In a recent episode of ABC’s Revenge, Nolan Ross—bisexual tech-wizard BFF to vindictive protagonist Emily Thorne—emerged from a leisurely afternoon dip in the ocean to confront his enigmatic lover, Patrick. As with many of Nolan’s Season 3 scenes, the moment required actor Gabriel Mann to go shirtless, something he shares with virtually all Revenge’s male leads (no one can accuse the show of lopsidedly objectifying women). Except unlike co-stars Nick Wechsler (Jack) and Barry Sloane (Aidan), Gabriel doesn’t cut the typical beefcake figure. So when the 41-year-old film/TV veteran (remember Arthur the equestrian on Mad Men?) began leafing through scripts heading into 2013, he was understandably overcome with the realization that he best transform into competitive eye candy.

Mann’s before-and-after between Revenge’s debut and current, particularly steamy episodes, isn’t nearly as dramatic as his hyperbolic alter ego’s dialogue. Part of that’s just pure anatomy—the guy’s lean and more apt to look fit than gain mass. But it also came about when Mann began taking a personal, holistic interest in his overall health, organically coming up with a workout and diet routine that was suited to his body type and left him invigorated. The journey even led to his partnership in an L.A. (where the Vermont-born, Connecticut-raised thespian now lives) fitness center called the Fix Gym that emphasizes a fun, childlike approach to getting in shape (think a Double Dare physical challenge course for grownups) and personal-training sessions with co-founder Brian Woodruff.

During a break from Revenge’s hectic production schedule, Mann spent roughly the length of a good exercise session sharing his practical advice and bigger perspective about fitness (including how turning 40 didn’t stand in his path), in addition Nolan’s arc from “slim and slippery” to dashing romancer.

Was it that scene in the ocean that spooked you into working out?
[Laughs] We have an ensemble cast, equally male and female, but for whatever reason, the guys have done a lot of the heavy lifting. I think we started Season 1 with Christa [B. Allen, who plays Charlotte Grayson] in a bikini, and we’ve now moved on to every single guy in the show being near naked or in a towel. So it was fairly clear to me Nolan’s time was going to come at some point. I thought, “Well, as I’m hearing about this ‘sexy Season 3’ of Revenge, let me try to be prepared just in case we end going up there.”

I love what I call a prison workout.

What are a couple of concrete exercises that you’ve found useful?
Something that I love is called the Indiana Jones Circuit. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, we’ll put on the soundtrack to the film [at Fix] while we do it. But it basically involves climbing on bars all around the perimeter of the room, jumping across boxes … which is great, because it takes me back to being a kid and pretending to be Luke Skywalker, Flash Gordon, whatever. You’re using the entirety of your body. It works your core. I also love incorporating yoga and strength training, so you’re keeping all the muscles in your body limber and at the same time really strong. By the end of the session, you’ve worked everything out in a way that doesn’t feel arduous. It’s just fun.

Can you see where even The Fix would be off-putting to the gym-averse?
Absolutely. When you’re not inclined toward having that as part of your life, it can feel incredibly intimidating. For me, what really made the difference was this particular program. We don’t have mirrors all over the walls, because it’s not about primping and preening. It’s about focusing on what your body feels like and how you feel while you’re doing it. The way you look becomes the surprise afterthought.

How can people simulate some of these exercises outside of a gym?
I’m always a big fan of taking your chair and setting it up next to your bed, putting your feet up on the bed, then using the chair to do dips with your hands on the seat of the chair. I love what I call a prison workout. When I started to put more focus on my physical regimen, I’d stick a bar in the door and do pull-ups. I’m not a huge fan of sit-ups, but I do like the “throw a towel on the ground and do crunches,” just elbow-to-knee. Do three sets of those dips, pull-ups and crunches, and you’re gonna be pretty good to go.

How do you prioritize whether exercise or diet is most important?
I never feel like it’s an either/or situation. You don’t have to be deprived. As long as you’re moving your body and it’s something you care about, you’re probably gonna find yourself in a different place. If you wanna be a much bigger dude, that’s a different kind of work than someone who’s really about, “I’m not looking to be some big, jacked-up musclehead, but I wanna feel healthy and I wanna look good for my partner and myself.” There are a lot of ways to get there that don’t involve being miserable if you’re willing to get creative with it. And getting creative will keep your interest.

Can you dispel the notion that it’s ever too late to feel good?
Yeah, let me use myself as an example. I am an enormously young-at-heart, young-at-mind, occasionally young-in-body 40-year-old. In a youth-oriented business like Hollywood, the fact that I’m having this amazing moment in my career now…I was just laughing with my friends last year [that] I had just turned 40 and I was nominated for a Teen Choice Award. I thought, “Ya know what? Anything is possible.” I’m in the best shape of my life and in this moment of my career that I might have only dreamed about. It’s really about your mindset. You can do whatever you want.


Photo: Gabriel Mann and Ashley Madekwe of Revenge by Tyler Shields