Return of the Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about T3, politics and his desire to give something back to America.
| By Paul Chutkow | From Arnold Schwarzenegger, July/Aug 03
Return of the Terminator

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."

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."

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."

With Arnold Inc., many things seem to overlap for fun and profit, including movies and politics. Arnold is extremely proud of his after-school initiative, known as Proposition 49. That was a California ballot initiative, passed last year, that Arnold launched to use public schools, K through 9, for after-school programs in sports, fitness and culture. He went up and down the state promoting the project, and he amassed plenty of political capital in the process. Under the measure, each year the state -- its finances permitting -- gives up to $50,000 to elementary schools, up to $75,000 to junior highs, and additional grants of up to $200,000 for schools with students coming predominantly from low-income families. To Arnold, the concept is both simple and effective, and it comes straight from the lessons he learned from his own struggles coming up from nothing. Kids need, he says, what he got from Lucille Ball and others: support, warmth, positive mentoring and a feeling of belonging.

"I just want to give kids what I got to make me successful," Arnold says. "I want them to have the same thing. Especially in the inner cities, kids are being told all the time, 'You're in the ghetto. You'll never make it. You'll always be poor. Success is not for you.' And that's terrible. And so what I'm trying to tell them is that this is negative propaganda and lies. Work hard and you can do it. And we try to give them people who will support them along the way."

Arnold says he is just as positive and reinforcing with his own children. "The greatest investment that you can make for children is to put in time with them. You have to be the one who teaches them, you have to be the one who works with them in math, because they will remember that down the line. Every child is born with this empty pocket and so 'Who is going to fill it up?' is the question at the end of the day. Is it going to be the scum that fills it up, or is it going to be me, or the coach, the teacher, or the priest in church? Who is going to fill it up and create a good human being?"

To raise money for his Prop. 49 fight, Arnold came up with his own unique version of Bill Clinton renting out the Lincoln Bedroom: he invited potential donors to the set of Terminator 3 for a private glimpse of the action and photos with the Terminator himself. "I'd call up some guy that was supporting us and say, 'Yeah, right now I'm calling from the set.' And the guy would say, 'Wait a minute! You are shooting there now?' And I'd say, 'Yeah, I'm in the Terminator outfit and all the makeup.' And the guy would finally get it and he would say, 'Can I bring my son down?' And I say, 'Well, that will cost you a hundred.' And the guy says, 'You got it! You got it!'" Now, readers, let's be clear: that "hundred" means $100,000. And he often got the full asking price.

With his charm, his star power, and that kind of ability to raise big sums of money, Arnold is widely seen as a potential savior for California's Republican Party. Today, the glory Reagan years are a distant memory for the state GOP, and the party often comes across as anemic and disjointed. With Governor Davis appearing like the lamest of ducks, though, there is growing talk in the press and in political circles that Arnold might run for governor in 2006. Many Republicans believe he would be a strong candidate, no matter which Democrat emerges at the end of Davis's second term. But some state Republicans would rather see Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, run for governor, with Arnold then running for the Senate against Barbara Boxer, a liberal, anti-war Democrat who could be vulnerable next time around.

In this interview, though, and in a subsequent telephone chat, Arnold made clear he has no interest in the Senate. California is his adopted home, he said, and it is here where he wants to give something back. The idea of running for governor is clearly tempting him, and Republican insiders say he is already raising money. But Arnold is not ready to declare his intentions. With great aplomb, he sidesteps all questions about his precise ambitions, but he also makes it clear that he intends to keep fighting for his after-school program, hoping to turn it into an inspiring model that can be replicated across all the public schools in America. As he explains, "The most important things always begin at the grass roots."

Whatever he decides to do politically, one thing is certain: Arnold will do it his way. In the months leading up to the war with Iraq, Arnold says he was constantly invited to go on TV talk shows to respond to the prominent activists of the Hollywood left, actors like Martin Sheen, Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Janeane Garofalo. But he always declined. Hollywood, Arnold says, is his community, his family, and he was not about to risk hurting the family by going publicly into battle. Behind the scenes, though, he was hard at work in support of the president. Arnold is quite outspoken about how much he admires the leadership qualities of George W. Bush, especially in contrast to those of Bill Clinton.

"To be president, you have to be heroic. You have to have courage. I mean, look, for instance, at George Bush now. It's extremely heroic, if you think about it. Because the mood of the people changes all the time. The polls change all the time. And you know the way some previous presidents ran their administrations: it was all according to the polls. One day it's in, one day it's out, and he would move with that, with the people."

"But Bush is staying the course. Even though that pisses some people off, and then the polls go down, he stays on course. In the end that pays off, because people say, well, at least one thing we know: that guy is steady. When he says something, he stays with it; that's the kind of a character he is. It's a very heroic thing. Because you get a beating from the press. You get the people complaining. You have the protestors out there. You have your own countrymen overseas saying nasty things about you. You have activist entertainers saying nasty things about you, and politicians of the opposition party doing the same. So you have to have thick skin and you have to have the guts to stay the course. It takes tremendous strength of character to do the job. It takes tremendous strength of character to lead and not just follow. And it's heroic in that you have to be consistent and be continuously driving forward and seeing your vision, seeing your goal, and saying, 'That vision I want to make into a reality, no matter what anyone says.'"

Now you can feel the fire in his belly. Now you can sense why, no matter how busy he is, or how steep the pay cut he would have to take, Arnold just might love to make a run in 2006. Question: "I guess your assessment of Gray Davis is rather negative." Arnold: "I don't even want to get into that. It's such an obvious thing today. The guy has the lowest approval rating of any governor ever. So it would be wrong for me to now jump on top of that. It's irrelevant."

"What is relevant is that if you're a leader, you have to create action. You have to be proactive rather than reactive. You have to plan ahead: Plan ahead with the energy crisis. Plan ahead with the water crisis. Plan ahead with state security and national security. There are lots of problems and challenges that cannot be predicted from one day to the next. Some take 10, 15 years to materialize. You know what it takes to redo the freeways and highways? It takes 10 to 20 years. And then there's the airports. LAX is overbooked. San Francisco is overbooked. They're exhausted. How can we expect to have an increase in imports and exports from overseas when all the airports are overbooked? We have to listen to those signals and say, 'OK, let's get working on it!' That's what action is about. And that's what people admire in action heroes in the movies."

In Arnold's mind, success in the movies and success in politics come down to the very same thing: heroes. Arnold has many personal heroes, from many different backgrounds and ideologies -- Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Muhammad Ali. But to Arnold, they all have one thing in common: "A lot of people talk, but to be out there in the trenches, to roll up your sleeves, to create opportunities and really make a difference, I think that's where it's at."

Photo by Nigel Perry

Paul Chutkow is the author of Depardieu, a biography of the French actor Gérard Depardieu, and co-author of Harvests of Joy, the autobiography of Robert Mondavi.

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