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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 12)

 

"You should do what you're best at," he says. "People really enjoy me if I save the day, overcome the ultimate in obstacles and danger. At the same time, they also enjoy the humor, the comedies. They see there's a funny side to me. But one should not make the mistake of thinking you can do whatever you want to do, just for the sake of the challenge."

 

There are certain roles in which he knows he wouldn't be credible.

 

"That's the problem we had on Junior [in which he plays a man--a bespectacled scientist--who gives birth to a child]. I have too macho an image for people to believe I'm having a baby." Personal implausibility and biological impossibility were not the only hurdles Junior had to overcome. Even comedies like Twins and Kindergarten Cop had a few beatings and shootings to keep the Schwarzenegger bloodlust fans happy; Junior had no violence at all. Although Schwarzenegger deserves credit for taking on such a risky, out-of-character role, the movie did poorly at the box office, grossing only $37 million in this country (compared with $112 million for Twins and $91 million for Kindergarten Cop). It was a rare mistake for Schwarzenegger.

 

"He manages his career as well as anybody," says Kenneth Turan, the film critic for the Los Angeles Times. "He doesn't stretch himself into unlikely areas. But by alternating comedies with action movies, people don't get bored with him. He's very canny"--canny enough to realize that he has become such a huge box-office star abroad primarily because action (i.e., violence) is understandable everywhere. Love, comedy and drama are often dependent on the nuances of language and on differing cultural interpretations. But as Turan says, "Everyone gets Arnold. If he hits somebody, they fall down. If he shoots them, they die."

Brian Grazer, who produced Kindergarten Cop, says that when Schwarzenegger reads a script, "he knows which words can and can't come out of his mouth--what sounds natural and what doesn't. He has a built-in truth meter. He knows his strengths and weaknesses."

Some see Schwarzenegger's discipline as cold commercial calculation, a window on his nonexistent soul. Indeed, "soullessness" is a word--a criticism--that comes up often in magazine and newspaper stories about Schwarzenegger. He is, without question, a control freak--shrewd, manipulative and relentless--and he concedes that one of the most difficult lessons he had to learn when he left bodybuilding for the movie business was that he couldn't be in control of everything, that moviemaking is a collaborative process. Without a script--and a scriptwriter--without a director, camermen, lighting technicians, and makeup, special effects and other experts (not to mention the studio money men), there is no movie, no matter how big or how talented the star. There's a sense that at some level, Schwarzenegger resents his dependence on others, and it would be easy to dismiss his off-screen charm as pure acting, camouflaging a heart of steel. But he's not that good an actor, and while it's not always easy to separate role playing from reality, there does seem to be a genuine warmth and decency to the man. To Grazer, this is an enormously important--and enormously appealing--part of Schwarzenegger's success: "He's not a fraud. He's not pretending to be an artist. He doesn't travel with a bullshit entourage."


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