Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger knows what he wants—and usually gets it.
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The Republicans have a good chance to capture the White House this year, Schwarzenegger says, but they're "going about it the wrong way. I don't like all this flag-waving and rhetoric. I wish they'd talk about the issues--especially the family. That's the most important problem we have--the breakdown of the family--and no one is doing anything about it."
It's getting close to midnight now, and the guests are beginning to drift away. I decide to head for home, too. Schwarzenegger says good night and tells me he looks forward to our next meeting.
T en nights later, Stankard calls from his car to ask me to meet Schwarzenegger at 10 o'clock the next morning at the Grand Havana Room, a private cigar club in Beverly Hills. Schwarzenegger, who was an hour late at Schatzi, is 30 minutes late today. As he did at Schatzi, he apologizes immediately.
"I took my daughter to school this morning--Christina, the four-year-old. She didn't want me to leave right away. She wanted me to watch how she played with the other kids."
Schwarzenegger has two other children--six-year-old Katherine and two-year-old Patrick--and he seems to think a lot about his paternal pleasures and obligations. "You have to know when they need you and when to back away," he says.
He's again wearing a gray T-shirt and khakis--and a Planet Hollywood bomber jacket--decidedly casual attire in this room filled with polished wood, upholstered sofas and leather easy chairs. Schwarzenegger is a member--one of many with a personalized humidor on the premises--and as we walk through the club to take a table on the outdoor terrace, he says he sometimes comes for a smoke after lunch. How many cigars does he usually smoke a day?
"One or two most days. I usually start after lunch unless"--he holds up a half-smoked, unlit Hoyo de Monterrey--"unless I have a good one left over from the night before, like today."
Last night's cigar, relit 10 hours later? I wonder why a multigazillionaire like him wouldn't light a new cigar. But all I say is "Yuck."
He grins impishly. "To me, it tastes great. I know your magazine is called Cigar Aficionado, but...." He shrugs, as if to say, he's no expert; he just likes cigars.
As I look at his half-smoked cigar, I can't help remembering that when Playboy interviewed him nine years ago, he pulled out a cigar at the beginning of the interview and told the writer, "Your time will be measured in stogies. When I finish one, the interview ends." I hope he doesn't think I'll be satisfied with just a half a cigar's worth of his time this morning. But as long as we're on the subject of cigars, I ask what he usually smokes.
"Cohiba, Punch Punch. Punch Punch is actually my favorite size. It's a good size for an after-dinner smoke or during the day. I used to love Davidoff, and there are still sometimes good ones around. Sometimes you get good Romeo y Julietas. And Hoyo de Monterrey is a great cigar. Milton Berle came over to my house one time--I think it was when I had my 40th birthday--and he brought over a box [of Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas] and gave me one. It was a spectacular smoke."
Has he ever had any trouble smoking cigars on a movie set?
Both Danny DeVito and Carl Weathers objected the first time he lit up around them, he says. Weathers "started coughing loud, pretending like he's dying" on the set of Predator. "He said, 'Get away with your stinking stuff. I can't breathe.'" But Schwarzenegger explained to Weathers that he found a cigar "soothing," especially amid the chaos and uncertainty of the first day of shooting. Schwarzenegger says he took his cigar outside, away from Weathers. Six hours later, Weathers asked if he could have a cigar--"just to chew on. I hate to smoke." Schwarzenegger gave him an Ashton. A little later, Weathers asked Schwarzenegger to clip off the wet end and "let me just light it for a minute." He smoked half the cigar, asked for another the next day and "by the time the movie was half done, he had his manager and his agent flying in boxes and boxes of Ashtons and Pléiades," Schwarzenegger says. "He was smoking up a storm. I had to say to him, 'Carl, you're not supposed to smoke from seven in the morning to seven at night.'"
Schwarzenegger says DeVito converted from antagonist to aficionado just as quickly, and it's clear from talking to movie people around town that there are many such Schwarzenegger converts. In fact, Schwarzenegger once found himself giving out so many free cigars on the set that he handed out an exploding cigar to discourage freeloaders. Not that Schwarzenegger is ungenerous. Far from it. But neither does he like to be taken advantage of. The exploding cigar was a symbol of more than his penchant for practical jokes and his fondness for the big bang, on- and off-screen: He likes to see people doing things for themselves, rather than relying on others, whether it's providing cigars or supporting a family. That, he says, is why he became a Republican when he arrived in the United States.
It was shortly before the 1968 presidential election, and he immediately became interested in the campaign--Richard Nixon vs. Hubert Humphrey. Having just came from "a country where the government interfered with everything and owned monopolies of industries," Schwarzenegger says he was put off by Humphrey's comments on the obligations of the federal government--and attracted by Nixon's support for free enterprise-- "free trade...deregulation...get the government off our backs."
As at the cigar dinner, he's eager to talk about his interest in politics and his commitment to America. "If you go to a country and the country adopts you," he says, "you have a responsibility to learn the language as fast as you can, make all the effort you can to become part of the country, learn what the social behavior is, what the political system is. Everyone should have enough information to make wise choices when it comes to an election so you can vote on a candidate's complete philosophy, rather than just [on whether] he's pro-choice or not, for gay rights or not, for foreign trade or not."
How do the Kennedys feel about his Republicanism?
"I'm very fortunate to have parent in-laws that are so bright. That's the advantage of being liberal." Being open-minded--especially to new or contrary ideas--is "the definition of being liberal," he says, and "you can really see how open-minded they are." Exposure to the Kennedys has even led him to moderate some of his "extreme" conservative views, Schwarzenegger says. He's now willing to acknowledge that "government has a responsibility...to provide things for the underdog."
But the only "underdogs" he cites as worthy of government assistance are people in wheelchairs--no mention of the government's obligation to help those who are poor, homeless, jobless and/or the victims of discrimination--and he's quick to say that he's still "a very strong Republican."
Would he ever run for political office?
"I've been asked several times to run for office--the Senate, Congress, for governor. But I am so happy with where I am right now, the things that I'm doing, that I would not even think about that."
Would he consider changing his mind down the road?