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Return of the Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about T3, politics and his desire to give something back to America.
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, July/Aug 03

Arnold is in his office, sipping a double espresso and leisurely smoking a big Montecristo. The man looks terrific: tall, strong, fit, and radiating humor and high spirits. Life would be perfect, he says, if only he had a few more Arnolds on hand.

"That's why I love the idea of cloning," Arnold says, speaking slowly and distinctly to get every word right. "I could go and get two or three Arnolds and then do all the things I need or want to do. I love the cloning idea because the most frustrating thing for me is that we cannot do everything. And the next frustrating thing is that we have to sleep. If ever I will have a chance to talk with God, I would have a little conversation about that. I'd say, 'Why not alter things a little bit so that a few of us don't have to sleep and we can just see things 24 hours a day without getting tired?' Now that would be a miraculous kind of situation. I've thought about it many times over the years, because I find there is such a joy in doing many things in life and accomplishing many things."

Arnold -- as in Schwarzenegger, the Terminator, Mr. Universe -- has already accomplished much in his life: in bodybuilding, in Hollywood action movies and comedies, and in physical fitness and working with at-risk kids. But right now he could certainly use a few more Arnolds. This morning he is hard at work on the all-important launch phase of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, set for national release on July 2. Arnold is a master of the press interview and the worldwide publicity tour, but no doubt he could use a few more Arnolds now to fan out across America and other world markets to make sure that T3 is a huge summer success.

He could use a few more political Arnolds as well. Right now, on the other side of the country, his buddy George W. Bush is hard at work on Iraq and the U.S. economy -- and he's coming under fierce daily attack from the Hollywood left. Staunch Republican and Bush supporter though he is, Arnold has refused to go into public battle with Hollywood's liberal luminaries. But it certainly would be nice to have a few more Arnolds to help with the fund-raising and the quiet politicking he does behind the scenes. And there is something else waiting in the wings. The state of California is upwards of $35 billion in debt, Governor Gray Davis and his state Democratic Party machine are in a shambles, and there is growing talk in Republican circles in California -- and at the White House -- that Arnold might be the ideal man to clean up the mess. This morning, Arnold is not eager to delve into politics, but by the end of a two-hour interview he can no longer resist. His first priority, though, is Terminator 3, an affair of the heart he has been nurturing for the past 12 years.

"As soon as I did the second Terminator, I was very keen to do another," Arnold says. "But things were tied up in bankruptcy courts. The rights were split between different people. It took eight years to sort it out. Then came the scriptwriters. And the drafts. And the fine-tuning. And then the director came in, with his input, and that meant more drafts and more polishing. Then there was the prepping time for all the stunts. That, too, takes time. But I was always convinced I wanted to do this next Terminator. I think the world of this character and this story. "

Arnold says T3 was worth the wait and frustration. Like its predecessors, this is a rock 'em, sock 'em action pic, a sci-fi thriller on a colossal scale. With a budget in the realm of $170 million, the film features Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken and Claire Danes, and this time there is something new in the Terminator saga: a poignant love story. In another twist, Arnold goes toe-to-toe with a deadly female Terminator. The story line, again moving between future and present, comes wrapped in dazzling action scenes and special effects, courtesy of George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic. Arnold and his partners are hoping, of course, that all this adds up to a blockbuster, one that will top T2's worldwide grosses of more than $500 million.

"That's what everyone is shooting for," Arnold says, puffing his Montecristo. "And they think they can do it, they think the movie is good enough to do it. The studio [Warner Brothers] has seen the movie and they love it. They say they see great box-office potential."

For Arnold, though, T3 is about far more than money. This is a signature role for him, the role that ignited his career, the role that made him an international superstar, a box-office giant and a hero to millions of kids around the globe. This is also a role that fits him like silk: The Terminator allows Arnold to bring to the fore important aspects of his own character, like determination, focus and humor.

"I have the single focus," Arnold explains. "And, like him, I am seeing in front of me always what I want to accomplish. And I'm relentless -- I will continue until I get it, whatever 'it' is. I never listen when people say 'Oh, that's impossible' or 'It's never been done before.' Those things never stop me. I have my goals and I go after them. There is a certain discipline about it."

And then there's the humor. In Terminators 1 and 2, there were several memorable lines -- "I'll be back" is probably the most renowned -- and Arnold says T3 will feature plenty of humor as well. "I always insist on adding humor because even the most intense moments can be funny. Sometimes something happens that seems like the end of the world, but later you laugh about it." At one point in T3, his nemesis, the female Terminator, pulls a gun on him and shoots him in the face. "I just take the bullet and spit it out," Arnold says. "And I say, 'Don't do that!' -- as you would to a little girl who has shot you in the face with a rubber band. It's a very funny moment."

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