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The World According to Arnold

Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger knows what he wants—and usually gets it.
David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 9)

Eight years later, in 1977, when his movie career really began--with the critically acclaimed documentary Pumping Iron, based on the surprise best-seller of the same name--he used his own name and his own voice. The success of Pumping Iron--and, the same year, of Stay Hungry, in which he was billed third, behind Jeff Bridges and Sally Field--persuaded him to give up bodybuilding and concentrate on acting full-time.

 

Conan the Barbarian, in 1982, was his first true starring role. Critics savaged it--and Schwarzenegger. He was, Newsweek said, "a dull clod with a sharp sword, a human collage of pectorals and latissimi who's got less style and wit than Lassie." The reviews for the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, and for Red Sonja weren't much better.

Ever a believer in self-improvement--especially when the need for it was so obvious--Schwarzenegger took acting, dialogue and accent-removal lessons. He can still recall the problems he had trying to pronounce the "th" sound properly. He practiced saying "three-thousand-three-hundred-thirty-three-and-one-third" so many times that he was "mentally exhausted," he says. But just as he had refused to permanently change his name, so he refused to stick with the accent-removal lessons until all traces of his Austrian heritage were gone. At one point, he said--much as his on-screen character might say-- "OK, that's enough" (or was it, "I'll not be back"?).

Movie people told him that he was making a mistake, that all the big stars--John Wayne, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland--changed their names, and that foreigners had to get rid of their accents to be accepted.

"There was a natural pressure to conform, to do things the way they had been done before," Schwarzenegger says. "But I always felt the only way you make an impact is by doing things that have never been done before. 'OK,' I said, 'if everyone has always changed their name, maybe I should be the first who doesn't change his name. If everyone has a perfect American accent to get to the top, maybe I should be the first who doesn't.' I wanted to make sure that if I go on an elevator, before people ever saw me coming around the corner, they would say already, 'That sounds like Arnold.'

 

"I felt that my uniqueness would work to my advantage."

 

We've been talking for almost two hours and the late-morning Southern California midwinter sun is warm on our shoulders. Schwarzenegger sloughs off his jacket, casually stretches his muscular arms and relights the same day-old cigar, for perhaps the fourth time. His manner is so disarming that I've been wondering how best to broach the subject of the dismal quality of many of his movies--especially the early action movies--and the hostile critical reaction that many of those films received.


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