How the Body Break duo turned a passion project into a 30-year career

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod would have been happy doing Body Break for a year and not having “a real job.”

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod have moonlighted as cannibals, gangsters while keeping fit and having fun

BodyBreak stars Joanne McLeod and Hal Johnson are still keeping fit and having fun, 30 years later. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod would have been happy doing Body Break for a year and not having "a real job."

Thirty years later, Body Break has turned into a lifestyle for both them and the multiple generations who have seen the brief TV spots promoting fitness and health.

Body Break started in 1988 with a simple premise: Help Canadians be more active by doing simple activities every day. But its ubiquitous theme song — Body Break! — and its throwback to 80s and 90s nostalgia has kept it alive and well into 2018.

"Our target audience was really anyone who breathed," McLeod told CBC's Radio Active Friday.

"It's very fortunate and I'd say fluky that we are able to have this longevity," Johnson added. "But we've also looked at ways of changing it up."

And change it up they have.

Cannibals and gangsters

The two have branched out to different shows, like The Amazing Race Canada, where they placed sixth. But they've also appeared in non-fitness-related programming, including a messy promo for the Netflix show Santa Clarita Diet.

Santa Clarita Diet stars Drew Barrymore as a flesh-eating zombie who lives in the California suburbs. The Body Break duo play themselves in the promo, where they show a social media influencer a new diet. McLeod fires up a chainsaw, and moments later the two are clinking glasses of blood together.

After they shot the ad and everyone on set gave them kudos, both McLeod and Johnson remembered feeling instant regret. "[I thought] 'This is the last thing we ever do,' " Johnson said. "We thought our careers were over at that point."

"I remember driving home almost having that sick feeling in my stomach," McLeod added.

But people loved it. Buzzfeed called them "the cutest cannibals."

"We were shocked that it was well-received," McLeod said.

The BodyBreak stars play cannibals in this ad for Santa Clarita Diet, a Netflix original show. (Netflix/YouTube)

The two also acted in a music video for Sam Weber's Anybodys', where they play violent — and fit — gangsters searching for Johnson's long-lost moustache.

McLeod and Johnson remembered arriving on set for the music video on a cold, damp day in Hamilton. "We got on set not having a clue what we were going to do," McLeod said.

The gangsters embraced their rap squats with their signature catch phrase "Keep Fit and Have Fun" tattooed on their knuckles.

The rap squats are in full effect for Sam Weber's Anybodys' music video. (Sam Weber/YouTube)

"We still don't know how it related to the song, but … we were spreading our wings," McLeod said.

Johnson and McLeod give their best mean looks for the Anybodys' video. (Sam Weber/YouTube)

As Body Break continues to branch out into other mediums, it's their willingness to evolve — and their beloved stature as Canadian fitness icons — that has allowed them to continue their careers 30 years later.

"We have no business plan," McLeod said.

"We don't really plan that far ahead," Johnson added. "So many things that you say no to in life, we prevent ourselves from moving forward.

"We want to try new adventures. We want to experience things."

You can bet that while they're experiencing those things, they'll be sure to be keeping fit and having fun.