HE SAID HE’D BE BACK
Arnold Schwarzenegger opens up in an interview with
Arnold Schwarzenegger returns imminently in the role that defined him, as the chisel-jawed vengeful cyborg, the Terminator. Not that he had the itch to return to acting while rumbling through his eight-year stint as the governor of California.
“To be honest with you, I had not one single minute or desire to be acting again [during that period] and I think the reason is the [political] job is so overwhelming,” he says. “It’s huge. It’s such a different thing to do something for a movie or in business versus serving 38 million people and being in charge of the state and all the crises that come up all the time.”
And there were many in his period of office from 2003 to 2011, including two financial dramas. “The last thing on your mind [at a time like that] is: ‘Why couldn’t I do another movie?’ ”
Schwarzenegger professes humility about being asked to return to the series that began in 1984 as a minor sci-fi film directed by the unknown Canadian James Cameron before its sequel seven years later, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (T2), distinguished itself as one of the greatest sci-fi action films in modern cinema.
That was 20 years ago and Schwarzenegger admits he returns to the role as a different actor and person. “First of all, there’s a refreshing kind of attitude or feeling because I feel like I was out of it for quite some time and now it is so nice to come back again and feel the same enthusiasm I felt at the beginning when I started this whole thing,” he says.
But he believes he is a different actor also “because when 10 years pass, you’re a different person”. And he adds: “When you’re a father of children [he has three sons and two daughters], you can relate to certain things differently to 20 years earlier. I think that you get more mature, you get to be wiser, you think about certain things more … You’re much more in touch with your emotions.”
That might sound surprising coming from an actor thought of — if one can ignore the cliche of the stiff, monosyllabic Austrian — as a physical performer rather than an emotional one. But he says he is now getting films he would not have been offered two decades ago, such as the recent post-apocalyptic drama Maggie.
But Terminator was always the one. Unfortunately, other people deemed it opportune to continue the franchise. After Terminator Salvation, starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, failed to fire in 2009, rights to the Terminator character survived more than a rise of the machines: they went through bankruptcy, a failed auction, a private equity purchase, numerous producers and directors (including Denis Villeneuve and Ang Lee) and two studios.
Eventually, shooting began on the film in 2014 under the direction of Alan Taylor, who had previously directed episodes of The Sopranos and Game of Thrones as well as Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World.
Schwarzenegger was governor when Terminator Salvation misfired and subsequently he was crucial as bargaining for the rights progressed, being asked by potential producers if he would contemplate returning to the role. The 67-year-old says he told them: “I would be honoured because 31 years after doing the first one to be asked back again was very unusual. Most franchises change the actors: they changed the [James] Bonds and the Batmans. So here, I’m still in there, so that’s good. I felt very happy about being asked again.”
He returns in a double dose of the eponymous character, both a guardian and an original 1984 model trying to kill Sarah Connor. Don’t ask any more about the plot, although Arnie can synthesise: “What’s great about it story-wise is one is programmed to protect the machines and one is programmed to protect the human race and there is major conflict and therefore an epic baaaattle breaks out.”
It’s a time-travel film, albeit one faithful to the series; but don’t think too much, just marvel at a scene at the LA Observatory in which the sexagenarian fights an incredible digital rendering of a 1984 version. “It’s wild how you can do that,” he says, smiling. Schwarzenegger recalls the digital scanning of his body but endured a minor frustration when he saw the bodybuilder double he had to fight. “Nobody is exactly alike,” he says, and despite this double’s big “arms, deltoids and great waist, I could see the difference with my old body”.
He enthuses about how the visual effects department later made the necessary changes. “It was amazing to watch it finished and to see yourself fighting against yourself,” he says, laughing. “So you’re kind of a little confused about who you should root for!”
Australian actor Jai Courtney knew who to support. “I don’t think I would have been excited about making a Terminator film if he hadn’t been a part of it,” he says. “It certainly legitimises things somewhat. We’ve seen what happens when you stray away from that.”
While Schwarzenegger’s participation and a more accessible plot than Terminator Salvation bode well, Courtney notes these are different times from 1994. “It’s hard these days with a film of this size to make it as ‘adult’ as those early Terminator films,” he observes. “You can’t make a $200 million movie that’s R-rated any more.”
Courtney is joined in the film by another Australian, Jason Clarke, as well as Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke (no relation). Courtney and Jason Clarke are both filming significant roles for Hollywood blockbusters (Clarke has moved from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to this and on to Everest).
Are the films choosing Courtney or is he choosing them? “It’s a bit of both,” says the 29year-old Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts graduate.
“I’m not at a point yet career-wise where I have the freedom to wait it out for the ideal job … Part of me [wishes] I could do that but you have got to pay the bills — and I love working.”
Schwarzenegger loves working, too, but it looks as though he has sated any acting bug with a series of action films in quick time since leaving office. Yet politics still bites.
He governed with such aplomb and popularity, some lament he is unable to follow in the footsteps of fellow actor and California governor Ronald Reagan, who went on to two terms as president of the US. Schwarzenegger is constitutionally prohibited from contesting for that post because he was born in Austria.
He is confident he could do as good a job as anyone else, but doesn’t lament his ineligibility (although he lobbied for a change in the clause).
Instead, he has thrown himself into philanthropic, environmental and policy work. Even as a bodybuilder, he felt obliged to use his “star power” to advance certain causes, initially health. After his two terms as governor, he says, Terminator: Genisys, “I felt like I didn’t want to walk away from those responsibilities because my job is finished.”
He established the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at the University of Southern California and says: “My new crusade is the environmental crusade.”
The Republican’s message for Australia? “Every country is extremely important in order for the world to accomplish its goals, which is to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution,” he says. “[Whether or not] you believe in global warming — that has nothing to do with that — but pollution right now is killing seven million people a year worldwide, so there’s an endless amount of people dying right now in Australia, as well as Austria, just because we’re polluting the air and the water and the soil.
“We can do better than that.”
June 27-28, 2015
Arnold Schwarzenegger with Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney in
left; Courtney with Jason Clarke, below