Fitness Trainer Gets A-List Cred With 'Red Dawn'

Michael Knight stumbled into two opportunities thanks to "Red Dawn," one playing a movie bad guy and another helping train a pre-"Thor" Chris Hemsworth.

"It was karma, being at the right place (at) the right time," says the co-owner of the Art of Strength studios in West Bloomfield and Birmingham.

Knight, 52, of Walled Lake has a small role as a Russian ally of the North Korean invaders. He originally heard about "Red Dawn" after Pound & Mooney Casting in Farmington Hills called the gym where he was working at the time.

They were looking for someone tall and menacing. The woman who answered the phone, who happened to be one of his clients, suggested him.

After Knight got the part, he wasn't supposed to film his scenes for a month or so. But he visited the set during a football scene with a friend who was providing laundry services to the production. There, he was introduced by a makeup artist to Hemsworth, who asked whether his personal trainer from Los Angeles could call him.

"Is that guy in the movie?" Knight recalls asking afterward, not realizing Hemsworth was a lead actor.

Knight ended up training Hemsworth with a regimen sent to him by Duffy Gaver, who worked with Brad Pitt for "Troy." He says he eventually moved Hemsworth to his workout plan and also trained "Red Dawn" star Josh Peck and several other cast members.

Not long before Christmas 2009, with shooting done, Knight was asked a question by the soon-departing Hemsworth. "He says, 'Mate, what are you doing for the holidays?' "

Although he was in the process of opening the Art of Strength gym, he left for three weeks and flew to Australia with the blessing of his partners. There, he helped Hemsworth bulk up for "Thor," which began shooting in early 2010.

During his stay, Knight says, he got to know the entire family. "The neat part was his brother was dating Miley Cyrus, so guess who I got to spend Christmas with?" he says with a laugh.

Knight knows personally about how much effort it takes to get in shape -- and to climb back from obesity. Although he was an athlete during his high school and college years, he was more than 100 pounds overweight by 36. After a doctor's warning that his weight was threatening his life, he began working closely with a friend who was a trainer and got back on a healthy track.

Knight credits the experience with helping make him successful. "Trainers have never walked in those shoes," he says. "I not only walked in them, I almost died in them."

Although his goal is to develop a health program aimed at children, he wouldn't mind doing the occasional acting gig. "I used to think I was a good actor. Now I know I am because I got my SAG card," he jokes.

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