Actor Rafe Spall talks about his weight struggles

The actor Rafe Spall has spoken candidly about his struggles with his weight throughout his acting career, and the pressures of losing weight to look like a “normal guy”.

Speaking on an upcoming episode of the Guardian podcast Comfort Eating with Grace Dent, the actor, who has appeared in films including Men in Black: International and Just Mercy, spoke about a recent “big-profile” job he did for television where his weight became a concern for production staff.

Spall said he received a call from his agent saying that the staff were wondering if he had been looking after himself. They were concerned that he was looking a little overweight and wanted to get him a personal trainer.

“Now, I was fit at this time,” Spall said. “I could run 5km in 20 minutes, and I was strong and fit. And it broke my heart. It was literally my worst nightmare coming true.”

Spall opened up on the podcast, which airs on Tuesday, about how body image has affected him and his career. He said he was overweight as a child, but when he was 21 “embarked on a big voyage of weight loss”. He said that his role in the 2013 film I Give It a Year was his first lead part in a big romantic comedy.

“It was made clear to me that I needed to lose weight in order to do the film,” he said. “And so, a trainer was laid on. I trained twice a day for 13 weeks to look like a ‘normal guy’.”

“The fact is that in that film, which I’m really proud of – I love that film, – I had to do all of that just to look like a ‘normal person’. It wasn’t like I was playing a superhero or whatever – I was playing a normal guy,” he added.

The actor addressed the pressures that both men and women in the entertainment industry face with regard to body image. “There is much in the public discourse about the terrible pressure that women are put under in the entertainment industry to live up to an unrealistic body shape,” he said. “The same is for me. It isn’t just me, it’s all men. And I don’t know who it’s for, on both sides, and I’m sick of it.

“It’s worth saying that when you see films with men with their shirts off, my entire life and existence for four months was based around the way that I looked and I starved myself to look like that essentially.

“I have to flog myself to [lose weight]. And I think it’s harmful. It’s harmful for me, the audience, for everyone.”

Spall added that he has four projects coming up, and that he’s “thinking about food all the time”. “I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking about food,” he said. “I love food – it’s an axiom of the human experience for me. I get a deep enjoyment and sensuality from food. It’s part of my identity. But I think about my weight all the time.

“I’m still having to go, ‘Jesus, I’ve got a part coming up, I’d better get into shape, I’d better start restricting my eating’. I’m still doing it because I’m so conditioned to do it.”

Spall also acknowledged that his weight loss had benefited his career, and that when he first started losing weight, the “whole world treated me differently”. “The whole world did – my industry, my job, women. I was getting parts I wouldn’t usually get. It was like I turned this light on around me.

“This is obviously a big part of my currency, that I am now thinner, so therefore people are more interested.”