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STILL KILLING IT Arnold Schwarzenegger made an unforgettable Terminator, and The Terminator made Arnold Schwarzenegger a megastar. Now, in Dark Fate, he’s back as the muscular cyborg—as fierce, violence-prone and sexy as ever.

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Edited by { Bonnie Davidson

Photography by { John Russo 

“I’ve known him since 1983, so that’s 35 years or so,” says Arnold Schwarzenegger, referring to James Cameron, director of the original Terminator and producer of Dark Fate—the man responsible for his career-defining role of a lethal cybernetic organism. “God, I feel old!” Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, sitting nearby, giggles. “I was born in ’84,” he admits. “Listen to this guy,” says Schwarzenegger, grinning. “Not even born when I made the first movie!”

At home in California, the five-time Mr. Universe and seven-time Mr. Olympia, now 72, has a plate of chocolate brownies in front of him and a Cuban cigar between his teeth. An expensive looking cigar. “I did a shoot for Cigar Aficionado magazine yesterday and they sent a box over,” he says, sounding genuinely grateful. A bodybuilder from Austria, Schwarzenegger arrived in the United States in the late 1960s with little more than his muscles and ambition. Soon, he appeared on screen—in films including a daft comedy Hercules In New York and classic noir The Long Goodbye—but it was Cameron who made him a movie star by casting him as a dispassionate predator from the future in 1984. 

Donning shades and leather jacket, Schwarzenegger stunned audiences with his powerful performance as the sentient mechanical warrior from 2029 in the original The Terminator. Seven years later, when he returned in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, his murderous robot had morphed into the protector of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John (Edward Furlong). While Schwarzenegger would go on to deliver other memorable performances—and be elected Governor of California—he is forever identified as the iconic T-800. So, when Cameron returned to the franchise, along with Hamilton, to make Terminator: Dark Fate, Schwarzenegger’s involvement was also essential. 

He’s reluctant to say too much about the new movie before its release—except that this time around, the terminator reveals more humanity than in the past. Still, he is frank and funny during our recent interview. “The beautiful thing about Arnold is that he is always lifting people up,” says Gabriel Luna, who plays the newest terminator, the REV-9. “It’s one of his great qualities.” During the shoot, the two men worked out together every day; Schwarzenegger tried to help the younger actor sculpt his physique and embody a lethal machine. Because, after all these years, Schwarzenegger is still killing it.

How do you describe Terminator: Dark Fate to fans?

I just tell them it’s another Terminator movie with a totally different story and it has Jim Cameron’s fingerprints all over it. Also, Linda Hamilton’s. So, it’s kind of like going back to the old days of The Terminator. And it has more action in it than any of the other Terminators have ever had. More unique action. And the visual effects are unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

What was it like working with Jim and Linda again? Did it transport you back to 1984?

Not so much ’84, more a combination of ’84 and ’91. It was just nice to all work together again. It was great. I remember that it was really the first time I had played a machine and it was fun to do that. I’d seen Yul Brynner in Westworld and the way he played that role was so powerful and so believable that I wanted to play it exactly the same way. So that was my motivation: Brynner! That’s why when I met Jim Cameron for the first time, and I told him what needed to happen, how the Terminator has to act, how he has to carry himself, how he has to behave, Cameron offered me the role! I’d gone to talk to him about playing Reese [the human time-traveller], that was the idea. But then Jim realized I could play the Terminator really well and that was that.

Linda said that on the first movie she was a bit of a “snotty New York actress.” Is that how you remember her?

To be honest with you, I couldn’t really tell you that, because I literally paid no attention to anybody in the first movie. I lived in my own kind of shell, because I was the Terminator, you know? I came to the set, I did my scenes, then I split. I didn’t talk to anybody, deliberately. Also, my character doesn’t meet Sarah Connor until the second half of that movie. After that, all I remember is that whenever I’d walk into a room, she’d run from me. That whole first movie, whenever I walked in somewhere, she’d run out the other side of it [laughs]. It’s not like we hung out. Also, you know, I was made up a certain way—my eyebrows were burned off, I had a wig on, spiky and burned, my face was all burned, my eye had already gone. I guess it wasn’t my best look. So, I don’t think she was probably in the mood to hang out either. It was all work, work, work. I remember her more from the second one. We had dinner the day before we started shooting and I was so impressed with how much she had changed herself. It was incredible. I was so impressed with the shape she was in. Then, when we started shooting, I saw the way that she handled the weapons very well and she was so refined and intense. It was great. 

How has your relationship with Cameron evolved over the years?

I’ve known him since 1983. Cameron and I clicked right away. And I think it was not necessarily because of anything else, other than we were both like kids and liked similar things. We were both into knives. He knew which company made what knife. So did I. So, we talked about the difference between a hand-crafted knife and a hard-mounted knife. And swords, Samurai swords, and how they have been folded seven times. It was all that stuff. We both knew a lot about weapons. And then motorcycles. Oh, God… After we had finished filming, in the morning, after filming all night, Jim and I jumped on our motorcycles and went on a ride. Ever since then, we still go on motorcycle rides together at the weekends. He still has his Harley-Davidson. And I still have the old Harley-Davidson from Terminator 2 that he gave me as a birthday gift. He was always just a great friend. And we always just loved working together. We did The Terminator movies and we did True Lies, and it’s always been so much fun. 

How did you find working with director Tim Miller on Terminator: Dark Fate?

I just admired him. I loved what he did on Deadpool. I had a meeting with him and [at the time] he was going to do a second Deadpool. I said, “I want to be directed by you.” And he ended up dropping out of Deadpool 2 and he moved over to the Terminator and I was really happy about that. We had a really good rapport. He was always very encouraging and very much into communicating with the actors. He’s a guy who really sees the whole thing as a team effort—and that’s what a movie like this needs. He was like that with everybody on set. He works with everyone together, it’s very collaborative. And it works. What he has done with this movie is great. It’s at 110 percent in terms of energy. The way he pitched it to me was great, too. He was like, “We’re going to bring Linda back, and she’s going to be a big part of the story.” I was excited about all of those things and I was delighted with how they all played out on set. I thought he was fantastic.

What can you tell us about your role in this one?

I don’t want to tell you because it will spoil the movie, but I can tell you that I am still the T-800, but I have become more humanized than in any of the other ones.

How did you find working with Gabriel Luna? 

Gabriel reminded me a lot of Robert Patrick [who played the liquid-metal T-1000 in Terminator 2]. He was the leaner, meaner version of me, the terminator that is not relying on just strength and speed, but is relying on other abilities. Even more abilities than the T-1000 had. The REV-9 is the most sophisticated model that you can get. The way that is forged is quite shocking—what he is capable of doing. It was in my interests, and the movie’s interests, that Gabriel was in his best shape. He didn’t have to be huge, but he had to have a great musculature, to be very fast, very flexible. He trained two, three hours every day, and it was very important that he did that training in the most efficient way. I wanted to do everything in my experience, having been a part of bodybuilding for more than 50 years, to have him learn everything that I have learned in a short period of time, because he didn’t have 50 years to get there. So, I worked out with him in the morning. We talked about training and diet and all that stuff and he was a great student.

We’ve heard you sometimes like to have a sweet treat for breakfast. Do you have a sweet tooth?

Well, yeah… [holds up a plate of brownies] I believe in health and fitness [puffs on his cigar] and a vegan diet. But, yes, I do have a sweet tooth. And I do like, every so often, some Schnapps. They are all my vices.

Tim Miller said that he always saw the first two movies as Sarah Connor’s story, not John’s. Did you always feel that too?

It is about Sarah Connor. She’s always been the focal point of the story. And it’s Jim’s writing. Jim is very good at making the guys look very heroic in a movie, but he feels that women don’t end up looking heroic in movies because people don’t write them that way. And it’s very important to him. Jim makes more effort than probably anyone else in the Hollywood community to write women as heroes. That’s his writing craft. And in the first and second and now this movie, Sarah is such a great hero. And that’s because Linda can sell it. You can have a great script, but it doesn’t work if Linda can’t sell it. And she is so strong in this movie. And so is Natalia [Reyes] and Mackenzie [Davis]. All of them are very heroic characters and all of them sell that so well. But Linda is so strong.

What do you remember about the day of your inauguration as Governor of California? 

What I remember is that two governors came up to me after I was sworn in. A Democratic governor, Gray Davis, who I had just beaten, and a Republican governor, who was one of the people who encouraged me to run and had helped me to get elected. They both came up to me afterwards and said, “Enjoy this day. Because it’s the last time you’re going to have fun in this job.” [Laughs] I remember walking away, to my advisors and to my family, and I shook my head and said, “I cannot understand why in politics you have such negativity.” But I realised very quickly how right they were. At the inauguration, everyone celebrates, everyone congratulates you, everyone has great hopes for you and thinks you are going to solve all the problems, because that’s what we promise on the campaign trail, right? But then it’s the real work. And now, all of a sudden, you realize, Wait a minute, it’s one thing to say that I’m going to solve the education problem, but it’s another one to now have 120 legislators. All of a sudden you have these obstacles. Every idea you come up with, they fight you. They vote it down, or they don’t bring the legislation down to your desk in time. Everything becomes a major battle and everything is being looked at through a political lens. I realized that even though we got a lot of things accomplished, they were right about how difficult it is. You sign one bill and half the people attack you. You sign another bill and the other half attacks you. If it’s pro-workers, then the Republicans get pissed off. If it’s pro-business, then the Democrats get pissed off. If you do something for students, then the teachers union gets pissed off. You go from having a popularity of 80 percent, which I enjoyed before I ran for Governor, to straight away a popularity of 40 or 50 percent because all of a sudden, the people who used to be your fans aren’t. Automatically you lose that support. That’s just how politics is. It’s nothing to do with me or anyone else… I have to say that I really enjoyed being able to lead this state for seven years and to be in charge of what was then the sixth largest economy in the world. It was a great honor and it was the greatest job that I’ve ever had.

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? 

I think there was a time in America when there were battles about whether we should go with electric vehicles, or should we go with natural gas, or with hydrogen, or gasoline or diesel—which  direction should we go? And it would have been great if we had, 100 years ago, gone in the direction of electric. Because then the rest of the world would have gone in that direction and it wouldn’t be in as much of a mess as we’re in today, environmentally. Even though there are some who think that this is not a thing… I’m not even talking about global climate change; I’m talking about the pollution that has been created because of fossil fuels. Millions of people die every year because of pollution. So, if I could be a terminator who could time travel, I would go back to then and convince them of the course of a green energy future, because now it’s very difficult to turn that ship around.

Is there any message you’d like us to pass on to James Cameron?

Just wish him good luck with that Avatar movie, because that’s going to be a great, great story. I’ve seen them, several times, filming the underwater stuff, the most difficult kind of stuff, and it looks extraordinary. You know, whenever anyone mentions my favourite movies, ones that I’m not involved with, I say Titanic and Avatar. He is fantastic.