28 Oct, 2014

Alien Cyclist Interviewed


We all remember when a feisty little girl in Audi’s television advertisement convincingly declared “My father is a space alien”. So Modern Cyclist took on the challenge to track down cycling’s most famous alien. Happily, we managed to find this lycra wearing “dude” from “Mbombela” ….. in Hollywood.  His name is Toby Johnson and we asked him all sorts of questions.


Actor Toby Johnson (45) lives in the heart of Hollywood, with his wife of 15 years, Stacy, and their eight year old daughter, Tulsa. Growing up on a farm in Kansas, the major athletic endeavour of his life was not cycling, but wrestling.  He started at five years old and wrestled all the way through college. As captain of the wrestling team at the Columbia University in New York City, where he graduated in 1990, he was voted 1st Team “All Ivy”.

Injuries kept him from completing his career as an “All American” wrestler, so he decided to put all his physical training knowledge to good use by buying two gyms, one in Hollywood and another in Manhattan Beach – about 24 kilometres down the coast from Hollywood. Naturally he has a huge celebrity membership at the Hollywood club. Mostly because of the location, but also because he keeps it very private, shooing away the always present paparazzi. Some of the members that frequent the gym are Matt Bomer, Eric Dane, Michael C Hall and Armie Hammer – all spotted either wearing his gym’s branded t-shirts or coming and going from the gym. He is tight-lipped about other famous members, so check out to see if you can learn more.

To supplement the income he receives from the gyms and perhaps follow in the footsteps of his many A-list clients, Toby decided to become an actor and has done “loads of commercial work” – everything from American Express to McDonalds to Coors to German cigarettes. The most fun he ever had filming a commercial was with basketball superstar Magic Johnson, but he can't remember what the commercial was for! He does remember shooting the Audi advertisement though, stating that it was the second one he did for the car manufacturer. In the first one he had to pick up his "son" from school in the Audi A6. This is what he had to say about the second shoot.

MC: When and where was the commercial shot?

Toby Johnson: We shot the commercial last year in the mountains around Calabasas, California. It's about an hour north of Los Angeles on the 101 freeway. It took six days to shoot....and on the night we got the shot of me looking into the sky it was just above freezing point outside. They had a guy in the pool next to me (I don't know if you can see the pool in the South African version of the commercial) with huge underwater lights in his hands wearing a wet suit... It was crazy!

MC: Do you know the young actress in the commercial? And did you get on with her and have fun on set?

Toby Johnson: I wish I could remember the young girl’s name, because she was a sweetheart and an amazing actor. She only needed a couple of takes, no matter what the scene was. She was super cute both on and off camera. It was hard not to laugh when she just looked at you! She was also the same age as my daughter so it was fun hanging out with her. And the rest of the crew were great. They are old professionals at it so it's no surprise. But some directors are fun, like this one, and some don't handle the pressure as well. It was a great environment to be in.

MC: What was that green concoction? And what did it taste like?

Toby Johnson: It was a health shake made by some national brand. You must think I'm senile with how much I can't remember.... I need to drink more shakes! It was spirulina that made it green, I believe. And it was surprisingly tasty.

MC: Do you own an Audi?

Toby Johnson: I don't. Tried to negotiate for one instead of getting paid ... they didn't go for it. Boo!

MC: What was your friends’ and families’ reaction to seeing you in the commercial? Did they also comment on you being an alien?

Toby Johnson: I've been called "alien dad" pretty consistently since it came out, even by my own daughter! It's been fun being in something that was so have to be quick to even see me in the thing, so all the credit should go to the girl and the director and agency that produced it.

MC: In the South African version of the commercial, it said you come from Mbombela. Do you know where that is?

Toby Johnson: Sure! Just over the border in Mexico! Right next to Tijuana!

MC: Have you tried out cycling and, if so, what discipline?

In the commercial, I probably knew more than anyone there about cycling, which is almost nothing, so by the time they brought me the helmet I was too tired to say what was wrong with it! What I have ridden recently which was scary fun, was a fixed gear...scared the crap out of me, but it was a blast!

MC: From a non-cyclist’s perspective, how did it feel wearing the kit that we cyclists take for granted?

Toby Johnson: I enjoyed it....even trimmed up the old leg hairs before the shoot so I could be "in character"!

These days Toby has changed participating from wresting to golf and he tries to get a game in every week. His training regimen is now much lighter than it used to be with lifting five to six days a week and a little cardio in between. He does some class based stuff from time to time, but as the gym owner he usually makes the instructors too nervous!

The gym in Hollywood has been in the same location for 75 years and is supported by loyal local community. The location of the gym complements being active in the general area – one can, in the same day, surf and then drive up to the mountains to snow ski or anything in between. With Southern California being the self-titled capital of healthy living in the US, it is understandable that cycling is hugely popular. Toby says it is not uncommon to see groups of 15 to 20 cyclists every morning on his way to work. Then there is also a huge indoor cycling community, which he explained, became so popular in his gym in Hollywood, he expanded and gave the indoor cycling class its own room instead of sharing a space with the other group exercise classes.

Although he has never been in South Africa, it is on his ‘top five’ list of places to visit before his daughter graduates from high school. And speaking to a South African publication about being an alien does count as one of the oddest things he has ever done. Well, that and two stepping with an unbelievably beautiful girl in a barn in the middle of nowhere for a fast food commercial….

Modern Cyclist burning question however has finally been answered: “Is Toby Johnson an alien?” With a slight smile and straight look he emphatically declared: “I am not an alien….but I have always wanted to be one……”