The call comes at 4:33 p.m. on a Monday.
"Arnold's cigar dinner is tonight, at his restaurant. I know it's last minute, but if you can come, I can get you a seat at his table."
The caller is James Stankard, Arnold Schwarzenegger's major-domo. Schwarzenegger has been busy with various ventures, including filming Eraser, which figures to be his big summer hit, and this is the first time since I'd put in a bid to see him several weeks earlier that he has some time.
Almost four hours later, I find myself standing in the middle of a milling crowd as Schwarzenegger walks into Schatzi on Main, the restaurant he owns in Santa Monica, California, two blocks from the Pacific Ocean.
He's wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki slacks, a brown leather jacket and that big, familiar, gap-toothed smile. Because he was a world champion bodybuilder--five times "Mr. Universe" and seven times "Mr. Olympia"--long before he was an international box office star, I'd expected his physical presence to fill the room, much as Muhammed Ali once did and Wilt Chamberlain still does. But Schwarzenegger has none of that awesome physical presence. Nor, for that matter, does he--on first sighting--have that magnetic, galvanizing star appeal that automatically stops conversation and turns all eyes toward him. He makes no grand entrance. There is neither hush nor buzz. He's just there. Just Arnold. Just one of maybe 200 guys standing around with a cigar in his hand.
He's 6-foot-2, 212 pounds--about 36 pounds below his competitive bodybuilding weight--but apart from his bulging biceps and thick neck, he almost looks small, or at least not uncommonly large. Maybe that's because one subconsciously expects him to look as dominating in person as he does on-screen, where he seems even bigger and more menacing than he really is.
As Schwarzenegger makes his way across the room, we meet and shake hands--he's not a bone-cruncher--and when we reach his table, he introduces me to several of our seatmates and says, warmly, "You sit here, next to me."
Schwarzenegger's nephew, Patrick Kennedy, newly out of law school, is on the other side of me. Across from him is Stan Winston, a four-time Academy Award winner for makeup and special effects (Alien, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park). Others at our table include Schwarzenegger's agent, Lou Pitt; actor Luke Perry, formerly of television's "Beverly Hills 90210"; and Keith Barish, one of the founding partners (as is Schwarzenegger) of Planet Hollywood, which is about to go public with a $170 million stock offering.
Savvy financial people can tell, Schwarzenegger says, when a celebrity is just lending his name to a venture and when he's "really involved." Schwarzenegger is really involved--in the worldwide Planet Hollywood empire, in the development of a shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex in Denver and in a variety of other enterprises. He's not "just" a movie star, albeit one of the most famous, recognizable people in the world, a self-made cinematic sensation who commands up to $20 million up front--and a significant percentage of the gross box office receipts--on each action movie he makes; he's also a very successful businessman, real estate mogul, restaurateur--and a man who has Republicans salivating at the mere prospect that one day he just might deign to run for high public office. Not bad for a guy who came to this country in 1968 with little more than $20, a gym bag full of sweat clothes and a dream.
Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, in the tiny Austrian hill town of Thal-by-Graz (pop. 800), where his father was a village cop and the family house had neither telephone nor television. But unlike many who come from humble beginnings and strike it rich in Hollywood, Schwarzenegger has neither forgotten nor forsaken his roots, and seated directly across from him at Schatzi tonight are two of his oldest friends from his bodybuilding days, Franco Columbu and Rolf Moeller. Schwarzenegger even paid tribute to Columbu with an inside joke in Last Action Hero, giving him an on-screen credit--"A Franco Columbu Film"--on the movie-within-a-movie in that big-budget epic.
As the waitresses begin service, I ask Schwarzenegger how often he manages to come to the first-Monday-of-the-month cigar nights here.
"I try to go to every one," he says, his gutteral Austrian
accent determinedly intact, even after three years of what he calls "accent-removal lessons."
"I think I only missed two last year. Because it's on a Monday, even if we're filming somewhere else, I can usually come home for the weekend and stay Monday before I go back."
As the evening wears on, Schwarzenegger is friendly, intelligent, charming, funny and attentive, all without seeming to be either obsequious or disingenuous. He chats unself-consciously with his friends, makes one leisurely walking tour of the room to shmooze with various guests and periodically turns to me with a question or a comment--or an answer to one of my questions, one of the first of which is, "Are there always this many women here? It looks like 25 to 30 percent of the total crowd is female."
"It's increasing all the time," he says. "Usually, when they come the first time, it's just out of curiosity or to be with their men. They don't even take a cigar. Or they take it and don't light it. But two or three months later, you see them smoking--and always with the biggest cigars."
When did Schwarzenegger start smoking cigars?
"I smoked little Virginians when I went to Munich as a bodybuilder," he says, "but I didn't smoke a real cigar until 1977, when I met Maria."
Maria is Maria Shriver, his wife, the NBC News personality and daughter of Sargent Shriver, the former Peace Corps director, and Eunice, a sister of Kennedy brothers John, Robert and Ted. Arnold and Maria met at the Kennedys' pro-celebrity tennis tournament and later, after dinner at the Shriver house, near the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, Sargent Shriver lit a cigar and offered one to Schwarzenegger.
"This is a big advantage in life," Schwarzenegger says with a laugh. "Your wife can't complain about your cigars. You can always say, 'Look, honey, your father wouldn't have introduced me to something that's bad.'"
Does Maria complain often about his cigars?
"Every once in a while it comes up. We recently bought a house in Sun Valley and Maria said, 'You're certainly not going to smoke cigars up here, are you--not in all this wonderful, fresh, clean air?' I said that when we entertained, I'd certainly offer cigars after dinner. No way I'm not going to do that. But if I'm alone, I'll go outside and smoke in the Jacuzzi. Same thing at home. If we have guests, I'm going to pass cigars. But if I'm alone, I'll smoke in the Jacuzzi or while I'm playing pool. I won't smoke upstairs, near the kids' bedroom. Besides, I don't want to stink up my clothes or the bedroom."
With that, Schwarzenegger relights the Punch he's been nursing all evening--using what looks like a three-inch blow torch emitting a laser-like blue flame. He then launches into a hilarious replay of the game of charades he played with his two-year-old son earlier in the day. "I was mimicking him, doing what he sometimes does--jumping up and down and crying and saying 'I hate you, I hate you' and we were all laughing, and he finally figured out what I was doing, and then he started laughing, too."
The story occasions much hilarity at our table. But Schwarzenegger is mostly serious this evening. Politics is much on his mind. His Kennedy connection notwithstanding, he is a very public Republican--he was chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under President Bush--and tonight, early in the presidential primary season, six weeks before Bob Dole will wrap up the Republican nomination, he wants to talk about the candidates.
"What do you think of Steve Forbes?" he asks me.
"Not much. And you?"
"He's a robot. He says the same thing over and over." He grins. "I've played robots; he is a robot. But I don't know enough about his views yet, except for the flat tax. I'd like to hear more about what he thinks on other issues before I decide who to vote for."
The Republicans have a good chance to capture the White House this year, Schwarzenegger says, but they're "going about it the wrong way. I don't like all this flag-waving and rhetoric. I wish they'd talk about the issues--especially the family. That's the most important problem we have--the breakdown of the family--and no one is doing anything about it."
It's getting close to midnight now, and the guests are beginning to drift away. I decide to head for home, too. Schwarzenegger says good night and tells me he looks forward to our next meeting.
T en nights later, Stankard calls from his car to ask me to meet Schwarzenegger at 10 o'clock the next morning at the Grand Havana Room, a private cigar club in Beverly Hills. Schwarzenegger, who was an hour late at Schatzi, is 30 minutes late today. As he did at Schatzi, he apologizes immediately.
"I took my daughter to school this morning--Christina, the four-year-old. She didn't want me to leave right away. She wanted me to watch how she played with the other kids."
Schwarzenegger has two other children--six-year-old Katherine and two-year-old Patrick--and he seems to think a lot about his paternal pleasures and obligations. "You have to know when they need you and when to back away," he says.
He's again wearing a gray T-shirt and khakis--and a Planet Hollywood bomber jacket--decidedly casual attire in this room filled with polished wood, upholstered sofas and leather easy chairs. Schwarzenegger is a member--one of many with a personalized humidor on the premises--and as we walk through the club to take a table on the outdoor terrace, he says he sometimes comes for a smoke after lunch. How many cigars does he usually smoke a day?
"One or two most days. I usually start after lunch unless"--he holds up a half-smoked, unlit Hoyo de Monterrey--"unless I have a good one left over from the night before, like today."
Last night's cigar, relit 10 hours later? I wonder why a multigazillionaire like him wouldn't light a new cigar. But all I say is "Yuck."
He grins impishly. "To me, it tastes great. I know your magazine is called Cigar Aficionado, but...." He shrugs, as if to say, he's no expert; he just likes cigars.
As I look at his half-smoked cigar, I can't help remembering that when Playboy interviewed him nine years ago, he pulled out a cigar at the beginning of the interview and told the writer, "Your time will be measured in stogies. When I finish one, the interview ends." I hope he doesn't think I'll be satisfied with just a half a cigar's worth of his time this morning. But as long as we're on the subject of cigars, I ask what he usually smokes.
"Cohiba, Punch Punch. Punch Punch is actually my favorite size. It's a good size for an after-dinner smoke or during the day. I used to love Davidoff, and there are still sometimes good ones around. Sometimes you get good Romeo y Julietas. And Hoyo de Monterrey is a great cigar. Milton Berle came over to my house one time--I think it was when I had my 40th birthday--and he brought over a box [of Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas] and gave me one. It was a spectacular smoke."
Has he ever had any trouble smoking cigars on a movie set?
Both Danny DeVito and Carl Weathers objected the first time he lit up around them, he says. Weathers "started coughing loud, pretending like he's dying" on the set of Predator. "He said, 'Get away with your stinking stuff. I can't breathe.'" But Schwarzenegger explained to Weathers that he found a cigar "soothing," especially amid the chaos and uncertainty of the first day of shooting. Schwarzenegger says he took his cigar outside, away from Weathers. Six hours later, Weathers asked if he could have a cigar--"just to chew on. I hate to smoke." Schwarzenegger gave him an Ashton. A little later, Weathers asked Schwarzenegger to clip off the wet end and "let me just light it for a minute." He smoked half the cigar, asked for another the next day and "by the time the movie was half done, he had his manager and his agent flying in boxes and boxes of Ashtons and Pléiades," Schwarzenegger says. "He was smoking up a storm. I had to say to him, 'Carl, you're not supposed to smoke from seven in the morning to seven at night.'"
Schwarzenegger says DeVito converted from antagonist to aficionado just as quickly, and it's clear from talking to movie people around town that there are many such Schwarzenegger converts. In fact, Schwarzenegger once found himself giving out so many free cigars on the set that he handed out an exploding cigar to discourage freeloaders. Not that Schwarzenegger is ungenerous. Far from it. But neither does he like to be taken advantage of. The exploding cigar was a symbol of more than his penchant for practical jokes and his fondness for the big bang, on- and off-screen: He likes to see people doing things for themselves, rather than relying on others, whether it's providing cigars or supporting a family. That, he says, is why he became a Republican when he arrived in the United States.
It was shortly before the 1968 presidential election, and he immediately became interested in the campaign--Richard Nixon vs. Hubert Humphrey. Having just came from "a country where the government interfered with everything and owned monopolies of industries," Schwarzenegger says he was put off by Humphrey's comments on the obligations of the federal government--and attracted by Nixon's support for free enterprise-- "free trade...deregulation...get the government off our backs."
As at the cigar dinner, he's eager to talk about his interest in politics and his commitment to America. "If you go to a country and the country adopts you," he says, "you have a responsibility to learn the language as fast as you can, make all the effort you can to become part of the country, learn what the social behavior is, what the political system is. Everyone should have enough information to make wise choices when it comes to an election so you can vote on a candidate's complete philosophy, rather than just [on whether] he's pro-choice or not, for gay rights or not, for foreign trade or not."
How do the Kennedys feel about his Republicanism?
"I'm very fortunate to have parent in-laws that are so bright. That's the advantage of being liberal." Being open-minded--especially to new or contrary ideas--is "the definition of being liberal," he says, and "you can really see how open-minded they are." Exposure to the Kennedys has even led him to moderate some of his "extreme" conservative views, Schwarzenegger says. He's now willing to acknowledge that "government has a responsibility...to provide things for the underdog."
But the only "underdogs" he cites as worthy of government assistance are people in wheelchairs--no mention of the government's obligation to help those who are poor, homeless, jobless and/or the victims of discrimination--and he's quick to say that he's still "a very strong Republican."
Would he ever run for political office?
"I've been asked several times to run for office--the Senate, Congress, for governor. But I am so happy with where I am right now, the things that I'm doing, that I would not even think about that."
Would he consider changing his mind down the road?
"Yes--if there's a need for it. If I really think that I can provide something. If I've done everything in my profession." He looks away. "That's a lot of 'ifs.'"
At that moment, the chef from the Grand Havana Room appears at our table with two heaping plates of kaiserscharren, a dish that resembles a cross between chopped-up French toast and the Jewish breakfast specialty matzo brie, topped with raspberries. Schwarzenegger explains that it's an old Austrian dish, created by some nineteenth century emperor or other ("King Ludwig, I think") who wanted his subjects to be able to eat the same thing he did, at least once a day (a noble and--dare one say it--decidedly democratic idea).
His continuing appetite for Austrian breakfast fare notwithstanding, Schwarzenegger says he "felt deep down inside of me that I was an American" from age eight or 10 on. School studies, newsreels, American pop culture--all gave him a sense of "the size of [America] and the possibilities." As he grew older, he found himself wondering, "What am I doing in this village here, with the farmers?" He wanted to live in the United States. He was 15 when he began the activity that would make that possible.
His father wanted him to excel at soccer, and the training camp for his youth soccer team was next door to a weightlifting room. He wandered in one day and did a few simple weight-training exercises to strengthen his legs. "When I saw those animals climbing around the chin-up bar and doing 20 chin-ups and then going over to the squat rack and squatting 200 kilos [440 pounds], and then another guy snatching up 315 [pounds] in one movement, it outweighed by far everything that I'd seen on the soccer field."
Schwarzenegger began lifting weights and doing bodybuilding exercises so obsessively that his parents limited his trips to the gym to three times a week. Solution: He converted an unheated room in the house to a small gym and continued to work out, hour after hour after hour, following a strict routine.
"I lived by the training program, the eating program, the competition program," he says. "I was always the master in writing out the programs. I knew that as soon as I put it down, the last thing I ever wanted to do is disappoint myself. I knew that I had to look in the mirror every day and I could not look in the mirror and say, 'You know something: You're a fucking loser; you cannot even do the kind of sets and exercises and eat the kind of food that you wrote down.' I didn't want to face that."
Schwarzenegger's hard work and singlemindedness paid off. He competed all over the world and became the best--and best-known--bodybuilder since Charles Atlas. He was dubbed "The Austrian Oak" (his company is now called Oak Productions), and after winning his second Mr. Universe contest, in London, he came to the United States to compete. He came first to Miami Beach, but when he decided to stay, Joe Weider, the bodybuilding impresario, urged him to live in Southern California, in Venice--Muscle Beach--the mecca of bodybuilding. He made the move and says he instantly felt "this was where I'd always been meant to be. I felt-- 'Ahhh, now I'm at home.' "
Schwarzenegger has always had self-confidence. In his 1977 autobiography, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, he wrote: "I knew I was a winner. I knew I was destined for great things." Having settled in Los Angeles, he wasn't content to be "just" a world champion bodybuilder; he immediately set out to be a world champion capitalist as well. While Weider paid him $60 a week (in addition to providing him an apartment and car) to write articles for his bodybuilding magazine, Schwarzenegger started a bricklaying and masonry business with his weightlifting friend Columbu, who'd been his training partner in Germany and who doubled as a bricklayer. Columbu had moved to the United States nine months after Schwarzenegger, and they employed several of their fellow gym rats in the business as well. They also began to offer mail-order courses in bodybuilding, astonished by how easy it was to start a business in this country, compared with all the bureaucratic red tape and regulation they would have encountered trying to start a similar enterprise in Austria.
"I said to Franco as we walked out of City Hall [with a business license], 'Can you believe this? They didn't ask anything. We didn't put up any money. We didn't have to have any banking proofs or any [college] degrees, any of these complications.' "
Schwarzenegger was a natural businessman and promoter--he designed the brochures for the mail-order business--and with the profits from his early endeavors, he invested in a six-unit apartment house and an office building. He also went to school at night--to three different schools--studying marketing, economics, political science, history and art. Cumulatively--and quickly--these early business and academic activities marked the true beginning of Schwarzenegger's love affair with America.
"I could see firsthand," he says, "that if you were willing to work hard, you could really make it. This is the place with the greatest opportunities of anywhere in the world."
His boundless ambition and restless energy left him perpetually hungry for new challenges. As a bodybuilder, he had long been a performer--he could often lift 60 more pounds in front of an audience than he could when he was alone in the gym. With Hollywood right down the freeway, his next move was almost predestined.
"I was always fascinated with entertainment, with acting, with performing," Schwarzenegger says. "I think in my blood there's something that makes me want to be a performer. That's the way I was in bodybuilding; the more you showed your personality to the people, the more you expressed [yourself], the more you could entertain the people," the better the audience liked it--"you could tell from the applause. The next natural step for me was to go into acting."
His first movie was Hercules in New York, which was released in the United States only on television (although it did play in theaters in South America). In it, Schwarzenegger's voice was dubbed, and he was billed as "Arnold Strong," his accent at that time being impenetrable and his name having been deemed unpronounceable.
"But deep down inside," he says, "I felt that it was wrong" to change names.
Eight years later, in 1977, when his movie career really began--with the critically acclaimed documentary Pumping Iron, based on the surprise best-seller of the same name--he used his own name and his own voice. The success of Pumping Iron--and, the same year, of Stay Hungry, in which he was billed third, behind Jeff Bridges and Sally Field--persuaded him to give up bodybuilding and concentrate on acting full-time.
Conan the Barbarian, in 1982, was his first true starring role. Critics savaged it--and Schwarzenegger. He was, Newsweek said, "a dull clod with a sharp sword, a human collage of pectorals and latissimi who's got less style and wit than Lassie." The reviews for the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, and for Red Sonja weren't much better.
Ever a believer in self-improvement--especially when the need for it was so obvious--Schwarzenegger took acting, dialogue and accent-removal lessons. He can still recall the problems he had trying to pronounce the "th" sound properly. He practiced saying "three-thousand-three-hundred-thirty-three-and-one-third" so many times that he was "mentally exhausted," he says. But just as he had refused to permanently change his name, so he refused to stick with the accent-removal lessons until all traces of his Austrian heritage were gone. At one point, he said--much as his on-screen character might say-- "OK, that's enough" (or was it, "I'll not be back"?).
Movie people told him that he was making a mistake, that all the big stars--John Wayne, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland--changed their names, and that foreigners had to get rid of their accents to be accepted.
"There was a natural pressure to conform, to do things the way they had been done before," Schwarzenegger says. "But I always felt the only way you make an impact is by doing things that have never been done before. 'OK,' I said, 'if everyone has always changed their name, maybe I should be the first who doesn't change his name. If everyone has a perfect American accent to get to the top, maybe I should be the first who doesn't.' I wanted to make sure that if I go on an elevator, before people ever saw me coming around the corner, they would say already, 'That sounds like Arnold.'
"I felt that my uniqueness would work to my advantage."
We've been talking for almost two hours and the late-morning Southern California midwinter sun is warm on our shoulders. Schwarzenegger sloughs off his jacket, casually stretches his muscular arms and relights the same day-old cigar, for perhaps the fourth time. His manner is so disarming that I've been wondering how best to broach the subject of the dismal quality of many of his movies--especially the early action movies--and the hostile critical reaction that many of those films received.
I needn't have been concerned. He has no delusions that he's Robert De Niro or Dustin Hoffman.
"I knew what I was doing," he says. "I knew these movies were not going to be nominated for Academy Awards. I was trying to get into the movie business. I was doing things that I thought I could handle."
He flashes a self-deprecating grin.
"Now, if I want to punish someone, I make them watch Red Sonja 10 times."
"As I got better, the reviews got better."
Indeed they did. Time magazine named The Terminator, a futuristic orgy of blood and mayhem, one of the 10 best movies of 1984. The Terminator also established Schwarzenegger as a genuine
Although his movies continue to receive mixed reviews, the critics have become increasingly supportive of his performances. He was "attractively vulnerable" in Total Recall (the Los Angeles Times); "appealing, relaxed and genial" in Kindergarten Cop (The New York Times); "impressive, hilarious, almost touching" in Terminator 2 (Newsweek). It helped, of course, that his massive box-office success gave him increasing clout over script, cast and directing choices--and that as a result, he began to work with very good directors, James Cameron and Ivan Reitman among them. Schwarzenegger was broadening his horizons--and gathering new admirers. When he made Red Heat in 1987, co-star Jim Belushi pronounced himself "totally surprised" that Schwarzenegger kept up with him when Belushi improvised his lines. Schwarzenegger even improvised a few lines himself.
No one would mistake Schwarzenegger for Jim Carrey--or Cary Grant--but within a certain range, he has developed a surprising, if broad, comic touch that relies largely on making fun of (or playing against) his Predator/Terminator avenging hulk persona. Many people still laugh at Schwarzenegger's often-wooden mannerisms and the absurd plots and over-the-top mayhem in his action movies, but as The New York Times observed in its review of Kindergarten Cop in 1990, "no one laughs at Arnold Schwarzenegger better than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself." Even in his most brutal action films, it's his sense of humor that distinguishes him from Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and other denizens of the death and destruction genre. On several movies, Schwarzenegger has asked that extra comic lines be written for him.
He now tries to alternate big-budget action movies with smaller comedies like Twins, Junior and Jingle All the Way (which he should be filming by the time you read this and which is expected to be in theaters for Christmas). On some comedies, Schwarzenegger willingly defers his customarily colossal up-front payday and takes a giant chunk of the eventual profits instead. That way, a smaller film is not overburdened financially before it begins shooting--and if he guesses right and works hard, he still gets rich(er).
Schwarzenegger says he'd ultimately like to direct--and to act--in a war movie, a Western and a dramatic movie. He'd like to do a love story, too, if he could find the right vehicle. (This from a man who once responded to the observation that his movie characters rarely have a love interest by saying, "I have a love interest in every one of my films--a gun.")
But he knows that his options are limited somewhat by his image. He brings a certain baggage--he calls it "luggage"--to the screen. He's a very male male, on and off the screen. Big. Physical. Tactile. Primitive.
"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."
Schwarzenegger is not universally beloved. No one as big and rich and successful and aggressive as he is could possibly be without enemies. After the runaway success of Terminator 2 in particular, Schwarzenegger says he was "sitting on top of the mountain," ripe for attack by those envious or resentful of his triumphs. His next movie, Last Action Hero, suffered from assorted rumors--among them the (false) story that the movie had been roundly criticized in a test screening in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena. But four writers worked on the screenplay for Last Action Hero, and rumors that the movie was in trouble began circulating in Hollywood very early. Critics generally (and understandably) panned it--some quite ferociously. Having cost $100 million to make, Last Action Hero took in only $50 million at the box office in America after it was released in 1993 (although as Schwarzenegger points out, its success abroad still made it "the twelfth-biggest grossing movie of the year worldwide.")
By and large, Schwarzenegger seems to be respected and well-liked in the various circles in which he moves. Not surprisingly, he is especially popular with those for whom he has made a fortune. Since the 1980s, his films have grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide. Terminator 2 took in more than $500 million, True Lies more than $400 million. Twins, Total Recall and Kindergarten Cop also topped $200 million apiece in global box-office gross.
Schwarzenegger is--in Grazer's words--"the dream star for a producer and a studio." Unlike many stars--who consider themselves artistes and, hence, are above such philistine concerns as marketing and promotion--Schwarzenegger "is willing to do all the promotion, all the press, all the smiling you could want," as Grazer puts it.
Schwarzenegger is not only willing; he's eager. Before he even asks about a script for a movie, he wants to know what the poster will look like--what's the concept for the movie, the central image, the marketing plan. When the movie comes out, he'll sit in a hotel room all day long while reporters from around the country are shuttled back and forth, one after another, each asking the same basic questions, all pretending to be interviewing him in their hometowns: "Hi, Arnold. Welcome back to Seattle [or Houston or Cleveland]. Thanks for this exclusive interview."
Newsweek once wrote, "Self-promotion comes as naturally to Schwarzenegger as flexing his triceps," and with his ego, his natural charisma, his hands-on style and his immense store of nervous energy ("I hate to be doing nothing"), it's obvious why he loves marketing and promotion. To him, it's just another performance--one with a clear and immediate payoff: "You have to let the world know what you have out there. It doesn't make any sense to just work on the product but not on getting it out there.
"I'm involved every step of the way when it comes to marketing, internationally and nationally," he says. On Eraser, he's been trying to arrange a special screening in the Olympic Village in Atlanta next month. "Fifteen thousand journalists from around the world in one place," he says, his face alight with the joy of so irresistible a marketing opportunity.
A week goes by before I get another call from Stankard. Schwarzenegger wants to know if I'd like to come to the Warner Brothers set in two hours. Stankard's calls seem more like summonses than invitations. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Control, clearly likes setting the terms of any engagement or transaction. But he is giving me a lot of time. I agree to go to Warner's, where
he's filming Eraser, in which he plays an elite federal marshal assigned to the witness protection program; as is usually the case in a Schwarzenegger action movie, the fate of the world hangs implausibly in the balance. I show up in a hellacious rainstorm and race to his trailer, where I find him eating lunch with Arnold Kopelson, the producer of Eraser.
"It's goulash and dumplings," Schwarzenegger says to me. "Sit down. Have some."
Kopelson asks Schwarzenegger's chef what holds the dumplings together.
"Whole eggs," the chef replies.
This leads to a Kopelson diatribe on eggs, cholesterol and heart disease. Schwarzenegger cuts it short: "That's bullshit." He tells us about a friend whose cholesterol shot up 40 points after he gave up eggs. "Cholesterol is mostly a matter of heredity," he says, certain that on this--as on so many other issues--he has The Answer.
Kopelson starts to leave, but first he echoes producer Grazer's praise of Schwarzenegger's enthusiasm for promotion. He also praises his generosity--specifically thanking him for an Elie Bleu humidor that Schwarzenegger recently gave him. "The green inlay matches the carpet in my office perfectly," he says. That sets the actor off on one of his favorite gripes--most people's lack of creativity, specifically (in this instance) the boring similarity of most other humidors. "They're all the same--shiny wooden boxes," he says. "I found some antique jewelry boxes and sent them to a humidor maker to have them cedar-lined and transformed into humidors."
On his way out the door, Kopelson asks Schwarzenegger if he plans to market them. Or give them away as gifts.
"No," he says. "I just want to show them they're behind the times in creativity. A shiny wooden box isn't always the best. We just bought a home in Sun Valley, and it wouldn't fit with the rustic decor there."
After Kopelson leaves, Schwarzenegger pulls out a humidor--a shiny wooden box--and offers me a cigar. He has humidors all over--in his houses, his office, his trailer--and this one is filled with what he says are Cohibas, bearing a special red, "Arnold S" band. "They're a gift from Rick Dees [a local disc jockey] to thank me for a favor," he says.
Schwarzenegger lights his Cohiba with a larger version of the blow torch he used at Schatzi; the thin bolt of flame looks hot enough to incinerate the entire trailer. As we smoke and sip espresso, he talks about parenting. He didn't have an early call today--he's awaiting the call for his next scene right now--so he wanted to take four-year-old Christina to school again this morning. But she demanded that her mother accompany them. She cried and pretended to throw up. Schwarzenegger wanted time alone with her, though, and he insisted that they leave Maria behind. Christina not only got over her upset, he says--the proud parent is talking now--but once they got to school, she wrote down her numbers from one to 15 and then sounded them all out, "and then I said, out of nowhere, 'OK, sound them out in German,' and she did that, too. The teacher said 'Wow!' She was very pleased." Because of his own strict upbringing, Schwarzenegger is much more the disciplinarian with the children than Maria is. "Her upbringing was more lenient, more positive," he says. "In an Austrian home, the emphasis is on what you did wrong, what you did bad, rather than what you did well. There's a lot of things that I had to learn--to be positive, to reinforce the positive, to give kids the confidence."
A few days earlier, the Los Angeles Times had published a Valentine's Day story on several prominent couples, Schwarzenegger and Shriver among them. The story said that on the day the two met, Schwarzenegger told Maria's mother, "Your daughter has a great body." I thought that seemed a bit brazen, even for Schwarzenegger.
"Did you really say that?" I ask.
"No. I said, 'she has a nice ass.'"
As it turned out, she has more than that. But even though Schwarzenegger says he knew on their first date alone that she was the woman for him, it took nine years before he was ready to get married. He carried the engagement ring around for six months, changing his mind several times about the right moment and the right setting to propose marriage, before he finally popped the question in a rowboat on a lake, near where he grew up in Austria.
"I never saw myself as a guy that could settle down," he says. "I was always very derogatory about the station wagons that people used in the '60s and '70s, with the dog and the cat and the kids screaming--and now I'm driving around with the dogs, the puppies, the kids screaming in the back, the wife in the front seat, trying to calm everyone down."
Schwarzenegger wants to talk more about family, not just his own, but family in general, the family in trouble. I interrupt to ask how, as the father of three young children, he justifies making such gratuitously violent movies. In 1988, the National Coalition on Television Violence named him the most violent actor of the year after he averaged a mind-numbing 146 acts of violence an hour in Running Man. I tell him that I'm opposed to censorship but that I banned the TV show "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" from our house when I realized that my six-year-old son, Lucas, was much more likely to hit and kick and act aggressively after seeing it. But Schwarzenegger insists that his movies don't have a bad effect on children. His two-year-old son sees no violent movies--"not even mine"--but he "kicks everything that he sees. Things like smacking the girls in the face--he realizes he can cause damage. He picks up a frying pan and he sees everyone running from him. That's when he's in his glory," he says. "Kids have a certain amount of aggression stored away. You go through stages. Then you grow out of it."
He talks about his own experience as a young man, then says, "Violence is a social problem in this country, created by the very politicians that now complain that movie violence is causing it. It is them, by not having run the country well, that have gotten the kids into that. The inner-city problem is not a creation from the movies. The violence that is going on there--the shootings in the schools and all of that--is not created by our movies."
No. But study after study has shown that children exposed to violent images on television and in the movies do behave more aggressively, even violently. Schwarzenegger doesn't want to hear about it. He'd rather talk about what he's doing to address the problems of inner-city violence--and inner-city alienation, frustration and failure.
Schwarzenegger is the chairman of the Inner-city Games Foundation, which sponsors more than 40 sports and recreation activities in 17 cities nationwide. In Los Angeles alone, more than 100,000 inner-city children and teenagers participated in the games last year.
Danny Hernandez, who has long worked with youths in the Latino neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, founded the Inner-city Games in 1991 and--attracted by Schwarzenegger's star appeal and his work on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports--asked him to help. Schwarzenegger has provided free office space to the foundation and--more importantly--he delivers the foundation's central message directly to the kids.
"I wanted the kids to see that if you work hard, you can go far, and I knew Arnold would tell them that and show them that," Hernandez says. "He's been totally hands-on. He comes to the centers so often that the kids call him 'Arnold.' He helps raise money all over the country, and he brings a lot of his celebrity friends in to help, too."
From the world of sports have come, among others, Muhammad Ali; former Olympic champions Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Edwin Moses and Bob Beamon; and boxers Evander Holyfield and Oscar de la Hoya. From Hollywood: Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Edward James Olmos, Jay Leno, Arsenio Hall.
Although the focus of the program is on competitive sports, the foundation also sponsors academic competition and arts programs and awards scholarships to promising inner-city youngsters. Schwarzenegger is clearly proud of the work the foundation is doing. He sees it as an opportunity to act on his conviction that family and a sense of belonging are crucially important to keeping kids off drugs, out of gangs and out of prison. (Schwarzenegger has been criticized for using steroids himself as a bodybuilder, but he says he always used them "under a doctor's supervision," never suffered any side effects and never allowed drugs to take over his life, as so many in the inner cities and Hollywood alike have done.)
"The reason kids join gangs, to large extent, is because they want to be part of a family," Schwarzenegger says. "They have no family at home. One parent is missing or there are terrible conditions at home. They want to feel needed, loved, to have a sense of responsibility. With the Inner-city Games, what we provide is an alternative. They belong to a family at the gymnasium."
After he turns on the VCR in his trailer and shows me a short promotional tape on the Inner-city Games, Schwarzenegger complains about recent budget cuts in big-city recreation programs across the country.
"For every dollar they pull back today," he says, "we're going to spend $10 later on."
I tell him that sounds like an argument I'd expect from a liberal Democrat, not a conservative Republican. After all, it's the Republicans who have slashed social spending, the Republicans--the Reagan and Bush administrations--whose social and economic policies have greatly exacerbated the pressures on poor and middle-income families alike.
Schwarzenegger will concede only that the problems of the inner cities require bipartisan solutions. "You can't keep going back to those old rules--'this is the conservative way, this is the liberal way,'" he says. "I think it takes both sides working together to solve the problem." He ticks off his priorities: "Promote heavily the whole idea of family, rebuild education, create jobs, make people feel proud of the work they're doing.
"It's all an outgrowth of the decay of the family," he says again. "Many children and teenagers in America's inner cities have no parental role models, so the only people they emulate are those they meet on the streets."
He talks about his visits to all 50 states on behalf of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and about how discouraging it was to try to talk about physical fitness to "kids who hadn't had breakfast, weren't even washed." He seems truly moved, genuinely upset. "How do these children ever make it when they don't even have the first initial shot at it? So that generation is wasting away. So they will bring their kids up this way."
He's interrupted by a knock on the door. Stankard is here with a man who sells Cuban cigars to many movers and shakers in Hollywood. He asks Schwarzenegger what kind of cigars he likes.
"Whatever I can get for free," he says, laughing.
Mr. Habana pulls out a leather cigar holder and gives him a choice of three brands of double coronas. Schwarzenegger takes the Hoyo de Monterrey. Then Mr. Habana opens two large canvas bags and starts pulling out box after box of Cuban cigars--Cohiba, Punch, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, Saint Luis Rey, Hoyo de Monterrey, Quai d'Orsay. Schwarzenegger asks how he knows they aren't fake.
"My guys guarantee it. If you smoke two or three and don't like it, I give you all your money back."
Schwarzenegger says he remembers the time he bought 10 boxes of Davidoff Havanas--Dom Perignons--in London, right after seeing men loading hundreds of boxes into a Saudi prince's Rolls-Royce. "I figured somebody knew there was going to be a shortage," he says.
Mr. Habana tells him the Dom Perignons now sell for $3,000 to $4,000 a box--"if you can find them." (Editor's note: The going rate is closer to $2,500 per box of 25.)
Schwarzenegger buys two boxes of cigars--Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey-- for considerably less money ($700) "for a friend's birthday," then says goodbye to the salesman and invites me to visit his "exercise trailer."
Schwarzenegger remains very committed to bodybuilding. In a few days, he'll fly to Columbus, Ohio, to oversee the Arnold Fitness Expo '96, a three-day international bodybuilding competition and martial arts/physical fitness exhibition. On a more personal level, he generally works out at least an hour a day, no matter where he is--either at home or in a gym or, when he's filming, in this 40-foot trailer that "follows me everywhere." He likes the discipline and the feeling of being fit, and he finds exercise an antidote for the brief black moods he says he sometimes falls prey to. "Maria will see me grumpy and say, 'Why don't you go have a workout.'" Given the kinds of roles he usually plays on-screen, he also thinks it's vital that his physical appearance remain credible, that he looks capable of performing the feats of physical derring-do that the scripts so often call for.
The trailer is strictly utilitarian, nothing fancy--two Life Cycles, more than a dozen weight machines, several of his movie and bodybuilding posters on the wall. When we walk out, we bump into Jeff Dawn, his makeup man on several films. Schwarzenegger introduces us and praises Dawn lavishly. Then, as we're walking away, he says over his shoulder, "By the way, the other guy made me up today." Pause. Grin. "He was better than you."
People have told me that Schwarzenegger enjoys teasing and bantering and playing practical jokes on the set--he once dumped a pitcher of ice water on a screenwriter's crotch--and this is my first, albeit mild exposure to it. People have also told me that Schwarzenegger is very detail-conscious, and I'm about to see that, too.
We walk onto the Eraser set. Schwarzenegger looks at a small monitor showing film of a dummy in a parachute being approached by an airplane. The dummy is a stand-in for Schwarzenegger; the plane is supposed to hit him in midair. Or try to. Schwarzenegger watches the brief sequence once and immediately notices that the dummy appears to be higher above the ground later in the sequence than it is earlier. That's wrong. As he falls, he should get lower. A technician explains that the sequence looks as it does because "the scenes were shot with two different lenses." Schwarzenegger is not mollified. "That's fine," he says, "but the audience will notice the inconsistency, and you can't hand out a brochure to everyone in the theater, explaining that you used a different lens. You have to make it look realistic, like I'm getting lower."
We leave, and not long after, Schwarzenegger is called for his next scene, to be filmed inside an airplane. Schwarzenegger's co-star, James Caan, knows that for the airplane-chases-man-in-parachute scene, Schwarzenegger has spent a great deal of time recently being filmed while hanging from the ceiling of the sound stage, suspended in an intricate leather harness that's left his chest black and blue from the pressure.
"So, Arnold," Caan says, a malicious grin splitting his face, "you been doing some more hanging today?"
Before Schwarzenegger can reply, another actor pipes up: "Arnold's already well-hung."
The assistant director calls for quiet--"and action!" This scene is largely Caan's; in it, Schwarzenegger is supposed to get up from his seat on the plane, walk slowly toward Caan, pick up a bottle of water and answer a question during a conversation between Caan and another actor. But the camera is rolling and Schwarzenegger hasn't moved.
Caan looks at him, the same grin in place. "Action means you, you fucking putz--you come and get the bottle of water." Everyone bursts into laughter. Director Chuck Russell yells, "Cut!" Then they run through the scene again. And again. And again. Nine times in all. It's never quite perfect. After the ninth take, Russell says, "Excellent. I really like that. Really good performances.
"Let's do it again."
I decide it's time for me to go home.
Almost two weeks later, Stankard calls to say that Schwarzenegger is flying to Las Vegas the next morning. "Why don't you come along."
I know that Schwarzenegger has his own jet--a $12.5 million Gulfstream III. This could be fun.
"His plane?" I ask.
"Yes. We're wheels-up at 11:15."
I show up at Van Nuys Airport shorty before 11. Schwarzenegger and Stankard drive up 15 minutes later. Schwarzenegger, clad in yet another gray T-shirt--plus Levis and a blue blazer, the standard Hollywood dress-up outfit--bounds aboard and we're airborne by 11:25.
Schwarzenegger is flying to Las Vegas to appear with other 20th Century Fox movie stars, directors, producers and studio executives at the National Association of Theater Owners' ShoWest '96. The purpose of the trip is to get the theater owners, exhibitors and concessionaires from more than 70 countries excited about Fox's upcoming releases--in Schwarzenegger's case, Jingle All the Way, in which he plays a businessman too preoccupied with his work to pay attention to his family until--well, let's just say the movie provides Schwarzenegger with an excellent opportunity to advance his views on the importance of family (which is one of the reasons he's doing it). "We'll only be in Vegas for about an hour," Schwarzenegger says as we reach cruising speed. "I have to be back on the [Eraser] set this afternoon. Then I'll fly to Vegas again tomorrow for Warner Brothers to promote Eraser."
I ask about reports that he'll play the villainous Mr. Freeze in Warner Brothers' Batman and Robin, scheduled to begin filming in August. He says he'd love to do it, but he doesn't think that will work out; there's a conflict between it and With Wings As Eagles, written by Randall Wallace (who wrote Braveheart), which he's also scheduled to start filming in August, much of it in Europe, right after he finishes Jingle All the Way. (Two weeks later, Schwarzenegger decided that Mr. Freeze is too juicy a role to pass up; he took it and pushed With Wings As Eagles back to October.)
We chat some more, nibble on fresh fruit and cookies, and the next thing I know, we're on the ground, getting into a waiting limousine for the short drive to Bally's Las Vegas, where Schwarzenegger is hustled into a small room filled with Fox executives--and with so many movie stars that if a bomb went off, they might have to cancel next year's Oscars: Tom Hanks. Meg Ryan. Warren Beatty. Sigourney Weaver. Winona Ryder. Sandra Bullock. Morgan Freeman. Keanu Reeves. Jeff Goldblum.
Schwarzenegger chats up Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., Fox's parent company. He gives Bullock a hug and a kiss. He tries to persuade Ryan that she should play the still uncast role of his wife in Jingle All the Way. When she balks, he calls out the names of several Fox executives who have already left for the program that's about to begin. "Where are they?" he asks with mock chagrin. "I'm trying to make a deal here. I can't get any respect."
Beatty comes up, puffs out his chest and stands face-to-face with Schwarzenegger, pretending to compare physiques.
There is no comparison, of course.
After some more small talk and picture-taking, the stars and the rest of the executives are herded into a waiting area, then called one by one to a raised platform in front of an overflow audience of about 4,000. The movie exhibitors have been watching advance clips of Fox's big summer film Independence Day--and listening to "We're the greatest studio" pitches from the Fox brass. Now they get to meet--albeit, en masse and at a distance--not only George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, and James Cameron who directed Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 and True Lies, but All These Stars.
There's a burst of applause as each one is introduced. Most just nod and shuffle to their seats. Only Schwarzenegger stops, smiles broadly and waves with both hands. When all the stars are seated, a Fox executive says a few final words, and the band breaks into martial music, in keeping with the Independence Day theme. Fireworks explode. "My first indoor fireworks show," Stankard says as we move quickly toward the exit, our "VIP All Access" badges warding off the very tight security.
Somehow, Schwarzenegger manages to be the first star to leave the platform. He's met by a security guard who's already barking into his cell phone: "I need Arnold's limo. Right now."
Schwarzenegger turns to him in mid-stride. "The pressure's on. My record for getting from a stage to a limo is a minute and 20 seconds. Think you can beat it?"
We all pick up the pace.
As we emerge from the hotel, the limo is waiting, doors open. Schwarzenegger slides into the back seat, looks at his watch and says, "A minute and 16 seconds." He nods approvingly and we're off.
"That Sandra Bullock," he says. "What a personality. I always wanted to meet her."
Stankard laughs. "Only Arnold," he says. "He never met her before, but did you see that kiss he gave her?"
Schwarzenegger readily acknowledges the pleasure he takes in flirtation and "a little patting on the ass" with attractive women. "It's like I always told you: He who hesitates...masturbates."
Airborne again a few minutes later, I ask Schwarzenegger if it's true that with the mega-grosses of Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, Hanks has supplanted him, at least temporarily, as the biggest box-office star in the world.
"Without any doubt. He's a huge star. He's extremely talented. And he's a nice man who deserves everything he got."
As we gobble down chicken sandwiches on pita bread, Schwarzenegger talks about how much he enjoys watching his wife on NBC's "Today" show--and how much he admires the career sacrifices she's made to spend time with their children--"just the opposite of my character [in Jingle All the Way]."
The plane touches down shortly before 2:30. As soon as he's on the ground, Schwarzenegger pulls out a Romeo y Julieta and extols its "easy pull." Then we walk over to his pride and joy--"The Hummer," a three-ton, eight-foot-wide military car-truck-tank-missile launcher that's been modified for civilian use. Officially a High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle ("HumVee" to the grunts who drove it), the Hummer emerged from the Persian Gulf War with a reputation as the toughest desert fighter since Lawrence of Arabia, in the words of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
The Hummer resolved a long-standing frustration for Schwarzenegger. He had been looking for a distinctive, rugged, four-wheel-drive vehicle, but he says he "hated the direction the market was going--all those cars that looked more like family cars, station wagons--rounder, almost streamlined, more luxurious; all the colors were very pleasant, pleasing to the eye." He wanted something ballsy. After seeing the military HumVee, he decided it was "so ugly, it was beautiful." He flew several times to the South Bend, Indiana, headquarters of AM General, the HumVee manufacturer, to try to persuade company officials that there would be a civilian market for the car and that they should seek Pentagon approval to sell to that market. They resisted at first, he says, but he was able to lease one, modify it at his own expense and show them how appealing it could be to non-military users.
When the Hummer finally went into civilian production, Schwarzenegger was invited back to Indiana to accept the first one off the line. Now there are now more than 3,000 Hummers on the road, at prices ranging up to $80,000 apiece. He has four of them.
The one waiting for him today at Van Nuys Airport is jungle green and outfitted with various personalized features that he points out to me as excitedly as a teenager with his first car. He takes special note of the two bench seats installed for his three children. One "kid seat" is in the back, between two adult seats; the other is outside, behind the rear window, facing backwards, on a modified flatbed. "They love it," he says.
Then he climbs into the Hummer, unlit cigar in hand, and heads off to Warner Brothers. It's been a little more than three hours since we took off for Vegas. We've been gone from L.A. for the equivalent of a long lunch hour.
As Schwarzenegger says just before we land, "That's my idea of aperfect business trip."
David Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic for the Los Angeles Times, is the author of The Pleasure Police: How Bluenose Busybodies and Lily-Livered Alarmists Are Taking All the Fun Out of Life, published this month by Doubleday.