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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 2)

His reading was a disaster, flat and unexpressive, and while Arnold sat there clueless and satisfied, Ball looked at the director, looked at Carney, and then, on a leap of faith, made her decision. She put the script aside, engaged Arnold in some ad lib conversation, and then the two were off and running, improvising the entire scene. Arnold got the job and held his own through several days of rehearsals. Then came Friday, when the scene was going to be shot live. The problem was, Arnold says, he had no idea what "live" meant. He stood in the green room, panting like a racehorse, waiting for his moment of glory, and then, when the light went on, he rushed out on stage. And then he froze in his tracks. He was stunned to be facing an audience filled with hundreds of people. So that's what "live" meant! Again, Ball came to his rescue, and somehow they pulled off the scene. Arnold, though, had terrible nightmares about it for many months to come.

From that day forward, though, he had a faithful fan in his corner. "After that, every time I came out with a movie, Lucille Ball wrote me a note or called me, until she died. Every single thing I did she says, 'I'm proud of you. I love you. You're like my son. You're the greatest. I can't believe I was the first one to have you on my show.' I mean, she was incredible. It was like a mother watching out for you. So I have to tell you one thing: so many people had this kind of an impact on me and helped me gain confidence. Those are the kind of experiences that really make you and shape you, to get that kind of support and feedback. It really elevated me and helped me make great leaps forward."

The encouragement was comforting, but Arnold also knew that if he wanted to succeed as an actor, he had plenty of work to do. "I knew I had to dive in and work as hard as I had in bodybuilding," Arnold says. "So you go and take speech lessons, and accent-removal lessons, and English lessons, and you work on script reading and writing and acting. I went every day from 8 in the morning to 12 midnight. I always asked myself the simple question: 'What did it take for me to win in bodybuilding?' OK, then let's get into it and do the same thing for movies."

The hard work paid off. In 1977, his natural charisma and humor came to the fore in Pumping Iron, a now-classic documentary about the world of bodybuilding, featuring, of course, the king, the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger. That year, he also won a Golden Globe Award as best newcomer for his role in Stay Hungry, starring Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. Conan the Barbarian, in 1982, was Arnold's first lead role, and it generated a sequel, Conan the Destroyer, a dismal film. Then came the chance to play an unusual role, a violent, terrifying robot, in a sci-fi thriller to be called The Terminator. At first, though, Arnold was reluctant to take on the role.

"There were only 24 lines to speak, and so I said to myself, 'Is that the direction I want to go?'" Arnold recalls. "Not only was I going to play a villian, but I thought I might run the danger that everyone always would want me to play a villain." But the director, a then-fledgling upstart named James Cameron, gave Arnold a persuasive argument. "He said, 'Look, having only a few lines will be very powerful. Weak people have to explain a lot. But powerful people don't.'" Cameron also promised Arnold that this would be a unique villain, one who would be likable and often quite humorous. That sealed it for Arnold, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Along with Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and, of course, Mr. Bond, The Terminator is one of the most valuable action pix franchises in Hollywood, and the rights now belong to two Hollywood pros, Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar, partners in C-2 Pictures. According to Vajna, for the marketing and promotion of Terminator 3, he has the most potent weapon there is in the business. "Arnold is one of the few actors who's totally dedicated to his movies," Vajna says. "He's always willing to be out on a limb, to help with the marketing and selling of the movie all over the world. He is always prepared to do whatever it takes to get the job done. In international terms, thanks to Arnold, Terminator is one of the most powerful brand names coming out of the movie industry."

Pablo Helman, a visual effects wizard from Industrial Light & Magic, spent the full, grueling 101 days on the T3 set with Arnold, supervising the design and execution of the movie's difficult action scenes. Many of those scenes were constructed with sophisticated computer graphics, and Helman and his team at ILM spent nine months doing the necessary research and development. Arnold's input was key. "He knows the character through and through, so he knows if the Terminator would do something or not. So he brings a lot to the table," Helman says. "He also knows his body very well, and he's very knowledgeable about camera angles and how his body ought to look. It makes our job a lot easier." For the final scene, Arnold spent an agonizing six hours having his makeup applied. "He is an incredible professional," Helman says. "I never once saw him grumpy."

On the set, Arnold also works hard to keep everybody loose. "We were on a huge set in southern L.A., and to cover the distances we all ran around on scooters," Andy Vajna recalls. "Just for fun, we would steal each other's scooters and hide them. One time we strung one up on a street sign, so high nobody could see it. Arnold's a real prankster." He's also a killer chess player, Vajna says: "Arnold loves chess. And he loves to win. In fact, he keeps a running tab of his victories posted on the wall. He skis, and he plays tennis and golf. But he also likes the brain games."

On the set, Arnold also likes to unwind with a fine cigar. For the past several years he has been cutting back, but at the end of the day he still loves a great smoke. "I smoke Cohibas. I smoke Montecristos -- the No. 2s -- and I smoke some local stuff. At Schatzi's we still do great business with our cigar nights outside, the first Monday of every month."

One of Arnold's great passions these days is humidors. At the end of shooting most of his movies, he offers custom-made humidors to many of the cigar aficionados among the crew. For Terminator 3, he had 25 humidors made with a special T3 image on the lid. "We gave away 18 of them and then we auctioned the seven others, with the proceeds going to my Inner-City Games program. The last one we auctioned went for $6,800."


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