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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

(continued from page 1)

Arnold's own humor is evident right in his office. It is located in Santa Monica, a block from Venice Beach and just above Schatzi's on Main, the congenial restaurant and beer stube that Arnold and his wife, Maria Shriver, used to own. The building itself and the reception area of his company, Oak Productions, are nothing exceptional; the fun begins in the corridor leading back to Arnold's inner sanctum. There, guarding the entryway, the way some strange mythological creature might guard the gates of the Roman Colosseum or the River Styx, is a giant Terminator robot. It is an imposing sight, its steel limbs and torso gleaming in the morning light, and when you see it you are tempted to whisper, "Good Terminator. Stay, stay."

The office itself has to be one of the zaniest, and biggest, in Hollywood. There is a massive wooden desk to the right, a couch and sitting area to the left, and a full conference table and chairs in the far right corner. Dominating the room is a gigantic pool table, and coiled beneath it is a deadly alligator, teeth bared, a mate of the gator Arnold shot in Eraser and then deadpanned: "You're luggage." Above the pool table, hanging in mid-air, is a deadly jet fighter, the one Arnold "flew" in True Lies with Jamie Lee Curtis. Along with such Hollywood kitsch, there is some magnificent art. On a wall behind Arnold's desk is a stark and haunting Andy Warhol, and in opposite corners of the room are two elegant Wild West bronzes by Frederic Remington. On the coffee table, close at hand, is a lovely humidor filled with fine cigars.

Sitting with Arnold in his fabulous office, listening to him tell his stories, you quickly come to realize that here is a guy who knows that he is living a dream, a dream that has far outshined anything he could possibly have imagined as a youngster growing up. In many ways he has it all: a fabulous career, fabulous wealth, a fabulous Kennedy wife and four fabulous kids. Yet what is endearing about the man is that he still seems a bit like a kid who has fallen into the biggest, wildest candy shop in the universe, and he's staring wide-eyed at mountains of sweets and temptations that boggle his imagination. Somewhere deep down inside he is not quite sure if he truly belongs there, if he has any right to enjoy those incredible treats.

A few moments later, as if to explain, Arnold is remembering back to where his journey began, back to Austria, back to where he grew up, in the tiny hamlet of Thal-by-Graz. "I was a farm boy from out in the village. We had no TV. No electricity. No refrigerator. No flushing toilets. We had nothing in the house. Absolutely nothing. But I never felt I was poor as a kid. I'd see my mother make a sweater and my father make a little figure with his knife. And that was a Christmas gift. We were delighted with those things and I didn't feel I was cheated out of anything -- or that it would hold me back." Out of his childhood, Arnold says, came a lesson that would guide him for the rest of his life: "Don't worry about where you come from. Worry more about where you are going."

His father, Gustav, was an imposing figure. He was commander of the local gendarmerie and a severe taskmaster, but Arnold admired him: he was an athlete, a musician, and he carried a gun. At a very early age, though, Arnold realized he could not stay in Thal-by-Graz. "I knew that if I had to stay in Austria, it meant death for me, because I would have been depressed from here to eternity. I felt that was not the place where I wanted to be. I was meant for more than that."

But what would be his ticket out? Arnold had no idea. He was a good athlete, in soccer, swimming and most of the other sports he tried, but he never saw sports as a ticket to glory or a new life in a more exciting place. Then one day in 1962, in the nearby town of Graz, he wandered past an intriguing shop. Something in the window held Arnold's eye: an American muscle magazine, showing how to build your body and become a he-man. Inside the store there were also power springs you could use to tone your body and build up your muscles. And there was something more: "The magazine had a story about this guy Reg Park, who was Mr. Universe in 1951 and then again in 1958 [also in 1965]. Then in 1961 he started doing Hercules movies. On the cover it said, 'From Mr. Universe to Movies.' And I said, 'You know something? This magazine cover just mapped out what I'm going to do with my life.'"

From the beginning, America was central to his dream. "I had seen 8mm movies in school about America and I said, 'Man, do I want to be over there. Look at those Cadillacs driving down the road, with those big fins sticking out, look at those high-rises, look at those big bridges, look at the people and how much fun they have. The beaches. Surfboards. Great girls. Hollywood and the stars.' I had been kind of dreaming about that, but I had no idea how to get there. How do you get there? -- that was always the question, even when I was 10 years old. How do you get there?"

Bodybuilding, of course, became the answer, and Arnold threw himself into it with a fanatical ambition and will. "Everyone told me already that I have a huge potential. My muscles increased in size quickly. My strength increased. I was doing 300 or 400 sit-ups at lunch, and I must have done thousands of squats and chin-ups. And right away I became part of the weight-lifting team, doing Olympic lifting and competing against other villages and towns." Soon he was training five hours a day, sculpting every inch of his body, and by the age of 20 he had been crowned Mr. Universe, the youngest ever to win the title. Three times he won that title, plus seven Mr. Olympia crowns, a Mr. World title and scores of others. He was the king; no one else even came close.

Then, just as he had dreamt it, he found his way into movies. In 1969, when he was already a powerhouse bodybuilder, Arnold was picked for a part in a film called Hercules in New York. It was a modest film, released only on TV, but in Arnold's mind it was a pretty good start. Soon he was out in California, in the San Fernando Valley, in Vince's Gym, chasing his American dream and looking for the way to achieve the next step, become a true Hollywood star.

Some public relations genius had changed Schwarzenegger's name to Arnold Strong for the film, and soon he was doing a comedy gig on TV with Shecky Green. His performance was nothing to brag about, but Lucille Ball, the queen of comedy, spotted it and the next day, by phone, she tracked Arnold down to Gold's Gym, where he was in the midst of a workout. "'You were fantastic,' she told me,'" Arnold recalls. "'You were funny. You were likable. Your body looks fantastic. And I want to meet you tomorrow in my office. I want you to read for a part. I'm doing a TV [sit-com] called "Happy Anniversary and Goodbye," with Art Carney, and I want you to play the masseur.' I was over the moon, and I went to her office, she gave me a script and said, 'OK, let's read.' I, of course, had no idea what that meant, 'to read.' That you act out the part. I had no idea because I had never gone to acting class."

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