I’m huddled next to Sam Asghari as he shows me something on his phone. It’s a trailer for a student film he stars in. Mario Lopez appears to be playing himself–or a thinly veiled talk show host version of himself. “We’re here with Chad Ashton, who just recently started dating one of the world’s biggest superstars,” says Mario. “Chad, let me ask you, what’s it like being thrown into the spotlight and having all this attention on you, man?” Sam-as-Chad shifts a bit in his chair and looks uncomfortable. “Being in the spotlight has…” he trails off. “It’s going to be a killer.” Then the music kicks in.
Asghari isn’t really known for his acting, even though this as yet unproduced film looks fun in a Gone Girl kind of way. Nor is he really known as a personal trainer who runs his own business, even though his muscles bulge on the blue T-shirt he’s wearing, tight enough to show that his body fat seems largely absent. He’s heavily and neatly groomed: perfect shadow of a beard shaped to clean angles, hair shiny and unmoving, nails trimmed, stainless steel Rolex with a dark green dial set about 20 minutes early (it’s mechanic and out of time). He’s tall–around 6’1”, maybe 6’2”—but has a quiet voice and a slight accent from his native Iran. He drove here in his own Jeep and carries a camo backpack from Tom Ford.
He comes across as gentle and a little serious, which seems like a healthy foil to his fiancée Britney Spears.
Almost anyone would be overshadowed by Spears, who, at 40, has been one of the most famous people in the world since she was a teenager—and who became even more infamous in recent years thanks to her fight to extricate herself from a conservatorship that allowed little control over her life, before emerging triumphant and ready to rejoin the world. And she’s doing it with Asghari, who is 28, by her side. They met on the set of a video for her song “Slumber Party” six years ago–he plays a hot guy in a suit who watches as she erotically laps up spilt milk. “It was the humbleness that attracted me,” he says of their meeting. “She was very humble and she had a beautiful soul.”
Judging from the trailer, Asghari seems to be having a little fun with his persona. In the past he’s been hesitant to even say Spears’ name in interviews. But not today. Today he’s ready for the world to know a bit more about their relationship, and that he’s more than just a chiseled guy with a world-famous fiancée. Sam Asghari has something to say.
Sam and I are at StoneHaus, a Mediterranean-by-way-of-California cafe in Westlake Village near where he lives with Spears and their cat and four dogs. It’s just after 10 a.m. and he’s in a reflective mood. “I used to work across from here,” he points out. “I was 17 but I looked 35 and I got a job as a bouncer. They fired me when they found out my real age but it took them six months. It was like a club thing and it was crazy.” Crazy like kicking out badly behaving celebrities? “No one except maybe some 90-year-olds came here. It was amazing–to see all the people dancing in wheelchairs or in workout clothes.”
One time he also worked as a cook in a friend’s party venue, so he knows how to roll sushi and bake pastries. Not that he eats a lot of that stuff–he does intermittent fasting and eats a lot of avocado and salmon and stays away from sugar–which is evident in the breakfast he chose for me before I arrived: a chocolate chip scone and a chocolate chip cookie, as if that’s what people who aren’t professionally hot must eat for breakfast. It comes across as quite endearing.
He knows this area. It’s where he went to high school. He moved with his family–mother, father, three sisters–from his native Iran in the summer of 2006 when he was 12. His father came to the U.S. first to settle in. “I remember when he picked me up from LAX, that was my first time seeing him after five years, and he told me, ‘You’re now in a country of opportunity. If you put your mind into anything, you can achieve anything.’” (His father went back to Tehran in 2009 and he hasn’t seen him since due to health and immigration issues but has an appointment at the embassy in Abu Dhabi and Asghari hopes he’ll see him soon.) “When people complain nowadays about what’s happening in the U.S. and the imperfections of the country, I never understand because I come from a country where there was no freedom whatsoever,” he says. He has a kind of old fashioned brand of patriotism. He became a U.S. citizen in 2012. He bought himself an American flag tie for the ceremony. He is an enthusiastic voter. He voted for Biden in the most recent election. “I want America to win, no matter what, no matter who the president is.” But “no, no” he didn’t vote for Trump.
Asghari denies the idea that it was brave to immigrate during middle school, i.e. what can be widely agreed upon as the most awkward time in one’s life. He didn’t speak English; he learned it in a few years from taking ESL classes at school and watching Hannah Montana. Even though Los Angeles has a huge Iranian population, he didn’t live near a Persian community. “I had one friend that spoke Farsi, but we never spoke Farsi to each other. We were very committed to fitting in, and we did many, many, many things to fit in,” he says. “We used to drink Gatorade every single morning off the vending machine, because we thought it was an American thing to do.”
This was just a few years after 9-11 and the thick of the war and the Bush era, where racism against anyone perceived as Middle Eastern was rampant. Racism, he says, was not something he really had to deal with, thanks to a hit movie about a mustachioed guy from Kazakhstan who bumbles his way through America. “At the time, Borat came out and some people were calling us, me and my best friend, Borat, and that was a really good way for us to blend in with the popular kids.”
He was popular because he was funny to the popular kids, and “I never experienced racism,” he adds. “It was more of, ‘You guys are cool.’” He played football in high school–middle linebacker–and even though he had a good reputation he attended prom in a $50 suit, alone.
He goes almost too far in reassuring me that these formative years weren’t painful. “I always had a really cool personality according to people–and me,” he says. This is something one might never guess about Sam Asghari: he’s really dry, which stands out because he’s otherwise fairly earnest and lives in Los Angeles, a city that works best if you’re cheerful and literal.
“Sometimes when you’re fit and good looking people don’t really, you don’t need any other quality. And some of my friends are so good looking and attractive to people, but they don’t have personalities. And I see why because they never needed it. But when I wasn’t, as an immigrant, as a Middle Eastern, and I was overweight for a long time”—he was 300 pounds sometime between ending his football career and in college and now is “200, maybe 210. Brain and muscle.”
Asghari will not be doing Dancing with the Stars, and he has declined Celebrity Big Brother and the Masked Singer. He’s not interested in leveraging his nascent fame that way. He has Asghari Fitness, his online personal training service that, for $9 a week, provides workout videos and suggested schedules and meal plans. But lately he’s very committed to becoming an actor, even though his recent IMDB credits–Sexy Santa in Hacks and Security Guard Russell in NCIS–suggest a less than auspicious start. He’s co-starring in a film called Hot Seat with Mel Gibson and Shannen Doherty coming out this summer. According to the movie’s IMDB description, the movie is about “an ex-hacker [who] is forced to break into high-level banking institutions, [while] another man must try to penetrate the booby trapped building to get the young man off the hot seat.” There’s a TV show and a movie with John Travolta, both of which he says he’s not supposed to talk about. He is more than willing to discuss his career aspirations and preferences, however. He loves the John Wick movies and Jason Statham, loves Jackie Chan and Dwayne Johnson, loves eighties action heroes like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, loves action and comedy.
“When I was playing football, I was also doing theater and arts. It’s something that’s always been a part of my life. Right now, I do personal coaching. One of them is for comedy. One of them is for drama,” he says. I ask if there is a specific style of acting that he studies. Is he a Method guy? “The natural style,” he says, “like Brad Pitt. I always find it the best when I start not really acting but reacting to the material. With my coaches, that’s what I’ve learned about myself is I deliver the best performance when it’s just me reading, not even reading the material, just responding emotionally to it. And that’s what I found out. That’s the type of actor that I am, I think. When it comes to just saying it, think it was, like Robert De Niro, who once said, ‘Just don’t act.’” Asghari has never met De Niro and notes he is not a fan of Bad Grandpa or Little Fockers.
He wants to play a superhero someday and has some notes for Marvel or DC. “A lot of superheroes in the past years have not been physically fit. It’s always been a more relatable guy.” He jokes that they wouldn’t have to spend money on the costume or CGI to make him look hulking. “I do want to stay away from terrorist roles and that’s not true because some of the terrorist roles…” he trails off. “I changed my mind. Some of the terrorist roles are the juiciest, like Bane, the bad guy. So it doesn’t have to be a superhero role,” he says, adding, “I don’t think anybody from the Middle East has ever been represented in that way.”
On Instagram, where he has 2.4 million followers, when Asghari is not posting videos of himself doing pushups on his knuckles, it’s him and Spears making out in island resorts, on cliffs, at dinner. At home they take walks, jog, hike, bike together. It makes sense they have an athletic connection. “She has cat-like reflexes, and she’s really, really good. When we play tennis, it gets competitive and most of the time, well, ping pong, she beats me every time. She’s really good at basketball,” he says. One thing that’s all hers is dancing. He doesn’t dance.
One can’t help but be curious about their day-to-day lives. Do you go grocery shopping? Do you do a lot of errands? Do you do pickup at school? “I’m not a house husband,” he says and laughs. But he’s willing to humor my questions. “I’m a normal person. So I do a lot of shopping because sometimes I require specific things when it comes to diet.” He doesn’t go to the LA health food emporium Erewhon: “I don’t want to spend $200 on something that I can buy for $60,” he says. “ I am careful with money because I do want to build a future for my children. If you came to this country, you came with a purpose. You don’t come here to goof around.”
But how does that work when your fiancée is worth tens of millions of dollars? All couples have to figure out money together. How do they do it? “Trading off who pays for dinner. We don’t have a joint account. I live off of lettuce and rice and coffee. That comes out to like $16 a day so I can take care of that myself,” he says. “We do travel a lot and I am dating a girl that’s very expensive, she has an expensive taste but I do try to incorporate my lifestyle to her as well, and if it was up to me, we would cut down on the traveling and stay at a much cheaper hotel, and we would probably live off of $60 a day.” Really? “Because that’s what I can afford, yeah.” Is it hard to have that discrepancy where she has more money than you? “It’s not, at all. Not at all. I think it’s a normal lifestyle and it’s not about money. You can live a lifestyle off that, but you have to be fair and square.”
She did buy him a Rolex GMT, the Root Beer, for their engagement. He bought her a Rolex that she has never worn. But to propose, he agonized over choosing the right ring. He roped in his sisters and another friend to help him pick it. He wanted something delicate: “I figured with her taste, she wouldn’t want something super big and super celebrity. Celebrities get that million dollar ring. And usually, it’s free because it’s for promotion, but I want it to represent something. I want it to come from my heart and I want it to go to someone that wasn’t a big jeweler. It was a big company but it was a company that was willing to do it the way that I wanted it. ‘
“So I designed a really beautiful ring. It’s a princess cut, for a real life princess.” Yes, that’s how he thinks of her.
He proposed at their home, where he could keep it secret. “We do have videos of it but that’s only for our eyes.” She was shocked; she thought he was getting her a puppy. He wanted to get permission from her children or family but didn’t. “I didn’t tell anybody to be honest with you,” he says.” I didn’t want anybody to know and anybody to interfere in any way whatsoever so it was between me and her.” The wedding date is set, he knows what he’s wearing, and he calls Spears his “soon to be wife,” but will not say a single detail. Even his manager of several years, Brandon Cohen, who is cheerfully typing on his phone nearby, claims not to know.
His nickname for her is Lioness, which he had engraved on the inside of the ring. “It came to me because I always figured the lion is lazy. The male lion has always been the symbol of the king of the jungle,” he says. “But it’s not true, it’s really the female and she’s very strong and she was very independent. And lioness was a beautiful name that just came to me out of nowhere. So it’s kind of a nickname, but I don’t call her that everyday. It was kind of like a symbol.”
On April 11th he posted a painting of a lion, lioness, and a cub with the caption, “Marriage and kids are a natural part of a strong relationship filled with love and respect. Fatherhood is something I have always looked forward to and I don’t take it lightly. It is the most important job I will ever do.” Spears was pregnant, announcing the news breathlessly and presumably early on.
Then on May 14th the couple posted the same message on their Instagrams: “It is with our deepest sadness we have to announce that we have lost our miracle baby early in the pregnancy. This is a devastating time for any parent. Perhaps we should have waited to announce until we were further along however we were overly excited to share the good news. Our love for each other is our strength. We will continue trying to expand our beautiful family. We are grateful for all of your support. We kindly ask for privacy during this difficult moment.” There are nearly 85,000 comments, mostly of condolence, including Paris Hilton, Terry Crews, Chiara Ferragni, Maren Morris, Andy Cohen, and Gabrielle Union. Under Spears’ post, there is one from Asghari himself: “We will have a miracle soon” followed by a red heart emoji.
The news broke a day and a half before I was set to interview Asghari. I was at dinner, all packed and ready to get on a plane in 12 hours and wondered if the whole thing would be called off. Should I even go? Would he be willing to talk about it? And was I a monster for trying to get this man in mourning to talk about it? I got on the plane with the interview still seemingly happening, though a call upon landing from Cohen warned me that he didn’t want any questions about the baby and that Sam was “in a super-sensitive mood right now.” I understood but I knew I had to ask in a way that showed my genuine curiosity as a journalist and as a person who follows celebrity culture but also showed some sense of decorum.
And then we started talking about having kids.
Do you want to be a father one day? Is that something? I ask him.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he says. “It’s just part of life. But I do want to be a young father.”
Not for everyone, though. I’ve never wanted kids. So it must be something that you’ve known that you’ve wanted.
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s just always, that’s just the joy of life, I think, is procreation. And that’s just a next step. Yeah.”
I’m sorry about the announcement you guys have had to make recently.
Do you have anything you want to say about it?
“No, let’s keep that away from—”
I mean, there’s something to be said for normalizing talking about things like that.
“Yeah, it’s positive,” he says, before deciding to dive in. “We’re positive about it. It’s something that happens to a lot of people. And one beautiful thing that I heard was when the baby’s ready, it’ll come. So that was a beautiful thing somebody had said was, it’s a common process and the female body is just so amazing, and just the human body in general is so beautiful that it heals itself. And that when the baby’s ready it’ll be the right time.”
I tell him he sounds like a true optimist. He says life is amazing, and I think he means it.
“Nothing in the world that can take me off that path,” he says. “My life is too amazing to be able to take my mind off optimism and positivity and all that.” He’s a positive person, someone to have on your side cheering you on, which are all traits good for a trainer. But he seems like a careful listener with a lot of emotional intelligence, which are probably good traits for whatever acting career he carves out. But all of them together make him an ideal partner for a woman who’s been in the center of a lot of chaos. I can see why Britney Spears is going to marry him.
Marisa Meltzer is a writer based in New York.