It’s the movie catchphrase that keeps on giving: Arnold Schwarzenegger said he’d be back, and here he is.
After seven years as the governor of California battling over budgets and recently testing the waters with cameos in pal Sylvester Stallone’s “Expendables” adventures, the Austrian-born film superstar is making his long-promised return to action hero roles with “The Last Stand,” a high-octane thriller with a sly sense of humor about its aging leading man.
On the heels of his memoir being published and recent presenting gig at the Golden Globe Awards (also with Stallone), Schwarzenegger reveals his thoughts on politics versus showbiz, handling action sequences at 65, and his possible future with some of his most storied film franchises.
After your stint as the governor of California, what was it like to go back to your previous career in Hollywood?
It's great to be back. As you remember when I got into the governorship in 2003 I said I would only go and run the state for the seven years that were remaining, and then I would be back in the movie business. So it was just kind of stepping out of the movie business, rather than I'm now going back to the movie business – I was just out.
The only thing is that when you have left the movie business for seven years it's kind of a scary thing to come back, because you don't know if you’re accepted or not – there could be a whole new generation of action heroes that came up in the meantime. Things change very quickly now in our business, but I was very pleasantly surprised when I was doing the cameo in ‘The Expendables’ that there was such a great positive reaction to my appearance. They asked me to do the second ‘Expendables,’ and there was an even a bigger reaction to that. I worked four hours [on the first one] and four days on the second one, so maybe next time I work four weeks on the next ‘Expendables!’
While you were a public servant, what did you miss about your acting career? And now that you're back to acting is there anything you miss about politics?
I think that I really didn't miss anything. I think that you get so engrossed in what you are doing, and it's such a huge responsibility to run a state. California is the number one state in the union, and this is the number one country, so you really have a huge responsibility – especially when you have legislators that are somewhat out of control. To bring Democrats and Republicans together is always a miracle, because everyone is so stuck in their ideological corners that they can't free themselves from that.
So it takes a lot, a lot of effort to get things done, but because of that and because you are so into it and passionate about it in serving your state, you really don't have time to miss things in the movie business. So I was like ‘This is it for right now – I'm doing, now, public service.’ So I was very, very happy to do that. It was the most gratifying and the most challenging thing that I have ever done and it was an honor for me to serve the people.
Then again, after the seven years were over I did not look for another public service job because I didn't want to be a career politician. I didn't see myself as that, so I went back into the movie business. So it's great now to be back again and I can turn it off – and there's not much I miss about being governor. I'm glad that Jerry Brown is now schvitzing it out, that he's starting to figure it out, how to make the budget work and all those things. He's doing a great job and I am on with my USC Schwarzenegger Institute and Public Policy. I am working on policy issues, environmental issues and all this on an ongoing basis, and at the same time I will be doing movies.
How do you feel about aging and doing action scenes?
Well, I cannot tell you about aging because it sucks! I am no different than you. We all go through the same dramas. We look into the mirrors and say, ‘What happened? I once had muscles and slowly, they are deteriorating!’ It’s all that, but the great thing is if you do work out every day you stay in shape and then you feel good.
This movie was a perfect example in that it required a lot of stunts. It required a lot of action and a lot of physical work and the director, Kim Jee-woon was a fanatic about seeing as much as possible done by me, done by the actors, and only make it really dangerous, where you could really risk getting injured heavily or killed, the stunt guys would take over. So that was the rule. So we all practiced. We all rehearsed. We all did over and over the stunts and did the physical work, but when you are 65 it's different than when you’re 35.
The great thing in the movie is that we are trying to not play me as the 35 year old action hero, but the guy that is about to retire and here's this challenge coming up where he really needs to get his act together. He cannot play ‘I'm about to retire.’ He has the 20 most dangerous mercenaries descending on his town, and he has only a few people to work with.
They joke a lot about your age in the film, calling you ‘abuelito’ [grandfather] and other one-liners.
I think it was appropriate at that moment. You don't want to dwell on it but you just throw it in and it takes the curse off then. You can make fun of yourself. I think Clint [Eastwood] did that very well.
Did you look at how other screen heroes – like John Wayne and you mentioned Clint Eastwood – handled their screen image at similar times in their careers?
I think it’s always good to look at the history of things, and to study it. Times change, of course, but those are idols of mine, in that they have gone a long way. They’re my motivators.
After years of bodybuilding and movie stunts, how is your body holding up?
I feel good right now, but I have had my share of injuries. I think that when you lift as many tons of weights as I have, inevitably there is wear and tear, and you have injuries. When you have done various different sports like skiing, you will have ski injuries and broken femur and knees and stuff like that. When you do stunts you will have your share of injuries there and getting stitched up in movies and having broken shoulders and dislocated shoulders and all that.
I have had a lot of surgeries and a lot of things that had to be fixed on the body, but medical technology is really advanced. I'm sitting here today and can do everything. I just came back from a one week ski trip with my kids in Sun Valley, and I don't have to tell you how kids try to out-ski you. They get their moments and it becomes a fierce competition where you go down the steepest moguls and those expert runs. I can do all of that stuff and also do the stunts. I feel great that I can still do all those things.
What is your strategy going forward, in terms of what you are going to be picking your projects for these next few years? This is a relatively low-key original concept, and there’s a lot of talk swirling about franchises you’ve built, like ‘Conan the Barbarian’ and ‘The Terminator.’
A lot of it has to do with timing. That's what show business and politics have in common: a lot of it is timing. I think that I would have chosen to do Conan already if it would have been ready, but the Universal Studios just bought the rights to Conan. They have an executive over there that happens to be a big believer in bringing back that character. Universal Studios was the first one to do the movie with Dino De Laurentiis and now they want to be back and do a bunch of Conan movies – but to do it really high quality, not as a B-movie. Do the high quality like the first one was, that John Milius directed and Dino De Laurentiis produced and Universal has presented – they want to go back to that. So they will be ready by sometime this year.
Same is also with ‘Triplets,’ the sequel to ‘Twins’: I have been trying to get Universal Studios to do that for 10 years! The studio executives that were there up until recently did not see the value, but now the new leadership sees the value and says, ‘That's a brilliant idea –Why haven't they done it? We want to do that.’ So they hired the writers and they are full blast ahead. That's a movie that we will be doing.
Do you see a time when you might also do another “Terminator” film?
Sure – absolutely! If the script is good, why not? I love the ‘Terminator’ series.