How Travis Jeffery Got In Primate Shape For Planet Of The Apes

How Travis Jeffery got ripped for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

The Aussie actor made his name playing soldiers but in his latest role he needed to build a body that could swing through the jungle, grip onto branches and well, chase after humans. Find out how, with the help of transformation coaches Chief Brabon and Emilie Brabon-Hames, Jeffery transformed from feeble homo sapien to chiselled chimp

LOOKING AT ACTOR Travis Jeffery today, it’s difficult to imagine that he was once an overweight teenager. The 35-year-old is slight of build, but his forearms ripple with muscle and sinew, courtesy of the training he’s been putting in to prepare for his role as a head-of-the-food-chain primate in new film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (in cinemas May 9). But Jeffery’s journey to a healthy physique has been long and arduous, one that began after he swapped sports for the theatre as a teenager.

“At the end of high school, I stopped playing sport and I really let myself go bit,” says Jeffery, who’s joining Men’s Health today on our new Turning Point podcast. “About a year after high school I was about 112 kilos. I was almost double what I am now. But a couple of key moments hit home. And they weren’t very nice turning points. They were kind of bullying turning points where I went, Oh, okay, I’m not very comfortable in my body anymore. And because of the things people have said I thought, I mustn’t be okay, which isn’t true, but as a kid, how do you take that in? Somebody says something inappropriate about your weight, you’re like, Oh, well that’s my fault. That’s on me. Which isn’t true.”

Stung into action, after high school Jeffery began working out and overhauling his diet, ditching sugary drinks and fatty snacks. “I stopped drinking two litres of soft drink a day, which is never a good idea,” he laughs. “A lot of fried food and all that kind of stuff. And then slowly over a year lost about 10 or 15 kilos.”

At the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the physical nature of round-the-clock classes and constant performing would see Jeffery’s weight tumble even further.

The actor continued to slim down as his Hollywood career took off. His role in Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, Unbroken, back in 2014, required him to lose 20 kg. From there, he would land parts in a series of war epics like Gallipoli and Before Dawn, that required further stretching, moulding and fashioning of his physique to inhabit characters in ways that were creatively honest.

Now, in perhaps his biggest role to date, Jeffery is swapping combat fatigues for the furry fun of motion-capture tech in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. And while transformations and fluctuations in weight are part and parcel of being a Hollywood actor, in preparing for the unique role of Anaya in the iconic blockbuster franchise, Jeffery faced his biggest challenge yet.

Having worked out with transformation specialists Chief Brabon and Emilie Brabon-Hames for the past three years, Jeffery sought their counsel back in October to prepare for Apes reshoots and an upcoming film called Birthright. “When we really upped it in October, that’s when I really got a taste of Chief and Em’s magic and what they can do,” says Jeffery.

Here, in his own words Jeffery takes us through his journey from humble country kid to Hollywood star and details the training he put in to get in the best shape of his life.


SPORT WAS A big deal in the Jeffery household. My dad was a VFL footy player. He played for Prahran and then went on to captain-coach the Healesville footy side for many years. But it wasn’t just my dad. My mum was a professional diver before going to the Air Force and then working for ASIO. She’s a very, very smart woman.

I was adequate at a few sports. I tried probably every sport under the sun, played heaps of footy. I was never going to be a professional sportsman but a lot of the skills I learnt from my mum and dad growing up playing sport – tenacity, you only get out what you put in and commitment – all that is directly applicable to what I do today. They were very valuable lessons growing up.

Around year 9 or 10, I got to the point of where I was like, I’ve got to stop smacking my head against this brick wall of trying to be a professional sportsman. I was talked into doing a school play, a parody of Dracula called the Bride of Spatula. I had one line, it was sung. I can’t sing. I was going through puberty, my voice was breaking. But every night I got up there and I did it and I pushed through the fear and I fell in love with making people laugh and helping people escape for a couple of hours. I joined the Youth Theatre Group and I just fell in love with the community and with storytelling.


I WAS A bit of a class clown. It’s funny because the older I’ve got, the more introverted I’ve become, then the more acting I do, the more introverted I get. And that’s probably not the best combo. But a lot of actors are introverted and stick to themselves. When you’re at home or when you’re with mates, you just want to enjoy yourself and not draw too much attention. But I was definitely was a big class clown. It was a defensive mechanism for not doing so well at school. My attention span wasn’t great. Anything that wasn’t media or doing a play, I just couldn’t really sink my teeth into, so I made other people laugh instead.

So, I just distracted myself and had fun, always writing movies in my head and writing scripts when I should have been doing other work. From mid-high school, I knew making films and writing was what I wanted to do and then that shifted into acting. But it never really felt professionally accessible. Growing up on a cattle farm, you’re like, Well, what’s the avenue into this world? I had no clue.

People were like, ‘Hey, you’ve got some talent. What you do is great’. And I was like, ‘Oh, cool, this might just be where it ends though’. It’s like, I’m the kid that’s good at acting in their hometown, and then sooner or later I’m going to have to find something else to do to support the rest of my life.

And it’s a bit of a scary thing when you’re going like, Oh, should I chase acting? Growing up in a working-class town, it’s like, ‘Well, what’s your real job?’ Even when you’re working in the industry, you still got to do other things for money. It’s a very unstable industry.

I started looking into drama schools and I auditioned for NIDA one year and didn’t get in, and the next year I was like, Oh, let’s have a crack at WAAPA, as well as NIDA. I remember one day I was just wandering down the aisles of Coles and I got a call from a bloke called Chris Edmund who ran WAAPA. He’s like, ‘Hey bud, just want to let you know that somebody’s just dropped out. There’s a place for you. Do you want to come over in three days?’ And I was like, ‘Yep, absolutely’. And he’s like, ‘Take a bit of time to think about it’. I was like, ‘No, I’ll be there in three days’. So, I packed up my life and got on a plane and went to Perth.

Going to drama school, I was like, Oh, this is a bit scary. Are my parents going to be okay with this? And it wasn’t until I graduated and was a couple of years into the industry and my dad and I were having a chat and he’s like, ‘Look, when I was speaking to my guidance counsellor about jobs at school, acting was my number one pick but I didn’t go through with it. I didn’t bring it up because it’s a non-existent job. It’s not a job that people like us, growing up on a farm, can do’. And he was like, ‘I’m really proud of you for chasing it. I’m really proud of you for taking the leap and chasing what you want to do’.


UNBROKEN WAS AMAZING. It was such an incredible experience and one I never expected. I came out of drama school, got a job working reception at a gym, was setting myself up for a slow burn, which is what you got to do. You have to appreciate everything, expect nothing. Then these auditions started for Unbroken. At the time, they kept saying, ‘We want you to do some auditions with Angelina Jolie’. I was terrified but I got the job.

The major takeaway from that experience was just the scale. Just how many jobs there are on films and how many people are working their butts off to make something beautiful. And you don’t know going into these things, especially American productions, you’re like, Oh, is it going to be like what everybody says? Is it going to be big Hollywood glamour and will there be divas? But that set was just the most humble, down-to-earth set, and it all came from Angie. She’s so, so kind. She leads with kindness. She was so passionate about making this story. And because she’s been an actor for so long, her dialogue with actors was amazing. She was a really fantastic director.

It was also a great experience for pushing myself physically. That was my first big physical transformation. I lost 20 kilos in two or three months. Because we’re playing POWs we wanted to honour these soldiers as best we could. So, we pushed it as hard as we could and it was really a really special experience and a great way to open my eyes to the scale of the industry.

(L-R): Noa (played by Owen Teague), Soona (played by Lydia Peckham), and Anaya (played by Travis Jeffery) I Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios.


KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a dream job for me. Growing up, I was always climbing up hay bales, climbing trees, always getting told to stop climbing stuff. It [Apes] was another one that when you get the audition, you go, Ah, okay, that’s not going to happen. That’s out of my reach. When I talk about Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, there’s no playing it cool for me.

And the main reason for that is because I’ve always loved movement. I’ve got to thank my teacher at drama school, Lisa Scott Murphy, for a lot. She really kicked off my interest and hunger and my exploration of physicality, whether it be playing Stewie [in Gallipoli] or playing an ape.

We had this incredible movement coach, Alain Gauthier. He’s so precise and he’s so detailed in his work. And we spent six weeks with him, turning into chimps at this thing called Ape School. You go, ‘Okay, what’s Ape School?’ And you rock up on day one and everybody’s a bit nervous and we’re all trying to do our best warm-ups. And he’s like, ‘Everybody relax, there’s no winning here’. So, we got into it and the thing that drove us was how much everybody was putting in, because you feel like an idiot to begin with. Just making chimp noises, doing all the movement. It’s like being back in drama school.

The great Andy Serkis mentored us in the week leading up, pre-shoot. Weta, the digital effects company, set us up in the studios. It’s a big play space. We were on a big grey carpet with all these motion sensor infrared cameras around us picking up our suits and they get our physicality and stuff. So, they’re live transmitting us with an ape on top, so we could see how the last five weeks of training was translating in our body.

And then we’d run through scenes with Andy. And he’s such an intelligent man so we were just so grateful to have him with us. It was too much fun. It was more fun than you should be allowed to have as an actor.

Jeffery at the global premiere of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes in LA.


BEFORE TRAINING WITH Chief and Em, I’d call my workout style just floundering around a gym, trying heaps of different things, mixing stuff up, not eating well. Looking back on the previous transformations I did for some of my roles, I don’t think I was doing it in the right way. I had no idea.

For Unbroken, for example, I was just drinking slim shakes because you go, That’s how I’m going to lose weight. And you do, you lose weight, you’ve got nothing going into your body, it’s so unhealthy. And then I’d finish shooting and just blow out because I’d be like, Great, let’s eat everything. And my body’s like, I don’t know what to do with this stuff anymore. Let’s just stick it to the walls and keep it for later because you’ve been in survival mode for the last couple of months.

I’ve been training with Chief and Em, on and off, for the last three years and what’s great about them is it’s so clear, it’s so easy. I met them through a mate of mine, Tim Franklin, before we went over to Perth to shoot a film called Before Dawn. He was like, ‘You’ve got to come down to the beach with Chief and Em. They’re incredible. They’ll absolutely kick your ass on the beach’. I was like, ‘How hard can it be?’ So, I started doing their Original Boot camps on Coogee Beach at 5:30 am, three times a week. And it was brutal, but an amazing way to start the day. And the boot camps were a great way to get in shape for a lot of the cardiovascular stuff for Before Dawn.

But Chief and Em really ramped up the training from October onwards, when we began working on a transformation for the Apes re-shoots. That’s when we really got stuck into Chief’s DARC training method: dynamic, aerobic, resisted conditioning. It’s hybrid training and it’s absolutely amazing because movement, first and foremost, has always been what’s important to me. Just making sure that I can move well. And it was so important for Apes and that’s what they’re all about, that hybrid training of movement and strength.

I do the boot camps three times a week. That’s a lot of cardio, a lot of weighted bars on the beach, a lot of bodyweight stuff. And then the sun comes up, you go for a dip, then you get in a studio and they [Chief and Em] just up the ante again. I’d jump into their studio five days a week and then I do a ‘SKWOD’ with them on Saturdays. I was going hard but it was a good challenge.

I learned during this transformation that the assault bike is the most aptly named piece of equipment in the fitness industry. It’s terrifying but it really worked well for me. Yes, it was challenging. The last six months has probably been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I loved it because it was something that was making me feel better every day and there were no excuses, you use whatever you have around you. Over the last three months I’ve used trees as pull-up bars, rocks to incline or decline. My dad was a mechanic for a long time, so I used his hoist for dips and for pull-ups and car parts for weights. There’s no getting out of it, which is really important because when you get tired, when you get fatigued, it’s easy to slip.

Nutrition-wise, Em is all over your diet. She really makes it really accessible, really easy to understand. When you start a transformation with Chief and Em, you reset your body. You don’t realise how much crap you’re addicted to. I’ve got such a sweet tooth but Em said to me, ‘You don’t have a sweet tooth, you’ve got a sweet brain. You’re just addicted to these things’. When you start the eating program with her, it feels like a diet to begin with because you’re cutting out all this stuff that we’re so used to eating – processed food and chocolate and all this stuff. But by week three and four you’re like, Oh, this isn’t a diet. This is just eating really well. I was getting up to eating a kilo of veggies a day and having more energy than I’d ever had.

These last couple of months I’ve started to realise the importance of celebrating the little turning points that you have, every day, like getting up, going to the gym. That’s a massive win, especially coming from the kid that was quite overweight and bullied. And I would beat myself up so much for eating junk food or not going to the gym just because I felt so ashamed. Because that’s what people make you feel like when you’re overweight.

But working with Chief and Em helped me change that mindset and really prioritise training and healthy eating and to celebrate those little steps. I’m so proud of where I am right now.

Get in primate shape


Repeat this mini-circuit 4 times, with no more than 1 min between exercises.


PRONATED GRIP PULL-UPS (AKA Overhand Grip): max reps

  • Do as many as possible, then revert to negative only pull-ups, using a jump-box or similar to help get you to the top position. Now take your weight, pause for a moment, then slowly lower yourself down until your arms are straight, then use the box to get back to the top again and repeat.
  • Aim to complete at least 10 reps in total each set.


BENT-OVER BICEP ROW: 8 – 14 reps

  • Set yourself up as you would for a standard bent-over barbell row, but with your hands supinated (palms up).
  • Before you start the row, roll your knuckles back towards you.
  • Now, as you row the bar towards you, aim for it to touch your solar plexus. This will utilise your biceps far more than a standard row.



  • Walk for 10 sec, then Jog for 10 sec.
  • At the 20 sec mark gradually increase your speed over the next 30 secs until you are sprinting for the last 10.
  • Slow back down to a walk and repeat the process three more times.


Again, repeat the mini-circuit below 4 times, with no more than 1 min between exercises.


NEUTRAL GRIP PULL-UPS (AKA Hammer Grip): max reps

  • Just like the Pronated Grip Pull-ups, do as many as possible, then revert to negative only pull-ups again.
  • Aim to complete at least 10 reps in total each set.


BICEPS DRAG: 8 – 14 reps

  • Set yourself up as if you are about to do a standard barbell curl.
  • When you start to lift the weight intentionally allow your elbows to travel backwards in a rowing fashion. At the same time drag the bar up the front of your body until it touches your solar plexus, before lowering it back down to the start position.



  • Cycle with minimal resistance in a seated position for 10sec, then add resistance for 10 sec.
  • At the 20 sec mark increase the resistance again and stand up. Gradually increase the  resistance over the next 30 secs until you feel like you are climbing a mountain for the last 10.
  • Reduce the resistance, sit down, slow back down to an easy pace, before repeating the process three more times.



ALTERNATING GORILLA ROW: max reps in 90 sec

  • Start with two kettlebells of the same weight between your feet.
  • Bending your knees, and hinging slightly forward, reach down and take hold of the handles. Your upper body should be almost parallel to the ground.
  • Pressing down into the handle of the left kettlebell, row the right kettlebell up, trying to twist the body as little as possible.
  • Once the right kettlebell is back on the ground, press down into its handle as you row the left one up.

Listen to Travis’ episode on The Turning Point podcast:


What to stream in May 2024: Netflix, Disney+, Stan, Amazon Prime + more

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By Ben Jhoty

Ben Jhoty, Men’s Health’s Head of Content, attempts to honour the brand’s health-conscious, aspirational ethos on weekdays while living marginally larger on weekends. A new father, when he’s not rocking an infant to sleep, he tries to get to the gym, shoot hoops and binge on streaming shows.

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