NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Many people are familiar with Hollywood heavy hitters like Sylvester Stallone, Jamie Foxx and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But not many know of the Louisiana link behind the scenes helping the stars prepare for their big movie roles.
He is Aaron Williamson; a former New Orleans resident who moved to New Orleans in 2009 after completing two Tours of Duty as a U.S. Marine. It is here in New Orleans that he started his Fitness Training Business. Over the past seven years, he has become the go-to Fitness Trainer and Nutrition Consultant for movie stars in Hollywood.
Fox 8 News first featured Williamson in 2011 shortly after he began his new career in the City. Then in 2015 he moved to Los Angeles.
We caught up with him this week when he returned to the city for another Hollywood Project.
"Without New Orleans, I don't know where my life would be right now," said Williamson.
Right now he's riding a wave of success in the Hollywood Industry. These days the former New Orleans trainer known for getting the bodies of celebrities ripped for movies is also transitioning into acting. Over the past several years, he has appeared in a number of movies either working as a stuntman acting.
This time he's back in New Orleans acting in a recurring role – for the first season of the "Purge" television series.
"I started training producers and directors who encouraged me to get in front of the camera because of my presence, my look, so I got an acting coach," he said.
In 2015 he started auditioning for television and movie productions. The roles so far are small but he is off to a good start. Local close friends are thrilled for him.
"I'm very happy for him. I see him overcoming things in spite of the things he's gone through in his life," said friend Roxanne Marchand. She is correct in her observation that he has come a long way.
His life reads like a Hollywood script. When we first featured his story in 2011 – the former U-S Marine spoke of the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life. But there was another dark chapter he did not share that he was experiencing when he started his fitness training.
Many did not know he was in the midst of a dire financial situation.
He filed for bankruptcy and was living out of his car. It's why this trip back to New Orleans is so emotional.
"Hmmmm, it was tough," said an emotional Williamson. We walked a few minutes away from the gym on Magazine Street to the spot where he slept nightly in his car. "I would just sit there and think about everything I've been through," said Williamson.
That tragic chapter began a year after he moved to New Orleans in 2009.
A promised job offer fell through; then a series of setbacks out of his control made matters worst.
"It all left me struggling, and along with that struggle, I met some bad people who just made the struggle that much harder, which ultimately put me in the place where I lost everything I had," said Williamson.
It was during that period of homelessness that he says he found his inspiration to keep pursuing his fitness business goals. His motivation: the fellow U-S Marines who never made it home. "Some people I was close with, don't even have that option of doing that. This whole journey is very emotional for me," said the former U.S Marine.
It was his perseverance on that journey that led to a meeting with Actor Zac Efron. One day Efron walked into the gym and he looked up and saw a military fitness style poster of Williamson on the wall. What Williamson didn't know back then, is that his life was about to take a big turn for the better.
That chance encounter was Williamson's entrance into the television and movie industry in Hollywood South. He was hired as a consultant for the actor on the movie, "The Lucky One."
"I teached him how to walk like a Marine, how a Marine would talk, how a Marine would approach a certain situation, said the Fitness Trainer. Word spread quickly about Williamson and he says the calls kept coming. "I'm living in my car and I have nothing and then out of the blue, I get a call from Sylvester Stallon. So someone who I grew up watching with Rocky and Rambo; he's an icon. So that was surreal, you know, you're like, what? How is this happening," he said.
It was a domino effect and other big names started hiring him. It helped him become financially stable again.
Now eight years after we first met Williamson he is no longer a novice in the TV and film industry.
His fitness knowledge has earned him the reputation as the go-to trainer for clients in need of a healthy rapid physique transformation, especially for movies. With his skills - he helped actor Josh Brolin gain 30 pounds and then lose 28 pounds in less than three weeks for the movie "Old Boy."
He was also the engineer behind the bulked up lean look for 61-year-old actor J.K. Simmons in 2016. He's very thorough first of all. He really has a great knowledge of training and nutrition.
Recently, he joined Simmons in front of the camera in a small role on Simmons STARZ T.V. channel series " Counterpart."
Simmons says Williamson has evolved into more than just a trainer and calls him a Hollywood Triple Threat.
"A multi-talented, multi-threat guy out here in Hollywood making a name for himself. Not just as a trainer, but doing stunts and getting some acting jobs now," said Simmons.
One of Williamson's many roles was in the movie Terminator Genisys. He played the "Refugee Terminator." Ironically, Williams says acting is helping him deal with issues dating back to his service as a U-S Marine.
"From a post-traumatic stress standpoint, acting has been huge for me in being able to purge and release deep-rooted repressed emotions I've never been able to deal with, said Williamson.
So far the former New Orleans resident's acting credentials are quickly stacking up. They include television shows such as
"Unsolved: the Murder of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G." to the movie "G.I Joe Retaliation," and its all in just a few years.
It is a long way from his rough start, but its a story he now readily shares with others.
"I use all of my social media now when I talk from tragedy to triumph and how strong you have to be to keep going; and as long as you are mentally strong, you can pretty much get through anything," said Williamson on his advice to others facing adversity.
He hopes his Hollywood success will serve as an inspiration to others to never give up on your dreams.