From Terminator to governator, America’s most famous immigrant has done it all. But as he explains to Drew Turney, there’s more work to be done in both Hollywood and beyond.
Arnold Schwarzenegger walks into the room with a messy buzzcut at the back, cuts, scrapes and bruises, thuggish costume accoutrements and old, faded tattoos up and down his arms. He certainly doesn’t look like the kind of guy America’s most populous state would elect as their governor.
Instead, he looks like a movie star again. The former Mr Universe and official biggest action star ever (global box office: $4,306,327,872 since Conan the Barbarian) is older, wiser and has been through the ringer for the past year or so, but he’s ready to get back in the saddle. Since his brief but funny cameo in 2010’s The Expendables, six projects are now in various stages of completion. Schwarzenegger is roughed up because he’s mid-shoot on action thriller Ten, but he’s here to talk about his first film out of the gate as Action Arnie 2.0, The Last Stand.
“They put you in a room with the biggest weapons,” he says of the trailer’s iconic middy gun scene (a tool that’s somehow synonymous with him), “you know, this one has the most firepower, this one can kill he most people. And you just pick a bunch of guns and start shooting. That was a great way of getting back into it.”
‘It’ is the mould he’s recasting after his political career, that of action star. Never thought you’d hear a US state governor talk about which gun would kill the most people? Welcome back to Hollywood, Arnie.
His larger than life presence in Hollywood and politics makes Schwarzenegger seem bigger than he is. He’s compact and stocky rather than large, and though he’s showing his age a little, he still looks like an impossibly ripped young man has been stuffed inside a pensioner’s body.
As off-the-cuff as he is polished, the former Terminator shakes your hand firmly and his eyes make contact with everyone in the room. Clearly he’s learnt a thing or two from his time as governor when it comes to keeping people engaged.
Or maybe he’s just a surprisingly nice guy. When we ask him about getting older (emboldened by the joke about feeling old in the Last Stand trailer and hoping he won’t react by thinking we’re his enemy and crushing us), Schwarzenegger smiles.
“All of a sudden you see this body not looking like it used to and not having that strength or endurance any more. I’ll say ‘Jesus I’m really sore today, that didn’t happen before’. So I’m sometimes disappointed. Instead of skiing all day long without a break and then the next day you’re back up again at 8.30 in the morning, now you only do four hours so your knees don’t swell up the next day.
“But the great thing about being in physical shape and exercising every day is that you have the advantage that you can jump in and do the stunts. So I feel good about where I am at the age of 65 because I’m in much better shape than the majority of men my age, but I feel shitty that it’s not the way it used to be.”
By virtue of the fact that he’s sitting here talking about a new movie, he must have missed Hollywood, fame, the big guns, the whole crazy life. Instead, he shakes his head. “In fact quite the opposite. I visited a set with Spielberg directing and Tom Cruise was hanging upside down on a harness fighting some alien or something. I hung out for half an hour and gave them an award for filming in the state of California and when a friend asked me if I missed it I realised I didn’t. I’ve hung upside down in harnesses too many times. I liked to be in my suit and tie and give speeches to women voters and senior citizens about budgets.”
Which leaves Loaded fidgeting nervously, trying to think of a nice way to say ‘so, er… what are we doing here talking about a movie?’ Thankfully Schwarzenegger pre-empts the question. “But then when I finished, I started getting offers for movies and all of a sudden I’m saying ‘this is really great’. Then you go from that to ‘Jesus, how did I spend every day in [California state capital] Sacramento with these boring people? Whatever world you’re in, that’s what you know.”
After the Expendables cameo, the star says co-producing studios Universal and Lionsgate told him audiences had gone Schwarzenegger crazy all over again. “They said ‘no matter where we open people just love you being in a movie’,” he says. “So we knew even though eight years had passed audiences are still interested in seeing me. That sent a signal to the community that finances movies and to studios.”
Now a veteran of both politics and movies, Schwarzenegger talks about them both being ‘addictive’. Making an impact on a city, state or country as a leader, he says, is something people have a tough time getting out of. That’s why he hasn’t left it altogether, setting up the Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California, where he’ll be involved in the academic side of policy. His aim is to bring liberals and conservatives together and use their combined brains trust to compromise and do the people’s work rather than that of the political parties.
Plus, being European by birth, Schwarzenegger says he has a unique perspective on American politics and the gaps more Americans than ever are falling through. “This is why when I was in politics they could never figure me out,” he says. “I was making decisions as a European which they think is the democrat, whereas I could seem like a Republican which was the American in me. So I didn’t jump from Republican to Democrat, I jumped from American to European.”
The American Republican sentiment is something Schwarzenegger is very familiar with. After all, it was much of his early movie career (along with that of contemporaries like Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood) that moulded American foreign policy in the 1980s. Whether it was a socialist state causing geopolitical tension or America’s inner cities becoming ghettoes of poverty and urban crime, Hollywood was where the US dreamed its wish fulfillment fantasies, Rambo or Dirty Harry cleaning house with a sneer, a huge gun and brute unilateral force.
But after a string of failed military adventurism and two Presidents history remembers as a bumbling idiot and a horndog too concerned with chasing tail, isn’t the world different now? Will Arnie fans (now 20 years older, like he is) still accept him? In fact he says TV and DVD has ensured his legacy and opened him up to a whole new generation.
“It’s amazing how many kids that are five or six years old come up to me and say, ‘Wow, the Terminator!’ First all of you ask their parents how they saw it because it’s R rated, but the amount of times they show all those films on TV here in America is unbelievable.”
Of course, action films themselves are different these days. Arnie, Sly, Bruce and their now-retirement age buddies saving the day with a smirk and a quip seems distinctly antique in the age of the Asian influence in movies from The Matrix to The Man With The Iron Fists, the ensemble styling of the Fast and Furious series and the billion dollar comic book juggernauts.
Arnie doesn’t agree, saying the most important things about movies are immutable. “Nothing has changed when it comes to one thing. People want to see good stories that they can get sucked into which aren’t just a bunch of things blowing up, but where they get a personal interest in the characters.
The other thing that hasn’t changed in Schwarzenegger’s life is a palpable sense that whatever he does, he wants to be the best. Winning Mr Universe at 20 and seven Mr Olympia titles in a row was only the beginning. From inauspicious beginnings having his voice dubbed (badly) in 1969’s Hercules in New York, he became one of the most bankable movie stars on the planet, then rose to one of the highest posts of US office (no mean feat in a country where politics is particularly bloody). Whatever the objective, Schwarzenegger is all in.
“America is truly the land of opportunity but if you are not willing to put in 24 hours a day it’s over,” he says. “In a way it’s easy when you have the drive and the madness that you will do anything to accomplish your goals even if you’re crying through the night and going through torture. In America they’re not interested in holding someone else back, so you get to inspire someone else to do it rather than jealousy kicking in.”
Meanwhile, his upcoming resume is filling up. Slated for 2014 and certain to generate the most excitement among older fans is another stint as Conan. “I talked to John Milius (Conan the Barbarian director] for years about it and he’s written a script called King Conan.” Perhaps not as exciting is Triplets, a sequel to 1988’s Twins, which reunites him with Danny DeVito and new brother Eddie Murphy. But Schwarzenegger is an enthusiastic cheerleader for both projects and he explains that they were two of the titles that clicked.
“There’s new leadership at Universal now,” he says. “They were absolutely fanatical about the King Conan idea and the Triplets idea. So suddenly they’re in the full-fledged Schwarzenegger business.”
Perhaps the final irony for a man who demands the best of himself is that he can’t attain the one thing that formed the butt of most of the jokes about him during his political life, from gags in The Simpsons Movie to the Expendables cameo. “I would have run in two seconds if the Constitution would’ve been different,” Schwarzenegger laughs about the possibility of being President, where you can only run if you were born in the US. “But hey, I’ve got everything, I’m not going to complain about one thing I couldn’t get.”