By Jack Franks
Photo credit: Ben Cope with styling by Douglas Vanlaningham and grooming by Kiki Heitkotter
Life is pretty sweet for Steven Krueger right now.
The 33-year-old Sarasota native boasts an acting resume filled with notable shows: “The Originals,” “Roswell: New Mexico,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Parenthood,” “NCIS,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Goosebumps,” amongst several others.
You might be surprised to hear that he initially set out to pursue a career in law, but after encouragement from his mother delved into a career in acting. This leap of faith led him to be on the critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated series “Yellowjackets.”
Playing the character of Ben Scott, Steven Krueger told Muscle and Health his work in the Showtime hit series is the type of role he has dreamed about since his days competing in Duo Interpretation on his speech and debate high school team.
A self-proclaimed skinny youngster, the versatile actor is now happier than ever in his body as he explains his beliefs on toxic masculinity, why less is more when it comes to ingredients, and his plans to build a plunge pool in his future home.
You were born in Upland, Wisconsin, raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield, and you moved to Sarasota, Florida, with your mom and your young brother. What are your childhood memories in Sarasota, and do you feel that your childhood shaped the man you are today?
“Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think that’s probably the case for a lot of actors. There’s this seed planted in us when we’re very young, and it forms us into the creative artists we become. I was always the kid who everybody knew, but I wasn’t necessarily popular. I didn’t hang with the cool kids. I was really skinny, I was really little.
“I did all the nerdy activities in high school. I played tennis, and I did speech and debate, theatre and drama. I certainly had my fair share of getting picked on by the cooler and bigger kids, especially in Florida.
“I remember showing up to Florida, and it was like all these 16-year-old kids were just huge. They had gone to the gym their entire lives, and I was a scrappy little kid. Anything that came my way, I just swatted away.
“That certainly gave me a bit of thick skin necessary for this particular career, which is really important. I guess I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. I’ve always wanted to prove myself, which has benefited me to a certain degree now that I’ve gotten into this business.”
Growing up in the mid-nineties and early noughties in Sarasota, are the places: Regal Hollywood 11 Movie Theater, Selby Library, Ringland Bridge, Florida Studio Theater, Sarasota Opera, and the Circus Art Conservatory familiar to you?
“Yeah, I know all of those places. Of course, the big one you didn’t mention is actually the biggest draw to Sarasota. Our claim to fame is Siesta Key Beach, perennially ranked as America’s number one beach. It’s absolutely beautiful.
“I was spoiled when I was young because I would go to this beach where it’s that really fine white powdery sand. It’s almost like you’re walking on powdered sugar, it’s beautiful, the best kind of beach there is. Anytime I got out of Sarasota, and now that I’m an adult and I live in California most of the time, you go to these beaches and I’m like, ‘This isn’t a beach. This is not what beaches are supposed to be.’ I think we spent most of our time at the beach.
“That Hollywood 11 Theater, funny enough, used to be the Hollywood 20 Theatre. I think they’ve cut it down in recent years to just 11, but that was a big deal when it came in. It was the first big stadium seating theatre, and I actually remember going to that theatre all the time when I was in high school and thinking, oh my gosh, this is so cool. I’d never sat in a high rise stadium theatre before. That’s a blast from the past.”
You were in the high school speech and debate team and getting roles in local theatre productions. Where did that love of acting come from? Was it natural, or did someone in your family come from an acting background?
“No, my mom, ironically enough, pushed me into it. I didn’t really have much interest in acting or performing in general, but when I was a freshman in high school, she forced me to take acting classes as an elective in my freshman year of high school.
“For some reason, she just – as mothers often do – had the foresight that it would be something I would like. I can very vividly remember my first day in that acting class of freshman year of high school. I mean it was instantaneous. I was in as soon as I got in there and started whatever exercise the teacher had us doing the first day. I knew I was going to like acting.
“Everything else just sprang from there. The speech and debate were acting in a different way, which also added to the extra element of competition, which I loved. It grew organically, thanks to my mother, who later passed away. I have her to thank for this career I’m in, and I’m sure she’d be very excited to know that I ended up making a career out of this.”
It could have been a bit different, though. Your mother also pushed you towards a career in law.
“That was the plan. Acting was always something I did as a hobby when I was young. It was never something that I anticipated would be a career. I was always instilled with this sense of academia, getting an education, and then having a job.
“It never really occurred to me that acting could be a viable career path, and it seemed like something that people did as fun and as a hobby when they were younger. But by the time I got to university, I thought, ‘Okay, well now it’s time to get serious and do something real.’
“Law just happened to be that thing. Funnily enough, I think it’s the same track. I mean, lawyers often use acting skills when arguing and debating and all that stuff, so it was just a natural logical extension. But at some point, once I found myself in LA, I realized acting might be a viable career path to explore.”
Your acting resume includes The Originals, Pretty Little Liars, Hawaii Five-O, NCIS, The Vampire Diaries, and the Emmy-nominated Yellowjackets. What’s the work you are most proud of and showcases the true version of Steven Kreuger?
“Every job I’ve done has a special place in my heart for different reasons. There are a few that stick out to me. Pretty Little Liars was my first taste of acting. I was there at the very beginning of the show just for a few episodes, and that was the first time I realized how big and important it was.
“The Originals ” was a show where I was only supposed to be there for four episodes. That was the initial plan. I ended up being there for five full seasons and went the entire length of the show. I had always heard stories about that before where actors come in with a small part and end up getting expanded, becoming a big part of the show.
“That was a really cool experience just to have it knowing that it was really just my work that got me to where I ended up being on that show. To be totally honest, Yellowjackets is the one where I feel like I’ve arrived at a point where I have a really meaty, juicy role as a character. It’s a well-done show, and it’s the kind of work I’ve always dreamed about doing. I think every actor aspires to do this kind of work, and having the opportunity to do it is incredible.”
You’ve been quoted saying you were a twig physically when you were younger. Were you confident in being skinny while surrounded by physically larger guys?
“I never was. I never was able to find that confidence. I always found ways to deflect around it, and I became the funny kid. If I could get everybody to laugh with me, even though they were probably laughing at me half the time, it would feel a little better.
“It was a cultural thing in Florida during the late nineties where high school kids were just huge. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t matter what I did at the gym. I tried all the tricks. I tried to drink three glasses of milk a day. I remember going through this laundry list of things that could help, but I never really could put on weight.
“After my first year of college, I spent the entire summer bulking up as much as I could. I went on a strict plan where I was eating around 7,000 calories a day and working out twice a day. I shocked my body so much to the point where it just stuck.
“I put on a good 25 or 30 pounds that summer over the course of four months, and I remember coming back to my second year of college, and people were in shock. I wasn’t ripped. There was a lot of fat underneath all that muscle. But it changed my body chemistry for the better. I’ve fluctuated obviously in my adult life, but I can now put on muscle when I need to, which is helpful.”
You mentioned, especially in Florida, that everybody has a preconception of what the male body should look like. What are your thoughts on toxic masculinity these days, and how do you think it’s developed over time?
“Funnily enough, I actually think it’s gone in the opposite direction. I remember that being really big and bulky was a thing back in the late nineties and early noughties when I was growing up. I feel like now it’s not much of a thing.
“As you get older, you realize flexibility and your body feeling good is so much better for you, and that concept has found its way into today’s culture. If you can be lean, that’s amazing, but it’s more about overall health and fitness levels and your ability to feel good on a daily basis.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve incorporated so much more in the way of stretching, yoga and Pilates into my life, and I’ve forgotten how I look to a certain degree. I really just like feeling good day in and day out, and if nothing hurts on my body at this point, that’s a win.”
Do you put more of an emphasis on mental health and well-being over your physical appearance?
“Absolutely. When I was growing up, I don’t think mental health was ever really a thing that was discussed, especially for men, it was always just a power-through mentality, and you didn’t let anything get to you. I was like that as I was growing up too. You deflect a lot. You come up with defense mechanisms.
“Now, there’s such an emphasis on it, and so much more awareness is around. Even if I don’t necessarily have anything that I’m struggling with in particular, I go to therapy every other week and that cadence adjusts based on what’s going on in my life. But I think it’s an incredibly important thing for everybody to pay attention to within themselves.”
You mentioned therapy, but do you do meditation, and breathing techniques, and have you attempted cold water immersion?
“Meditation is a funny thing with me. I go in waves sometimes where I’ll do a few months of really getting into a routine, and then I’m like, okay. Then it goes away for a few months, but it always comes back. It’s always fluctuating for me.
“The cold plunge and the contrast therapy is something I’ve really started adopting in recent years. I obviously don’t have 24/7 access to a cold plunge, which would be great, but someday when I own a house, I will have a cold plunge. I spend the last 60 seconds of every shower I take under ice-cold water. It’s amazing what it does for the body. I feel so much better after a cold shower.
“All those things didn’t really exist when I was younger. I always try to keep up to speed on the latest health and fitness trends, both mentally and physically, and try different things.”
Have you got a morning routine if you weren’t filming with a busy schedule?
“It’s really hard in this career to have a set morning routine just because every day is different. I tend to adjust and be pretty flexible with my daily morning routine. But the things that are pretty much non-negotiable, I always try to work out in the morning with some exercise because usually the later in the day it gets, the less motivation I have.
“If I can wake up and start my day with some workout or exercise, I automatically feel better the rest of the day. I’m a big breakfast guy as well, and I love cooking breakfast, so if I start the day with a workout and then a nice homemade breakfast for myself, usually it’s going to be a good start.”
Are you one to follow a regimented diet, and are you the type of person to track your macros?
“It totally depends on my circumstances. There are two states that I think an actor exists in. The first is when you’re in season and preparing for a specific role. In those cases, depending on the role, I’m going to formulate a diet around whatever I need for that particular character. If I need to put on weight, if I need to lose weight, if I need to get a little bit lean or whatever the case may be, I always formulate my diet around there.
“Then there’s out of season, just every day, this is me; this is how I like to operate normally. I don’t pay too much attention to all the macros. I don’t track all that stuff very much. Over the last five years or so, I’d say the two things that I really pay attention to when I go to the grocery store and look at food are the sugar content in things and just the ingredients list.
“I think we’re seeing more and more studies come out about the dangers of processed foods. I look at the ingredients list and if there’s things on there I can’t pronounce, it’s not for me.
“About 10 years ago, something I started incorporating into my diet is every time I eat there has to be at least one fruit or vegetable in whatever I’m eating, whether it’s a full meal or a snack or anything like that. I can make a piece of toast with peanut butter, but I have to throw a banana on it, blueberries, or an avocado toast, but I’ve got to throw some spinach, tomatoes, or something on it.”
If you could sum up your whole ethos on fitness, what would that be a condensed version of it?
“I think it would be as simple as taking care of yourself. We all struggle with personal relationships in our own lives, and so often we put our own physical and mental health second behind the laundry list of things we may have to do in a given day. It starts to have detrimental effects.
“It’s a compound effect over the years if you’re not taking care of yourself. I’ve watched close friends and family members who I feel like haven’t really taken care of themselves, and there’s really dire consequences that can be suffered.
“I think that we’re getting to a point in culture and society where we are emphasizing taking care of ourselves mentally and physically. If we can get to a point where each individual makes that an important part of their day, then we will be so much better off just as human beings. So yeah, take care of yourself.”