Being a famous movie star seems like a glamorous life – fame, fortune, and fans screaming your name. However, behind the scenes, the physical toll of being a Hollywood leading man can take its toll. For 35-year-old action hero Mark Strong, the harsh reality has been a years-long struggle with chronic neck pain that threatens to derail his career at its peak.
Strong first felt the initial twinges during a stunt scene while filming his blockbuster spy thriller Agent X back in 2015. “I was doing a scene where I had to jump from a building onto the roof of a moving car,” he recalls. “I landed hard and felt this intense pain shoot up my neck. I tried to shrug it off and keep filming, but it just got worse over the course of the day.”
What he thought was just muscle soreness never fully went away. Over the next few months, the ache in his neck persisted, sometimes flaring up so severely he could barely turn his head. The grueling physical nature of his action-heavy roles only aggravated the sensitive area. “Doing fight scenes and car chases when your neck is killing you is not fun,” he says with a wry laugh.
Still, Strong soldiered on, using Ice and pain medication to numb the discomfort on set. “I didn’t want to be seen as weak or unable to do my job. The movie star machismo thing is real. You’re expected to be invincible.” However, the pain continued interfering with his work. “There were times I’d miss a cue because I literally couldn’t look left fast enough.”
After wrapping up promotions for Agent X, Strong finally consulted doctors to get answers. The diagnosis was sobering: multiple herniated discs in his cervical spine. The initial on-set injury had led to long-term damage and inflammation that would require extensive treatment and rehab.
Surgery to repair the herniated discs brought some relief, but the pain still lingered. Doctors advised significant changes to protect his neck going forward – no more of the death-defying stunts that had been Strong’s trademark. For the high-flying star, the loss of mobility was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Your neck is so fundamental to everything you do physically. When it hurts just to fully look to the side or lie down comfortably, it really impacts your quality of life.” Still, he committed to the recovery plan, with a rigorous regimen of physical therapy, massage, and yoga focused on neck mobility. “I had to learn how to strengthen the muscles and get mobility back while also being gentle and protective of my injury.”
Between shooting sequels, Strong now travels with a physiotherapist to support his neck health. Preventative care like stretching, posture exercises, and ergonomic furniture and props enable him to withstand the rigors of blockbuster filmmaking. He also passed on roles requiring hyper-physical stunts, turning down what would have been a career-defining part in Mission Mayhem, an elite special ops thriller.
“It was hard giving up that opportunity, but I’ve learned I have to put my long-term health first,” Strong reflects. Though reluctant to be defined by the injury, he hopes his experience can spotlight the hidden toll stardom takes.
“We movie stars get built up as these invincible superheroes. The reality is our bodies take a beating.” He wants the next generation of leading men to avoid his mistakes. “Don’t just soldier through the pain. Listen to your body early before it becomes chronic.”
For now, Strong is cautiously optimistic about managing his neck pain. Though it may never go away fully, he focuses on one day at a time. “I don’t want to stop doing what I love. As long as I can keep making movies, I’ll find a way to work around this.” His millions of fans will surely be rooting for their resilient hero.