After two terms as the governator of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been taking it easy, starring in mindless action carnage like The Expendables, The Last Stand and Escape Plan. His latest violent thriller is the marginally more thoughtful Sabotage, in which he plays an unusually shady DEA agent named Breacher. Not that he sees it quite like that...
Breacher is a fairly dark and troubled character.
No, he's a good character but he deviates from his mission to infiltrate the cartel, wipe it out and get rid of the drugs. He's a flawed hero. The character I play does not go home and turn off; he's consumed 24 hours a day by the fact his family was killed by the drug cartel, so all he wants now is revenge. He blames his fellow officers, he blames the cartel, he blames everyone! He really wants to just get rid of everyone! But as Arnold, when I go home I don't think about the movie that I'm making. I go home and have my workout every night, go for dinner and rehearse for the next day. It's all business.
Would you like to play characters who are more vulnerable?
I don't have a master plan that says, "Here's what I want to do now." After I finished with the governorship, I wanted to go after more challenging roles. I think it has something to do with being a certain age, especially coming out of a government job, you see the world as complex as it really is. Therefore you start getting attracted to characters that are written as more three dimensional. Maybe 20 years ago I wouldn't have been attracted to that very same script.
The next movie for instance is Terminator. That wasn't something I planned either. It was just that they bought the rights for future Terminator movies and came to me. I felt very honoured that they got me back into the movie. I loved the character, playing a machine. Then Universal were coming to me saying, "We want you to play Conan again." This is really great to get back to all of these old original characters that really made my career. But again it's not a plan.
And now they're talking to me about Twins, to do Triplets. It's an idea I've had since we came out with the first movie 25 years ago. Then all of a sudden they call me and say, Remember, you were always talking about that sequel? Well we think there's a terrific movie in there." It's a new generation now at the studios, the old guard is gone and there's some new people in there. So this is basically the way it happens: I do one project at a time but I don't have a specific plan.
In Sabotage you're once again carrying lots of big guns.
When someone says they did all their stunts its nonsense
I think David Ayer is a very talented man. I liked his insistence that we should train with the Los Angeles Swat team so that when we get to the set we can really act out the characters. We knew how to handle the weapons. I've handled a lot of different weapons in my life in movies, but the DEA and the Swat handle weapons in different ways. The way they breach doors and storm buildings without killing the good guys but taking out the bad guys – you have to learn that and study it. It's sort of like ballet the way they move. That made it really interesting, David's insistence for us to train with them, practice with them and ensure that when we make it to set we were very well-prepared.
And you have some very tough costars.
They were all in their own ways very tough guys. David Ayer wanted to know ahead of time if those guys were really the real thing, so it's not someone acting ballsy. So he picked tough guys, and they all went through martial arts training, even the girls. They put on the headgear and they were pounded away on, kicked and everything like that. Because he wanted everyone to come to set and not baby themselves. To really be ready to throw themselves around.
Obviously, when anything's too dangerous the stunt guys have to take over. When someone says they did all their stunts it's nonsense, because no production will want an actor to do something like high jumps where you could twist an ankle. That's nothing major, but it will shut down the movie. So they don't like you to get injured. I get injured on every movie but it's usually smaller things like banging my head on the camera. You go to an emergency room and get stitched up quickly then you come right back and continue shooting. You're able to do that because visual effects work can wipe out the stitches.
For example Joe Manganiello: he's a football player, he's working out doing mixed martial arts and all those things. So he's the real deal. He's an athlete, he lifts a lot of heavy weights, he can take a lot of punishment and he can give it too. Sam Worthington trained like a madman for this. You know how he gets; he's that kind of a guy. He was terrific in how intense he was and how he was willing to put the hours in the gym, the hours in the martial arts training. I had a great time working with those guys. It felt like a throw-back to the Predator days when I was with the ensemble cast and surrounded by these different tough guys.
Are you contractually obliged to do all that training?
Contracts are all bogus! Who pays attention to contracts?
Contracts are all bogus! Who pays attention to contracts? If an actor has a contract to do 40 days of work and he walks of the set for three days, what are you going to do? All you can do is cry! It's not like you can go and say, "I'm going to punish you", because then they're going to be "sick" for the next three days and the shrink comes to the set.
Contracts are only so that the lawyers have a good time and make their money. I don't have any contract that says I have to go down to New Orleans next week to rehearse for Terminator and do camera tests for the entire wardrobe. But of course I want to go. You want the director, Alan Taylor, to have the ability to make the right choices. The only way he can make the right choices is if he sees on film what the clothes look like. What does this leather jacket look like, what does these combat boots look like, how does he look in this t-shirt, how does he look with this haircut? You've got to do that. So I go down for three or four days, hang out with the director and do all the tests and work with the stunt coordinators. It's not in the contract, but you do it because common sense tells you that this is the right thing to do to make the movie successful.
How do you feel about competition from Liam Neeson for the mature action hero title?
Liam Neeson? Am I jealous of him? No! I admire him, and lots of other people, but I'm not jealous of anybody. I love being me.
SAVOY, LONDON • 31.MAR.14
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