Actor-director Matthew Modine is 57 now and in great shape -- even though he doesn’t go to the gym much. The father of two is car-less in New York City, his primary residence, getting around on a bike for the last 30 years. In the process he became an activist, founding the bike-lane advocacy group Bicycle for a Day, which was given a citation by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At his L.A. home in Venice Beach, he mostly skateboards and walks, saving the electric Fiat he shares with his wife to drive to the base of his beloved Santa Monica Mountains, where he hikes several hours every other day. Starring in the hit new Netflix series “Stranger Things,” Modine talks about being stopped on the streets by fans during his marathon walks, the romantic payoffs of cold showers and why he apologizes to his toes:
You often mention how you found an abandoned beach cruiser in Manhattan and stayed fit by riding it to auditions for 20 years. Do you ride in L.A.?
No. I have one, but this isn’t a bike-friendly town. I prefer riding a skateboard locally, like to the Cafe Gratitude on Rose Avenue, a terrific vegan restaurant. And I love walking. In New York, walking six miles a day is a breeze. Just meeting somebody for lunch, you get a mile walk each way, like going from 25th Street to 42nd Street. L.A.’s more challenging, because you often need a car to get around, but I still walk. I won’t think twice about walking seven miles from Venice to Beverly Hills — although you get weird, suspicious looks because nobody walks here, so they think you’re up to no good. Then there’s the people who recognize me. They slow down and do a double take, take their sunglasses off, point me out to their passengers and probably say, ”There’s Matthew Modine, what happened? What’s wrong with him?”
Is skateboarding and walking all you do for fitness?
Not at all. I go to Gold’s occasionally and hike six to seven miles in the Santa Monica Mountains three or four days a week, from Mandeville Canyon to the Nike tower — the World War II missile site. I use walking sticks to engage my arms and get an upper-body workout. I borrow my wife’s electric Fiat to get over to the trailhead. Although I’m not into meditation, one of the great things about hiking is that it’s like a meditation. You’re forced to focus on your breathing and the next step ahead of you because ... that’s all you can do and what you need to do to survive. You have to be in the moment. You stop thinking about all the things you want to be doing, about all the ambitions you have in your life. Surrounded by all the beauty of the mountains, you go to a quiet place inside of yourself, away from the noise, the social media, billboards, TV programs, all the stimulation. You’re not in a gym, surrounded by music and people in headphones. My son always accuses me of being a hippie when I talk to him about this stuff, but it’s very important that you can go some place where you can be quiet.
You mentioned a vegan restaurant. Are you vegan?
Yes, it makes me feel good. I was a vegetarian on and off in high school, became a chef in New York, and my wife liked the veggie lifestyle. As you get older you don’t need ridiculous amounts of animal proteins; a gorilla, one of the strongest animals on Earth, gets his protein from plants. Meat protein makes you feel very heavy. So I’m a vegan 350 days a year; I’m going to Italy this summer and not going to turn my nose up at the greatest mozzarella cheese and sardines in the world. I just pay attention to what I put in and on my body. I don’t use sunblock because it soaks through your skin into your bloodstream. While hiking, I cover up with sun-protective clothing, then take a Vitamin D supplement. I’m also a big fan of cold showers. Cold water supposedly alkalizes the body; that’s important because most of your body is too acidic, and cancers grow in acidic environments. Cold showers also increase your libido; people used to say, "’Honey, take a cold shower,’ but it’s exactly the opposite. It invigorates and stimulates; the blood leaves your skin and rushes to your internal organs.”
Do you have any more tips?
OK, this might sound crazy, but the next time you stub your toe, bang your finger or just hurt, get up, walk it off and say, “I’m sorry.” This came to me because I saw a TED talk where a doctor was talking about “phantom pain” — in which you feel pain in an arm that is gone, through accident or amputation. Your brain is still sending signals to the nonexistent arm. To stop the phantom pain, this doctor put a mirror on the table in front of a one-armed man. In the reflection, his real right arm looked like his nonexistent left arm. Then he told the guy to make a fist and “squeeze, squeeze, squeeze — and let the pain go." And it did! He tricked his mind into believing that he turned off the left-hand switch, and the phantom pain went away. I used that concept when I stubbed my toe. That pain you feel is a warning from the central nervous system not to stub it again. If you acknowledge this pain by saying, “I’m sorry, I won’t do that again,” the pain will stop almost instantaneously.
If this really works, I think you need to write a book.
It works for me every time. It actually relates to one of my favorite quotes, often attributed to Buddha: “Holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned.” But it’s burning you. So let it go. Let go of the pain of your childhood or of a relationship or somebody you’re angry at. A lot of people actually want to hold onto the pain of their childhood -- it defines them. Yes, the experience still exists in your mind. But every single cell in your 60-year-old body is new, and the cells that had the childhood experience are gone. You have to free your mind and move on. That’s why it’s important to be in the moment right now -- when you’re struggling for your breath on your bike or hiking up the mountain. Your past doesn’t exist and your future doesn’t exist -- all you have is that moment.