At 12, O’Connell famously played the chubby sidekick Vern Tessio, but between the end of shooting and the release of the film, he hit puberty and lost weight.
“I didn’t get recognized, and I’ll tell you why. It’s really funny. I was husky as a child. I was fat. In between making Stand by Me and it coming out, I went through puberty. I got tall. I’m a tall guy. I just stretched out,” O’Connell told PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle in the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview, airing on the PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network.
In addition to growing taller, O’Connell started working out with a trainer at the David Barton Gym in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, where he grew up.
“My mom had a trainer who worked there, [and] he worked with me a little bit,” O’Connell explains.
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The trainer, Charles Brown, instructed O’Connell to keep a food diary.
“I wrote down everything I ate for a week, and it was crazy to do that because you’re writing down two Twix bars, a box of Entenmann’s cookies. When you’re writing it out, you’re seeing what you’re doing,” O’Connell says. “Then the next week, I came to see him, and he read it all to me. We were laughing, but he was like, ‘We got to do [something] — this is your problem.’ ”
“That was my first realization that wow, I have to change. I can’t drink four liters of cola a day.”