his conventional weights and routines. He pressed his body against itself, refusing every invitation to idleness. He did push-ups against hotel-room sinks. He did single-leg squats. He came back and won his next three fights: TKO (first round, eighteen significant strikes landed); TKO (first round, nine); and most recently, against Siver, TKO (second round, sixty-four). Each was the performance of the night; each made him more popular; each made him more certain. "I learned a lot more about how important balance is, how important control of the body is," McGregor says. "From the moment I open my eyes, I'm trying to free my body. I'm trying to get looser, more flexible, to gain control. Movement is medicine to me."
He studied footage of his fights and of animals hunting other animals, and he became closer to one of them than one of us. If he was a breed apart before his knee was blown out, he was his own species after, better than he was. White tore up his contract, and then he
tore it up again. In McGregor's fight against Aldo, he will see a cut of the pay-per-view for the first time. Because its outcome is inevitable, and because he has a self-defense mind, he has already begun thinking of what will come next. "I'm interested in movement, and I'm interested in money, and I'm interested in the movement of money," he says. "If I win that belt and we do a million pay-per-views, we can rip up that motherfucker right there and do what the fuck we want."
"Someone like him, the money just rains down," White says. "He's going to get everything he's ever wanted."
Earlier that freezing day in New York, McGregor and Devlin had walked into a Christian Louboutin store in the Meatpacking District. McGregor is a stylish man; for him, clothes are another means of applying pressure to other men. He tried on several pairs of sneakers, ridiculous sneakers, the sort of clown shoes that would get the shit kicked out of a kid who wore them to the wrong school. He got stuck on a pair of gleaming white high-tops studded with rainbow hunks of plastic, little pyramids and diamonds that fought with the smooth red soles for his eye's dubious attention.
"They're fucking out there," he said, looking at himself in a mirror. "Wouldn't see no one back home wearing a pair of these."
He looked at them some more, turning, convincing himself.
"If you like them, get them," Devlin said.
"If someone says something—whap," he said, and he began firing off kicks in the middle of the store, the taken-aback employees looking at him and his cauliflower ears anew, doing all the mental arithmetic that men do when they're ranking themselves within the orders of other men. "Just snap them in the face," McGregor said, kicking again at the mirror.
"I don't know about them, I have to say," Devlin said.
"If I'm not going to wear 'em out of the store, I'm not getting 'em," he said. Then he nodded to himself. "I'm wearing 'em out."
Devlin laughed and paid for the shoes: $1,700. The leather boots McGregor had worn into the store went into the bag. The new sneakers went out into the snow and slush. They flashed like sirens.
Then a strange thing happened. A family with young daughters walked up to McGregor and asked for his picture. Then a construction worker broke from a road site and asked for one, too. Then a small crowd began to assemble in the cold on the cobblestones, inexplicably drawn to this man, to this machine, wearing shoes that somebody could wear only if he were somebody. McGregor was surrounded, just like that, made captive by his otherness.
He is aware of the irony. "If you're not in the humor of it, it can be heavy," he says, back in his corner of the bar. "People can become familiar with it, like they've known you all your life. That's weird for me. The reason I got into the game was so that people would leave me the fuck alone." He stops, his flashing black eyes looking at how many of the faces in this room are looking back at him. "It's backfired on me," he says.
And then McGregor is what he so rarely is: He is still, and he is quiet. You get the sense that he's recalculating, looking for different exits. He says he has not wondered once whether he might lose to Aldo—"If I entertain things, they tend to come true," he says—but sitting there, in the silence, he feels as though he has it in him, whatever the result, to disappear one day, maybe on a day not all that distant from today. He knows we'll swallow him alive if he stays; even he can't fight all of us off. The only way he'll have complete control is if he leaves. Maybe that's the future he's seen for himself all along, a great train robber's last big score before he makes good his final escape, vanishing into the jungle with his girl.
"We're the only animal that wakes up and doesn't stretch," he says, coming around.
"Look at your dog," Devlin says.
"Wake up and stretch," McGregor says. "Start there."
Start there and end up with everything you've ever wanted. To demonstrate, he announces that he's going back to his fancy hotel and falling into his cloud of a bed. It's three o'clock in the afternoon.
He won't sleep well. He hasn't worked out in two days, and he's edgy about it, as though he's taking his gifts for granted, as though he's forgotten those dark times when he felt trapped. He'll wake up at two in the morning and start prowling around his hotel room, padding across the thick carpets like a jewel thief, climbing the furniture, scaling the walls, walking upside down across the ceiling, learning how to move through the universe.
A few hours later, you'll wake up, the shadow of his arms still pressed around your neck. You'll get out of bed, and you'll stretch.
Published in the Esquire May 2015 issue.
When Warren Buffett considers hiring an executive for his company Berkshire Hathaway, he assesses their intelligence and drive.
But more importantly, he said at a talk at the Ivey Business School in late February, he judges that person's character.
"I know an individual who is definitely going to outperform the S&P, but he's the last guy on earth I'd want my daughter to marry," he joked, saying that while that man may be a "winner" by all accounts, he isn't the right fit for Berkshire.
When hiring, it's best to prioritize whether you like someone above all else, Buffett said.
"So first and foremost, you have to feel good around them, you must enjoy their company, like a friend or a family member," he said. "If you feel good around them, it means they have characteristics you admire and are moving in the direction you want to associate with. These people represent who you'd like to be, and you may perceive them even as better than yourself."
He's used the same philosophy for the CEOs of companies he's acquired. Every leader he considers incorporating into his business must meet his standards of intellect, energy, and integrity.
"You can admire their behaviour or intellect, but always judge them as a human being," Buffett said at Ivey.
When employees' values are aligned with those of their company, they will achieve their full potential.
"These people do 10 things for every one thing you ask for," Buffett said. "They go above and beyond what you expect of them."
Mario Carbone, the chef and culinary empire builder just opened his latest restaurant.
Ever heard the phrase, "The more you know, the less you need?" Minimalism has plenty of mantras, and they usually evoke images of boring black suits. There is another kind of minimalism taking root this spring and summer, though, with clothes distilled to their most basic forms and then elevated with unexpected materials or colors. They're still simple and versatile, but they're also singular and distinctive, and when worn together in easy, five-piece outfits, they're the only things you need for spring.
You don't see a silk jacket often, which is why the sheen and texture on this one stands out in the simplest possible way. That and its aubergine color, of course.
2. Cotton shirt ($375) by Ermenegildo Zegna.
There is nothing more beautiful than a fine cotton shirt, especially when it has subtle stripes like this one does.
3. Cotton trousers ($475) by Ermenegildo Zegna.
The humble chino, elevated to the highest degree
4. Silk tie ($205) by Ermenegildo Zegna.
This tie might look plain at first glance, but its sheen and texture add plenty of visual interest.
5. Suede shoes ($345) by Coach.
These simple suede uppers gracefully give way to a rugged, clear ranger sole, which adds just enough heft to make these shoes perfectly unusual.
-From Esquire April 2015
You know him as "The Most Interesting Man in the World," or possibly as your favorite carpool buddy, but it turns out that Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor behind the character is actually pretty damn interesting himself. So we got him to check in and tell about all the coolest stuff he's done in real life and we don't think you'll be disappointed.
1. He's Ridding the World of Land Mines With the Mines Advisory Group
"My work with M.A.G and my recent trip to Vietnam with them to help find and detonate landmines made me realize just how much more work still needs to be done and also how many lives have been saved by the organization's valiant work."
2. He Lived On a Boat in LA
"Living aboard my sailboat in Marina Del Rey allowed me to enjoy nature in the middle of a big city with a true sense of tranquility. I also enjoyed the cooler climate, especially in the summertime."
3. He's Down With The Troops
"It was a real pleasure to visit our troops and to see how they enjoyed being reminded of just a touch of home that I could bring them. I'm headed to the USS America aircraft carrier next week to meet more."
4. He's Down With Obama Too
"It was incredible to meet the most powerful man in the free world, both at the White House and at Camp David. He is a charming, humorous, and delightful gentleman."
5. He Saved Someone's Life on Mount Whitney
"One must always be prepared and aware. If they are not, they risk the lives of others getting injured when rescuing them."
6. He Was an Honored Guest at the White House Correspondence Dinner
"I was amazed that in a room full of luminaries including esteemed members of the media, our government's leaders and other celebrities, that everyone treated me as one of them."
7. He's Besties With Richard Branson
"He is one of the most exciting out-of-the-box thinkers of our time, a real forward thinking man. It was a great pleasure getting to know him and working alongside him as well.
"I get to the training facility two hours before practice, just because it's easier for me to get warmed up on my own. I'm here before everybody—well, not everybody, but before the veterans.
"First thing I do when I arrive is get a good meal in—usually grits or oatmeal, a bagel with cream cheese, and a bowl of fruit. After games, I like to have a steak dinner—I mean, I love steak. I love potato chips. I don't keep a strict diet, because I tend to lose weight easily, running for miles and miles and burning a lot more than I could take in without even realizing it.
"Coming in early means I can spend 30 minutes in the treatment room getting stretched out—mostly my glutes and hips—and making sure my joints are okay. I also get massages twice a week to help my muscles recover. It's a long season, so I need to be sure my body is prepared. Some days I don't work out at all—I'll just shoot around so that I have my rhythm. It's about repetition after repetition—but other than that, the coaches want us to just sit down.
"Off the court, I lift for about 40 minutes three or four days a week—more during the off-season. This year I gained 15 pounds of muscle. My dad is the one who started me weight-lifting. He pushed me to my limits and taught me how to act as a professional on and off the court. I focus mainly on my legs, because I'm on them constantly, and that helps me on the court running, jumping, defending how I want to defend. I like the kettlebell workouts our strength-and-conditioning coach, Mubarak Malik, puts us through. They help my balance and ensure my core is tight. My least favorite exercise would have to be anything with the TRX bands. I really don't like those, but you have to get them done.
"On game days, I go home after shootaround and nap. My routine actually starts the night before—I need at least seven hours of sleep. Especially when we're traveling. That's the hardest part about basketball, the plane rides. I definitely get jet-lagged. I meditate too. That's key. It's something I've been doing since I was at Michigan—my coach there was a big believer, and so is [Knicks president] Phil Jackson. There are so many ups and downs in a season that I have to focus my mind on one thing and one thing only."
Published in Details Magazine