Arnold Schwarzenegger on His Return as the Terminator, Keeping Fit in His 70s and (Not) Running for President
He once promised us he’d be back, and now he is!
Throughout the years, Arnold Schwarzenegger has played lots of characters, making him one of Hollywood’s top box-office stars. But the Terminator holds a special place in his heart.
“The character got me into action movies,” he says, recounting the challenges of making the leap from Austrian immigrant and muscleman to Hollywood mainstay, coveting roles that didn’t just capitalize on his chiseled body. “In the history of Hollywood, no one ever came here with an accent and became a leading man [like that],” says Schwarzenegger, now 72.
So when director James Cameron offered him the chance to star as a cyborg assassin in The Terminator in 1984, he was in. Then producer Joel Silver cast him in Commando, then he snagged the lead in Predator. Blockbuster favorites like Total Recall followed. Now, as he promised with his catchphrase from The Terminator 35 years ago, he’s back—in Terminator: Dark Fate (in theaters November 1), the sixth film in the franchise. Schwarzenegger was thrilled to reunite with original writer/director Cameron (who is co-producing), and says the new movie will feature “more action, groundbreaking visual effects and things we have never seen before.”
Hopping back into the character was second nature: “You put the clothes on, you get into the scene and you feel like you’ve never really left,” he says. His process includes amping up his gym time to prepare for high-octane stunts and a grueling schedule. “It’s demanding. I’m 72 and you shoot from 6 in the evening to 6 in the morning, and no one is telling you, ‘OK, if you need to, go take a nap now,’ like they normally do with elderly people,” he says with a laugh.
Focused on Fitness
Whether he’s preparing for Terminator or not, Schwarzenegger is focused on staying fit. The former bodybuilding champ’s current regimen involves bicycling to a Gold’s Gym near his L.A. home, where he does 45 minutes of daily strength training. “I go upstairs to my gym and work out some more at night before I have dinner,” he says. These days, the Terminator’s muscles are fueled by a mainly plant-based diet. “I’m 70 to 80 percent off animal products,” he says.
This modification took hold after his 2018 heart surgery when Schwarzenegger’s doctor urged him to ditch meat and dairy and “go green, green, green. I said, ‘Wait a minute, that sounds like my environmental speech!’” he jokes, harking back to his days as California’s progressive-minded governor (2003 to 2011). Six months into his new eating routine, Schwarzenegger’s cholesterol dropped tremendously.
(Amanda Edwards/WireImage/Getty Images)
But he does make an occasional diet detour. “If I’m in Austria, I still have a Wiener schnitzel, I sometimes buy ice cream and I still make my steaks,” he says. “My kids come over and say, ‘Daddy, can you make our favorite steaks? You are the best steak maker.’” Married from 1986 to 2011 to Maria Shriver, now 63, the niece of John F. Kennedy, they have four children together: Katherine, 29, Christina, 28, Patrick, 26, and Christopher, 22. He’s also the father of Joseph Baena, 22, by his former housekeeper Mildred Patricia Baena, which was revealed publicly in 2011, after Shriver filed for divorce.
Throughout his life, he’s always celebrated athletics. Since 1989, he’s been running his annual multisport Arnold Sports Festival, which has expanded to include everything from martial arts to boxing, pole fitness and arm wrestling. As of 2018, there are festivals on five continents. The fitness guru works to make sure his events accommodate handicapped and disabled athletes. “They get a standing ovation bigger than the bodybuilders or powerlifters.”
Driven by Competition
“There was a time where I wanted to be the most muscular man onstage and to wipe out everyone else was the most important thing. There was literally nothing more important than that. But when I won the last Mr. Olympia [in 1980], I said, ‘What am I doing still running out with a little bathing suit here, oiled up?’”
This led Schwarzenegger to commit fully to acting, continuing with action-packed films like Conan the Barbarian as well as trying his hand in comedies like Twins and Junior, starring alongside Danny DeVito in both. “I was the most comfortable in comedy because I always thought there was a funny side to me,” he says, adding that he cherished having iconic comedian Milton Berle as a mentor.
Schwarzenegger also discovered the power of helping. In 1990, he became the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, working alongside President Bush, and began hobnobbing with the Kennedy family through his relationship with Shriver. “All of a sudden, helping people became the new thing,” he says of setting his sights on procuring health and fitness programs in schools. “That gave me the appetite to run for governor.” Following his governorship, “the next best thing was not available,” says Schwarzenegger, who as an immigrant cannot run for the highest office in the land: the U.S. presidency. Would he, if the law did not prevent him? “Yeah, of course,” he says. “I would have run a long time ago. I always shoot for the top!”
He has enjoyed participating in far-flung fields and says there is no such thing as a typical day in his world. “I can go from doing an interview to shooting a 50-person action sequence, and a week later I’m at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy”—a joint initiative he developed with the University of Southern California that works to advance post-partisanship—“doing a lecture about redistricting reform or creating a green future.” Sometimes he heads to the Melody Ranch, a former moviemaking site outside Los Angeles, where he rewards local kids who’ve done well in school with tank rides. It’s a skill he learned when he was 18 and serving in the Austrian army, steering his own M47 Patton.
He credits his lust for risk-taking as the secret to his endless drive. “I thrive off the very thing that most people are afraid of,” he says, “I’ll always shoot for the stars. It’s fun when you pick some big goal and a lot of risk is involved and then you have to figure it out. That’s what makes life interesting.”
Schwarzenegger admits there’s one life arena that has definitely kept him on his toes, and that’s parenthood. He recalls a few instances where he didn’t exactly win father of the year, like when he took his son Patrick on a fly-fishing trip and the hook landed in his son’s eyelid. “All of a sudden Patrick is saying, ‘Daddy! Ow!’”
Then there was the time Shriver brought their then-toddler daughter Katherine to the set of Terminator 2 and Schwarzenegger greeted her in costume. “I did not look like her daddy—part of the skull was gone; metal was sticking out with a little blood around it—and she flipped out. It was not one of my best ideas,” he admits.
He’s glad his daughter recovered and smiles at the mention of her recent wedding to actor Chris Pratt, whom he reveals had tried to meet him long before he even knew Katherine. He and Pratt were both in New Orleans filming projects and Pratt requested to pop by Schwarzenegger’s set to meet him. But their schedules never allowed it. Pratt messaged him, “Maybe someday in L.A.,” Schwarzenegger says. “That someday was when he came over with Katherine.”
These days, he’s dating Heather Milligan, a physical therapist whom he met during a past shoulder-surgery rehabilitation. He insists, however, that he will never get married again. After his father passed (in 1972), his mother let him know that marriage was a one-time deal. “I [asked her], ‘If you meet somebody else, are you gonna get married again?’ She says, ‘Nope. There was only your father, whose underwear I washed. I’m not going to wash another guy’s underwear.’ So I say exactly the same thing.”
Shooting for the Top
Schwarzenegger is proud to have several other action heroes in his inner circle, including Clint Eastwood, who at 89, still schools him on the ski slopes, and his former rival, Sylvester Stallone, whom he publically sparred with in the ’80s. “Stallone and I had a major battle of who is more ripped, who has more muscles, who has more box-office growth, who killed more people in the movies, who uses bigger guns and bigger and more effective knives,” he says. When the former adversaries became pals, they buried the hatchet by exchanging weapons from their films. “He gave me a knife from Rambo and I gave him a knife from Commando, because we were laughing about how stupid [the rivalry] was—but also how necessary, because it helped me perform better; I tried to outdo him and I helped him try to outdo me.”
This year, the pair exchanged memes that fans created on their behalf, which Schwarzenegger refers to as “a more civilized” rivalry. “I recently sent him a picture of me being shorter than him—Danny DeVito short—that someone did in Photoshop, and another one of me holding his decapitated head in my hand,” he explains. Schwarzenegger much prefers photos like the latter, as they of course depict him as coming out on top.
“I always have to be the best,” he says with a grin.
Hanging With Arnold
The Legend of Conan script. John Milius came over to my house and I’m on page 48. The last book that I read was Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor.
“Succession. Billions. Narcos was my favorite.”
“Country-western: Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks.”
“If I’m hungry, then I have a protein shake. But if I’m just sitting outside and it’s hot, then I like to have a cut-up watermelon. It’s refreshing.”
“Ice cream, any kind of dessert, cream puffs, kaiserschmarrn—an Austrian dish—carrot cake, a good New York cheesecake. You say it and I go for it. My weakness is sugar.”
“My electric Hummer. I have a hummer that is a minimum of 20 years old, but I sent it to Austria to have them switch the engine from diesel to electric because I wanted to make the point that it is not the car or the truck that is polluting, it’s the technology inside that’s polluting. So I have this red hummer now and it’s electric and it’s 500 horsepower and it flies.”
“I was never really a big TV person. As kids, we watched Laurel and Hardy at someone else’s house. They charged us for it. That was when I was 8 years old or something like that. I got my first TV when I came over here.”
“A motorcycle ride in the morning. After that we go to church. And then go on a regular bike ride, have a good lunch. If I’m at home, then I just hang out with the kids by the pool and play around.”
Nicest thing you do for yourself
“Once every so often, I get a pedicure and a manicure.”
A typical meal?
“In the morning, I always have oatmeal, for the past 30 years. Then at lunch, usually I get a veggie burger or some kind of a salad. And then for dinner, usually vegetable soup because I don’t like to go to bed with a full stomach.”