Arnold Schwarzenegger: Mr. Big Shot - Rolling Stone
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Arnold Schwarzenegger: Mr. Big Shot

Actor, Terminator, Governor; is there anything the Austrian superman can’t do? Ahnuld sure doesn’t think so

Arnold Schwarzenegger, BackdraftArnold Schwarzenegger, Backdraft

Arnold Schwarzenegger during 'Backdraft' Los Angeles Premiere in Los Angeles, California, United States, May 22nd, 1991

Barry King/WireImage/Getty

Men are in crisis, whereas he is not. He does not know the meaning of”crisis.” Or perhaps he does, but he pretends otherwise. He is Austrian, after all, and some things do not translate easily between cultures. (Lederhosen, for instance.) Throughout the world he is called Arnold, but that is because there are too many letters in Schwarzenegger. By now everyone has come to know that the literal meaning of Schwarzenegger is “black plowman,” and like many black plowmen before him, Arnold knows exactly what it feels like when a horse falls on top of him. There is much pain, yes, but pain means little to Arnold, especially when there are stuntmen available. Anyway, Arnold is never in crisis. For this reason, it is imperative that Arnold be Arnold so that others may learn. And, from what society tells us, there has never been a more crucial epoch in history for Arnold to be alive, which is, at the very least, pretty convenient.

It is a woeful time to be a man. It is a time when men gather to be moan all that has become of them. Men, experts believe, went soft somewhere. Now, to correct matters, hordes of them retreat to the woods for strange rituals in which they strut about in loincloths and howl at trees, trying desperately to find the wild man within themselves, previously lost for generations. Men, alas, have forgotten how to be men. Arnold, himself, once said, “If I am not me, then who da hell am I?” Of course, he said this in the film Total Recall while wearing a wet towel on his head, so who can tell whether his heart was in it? (Lest we forget, he is an actor, first and foremost.) Still, it is a good question, applicable to most men, but certainly not to any man whose name is Arnold Schwarzenegger, for he is a man who knows exactly who he is: the biggest star in the world, a strong and handsome man of forty-four possessing a Germanic accent, who likes his cigars expensive, his motorcycles purple and his dialogue sparse.

Arnold is a formidable fellow, difficult to know personally, although easy to tell apart from Erich von Stroheim. (Arnold would be the one who is not dead.) He is protective of his time, which he prefers devoting to the accumulation of untold fortunes in outside business ventures. Luckily, however, understanding Arnold takes little time and effort, which is why he’s become the enormous star he is today. In fact, it is precisely this quality that earned him a reported $12 million for his work in the colossal hit film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in which he gives what is perhaps his finest performance ever as a cyborg. We live in complicated times, and complicated times demand uncomplicated heroes. Among those who are uncomplicated, Arnold stands without peer. (Even the titles of all of his fifteen films are blissfully primal, a small sampling of which includes Commando, Predator, Raw Deal, The Running Man, Stay Hungry, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. You can almost smell blood on the italics.)

“Arnold is a kind of role model, and some might say a dark role model, in a sense,” says James Cameron, who directed Arnold in both Terminator films. “He’s never gonna play a character where he sits around in an office and wrings his hands. He is about direct action. He’s about being decisive. He’s about knowing what you want and going for it. He’s very clear.” John Milius, who directed Arnold in Conan the Barbarian and who is himself a celebrated man among men, adheres to this theory as well. “Arnold is the embodiment of the Superior Man,” he says. “Arnold is the Nietzschean man. There’s something wonderfully primeval about him, harking back to the real basic foundational stuff: steel and strength and will. And that’s what Arnold’s about.”

“I don’t ask for too much,” Arnold says, as if to explain why he reigns in a world where failure prevails. “I don’t ask for anything impossible.”

Understanding Arnold the man, a selective dossier: Arnold is not aware of the fact that American men are in crisis but explains that he was recently in Japan for a week, so he is behind in his reading. When Arnold wants to pay a man a compliment, he says of the man, “He’s in control.” There is no higher praise than this. When Arnold is greatly amused, he is the type of man who will toss back his head, clap his hands, laugh heartily and announce to anyone present, “I love it!” He favors tan pants, wears them whenever appropriate, for he knows he looks good in them. “I always wear tan pants,” he says. He is happiest when gazing at the color purple. He says he has no idea whether the Terminator is capable of having sex.

Arnold owns guns but has never hunted. He is a leader of men, a reformed pursuer of women. (He does not protest, however, when women pinch his ass at the gym.) He fancies himself a decent dancer, but adds, “I wouldn’t say that I’m going to show the kids so they could see what dancing is all about.” He plays Strauss every day for his tiny daughter, Katherine, and waltzes her around in his arms. He characterizes his singing voice as “the worst” and claims to do no impressions of famous people. He can subsist on three to five hours of sleep per night. He will nod off in most any chair if he is tired enough. If he finds something extraordinary, he will invariably exclaim, “It’s wild, I tell you!” Of his wife, NBC correspondent Maria Shriver, he says, “She is a jewel,” pronouncing it choo-well. When asked if he, like Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, used a butt double for his Terminator 2 nude scene, he says: “I don’t know. It’s for you to find out. You be the judge.”

And, as with most political aspirants, he swears to have no political aspiration, although he tells friends otherwise. “He’s always said he’s going to be the governor of California,” says Milius. “That is part of his plan, you know. He even said I could be head of the state police.”

Arnold drives a humvee, which is basically a tank with wheels. It is a military vehicle, a massive war wagon, devoid of frills (gun turret is optional), painted the color of sand and recently used to great effect in the Persian Gulf. Arnold is the first civilian to own a humvee; it was specially made for him by AM General and stenciled with lettering that reads, Terminator. (Lesser mortals must wait a year for assembly-line models.) Arnold already has a regular Jeep but finds it offensively luxurious and streamlined. “It’s beautiful,” he says of the Jeep, sneering. “But there is a tremendous demand out there for something that looks a little ballsier, something that is a statement, you know?” He saw his first humvee in a military procession while in Oregon shooting Kindergarten Cop and fell in love. It reminded him of his youth, when he served for a year in the Austrian army and drove tanks frequently. How he had thrilled in those days to their demonstrations of strength and power!

“Isn’t it wild?” he says to his friends, showing off the humvee the morning after its delivery. He has just steered his leviathan into the parking structure of World Gym in Venice, California, where he begins most days of his life. (His parking space is demarked by a slab of terrazzo marble on which his name is emblazoned; often women leave roses there to honor him.) Men now encircle the humvee, staring in disbelief. They listen to the engine, whose roar is deafening, like a Boeing’s. They inspect the tires, which are enormous and clearly impervious to harm. They stroke its body covetously. “I just thought it was unusual,” says Arnold of his acquisition, with a shrug, yet beaming proudly. “There’s still a few little stupid things wrong with it,” he adds, not wishing to seem overly self-satisfied. “Like the turn signal doesn’t shut off by itself, so I drove around yesterday for an hour with the left signal on.”

There are many important reasons why Arnold requires a humvee, and he makes no secret of them. Here, however, is the principal one: “I don’t like the ordinary,” he says. “We all want to have a look that is our own. The whole thing is a game. It’s all nonsense. This is the equivalent of a Harley-Davidson. It’s that simple. We all know it’s craziness, that it’s all about the little trips we go through. But why not? Why not?”

What is interesting is that none of his comrades ask for a ride in the humvee this morning, nor does Arnold extend any offers, even after his workout is completed. Instead, he climbs behind the wheel and rumbles off toward breakfast, a small caravan of vehicles following his lead, as is customary.

Arnold shames all men. Shame, he knows, is an excellent motivational tool. It is said that his father used it on Arnold when he was young and impressionable — and look at the result! Today, especially in his role as chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Arnold goads others on to personal greatness. He shames both by example and by taunt. “What’s the matter with you?” he once asked his distant relatives, musclemen Hans and Franz, on Saturday Night Live. “I send you over here from Austria to become real hard-core Terminators, and look at what you are! Little termites!” Conceded Hans, greatly humbled: “Ahnold, you could easily flick us with your littlest finger and send us flying across the room until we landed in our own baby poop.”

Even now Arnold enjoys telling friends and acquaintances: “Look at the love handles! You could pull ’em over your neck and use it like a shopping bag!” At World Gym he introduces a man with long hair like so: “This is Alan — or as we call her, Alice. Isn’t that right, Alice?” On the set of Kindergarten Cop, he spotted a little girl who was crying over a skinned knee. “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Because my knee hurts,” she said. “But this sounds like a little girl,” he told her. “Real tough people don’t cry. They fall on their knees, they look at it, maybe tears come to their eyes, but then they swallow and say, ‘To hell with it!‘”

Arnold, on the other hand, can himself no longer be shamed. For instance, Patti Davis, the prodigal Reagan daughter, corners him in the gym, where she too works out, and says: “I’m trying to think of what your car means in terms of penis envy. Isn’t it sort of phallic-gone-mad?” Arnold grins and says, “I have no problems.” He then accuses her of being a media addict. “She loves journalists,” he says. “Shut up, Arnold,” she says, laughing. “Media addict,” he says. “You are!” she says. Moments later, two writers from a muscle magazine approach him. “Talk about being a media hound?” Davis yells. Arnold smiles a beatific smile and says, “Jealous bitch.”

The meaning of Arnold: John Milius, who among other acts of testosterone wrote the films Magnum Force and Apocalypse Now, tells what is perhaps the quintessential Arnold tale: “Arnold and I were coming back from skeet shooting one day and we stopped at Tommy’s Hamburgers in the Valley. We were sitting there and this motorcycle gang came up — the Hessian Motor Family or something. They surrounded the table and began chanting, ‘Conan! Conan! Conan!’ It was real tense. Arnold looked up, and I don’t remember what he said, but this guy called Road Pig sat down and said to him, ‘Hey, man, I always wanted to arm-wrestle you, bro.’ So Arnold said to this big guy, ‘Look at this arm.’ Then he took his arm out of his sleeve, and it’s faceted like a stone. He said: ‘Have you ever seen such a beautiful arm? If I was to use this arm on you and I hurt it, how would I feel?‘ And this guy, satisfied, claps him on the shoulder. Then the next guy says, ‘Hey, man, would you fuck my old lady?’ Arnold looked over, and the old lady was good-looking. He said, ‘If I fucked her, how would she feel with you then afterwards?‘ Finally, to appease them, Arnold rode a couple of their motorcycles around the block. In the end they wanted to give him their colors and make him an honorary member of the gang.

“I sat there amazed by it, because suddenly you realize that everybody owns Arnold. He is accessible to everyone. It works on every level. It works with his Kennedy in-laws, and it works with this motorcycle gang. If Stallone were there, they’d have wanted to challenge him, they’d want to see how tough he is. But Arnold became theirs. No, ours.”

Arnold is an external man, living an external life, from which he has benefited greatly. His body, and what he has made it do, gave him his fame — he is, of course, a seven-time Mr. Olympia and five-time Mr. Universe — as well as the opportunity to appear in films with many firearms and, once, with Richard Dawson. Much is known of Arnold’s physical being, a being that looks especially memorable in black leather jackets. But we know little of Arnold’s interior life, largely because there doesn’t seem to be much of one to know. Arnold’s genius is that his brow does not often furrow. Unlike other men, he is never ambivalent. Life does not weigh upon him, and if it did, he could bench-press it easily. Who, insofar as this quality alone, would not aspire to be in his place? As he would say, as only he can, “I was very lucky so far.”

Consider the calm in his face. “It’s sort of Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal,” says Milius, appreciatively. “Arnold doesn’t say a lot, but his face says everything.” Meaning, it says all it needs to say. It was Milius who first urged Arnold to capitalize on this, during the making of Conan the Barbarian. “I said to him, ‘Whenever you kill somebody, I want your face to have a Zen-like grace, always the hint of the smile.’ And he’s never forgotten that. He has an absolute serenity that gives a real power.”

The Arnold face masks no confusion, for example, since he is never confused. “You have to understand that I’m looking at everything in a much clearer way,” he says. “I see it very simple in front of me, so there are no complications. Other people look at everything in a twisted way maybe. It’s very hard for me to relate to this, and that’s why I’m sometimes very hard on people. When I was young, I had zero patience. As soon as someone complained about being depressed, I was outraged.” Does he ever get depressed? “It maybe happens, but I would not even dwell on it. It’s never held me back, that’s for sure. I don’t walk around with a sour face.”

Indeed, a quick tour of Arnold’s subconscious registers few bumps: He fears nothing, as far as he knows. He does not have a fanciful or dark imagination. Death does not cross his mind. “I haven’t had these thoughts,” he says. He recalls few dreams. “Some people train themselves to wake up and write them down,” he says, incredulous. “Then what? What do you do with that information?” There is only one recurring dream he remembers: “Before I start shooting a film, I sometimes have dreams where you’re out there lying totally naked in a forest, and you have no clothes, and you hear somewhere, ‘In two minutes we roll.‘ All of a sudden, the lights come on, and you say: ‘Wait a minute, what scene are we doing now? Why am I lying out here and where’s the clothes? What are the lines?’ I’m caught totally off guard, like I wasn’t prepared.”

Might this be the effect of having huge budgets, like the purported $100 million spent on Terminator 2, riding squarely on his shoulders? “Consciously,” he says, “I am not aware of it. I never feel the pressure at all, consciously. I never go to the set and say, ‘My God, it’s a lot of pressure!'”

Arnold never answers telephones, an exercise in abstinence that he feels would cure most societal ills. When a phone rings in his Pacific Palisades home, he ignores it. He chooses not to be bothered; either an assistant or his wife reaches for it “To me, the phone doesn’t mean anything,” he explains. “It’s more difficult for Maria because she was brought up with the phone; I wasn’t. So it doesn’t mean anything. If the phone rings, it goes in one ear and out the other. What’s it gonna be? Schmoozing? I schmooze at the gym every morning. Or later at lunch. I never come to the phone for business at night when I’m with the family. Whoever answers will say I’m not there.”

In this way, Arnold strives toward making ours (and his) an uncluttered world. He believes in the Structured Life, where there is less phoning, and speaking, in general. Thinking, he says, must also be curbed. “The mind cannot relax otherwise,” he says. “The key thing is to let the mind, like the body, float. And then when you need to hit hard, you’re ready with all of your energy. That’s why I always say to people, ‘Don’t think!‘ That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a brain, but there’s a part of us that likes to go through life instinctively and not make decisions. You free yourself and don’t analyze everything and interpret or misinterpret.” It is difficult to describe the disdain with which he pronounces those words. “This way you get rid of all the garbage that bogs you down and loads you up. So my whole approach is, I would say, simpler.”

Some men imitate Arnold, as well they should. Arnold understands the lure. “I play the characters that they would like to be,” he says. On this day, he has arrived at a Terminator 2 convention being held at a Stouffer Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. Here, among nearly 1000 fervid delegates with more free time than other people, several young men have come to participate in a Terminator look-alike contest. They wear much black leather and shaded eyewear and do so with great conviction, never breaking into knowing grins, even as they wander around the hotel. Arnold’s appearance will close the day of festivities, when he will judge those who best emulate his character. Cash prizes will be awarded.

“Everyone would like to be a Terminator,” Arnold has been known to say. “Everyone would like to be a person who can take care of the job. Whoever makes you mad, you can get even. There’s a tremendous amount of frustration in human beings, and I think this is a way of fantasizing to get rid of those frustrations. To think, ‘I can do this, too.‘ It’s a release, especially when you throw in a few cool lines of dialogue that always signal that you’re not even concerned about the danger. You make fun of danger, like John Wayne. You never heard John Wayne talk hectic, even when bombs went off around him. You think, ‘Wow, how can he be so cool? This guy is standing in the middle of a bombing and he’s in control.’ “

Onstage in the Stouffer ballroom, after sufficient buildup, Arnold emerges from a cloud of pink fog. He is in full Terminator dress. Terminator soundtrack music pounds and pulsates. Conventioneers grow hysterical. Arnold, expressionless, stalks the stage, then elects to perform the twist. Finally, he silences the mob and addresses them, somberly, as befitting a cyborg. “In the first movie,” he says, “I told you, ‘Fuck you, asshole. ‘ ” Crowd roars. “But I also told you, ‘I’ll be back! ‘ ” More roaring. Arnold says, “The main man is back!” Delirium has taken hold. Love grips all. People are on their feet. Someone shouts, “Down in front!” Arnold glares, as only he can. “Fuck you, asshole!” he says. His legion thunders with approval. (Jim Cameron has said this of Arnold’s Terminator: “What is enjoyable about him is that he’s kind of the ultimate rude guy.”) Arnold speaks a bit about the new film’s merits, then announces: “Jim Cameron and I have just decided backstage that we’re going to do another Terminator. The title will be The Sperminator. ‘I’ll COME AGAIN!’ ” Thunder.

A moderator intercedes in an attempt to begin the look-alike proceedings. Arnold halts him. “Remember one thing,” he tells the fellow. “Whenever I talk, never interrupt!” This, of course, is just the sort of humiliation lesser men yearn to dispense. Naturally, it receives a well-deserved ovation from the conventioneers. At last, five contestants march out to stand before the man who represents all they dream of becoming. Arnold stares them down slowly, then taps one particularly sullen finalist as his choice. He pulls the lucky youth, named Scott, away from the pack. He deposits a leaden arm across Scott’s shoulders.

“Congratulations, Scott,” he says, slowly. “You look cool.” Scott shuffles modestly. Arnold continues his appraisal. “I like those sexy lips of yours,” he says, teasing. “It’s true, Scott. They’re driving me wild, I tell you!” Everyone, of course, laughs. Everyone except Arnold, whose eyes dance behind his shades. He will be gone in an instant, out through the loading dock to a waiting car, taking with him yet another memory of his effect on mankind as we know it. For now he must rest. There is, after all, a world full of broken men left to fix.

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