Ben Foster on Taking PEDs to Play Lance Armstrong in ‘The Program’: “It was important for me privately to understand it”
“I tried to infect myself with him. Get him into my system. It was important to get his gait, his riding style.” – Ben Foster on Playing Lance Armstrong
Ben Foster has received acclaim for his intense portrayals of dramatic characters in films like Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma, and Lone Survivor. His work in these films suggested that Foster had the mindset to portray disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong in The Program, a movie about the investigation and discovery of Armstrong’s extensive doping regime that allowed him to become a champion athlete. In an interview with The Guardian, Foster spoke about the surprising lengths he has gone to in order to portray Armstrong and why he has become a more collaborative actor than he was in his twenties.
In an example of “art imitates life,” Foster admits to taking performance enhancing drugs to play Armstrong, though he refused to go into detail about what he took to the interviewer. He says, “I don’t want to talk about the names of the drugs I took. Even discussing it feels tricky because it isn’t something I’d recommend to fellow actors. These are very serious chemicals and they affect your body in real ways. For my own investigation it was important for me privately to understand it. And they work.”
When asked why he didn’t similarly use crystal meth to prepare himself for his role as a meth addict in 2006’s Alpha Dog, he highlights his familiarity with the drug that he already possessed. He points out, “It’s a good question. In all transparency, I rolled with those guys on Alpha Dog and I bought their drugs but you have to ask yourself how far you can go and still come back. I had been losing friends to crystal meth. The proximity to it was enough that I didn’t need to take that door.”
Nonetheless, in no way does Foster think the drugs he took for The Program were “safe.” He says that during filming that he “lost his fucking marbles.” Though Armstrong declined to meet Foster, the actor found Armstrong’s personality difficult to handle and his physicality difficult to match. He reveals, “The word I’m leaning toward is ‘infected’. I tried to infect myself with him. Get him into my system. It was important to get his gait, his riding style. I talked to people who had the aerodynamics of his body on a computer system so I could get the hump in the back, the heels slightly out. It’s almost a duck pedal. It’s not a delicate ride. It’s violent, which is also why he’s such an exciting rider. It’s like he wants to break the bike.“
Still, one aspect of acting that Foster has learned is to not put so much on his own shoulders and to collaborate with his fellow actors and filmmakers more. He discovered that solitude “[is] not an economical way to work. A driver would call it ‘white-knuckling’. If you’re holding on to the wheel so tightly, it’s gonna lock up your driving. Releasing myself from trying to control everything has been part of growing up.”
In fact, despite losing his “marbles” playing Armstrong, Foster claims that he has a healthier detachment to his roles now. He reveals, “I always thought you had to bang your head against a wall or stay up all night long. The work is much closer to the surface now. It’s easier to access and also to let go after a movie. It’s a gentler landing.“