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Q & A(rnold)

Q & A(rnold)

J.R. McMillan

It’s no surprise action heroes are Hollywood’s single greatest export.

Amid wildfires, mudslides, drought, and rolling blackouts, it’s a wonder the filmmaking capital of the world has survived any better than its on-screen alter ego, regularly ravaged by everything from earthquakes to alien invasions. The cost of living is untenable, the traffic is intolerable, even the most groundbreaking feature film of last year was titled simply Get Out—and like most movies and television series these days, it wasn’t filmed there either.

California has in many ways become the star of its own disaster film. How can you tell? After years of economic malaise and mismanagement, the voters there actually asked Arnold Schwarzenegger to save them, and maybe we in Columbus should too.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Arnold Sports Festival, held the first weekend of this month. What started three decades ago as the Arnold Classic, the former bodybuilding championship has ballooned into a four-day health and fitness expo celebrating more than 75 established and obscure sports, from fencing to axe throwing.

But Schwarzenegger’s ties to Central Ohio run much deeper than just a long weekend once a year.

Back in 1970, Worthington Mayor Jim Lorimer invited a 23-year-old Austrian bodybuilder to the World Weightlifting Championship’s new Mr. World competition in Columbus to vie for the title and a cash prize of $500.

Arnold passed. The three-time consecutive winner of the Mr. Universe competition was already scheduled to defend his title in London, but Lorimer wasn’t taking no for an answer. He offered to fly Schwarzenegger back from London to Columbus immediately after the event there so he could compete.

Outside the then close-knit bodybuilding community, Arnold was just some guy who struggled to shop off the rack. That was all about to change. He won both Mr. Universe and Mr. World in the same weekend, a feat that was featured on ABC’s wildly popular Wide World of Sports, introducing him to his largest audience to date.

Schwarzenegger confided in Lorimer his dream of sponsoring his own tournament after he retired from the sport, and a seed was planted. After hosting several successful Mr. Olympia competitions here in the ’70s, and a brief acting hiatus in the early ’80s, Arnold ultimately launched his own competition in Columbus 30 years ago this month.

So what does that have to do with our fledgling film industry? More than you think.

Arnold has become an ambassador for Columbus for more than just sports. His annual health and fitness expo celebrates the city as much as the events and athletes. His own celebrity doesn’t just rub off on us; he’s helped introduce us to new audiences, just like we did for him with that first Mr. World competition.

He could have talked his action hero buddies Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis into opening Planet Movies anywhere on Earth, the motion picture rival to Hard Rock Café that coupled a Planet Hollywood restaurant with an upscale movie theater complex. But he chose Easton Town Center, and even though the concept was short-lived, the investment and effort shouldn’t be forgotten.

Action heroes also have a reputation for formulaic personas from one film to the next. Schwarzenegger is the exception, never afraid to try something unexpected or face the critics if an endeavor falls flat.

Yes, he’s been a barbarian, a commando, a spy, a hitman, and a killer cyborg from the future. But he’s also been a kindergarten teacher, Danny DeVito’s genetic better half, and even pregnant. His blockbuster appeal hasn’t stopped him from making fun of his own typecasting or being cast against type. Recent performances in Maggie as the protective father of girl slowly succumbing to a global pandemic that turns victims into zombies, and in Aftermath as an anguished survivor determined to avenge his family’s death from a mid-air collision, show an unexpected range and depth.

As soon as you think you know Arnold, he’s going to do something to prove you wrong.

How did your experience with the Arnold Classic influence the decision to shoot the film Aftermath here? What makes Columbus ideal as an emerging film city? Columbus is a fantastic place for anything and everything. I’ve spent time in Columbus for 48 years through our bodybuilding championship, that then developed into the world championships in many different sports through our sport and fitness festival. It’s a perfect place that I use as an example, where the private sector and public sector work really well together. They’re very well coordinated. There’s no “we” against “them.” It’s always “us,” and it’s always what is best for the community. It doesn’t matter if it’s Republicans or Democrats in office, they all know they ultimately have to serve in a way to bring more businesses here. I have seen the great growth of the Arnold Classic and how dedicated the city officials are, and also the people at the state level. They’ve helped us every step of the way to make the Arnold Classic Sports and Fitness Festival successful. This is how it became the biggest in the world. This year we have 20,000 participants from 80 different nations. It’s gigantic, and we wouldn’t be able to do it anywhere else than Columbus.

When I did the movie Aftermath, I told the production company when there was a debate about should we go to Atlanta, or New Mexico, or Cleveland, I said to them, “Look, let me explain to you a little about Columbus…”. I told them basically what I told you. It’s an extraordinary place, and that I’ve talked to the mayor many times, the governor many times, and they all said if you come here with a production, we will help you because we want to establish ourselves as a city where you should go to shoot movies. Big movies, small movies, documentaries, whatever you want to do. So I took the risk. I said, “I’m not going to do the movie unless we shoot it in Columbus.” They decided to investigate, to check into it, and this is why after looking around, talking to the film commission, they realized this is a very friendly place where they are opening up their arms to productions. So we shot the movie here and the producers walked away absolutely delighted with one of the best experiences they’ve ever had.

My idea was that this would be the opening, and those production people would go to Hollywood and tell others about it. That’s exactly what happened.

This is why I think it’s a great place. Because people work together, they work tirelessly. People are talented here—the stage crew, the people who build sets —they’re energetic, they’re passionate. This is something you cannot buy. It’s not just tax credits. I made this clear, Columbus maybe doesn’t have the best tax credits, but you will get your money’s worth in many other ways, and it paid off.

Why is it important to take risks in film? Why do actors need to take risks, why do filmmakers need to take risks? Why is it important to get out of your box? I don’t think there’s a difference from one field to another. One cannot say, why do you need to take risks in movies, why do you need to take risks in the parts that you play, what genre of movies you make? There are people who love to take risks, and there are people who like to play it safe. I think I’ve always been a person who thrives on risk. When I started in bodybuilding back in Austria they said, “You’ll never be a bodybuilder. Austrians are known for soccer and skiing. But bodybuilding? Forget it.” But I took the risk. It’s no different than taking the risk of running for governor. In movies, you have to take risks. Hollywood is a place that loves to put you in a box. You’re the action guy. You’re going to make action movies, and you’re going to do one script after the next—which I did, and that was very successful during the ’80s and ’90s. But there’s a time when I’ve done enough of that, after I’ve satisfied the studios’ needs, to show that I can do other things, that there’s a different Arnold in there than most people know. So I take the risk.

When I did Twins, I said to the studio, I know you don’t want to put much money behind this like an action movie. They said they wanted to make a minimum amount, and I said, “Then, don’t pay me? I’ll take the risk. It’s my first comedy. Why don’t you not pay me or the director or Danny DeVito, and just give us the back end?” We took that risk and it was my most successful movie at that time in my life, and I had a backend of 20 percent.

You couldn’t ever get that deal today. It was all about being able to take that risk.

When you get to be more mature, with age you’re much more believable to play a father in Aftermath or in Maggie, with more acting than action. When you’re younger and an action star, they won’t write material like this for you. They write scenes with great action, but they won’t write scenes with great dialogue and great character building. That’s just the way it is. For me, it was great to take those risks whether it’s Aftermath and Maggie, or Twins and Kindergarten Cop and Junior. I wanted to branch out because there is a side of me that is also like that. So I think taking risks in which parts you take and which productions you choose is absolutely essential.

Aftermath, 2017. Photo By Brian Douglas/Courtesy Lionsgate Premiere

Typecasting is tough to escape, with studios and with audiences. Is there a role or genre of film that you haven’t done and would like to? We’re putting together a western. I’ve never really done one, and I’ve always wanted to do a western. It’s being developed with Amazon and it’s going to be eight segments, like a miniseries. It’s a terrific project—very intense, action-packed, great characters. We’ll most likely start shooting next year. It’s being written right now. This year, I’m going to be shooting Terminator in Spain, and Budapest, Hungary. We’re finalizing the script for Triplets, which will be a sequel to Twins with Eddie Murphy as the third twin brother.

Speaking of reboots, I’d be remiss not to ask if King Conan rumors are true. Is there another Conan installment we can look forward to with an elder Conan? That is correct. Those movies were really big hits way back when. It’s a theme in Hollywood, to come back to titles that are well-known. Independent companies take risks with production titles no one has ever heard of or that are new. But studios like recognizable names. That’s why Twins is becoming Triplets, it’s why they’re now writing King Conan, which is why there’s a Terminator 6—which is all good for me, to keep those franchises alive.

Some parents push their kids into their own profession. Others push them away. The upcoming release of Midnight Sun is your son Patrick’s first starring role. How do you feel about him getting into the family business? I never discouraged him from going into the movie business. I think it’s a great business to be in. But I also make it clear to all of my kids—no matter which field they get into—they have to be smart with business, and they have to be smart with money. My son is very serious about acting, but he’s also very serious as a businessman. He’s always been entrepreneurial. While I’m proud of him and his work in the movies, I’m also proud of him and his work outside the movies—so that he never ends up being vulnerable. It’s important to have a passion for acting, but it’s also important to be financially independent—not having to sell out and take a role just because they offer good money. He’s really serious about acting, but he’s also really smart about it. I was so proud when I saw his movie, and I think people are going to be surprised by his performance.

Aftermath, 2017. Photo By Brian Douglas/Courtesy Lionsgate Premiere

As a Midwestern city, Columbus can pretend to be anywhere on film, but many filmmakers don’t realize it. How practical is it to shoot here instead of more familiar film cities? Columbus has so many different sides to it. When we shot Aftermath, we had no problem finding any backdrops whatsoever. The plane crash site was done a little bit outside of Columbus, we shot in a jail and had free reign over that location. You can find government buildings and high-rises, dangerous looking alleys. If it’s a modern looking shopping mall, there’s Easton Town Center. If you want to find a nice Spielbergian kind of community like you see in many of his movies, you have that in Columbus. You literally have everything that you need. I don’t think there is anything anyone would say you don’t have. If you’re shooting a movie that takes place in New York, I would highly recommend you shoot 95 percent of the movie in Columbus. Five percent of the movie—all of the exteriors, walking on 42nd Street or Broadway, or Central Park or aerial shots of the city—you go to New York to shoot that. But the rest it? You can shoot it all in Columbus. 

The 30th annual Arnold Classic will take place March 1-4. Aftermath is available for rent on iTunes, Amazon and YouTube.


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