Vlad Yudin, Director of Generation Iron, on Steroids, Meatheads, and Why Size Matters

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Long before Arnold was the Governator, the Terminator, or cheating hubby of Maria Shriver, he was the original meathead. A legend in the bodybuilding world, Schwarzenegger was immortalized onscreen in the classic bodybuilding flick Pumping Iron.

Arnold's achievements launched a generation of bodybuilders who've since taken the sport to new heights of bulging biceps, swollen pecs, and rock-hard abs. This weekend, a fresh, modern-day installment of the 1977 original hits theaters. Generation Iron is an up-close look at the lives of professional bodybuilders and their journeys to the Mr. Olympia competition, narrated by Mickey Rourke.

Ahead of the film's release this Friday, we spoke with Director Vlad Yudin about the meathead stigma, sensitive musclemen, and big egos.

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Cultist: How does this film differ from Pumping Iron?

Vlad Yudin: Well, you know Pumping Iron is a classic film. It really introduced bodybuilding for the first time ever in the 1970s, and obviously, more than 30 years later, a lot has changed. Now Generation Iron is reintroducing bodybuilding to the world and reintroducing new characters. In the sense that Pumping Iron kind of introduced bodybuilding, we go a little bit deeper to get to know the new characters. We go beyond the gym, beyond the stage, and really explore the mental aspect of the sport. It's very dynamic and very interesting. People come from all over the world [to Mr. Olympia]. We've got the top bodybuilder from Japan, from Germany, from America -- it's a great competition.

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How did you approach the subject matter?

I wanted to portray it in a very honest way. There's good and bad like any other sport, and of course bodybuilding is a very misunderstood and still taboo sport. Most people who don't know much about the lifestyle have their own stereotypes. I think most of us think they're unintelligent. I think "meathead" is the most common term to describe somebody who's into bodybuilding. But there are many types out there, and they have a lot of interesting stories. Most people who see the film will be surprised at the characters and what they bring to the table.

How is today's generation of bodybuilders different from that of Arnold's time?

There are many different things. On the surface, of course, if you look at the bodies today and in the '70s, they got bigger. You can't deny the fact they're definitely much bigger and more muscular. Over the years, science advanced. Now you have to be pretty massive; you need to have symmetry and great conditioning. Size matters when you're onstage.

In the '70s, it was more of an amateur sport. It was practiced only in certain gyms, and Mr. Olympia was an important competition but not on the same level as today. These guys are professional athletes -- this is their full-time job. Back in Arnold's day, the prize money was like $1,000 for first place; today it's reaching a million dollars. It's way different. These guys have careers essentially in bodybuilding.

What will surprise people about the industry?

In reality, most people don't really know what bodybuilding is. It's many different things. It's a sport, it's science, it's a way of life because you have to do it 24/7. You can't just turn it on and off. You have to do it continuously if you want to be the top guy. It's an art form like a sculptor or painter works with his tools. Bodybuilders work with their bodies as a canvas. There's a very interesting artistic aspect most people don't realize. They'll be surprised seeing how much art is involved.

Bodybuilding is a physical sport but it's very, very mental. The psych-out game, how they compete -- it's very intense. A guy can be in great shape, but if he goes backstage and he gets looked at the wrong way and loses his confidence, he can lose out onstage. It's a very intense competition, and people will be able to appreciate that dramatic aspect of it.

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Are there any misconceptions about steroid use? How do you address it in the film?

We definitely address it in a major way. I think most people ask that question when it comes to bodybuilding, so we had to address it. We had doctors talk about it and athletes talk about it. It's really the first time ever athletes have talked about it [in a film]. In reality, when we talk about steroids, we have to talk about all professional sports. In bodybuilding, because they're very muscular and look a certain way, people think about it. It's a difficult subject because obviously it's something people don't want to talk about, but for the first time ever we did. The problem is, people judge because of steroids, but they don't even know what it is. We hope we've started the conversation that will help people have more understanding of what they actually do and what they bring to the sport.

Like in any other sport, there's nothing you can just take that can make you amazing or a champion. It can make you better, yes, but when you're in a professional field, everything is leveled out. What takes you to the next level is how hard you work and your genetic capabilities -- your talent.

For people who aren't interested in bodybuilding -- or who hate it -- what makes this a compelling story?

This film is not meant to make you love bodybuilding or for you to become a bodybuilder. Even if you don't like it, give it a try and see the film and just see something you normally wouldn't see. You're given front-row access to bodybuilding, what goes on inside the sport. If you don't like it, go see what it's about. It's an interesting experience that you don't see very often. And if you love the sport, you should be very happy.

Was there anything that totally surprised you as you delved into the industry?

Absolutely. I was kind of intrigued by the fact that these guys are very sensitive. They have families and regular lives. They're regular people who have very unorthodox professions -- professions that consume their lives. They have to balance it out with family and personal lives. It's very difficult, but they manage.

There's this whole meathead perception, the unintelligent goon -- but it's not true when it comes to these professional guys. In order for them to get to that level, they have to be very scientific about it; they have to know what they're doing. When I go to the gym, I don't really know what I'm doing; I just try to guess. These guys really know what they're doing; it's very precise, very accurate. They have quite a lot of ego as well. When you're competing based on how you look, it's a lot of ego. There's a lot of trash talk going on. They have to hype themselves up that way to feel the confidence onstage.

Generation Iron hits theaters this Friday, September 20. So grab a protein shake, buy a ticket, and get seriously inspired to hit the gym. Either that or feel woefully inadequate.

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