Body-builder. Movie star. Governor. In a lifetime of evolving roles, Arnold Schwarzenegger has seen it all. He’s the model of the American success story: a penniless immigrant who made his dreams come through with hard work and a burning desire to be the best. And now he’s returning to movies full-time after a seven-year stint in the California governor’s mansion. His extended time away from the screen – along with a recent personal scandal that led to the dissolution of his marriage – makes some wonder what his return will look like. True to character, Schwarzenegger took those questions head-on – as well as more serious political topics – during a lively interview for his first “comeback” project, The Last Stand.
Question: What were you hoping for when you got back into acting?
Arnold Schwarzenegger: When I got into the governorship in 2003, I said I would only run the state for seven years, and then I would go back to the movie business. So now I’m back again. When you’ve left the movie business for that long, it’s kind of scary to come back because you don’t know if you’ll be accepted. So I was very pleasantly surprised that there was such a positive reaction to my appearance in The Expendables, and that there was an even bigger reaction when I did the second one.
I think every actor looks for challenging roles, and things you have not done. You want to do scenes you haven’t done before, scenes that are challenging. I’m very open-minded about it. I read a lot of scripts and look at the different things that I want. At the same time, I have to be realistic. I may see something that I would like to do. I’ll take it to my son and he’ll say, “it’s fantastic, but I don’t think anyone will want to see it.” You’ve got to be able to sell it. Movies cost a lot of money, and as an actor, you need to make sure that the investors get their money back. The only way they’re going to make the next movie and the next movie and so on is if they get their money back… with a little profit. I need to make films that people want to see me in.
Q: Do you have a strategy moving forward for what you want to do? You’re doing a movie with Stallone later this year, and there’s all these Conan rumors. What was the strategy for opening with this one?
AS: A lot of it is timing, something politics and show business have in common. I would have chosen to do Conan the King already if the script were ready. Universal has the rights to it, and they have an executive over there who’s a big believer in bringing the character back. But we all want it to be high quality. It has to be as good as the first one that John Milius directed, and we’ll go when the script is that quality. That Milius quality. And it will probably be ready later this year.
It’s the same thing with Triplets, a sequel to Twins. I’ve been trying to get that made for 10 years, and until recently, the executives at Universal hasn’t seen the value in it. Now the new leadership at Universal sees the value of it: they say “it’s brilliant, why haven’t we done it yet?” So they hired the writers and are going full blast ahead. It all depends on the timing. Sometimes the projects just aren’t available.
Again, my decisions are based on what movie would be interesting for people to see, what the audience out there wants to see me do. That’s how I make decisions.
Q: Kim Jee-woon has a strong reputation in Korea, but this is his first American movie. What was it like working with someone with his credentials?
AS: I was amazed that someone who speaks that little English can convey what he wants from a scene so well. Many times, I didn’t even have to wait for the translator to translate. He was so animated, and he himself is such a great actor that he would act out the scenes. Not necessarily with the dialogue, but he would act out the scenes so that you could really see what he’s expecting out of it. Even when we did stunts, he would say, “you’ve got to throw yourself on the ground,” and he would literally throw himself and roll around the way he wanted to.
He’s a very passionate guy, and he’s a visionary. But at the same time, he’s very collaborative. A lot of great foreign directors would come to Hollywood and fail terribly because they’re not collaborative. Our producer, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, has been at Warner Bros all these years, and he knows how movies are made here. It would be a mistake for Jee-woon to come in and say “we’re doing it my way, the South Korean way.” Well that’s great if you’re making the movie in Korea, but you have to make the movie the Hollywood way if you want to make it work here. And that’s what he did. He worked with the producer every step of the way. He could be tough; he wanted what he wanted, but he also learned very quickly how to do things here. It was incredible.
Q: First you were a bodybuilder, and you’ve always done at least some stunts. How has that changed as you’ve gotten older?
AS: I feel good right now, but I’ve had my share of injuries. I think that when you lift as many tons of weights as I have, inevitably there’s wear and tear, and you have injuries. When you do various different kinds of sports, too, you have injuries. I’ve had ski injuries. A broken femur. And when you do stunts you have your share of injuries there; I’ve been stitched up in movies and had broken shoulders and dislocated shoulders. I’ve had a lot of surgeries and a lot of things that had to be fixed on my body. But the medical technology has really advanced, and I’m sitting here today and can do everything. I just came back from a ski trip with my kids in Sun Valley, and I don’t have to tell you that kids think they can out-ski you. We all go through the same traumas. We look in the mirror and see what happened. But the great thing is that if you work out every day, you stay in shape.
Q: In the wake of the Newtown massacre, there are renewed calls to reduce violence in the movies. You’re no stranger to that argument; having participated in lawmaking first-hand now, what are your thoughts on the subject?
AS: It’s important to keep the two things separate: movies and life. What we do is entertainment, and the other thing is a tragedy beyond belief, and serious, and the real deal. Whenever you have a tragedy like that, it would be foolish not to look into all the ways of what we can do as a society to improve the situation, and debate those kind of things. These moments won’t go away, so we must use them as an opportunity to do better. How can we do better with gun laws? If there is any loophole, if there’s a problem there, let’s analyze it. Let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s analyze. Let’s find out how we’re dealing with mental problems the right way, as a society. If we see someone who is unstable, do we have a mechanism in place to treat that? We don’t live in a place where we can pull people off the street because of what they might do. This is America, you can’t just arrest someone because they act strange. So we need to find ways to treat that person, that unstable person, and look at the gun laws, and look at the parenting. Everything has to be analyzed, no stone unturned. And I think that’s what we owe to our people, and I think that’s what they ought to do, rather than make it political.