Cigar Aficionado

Photos/Jim Wright
Arnold Schwarzenegger, ever-present cigar in hand, climbing into his own personal tank in Santa Clarita, California.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is set to replace Donald Trump on NBC’s hit show “The New Celebrity Apprentice”

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a cigar clamped between his jaws like a punctuation mark for his broad smile, climbs aboard a tank on a warm November afternoon. This is no movie prop, and it's not just any tank. The 46 tons of moving metal belongs to Schwarzenegger himself, the larger-than-life success story who has been everything from Conan the Barbarian to the Terminator, Governor of California to cigar-chomping icon.

Spend any time with Schwarzenegger and you quickly get the impression that this is his world. We're all just along for the ride.

"It drives as well today as it did when I was 18," he says. In his black, short-sleeved polo and black leather pants, he has a formidably muscular presence—not quite the perfection when he was dubbed "the Austrian Oak" as a young bodybuilder, but still extremely solid, his eyes glimmering with mischief beneath a head of preternaturally brown hair, his handshake firm but not aggressive.

He lowers his six-foot-frame through a hatch into the driver seat of the intimidating mass of metal. It's an M47 Patton, named after the bombastic and brilliant American general of World War II, and it's very likely the actual tank Schwarzenegger drove when he joined the Austrian army as an 18-year-old.

"From my youngest days, I wanted to drive tanks," Schwarzenegger says, "but when I got in the army, they told me, ‘You're too tall.' My father had connections and so I got to go to tank-driving school." He presses forward, taking the beast on a rumbling spin around the property.

This is a man who gets what he wants, whether it's unmatchable fame, hundreds of millions in net worth or a vehicle that can crush SUVs for breakfast. When he heard in 1991 that the Austrian military was planning to retire an old group of tanks it had received from the United States in the 1950s, Schwarzenegger began making inquiries. He located what he says is the very machine he had driven back in his youth, the number 331 still painted on its steel hull. As chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under President George H.W. Bush, he was able to pull a few strings via the Pentagon to buy the tank—its cannon disarmed, but its engine very much intact—and have it shipped to the United States, where it eventually made its way to Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Santa Clarita in the San Fernando Valley.

He drives the behemoth as often as he can, sometimes crushing things for charity, but even at the age of 69 there just isn't that much free time. Like the Terminator, Schwarzenegger never seems to quit, and his schedule would flatten a younger man. He's been filming a movie (scheduled to hit theaters later this year) with Jackie Chan in China and he travels regularly on behalf of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, addressing concerns about climate change and air pollution. "I make movies and commercials, I give speeches for my institute on the environment," he says. He's hands-on with After-School All-Stars, a program designed to channel at-risk youth into productive after-school activities.

And now he has a new TV show.

Schwarzenegger is making his first foray into reality television, taking command as the mentor seeking a mentee in "The New Celebrity Apprentice." He is stepping into the shoes of the show's long-time host, President-elect Donald Trump, who uncorked the catchphrase "You're Fired" on a regular basis. Trump's tenure as host ended in 2015, right around the time he announced his presidential campaign, but he remains an executive producer of the show, as well as one of its owners.

The new show debuts on NBC January 2, though taping was done over the course of a month in early 2016. Schwarzenegger is impatient about the lag time: "You shoot something and it comes out a year later-but you wish it would come out right away," he says.

"I did the show for two reasons," he says. "I loved watching it. It was a great show that always sucked me in. I thought Trump did a great job with it. When I heard he'd been discontinued, I thought, ‘There's an interesting show I could host.'

Schwarzenegger has appeared on the cover of Cigar Aficionado twice before. First during the Summer of 1996 and again in July/August 2003.
Schwarzenegger has appeared on the cover of Cigar Aficionado twice before. First during the Summer of 1996 and again in July/August 2003.

"I had never done a reality show and I thought it would be interesting to try. As an actor, you train yourself in the other direction. To do a show like this, there are totally different skills you have to develop, though I'm naturally fast on my feet."

This new boss had been a business success even before he made a fortune in movies. "Most people don't know that Arnold was a millionaire before he was cast in Conan the Barbarian," says Mark Burnett, executive producer and creator of "The Apprentice." "Arnold had massive success not only in real estate but also in professional sports, acting and politics. He shares a great deal of his experience from all of them on the show."

The new season pairs Schwarzenegger with his nephew Patrick Knapp Schwarzenegger and super model Tyra Banks, and a host of competitors, from retired athletes such as Laila Ali, Eric Dickerson and Ricky Williams, rockers like Vince Neil and Boy George and TV personalities.

"Everyone was, in one way or another, surprising," Schwarzenegger says. "It depended on what the challenge was, which people would emerge with an interesting talent or connection. When you see a UFC fighter [Chael Sonnen], who is used to fighting and beating up on everybody, and he's very articulate and sensitive in the way he approaches a certain subject, it surprises you. It gives you a chance to look inside these famous people."

Misleading preconception is a two-way street. "I thought he'd be a jerk, even though I'd never met him," says contestant Lisa Leslie, a three-time WNBA MVP. "But at the end, we all went to his home for a barbecue and he was gracious and humble, kind and respectful. He did say that, during the show, he turns it on when he needs to. But I found him to be a very compassionate man."

"Arnold encourages contestants to take ‘big swings,' " says Burnett. "He looks at things like energy, positivity, passion and hard work in making his decisions. And he loves people. He was a great leader on the set, and the cast and crew absolutely loved him...He spent literally hundreds of hours preparing for this shoot. He really wanted to understand what makes this series work, and made sure that he was prepared. His passion for whatever he does is infectious; it really comes across on television."

What makes a good boss? "Someone who is able to make people understand their vision," Schwarzenegger says. "Someone who can articulate what's expected, who can direct people to the ultimate goal, to bring everybody together to fight for that. You can have creativity; it's all part of teamwork. But you have to be firm and have a clear vision. If people don't follow you, there are consequences."

A promo for the show features a clip of Schwarzenegger being engineered, Terminator-style. At the end, a robot arm fires up his cigar, which has become as much a part of the Schwarzenegger image as his physique, his accent or his open-faced smile. When he first appeared on the cover of this magazine in Summer 1996—he's now the only man to appear on three Cigar Aficionado covers—Schwarzenegger told the story about being introduced to his first cigar in the 1970s. Asked how many humidors he owns today, Schwarzenegger rolls his eyes.

"That's like asking how many shoes I have," he says. "I have some unbelievable humidors, a collection from around the world, 100 different designs. I have a lot of lighters, too. I very rarely buy a cigar because I get so many as gifts. I don't keep that many around, maybe 200 at any given time."

One-time box-office rival Sylvester Stallone, who Schwarzenegger joined on screen in The Expendables series as well as Escape Plan (2013), says there's a certain fastidious quality when Schwarzenegger sits down with a cigar. "Arnold is what I would call ‘a neat smoker,' " Stallone says. "He doesn't demolish a cigar by chomping away on it. He savors it."

"When I worked with Arnold, he was totally into [cigars]," recalls Danny DeVito, who costarred with Schwarzenegger in the 1988 comedy smash Twins. "For a guy who was all about health and fitness, he was amazing. He's a friend and it's a cool thing smoking with a friend. You enjoy a good meal, a couple of drinks and a nice Partagás."

Schwarzenegger can also be an unapologetic cigar smoker, as actor Jim Belushi recalled in the film Red Heat.

"The fucker smoked a Montecristo No. 2 in a cop car with the windows closed," Belushi told Cigar Aficionado back in 2010. "The car filled with smoke and I got sick to my stomach. Arnold says, ‘What's the matter, Jim? Does a little cigar smoke bother you? Here—try one.' " Belushi is now a huge cigar fan himself.

"I used to smoke the extra-long ones," Schwarzenegger says. "I got off them because I smoke less now. Now I like smaller cigars." Of course, for a man like Schwarzenegger, small is relative. "I like the Partagás [Serie D] No. 4," he says, referring to Cuba's most popular robusto. "That's become one of my favorites. I like some of the non-Cubans, when they're good. But I love a Cuban cigar when it's good."

He smokes cigars while driving his Hummer around his Brentwood neighborhood, or while playing chess sitting outside at home. But he avoids cigar bars.

"I always go outside," he says. "At my house, I have a big fireplace and sit outdoors when I smoke. I won't smoke in the house."

As governor of California from late 2003 to early 2011, Schwarzenegger couldn't smoke in his Sacramento state house. Government regulations prohibited smoking anywhere in the capitol building, including the governor's office, and smoking was prohibited within 20 feet of the building. His solution? He constructed a tent within the capitol's large, open-air atrium, with no side of the tent closer to the building than 20 feet.

Arnold Schwarzenegger - You're Fired.

"It was like having an office outside," he recalls. "I had air-conditioning pumped in. It was my meeting place where people could come and smoke stogies."

But before there is a cigar—or work—there is always working out. Early one morning, he and two pals head for the gym. They come gliding out of the dawn fog on their mountain bikes, silent and imposing: large men in workout clothes and long-sleeve jackets, rolling quietly down Santa Monica's Main Street like an advance squad for the fitness army. A few pedestrians who are out this early call his name as he rides by—"Arnold!" He smiles broadly and gives a wave of acknowledgment, but he doesn't break the pace on his daily jaunt to the Gold's Gym in Venice. Though the building itself has moved, Gold's has been Schwarzenegger's home base since he arrived in California almost 50 years ago.

"I'm addicted—I have to do it," he says. "My day cannot start without doing something physically. And I work out at night before bed: cardio, weight-training. I want to stay in shape as long as I can."

Schwarzenegger and his small posse head back into an endless series of rooms filled with weight-resistance machines and free weights. He greets old friends but walks with purpose. Despite his fame and legend, his presence here is so regular that his movement through the large facility barely stirs a ripple.

His workout is compressed but purposeful: 10 reps on one machine, then 10 reps on another, back and forth until he's done 40 on each. He then moves to the next pair of machines, alternating sets with one of his biking companions, Ralf Moeller, a 6-foot-6 actor and retired bodybuilder who towers over Schwarzenegger like a joshing younger brother.

"You know," Moeller confides, "between Arnold and me, we have 14 titles."

"Yeah, but 13 of them are mine," Schwarzenegger says with a laugh.

It was the weight room where Schwarzenegger became a champion. His domination of the sport of bodybuilding—his empire during the 1970s—grew out of a youthful fascination with the films of Reg Park and Steve Reeves, bodybuilders who both played Hercules in films (a role Schwarzenegger also played in his first film, Hercules in New York). He went on to surpass them, winning five Mr. Universe and seven Mr. Olympia titles before retiring from bodybuilding competition. He keeps his hand in as an executive editor of a couple of bodybuilding magazines, and is still involved in the Arnold Classic, an annual men's bodybuilding competition in Columbus, Ohio.

"When I started in bodybuilding, I didn't think about becoming famous," Schwarzenegger says. "I didn't know anything about celebrity. I grew up so sheltered that I was not worldly enough to think about this stuff. When the first person asked me for an autograph, I had no idea what they wanted. I just wanted to be a bodybuilding champion and be in movies. I didn't look at that as being a star. To me it was a regular job, that happened to be seen by millions of people."

A large black-and-white photo of Schwarzenegger in his prime—the young colossus who helped push bodybuilding into the mainstream—adorns one wall of Gold's. While Schwarzenegger still sports biceps that look like they could crack walnuts, working out is a different sport today. "The muscles don't respond the way they did at 30," he says. "I've weighed 220 pounds for the last 25 years. I competed at 245—but my waist was much smaller then."

Asked what he sees when he looks at himself these days, Schwarzenegger grimaces.

"And I was already so critical of myself, even when I was in top physical shape. I'd look in the mirror after I won one Mr. Olympia after another and think, ‘How did this pile of shit win?' I never saw perfection. There was always something lacking. I could always find a million things wrong with myself and that's what got me back into the gym-because I started out with that mentality."

He also had a curiosity and discipline, which helped him make the leap from being a bodybuilding champion to become one of the biggest movie action stars of the 1980s and 1990s. While competing he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration, investing his winnings and endorsement fees into real estate, as well as starting a bricklaying company staffed by himself and other bodybuilders.

"Arnold is 100 percent self-made," Burnett notes. "He's an immigrant who even had to learn the language when he came here in 1968. He's an embodiment of the American dream: that, through hard work and absolute dedication, anything is possible."

As a young man, Schwarzenegger used an outgoing, brash personality to draw focus; now he doesn't need to because the public's attention encircles him like a field of gravity. His sense of humor is still dry and ever-present, and he's happy and comfortable talking to all who approach. He strides through life, unafraid of being seen because he's had a talent for getting people to look at him for one reason or another for more than a half-century.

There is an ease and an air of confidence to Schwarzenegger that can be deceptive. The key, he says, is preparation: practice, practice, practice. Or, in gym lingo, he's "doing the reps," repeating a task until it becomes automatic.

"I do lack confidence," Schwarzenegger claims. "But I do the reps and do them enough that the thing itself will be doable when it's time. When I was competing at bodybuilding, I did so many hours of reps—on the weights, practicing the poses—that when I got onstage, I was comfortable and confident. The more reps you do, the more you look smooth and convincing. The more you do it, the better you get. That's my lesson from sports. It's the same with movies, the same with interviews. Practice, practice, practice, reps, reps, more reps. That's how you gain confidence."

The irony is not lost on Schwarzenegger that even as he, a former high government official, is making his debut in reality TV, former reality-star Trump will assume elected office for the first time. As it happened, both faced allegations of impropriety. In Schwarzenegger's case, he apologized publicly, saying, "Yes, I have behaved badly sometimes...I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful, but now I recognize that have offended people...I want to say to them, I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize."

"If you run for office, they fling everything at you," Schwarzenegger says. "There is the media and there are the opponents' researchers—they all do it. Everyone is taking shots and you cannot be upset because that's what it is. What's the saying—if it's too hot, get out of the kitchen?"

As he talks, it is a week after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which has led to some concerns on his part about what direction the new administration will take on the environment. He was alarmed at Trump's campaign vows to hobble the Environmental Protection Agency, revive the coal industry and disavow the climate-change treaties signed by the Obama administration.

"That's why I did not vote for him," Schwarzenegger, a longtime Republican, says. "I'm hoping we can all work together to make America a leader in environmental issues. We have to look to the future to find new ways to produce cleaner, renewable energy."

Arnold Schwarzenegger - You're Fired.

Ever the positivist, he adds, "We're going to support him. We all have to work together. As President Obama said, if he's successful, we all are. That is the key thing. We've got to move the country forward. That's the only way we stay No. 1."

That vision of America as No. 1 was what attracted Schwarzenegger to the U.S.A. in the late 1960s. At the time he was a poor teen from the small Austrian village of Thal, where he grew up without television or telephone. He turned a passion for bodybuilding into a business empire—then used that as a springboard to movie stardom and political office.

Now that his term in the statehouse is behind him, he keeps those years in perspective: "I don't look at it as my life ‘after being governor,' " he says. "I took seven years out of my regular life and put it into public service. Then I continued on with everything else. The only thing that really changed is I'm more interested in public policy. I got hooked on environmental issues."

In his 2012 autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, Schwarzenegger notes that, whenever he has stumbled in life, the solution is to be honest about the mistake and then put it behind him: "My rule of thumb about damaging accusations was that, if the allegation was false, fight vigorously to have it withdrawn; if the accusation was true, acknowledge it and, when appropriate, apologize," he writes.

Which is what he did after ex-wife Maria Shriver discovered in 2011 that Schwarzenegger had fathered a son with their housekeeper, Mildred Baena, 14 years earlier. When news leaked, he made a public apology, and he and Shriver divorced. He publicly acknowledged Joseph Baena as his son and continues to support him. Schwarzenegger remains a hands-on parent with his five kids: Daughter Katherine is following in her mother's footsteps as a journalist and writer; son Patrick is working as an actor; the youngest are still in college.

Schwarzenegger is not much given to reflection or self-analysis. His life has been dedicated to forward motion—to finding the next challenge and rising to it. When you make mistakes, you correct them and you move on.

"What makes you confident is having victories. But you also have to be comfortable with loss," he says. "It's not the end of the world. It's painful when you wipe out, or when your movie goes in the toilet. It's embarrassing when they throw dirt at you when you run for office. But how to deal with it is to not dwell on it. Anything big that you want to accomplish is always difficult. The bigger it is, the more risk there is. Being comfortable does not bring success or greatness—taking risks does."

His 70th birthday will be in July. With a list of career peaks that would fill the resumes of three lesser men, Schwarzenegger is still seeking new challenges.

"Retirement? That's not happening," he says, stirring fresh fruit and yogurt together with muesli for his after-workout breakfast. "That doesn't work for me because everything I do, I enjoy... I don't do anything that you'd consider a ‘job' job. I go to China to work in a movie one day, to New York to present an award the next. I go to a few business meetings where I get together with friends and talk about how to make one dollar into many dollars. It's fun. Why would I retire from that?

"I don't feel my age," Schwarzenegger says. "I do everything exactly the same as I did 20 years ago. You do have to be more careful not to injure yourself, more careful with the way you warm up. I'm a little bit more cautious when I ski, with not as much skiing through the trees. But I'm not old yet. When I get to be 90, then I'll be old.

"I don't think about mortality, except when I go for a physical. I live in denial. I just don't think about it. I thrive a little on danger or discomfort, on not knowing what's next and going into the unknown. Whatever happens, happens—and I'm ready. As the saying goes, you can only fall as far as the ground." 

Contributing editor Marshall Fine is critic-in-residence at The Picture House Regional Film Center in Pelham, N.Y.